Friday, May 27, 2011

My New Tattoo!

I am so in love this this tattoo! I've wanted a tattoo of Grace for a few years now. This was actually the reason behind her recent photo shoot, I wanted the "right" picture. When Stephene was taking pictures of Grace, she stopped and showed me this one right after she took it. The expression on Grace's face was exactly what I was after. A week after the photo shoot my husband told me about a new tattoo shop that had opened in our area. He said the owner was known for his portraits. That is exactly what I was looking for. After looking at Randy's work I knew he was the one. I called and scheduled an appointment for the Friday before Memorial Day.

I let a few of my coworkers know what I was doing, the conversation started when I put a framed 8x10 of the picture I was going to use for the tattoo at my desk. I really wanted some time to resonate with it, to be sure this was what I wanted on my body. It's funny how after you tell people that you are getting your first tattoo, they all like to tell you how bad it is going to hurt. Only one person told me about how after they got through the first few minutes, that getting a tattoo was the best feeling in the world. I decided to go with his story and stop listening to everyone else! I know that I have a high pain threshold and I am a big believer in the power of the mind. I just kept telling myself that it would not bother me and that I might even enjoy it. By Friday morning I was ready! I was antsy all day at work, not because I was scared, but because I was excited!

One thing that everyone and their brother did suggest was that I make sure to eat a meal before I head to the shop. Something about the adrenaline causing low blood sugar and people passing out. I went out of my way to eat a sandwich right before I left the house. When I got to the shop I recognized Randy but was still a little surprised by how young he was. Still, I knew this was the guy, he had just posted a tiger that he did a few days ago on Facebook and the detail was just amazing. When I showed him the picture of Grace he started to talk about a Quarter Horse that he used to own. I was immediately put at ease. This guy knew horses, he is the one! He took a few minutes to scan and draw up the picture. My niece who had agreed to sit with me arrived right on time. I was thrilled to have her there, she has several tattoos the first one being a GIANT tiger that goes across her ribs. She had it done 2 days after her 18th birthday. I knew then that she was the bravest girl I knew.

I was pleased to see how clean Randy's workstation was. The arm and back of the chair I would be sitting in had a fresh layer of saran wrap. After rubbing something on my left arm Randy very carefully applied the stencil. I almost laughed when he started with the needle. It didn't hurt at all! It felt like someone was pushing their fingernail into my arm. My niece kept me talking over the 3 hours that Randy worked away. For the most part I didn't look at my arm, I would take an occasional peek, but I didn't really want to focus on the fact that someone was injecting my arm with ink. My niece noticed that Randy wasn't doing the typical outline and then going back to fill in. He started at the bottom of the tattoo and worked his way up. He explained that this was how he did portraits, lots of shading, the picture of Grace didn't have lines so neither should the tattoo. He pointed out that it would also hurt less that way, it would limit the times that he would have to go back over an area that was already inked.

Over the 3 hours I would have to say that on a pain scale of 1 - 10 most of the time I was at a 2 or 3. Mildly irritating, but I kind of enjoyed the vibration. Toward the end when he went back over a few areas the pain jumped up to a 6. The worst part was when he would clean it, for a second it may have been at a 7 put nothing I could not handle. About 2.5 hours in Randy said "you're tough, most people would have complained by now!" There were several people hanging around the shop while I was there. They would stop by every few minutes and take a look. I loved seeing their faces light up as the tattoo progressed. I couldn't wait to look in the mirror when it was finished, almost 3 hours to the minute. I was so pleased that Randy decided to work the background in. I love the color. My number one goal for this tattoo was for people to be able to look at it and know that it was Grace. It is absolutely what I wanted and I could not be happier! Now what about the right arm....

Monday, May 23, 2011

Even in season, Grace is a lovely horse to ride!

