Monday, January 30, 2012

I Miss Summer!

January 30th – I made it this far into the Pacific Northwest winter before I started longing for summer again. I will say at least the days are getting longer; I’ve been able to ride outside after work for the last week. I was looking though some of last spring and summer’s pictures and found myself remembering those days when isn’t as dark, cold, wet and I actually get to see the sunrise before I leave for work in the morning.

I posted this picture on my Facebook page and was amazed by how many people liked it. I should have shared it when it was taken during Grace's photo shoot at the end of April. Years ago I taught Grace how to give kisses. The cue for the kiss is when I point to my cheek. It's a lot of fun to show off and is very cute, that is until she tries to kiss the judge during a showmanship pattern.

According to my computer this picture was taken on 8/3/2011 at 8:29 pm. That makes sense since I let Grace graze in the back yard in the evenings. Look at how light it is for 8:30pm! It's pitch black dark at 6:00pm right now, I will be in bed by 8:30 tonight.

Look at that grass! It was just covered in snow 2 weeks ago.
This was in June, 5 months away.

This picture was taken on Labor Day when we went to visit Jeanni and Jasmine.
That might have been the last picture I took in the year when I had to worry about there being too much sun in the camera lens. Look at that short clean coat, I had hosed her off before turning her out after our ride. The hose finally thawed out this week.

This was Grace's first full body bath of 2011 at the end of April. She looks absolutely thrilled. 

Here she is grazing in the sun after that bath.
I washed her mane this past Sunday when it was in the high 40's.
I did my best to towel dry her before putting covering her up in a cooler to dry off her neck.
I miss the days when I felt the need to hose her off after every summer ride.

This picture was taken on February 20th. The arena footing looks almost dry, there is no standing water in this shot. Grace is either sun napping or in her happy place she goes to when we do Connected Groundwork. February 20th and there is enough sun to cast a shadow. That is only 3 weeks from now. Maybe I will make it to summer.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Yoga for Equestrians

Today was the second class in our Yoga for Equestrians series. The instructor had tailored this class specifically for riders. In the first class I learned the difference between the way I normally breathe and yoga breathing. I enjoyed the analogy that I could live by eating Snickers for each meal, but I wouldn’t be feeding my body the same quality nutrition as if I took the time to cook a vegetable stir fry. I also learned the importance of being aware of my foundation in movements and how much easier a movement could be when I moved my belly into the space first. Today’s class built on what we learned last time. Sue the instructor was at our last horse show and Peggy’s clinic which gave her the chance to spend more time with us with the horses. She has also been researching yoga and how it pertains to our time in the saddle. She talked about how sensitive our horses are, how they can feel a fly land on their skin. She went on to explain that humans when they are really tuned in also have the same level of sensitivity. Yoga not only helps us with the physical part of riding, but it also allows us to tune back in to the energy exchange we have with our equine partners.

Today we focused on using breath to initiate movements. When I was able to use the exhale or inhale to lift a leg or lengthen my back I was amazed by how much easier it was. The strength seemed to come from my core and not from the limb I was using. I’ve always been told to breathe when I ride and to use my breath to control my rhythm which will in turn control the horse’s rhythm. That sounds good, but I’ve really only been able to utilize it at the walk. During today’s class Sue talked about how difficult it is to remember to breathe correctly when things get going fast in the saddle. She sped up a series of movements and coached us on the inhales and exhales all the way through. It occurred to me that I could start using my breath to initiate a cue in the saddle and how much clearer this will make my cues to my horse. Now I can’t wait to ride tomorrow to see if I can capture the same awareness under saddle that I found today in class. We are even talking about doing a yoga class on the horses in the coming months. I’ll be sure to keep you updated.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Liebster Award

Leibster in German means "Dearest". Thanks Nina and Milo for thinking of us as a dearest blog!

The rules of the award are as follows:

1. Copy and paste the award on your blog.

2. Link back to the blogger who gave you the award

3. Pick your five favorite blogs with less than 200 followers, and leave a comment on their blog to let them know they have received the award.

4. Hope that the five blogs chosen will keep spreading the love and pass it on to five more blogs!

1. A Collection of Madcap Escapes - Dom's blog is full of adventures with her amazing horse Ozzy, Herbie the cutest dog in the world and even her boy Mike. Dom is an incredibly talented photographer. I've been known to check out her blog on my lunch break at work. More than one person has walked by while I am looking at her latest photo upload and stopped to ask about the pictures. Dom lives life to the fullest and continually reminds me to do the same.
2. Go Lightly Sport Horses -  Cherie and her horse Katchi are taking the eventing world by storm. I love following their triumphs and bumps in the road. Cherie isn't afraid to share her most embarrassing horse moments, my favorite was when she asked Jimmy Wofford "Jimmy are your sure I have all my teeth?" Cherie is gracious in sharing what she learns from riding with the likes of Phillip Dutton, Jimmy Wofford and Lucinda Green.
3. Liz Graves Liz is a sought after clinician who I know through her partner Dave Genedek of About the Horse Saddles. Liz has a wealth of knowledge and is someone that I admire and respect. I have come away from her blog more than once with the resonance that there is a better, kinder way of communicating with my horse.
4. Cardigan Complex If you love corgis and have not seen Wiccan's blog than go there now! Go - click - now! The pictures are just breathtaking and her herd of corgis all look like perfect models. I have no idea how she was able to put together 4 of the most photogenic dogs on the planet. I am head over heels in love with Tempe the youngest and newest addition.
5. BlackTree Farm Anne and Sven Johnson's farm where they breed and raise top quality warmblood sport horses. Anne is also a photographer and web designer, so the blog is full of professional quality pictures of her very large horses! I've met several of them in real life, and they truly are gentle giants. I rode with Anne when we were kids at Peanuts Pony Farm and I love that she has kept the horses front and center in her life.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Snow is in the forecast, Let’s Horse Show!

Happy to say I made it back safe and sound from the show on Saturday even with an inch of snow on the ground where the horse show was held. For those of you not living in the Seattle area you should know that it only takes 2 inches of snow to bring our entire world to a standstill. When I was getting Grace ready for my late afternoon classes large fluffy flakes started falling from the sky, pair that with the freezing cold temperatures and I have to ask myself, what kind of people would choose to participate in a horse show in this kind of weather? My kind of people, that's who!

I rode in the reining class to help fill it and being the first riding class of the day it gave us a chance to get stupid in the show ring