One thought crossed my mind when I pulled Grace out of the pasture tonight “Ride the horse you have that day”. I had every intention of heeding the advice that had been handed down to me by more than one horse trainer. Grace is in season, usually I can’t even tell but this time around she is very clear about where her mind is. There is a stallion next door, and after 5 years she has finally taken notice of him. He was turned out in a pasture where she could see him yesterday, it was then that she remembered that she is a horse. I very rarely have a plan for our rides, I have learned with Grace that it is best to see what I have that day and then take it from there. At times I will set cones up with the anticipation of working on a pattern, but lately I have scrapped those plans if something else needs to be worked on. It’s a good thing I have adopted the plan of having no plan, because tonight when I went to get Grace all she could think about was the tall drink of a bay gelding standing in the neighbors pasture.

Grace planted her front hooves into the ground more than once as I led her past her new love interest. By the time I tied her to the trailer I knew we would be starting with connected groundwork. She would hold still while I tacked her up as long as she could keep an eye on her boyfriend, as we walked away to head to the arena he started to scream after her. With her tail flagged and her head in the air, I don’t think anyone would have known she was a quarter horse. I put Grace to work as soon as we entered the arena. I sent her out on the line away from me and then combed her back in. Every time I combed the line she started to mentally come back to me. It was as if the small vibration in the line allowed her feet to reconnect with the dirt below it. After working both directions out on the line and closer in hand, I figured it was time to get on.

I walked Grace over to the arena gate where her snaffle bridle was hanging. We were now walking in the direction of the pasture, Grace’s head popped up when she heard her buddy scream again. Now – this is where I will admit that I tend to let Grace get away with things. She behaves like this once a year, if that. I find it is not worth getting in a fight with her when she is out of her mind and body. The best I can do is to give her a channel to return to planet earth. So after fumbling to get her headstall on, I swung a leg over and hopped on.

I again put Grace right to work – the horse I had was a little tense, very forward and moving with a lot of impulsion. I decided to keep her in the bridle there would be no need to ride on the buckle tonight. At one point I added my left spur to ask her to move her hip over, Grace squealed as soon as she felt the pressure. Her upward transitions were phenomenal; I posted the trot so I could stay out of her back. Knowing that she was very distracted I worked on large figure eights with straight lines in the middle. The more I changed direction, the more Grace seemed to focus. Into the lope she gave me one of the very best left lead transitions of all time. There was no hesitation and her normal hop from her front end was gone. Grace was very much moving from behind. In the lope I worked on my body, rotating my hips to the right to get my left hip to stay soft. Grace’s lope was so easy to ride, while her head was level, her front end felt elevated, she was lifting my body with each stride.

I gave Grace several walk breaks in between the work at the lope. This is when I allow her to be on the rail. 95% of my ride is done off the rail, the rail is a reward you get to go there to rest and be left alone, the rail is a happy place. Most nights Grace slows down and milks the rail break for all its worth, tonight she was fine until we were headed in the direction of the out gate. As soon as she was pointed towards it, she felt like a dude ranch horse headed for home. I changed direction on the rail and Grace’s walk break area was now limited to the far end of the arena. As we went back into the lope I put her back on the figure 8 pattern we had worked at the trot. I’ve been throwing in a few flying changes at the end of our rides. I have learned with Grace that if I can make the “hard thing” her reward and do it at the end of a ride she will look forward to it every time. It also usually gives me a really good stopping place and I don’t get tempted to drill her on any one maneuver. Grace again had that lovely elevated lope; I had kept her bridled up in the snaffle so she felt more like a dressage horse. I moved from a figure 8 to more of a 4 leaf clover pattern to keep her guessing. I made my circles bigger and then started to work on a longer straight line.

After the horse shows were canceled due to the EV-1 outbreak, I stopped working on the Western Riding pattern and went back to the elements that were needed for the pattern. On the longer straight lines I asked for 2 lead changes 5 strides apart. Grace would nail them every time as long as I kept my hips soft and moving, when I locked down and stiffened she would miss the second change. I came around the corner to the straight line again keeping the movement in my hips. This time we only put 4 strides in between the changes, the changes were clean, and Grace stayed soft the entire time. I was almost ready to end on that note when I came to the next straight line. I turned my hips to the right and Grace changed underneath me, as soon as she landed I turned my hips to the left and she gave me a beautiful clean change to the left. OMG – was that? Really? Don’t they call that a tempi change? I gave Grace a big pat on the neck I knew we were done for the night. As soon as we left the arena Grace lifted her head in search of her new boyfriend. She will most likely be out of her heat cycle tomorrow, but I honestly kind of hope not. I will ride that raging bag of hormones any day of the week!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Lope - Grace has one!

The magical lope that I have referred to in the last few posts is still here. I believe that it may be here to stay. I know I shouldn't be so surprised by my horse's ability to perform a gait that most Western horses do naturally, but this is by far the best lope this mare has produced in 10 years.

I took a few videos last night while I was riding. When I first watched them it occurred to me that they were somewhat boring, almost like watching paint dry. It then occurred to me just how wonderful that is! Grace's lope isn't slow, but it is balanced, smooth and rhythmic. I could ride it all day long. Her left lead is 1000 times better than it has ever been. I no longer feel like I changed horses when I changed directions. And the icing, this is all one handed!

I threw in a few lead changes at the end of the ride. I know I need to work on keeping my body soft and relaxed especially for line changes on a Western Riding pattern. On the 1st video you can see where at first I am stiff, but at the end I remember to torso twist. Yes that is me at the end saying "It's all me... God I hate that!" It was kind of fun to catch one of those "Oh Really?!?" moments on video.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Back in the Show Ring

I took Grace to a local B system show today. I had one goal in mind, to ride in the Western Riding class one handed. I considered today’s show to be a schooling show, one that would help prepare me for the show on the 22nd. I have a history of show ring nerves and I wanted to use today’s show to “get over myself”. Today I accomplished exactly that. I did not have the best pattern, and I could have ridden much better, but I know what I need to work on over the next two weeks. Overall I consider today’s show to be a success!

I had a really good warm up at the show. I had a ton of time before my classes, so I pulled out the Connected Groundwork halter and line and did some work with Grace in the warm up arena. It wasn’t long before a girl rode up to me and asked “Do you know Peggy Cummings?” It was so cool to get to share that with someone and talk about our experiences with Peggy’s work. When it was time to ride I did some work in the snaffle and then moved to the shank bit. As long as I kept my body and hips soft, Grace stayed soft. She still has that wonderful lope that has shown up in the past month. It is so new to me I am still surprised every time it is there. After a lot of confusion as to when the show would be taking lunch break, they allowed up to warm up in the show arena while they were setting the pattern. I loped Grace and threw in a few lead changes. As long as I remembered to torso twist after the change, she stayed soft. If I stiffened, so did she. I knew this and yet I still became stiff in the class. Grace bobbled the first cross change. She wanted to change early and I wouldn’t let her, when I did she was stiff and it took an extra stride to get the change. I became tense at that point and forgot to relax for the rest of the pattern. It was much faster than I would have liked and it could have been a lot cleaner, but we did it one handed and I had the chance to get in there and get over myself. There were 2 other people that were in the class. They chose to do simple changes and were told they would not be disqualified for it. Still I was surprised when the placings were announced and I won 1st and 2nd under 2 judges.

Our next 2 classes were Trail. Grace and I love trail! The first time I rode in a trail class was on one of Penny’s been there done that show horses. Penny taught me how to take my time while schooling each obstacle at home; it kept the horses quiet on pattern. She also used to judge so she taught me trail from that perspective. It quickly became one of my favorite classes. Grace has always loved to climb on things, and there is almost nothing that she is afraid of. It also feeds her love of patterns and her need to be the center of attention. We’ve had a lot of success in trail over the years. Today she perked up when she saw the pattern. Our first class was just spot on! Oh and I rode it one handed! I haven’t practiced trail in close to a year, but you would not have known it today. We placed 1st and 2nd in the first trail class. We had a few bobbles in the championship class, and I fully expected 3rd place from both judges. So I was again surprised when the call judge placed us first in the class.

Overall it was a great day and it’s given me some much needed confidence going into the show season. I also have a long list of things to work on, all of which are rider related. In hindsight I could have used the turn after that first lead change to balance my horse and get her soft again before the next change, but I had to have the experience so I could learn from it. Thanks to Sarah I have a new tool kit of exercises to do at the lope to help me to soften my body. So if you see Grace lope by and I am touching my right toe with my left hand, just know that somewhere in that pretzel I am relaxed!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Have I told you how much I love this mare?

I had that moment tonight at the end of my ride. There were tears in my eyes as we walked out of the arena. It just doesn’t get any better than that moment! I am so proud of my little mare; she is just lovely to ride.

Tonight’s ride was the same horse I had on Saturday’s ride. I took the Western Riding Helmet Cam footage on Monday night, and it wasn’t the same lovely ride I had hoped for. It wasn’t bad, but I knew we could both do better. Tuesday I took a step back, pulled out the snaffle and the bareback pad and went back to the basics. There were some moments of resistant on both our parts, but with no agenda in mind we took our time and worked through it. It became very clear tonight that I had made the right choice.

There have been a group of riders that have shown up at the same time for the last few rides. It’s such a rare occurrence to have other horses in the arena when we ride, but 4 of them at that. All 4 are palomino and my little bay mare really stands out in the crowd. Grace doesn’t even bat an eyelash at the horses sharing the same arena, it’s as though they do not exist in her world when she is working. I’ve always appreciated that about her. Tonight I started with groundwork as the other riders warmed up around me. I saw a lot of trotting after very little time at the walk; always interesting to see other people’s programs.

In the last few rides I have added back in Les Vogt’s
5 Easy Pieces to my warm up. I learned the program 5 or so years ago in a clinic of his. It has been years since I revisited the work, but the other day while half passing at the walk, Grace dropped her right shoulder. I corrected her by asking her to move her shoulders to the left and then began the half pass to the right again. That time she kept her shoulder and was able to hold her rib cage. It immediately brought to mind step 2 and 3 of the 5 easy pieces. I am amazed now by how much smoother the 5 steps are, years ago we both did every sequence while stiff as a board! Tonight by the time I asked Grace for the jog she was light and soft in every area of her body.

I asked for the lope both directions out of the back of from step 5. Each lope departure was better than the last and in both directions! Not only that - it was a lope, not a canter! Grace was slow, yet rhythmic and just an absolute pleasure to ride. I ended the ride one handed with Grace loping a circle to the left, a flying change in the middle and a circle to the right. After two clean changes each direction with both of us staying soft and quiet, I whispered “whoa” and Grace slid to a square halt. I reached down to pat her on the neck and started to tear up. This was the horse, the one I thought I bought 10 years ago. This was the ride I had seen from the rail of the AQHA shows and wondered if I would ever be that good. As we headed out the gate for our much deserved trail ride, I realized that we may not have “that” ride for the horse show and that I really don’t care. We had it tonight, our winning moment and I believe that there are more of them to come. What is that saying – “Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take but by the moments that take your breath away?”

Monday, May 2, 2011

Western Riding Pattern Helmet Cam

I wore the helmet cam tonight so I could get some video of our pattern work for Western Riding. I am leaning towards the idea of hauling to a local show this Saturday to get in a Western Riding class before the show in Port Angeles on the 22nd. I had an amazing ride this last Saturday after the photo shoot. Most of it was one handed and Grace was just lovely. Tonight I set up cones and markers to give me a change to practice a pattern before next weekend. I have to be careful not to over-school Grace, she is really pattern smart and will anticipate every step of the way. She was not as lovely tonight and I had to get on her case at one point for rushing. No more pattern work for the rest of the week. My goal tonight was to set the markers to get the chance to get over myself. Now that I know we can do it, it's back to the basics for the remainder of the week.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Photoshoot teaser

Here is just a small taste from Grace's photoshoot yesterday. It might be a week or so before the edited pictures are ready. I LOVE this photographer, she has a great eye and is very artistic. She also knows Grace so she was able to photograph her with Grace's personality in mind.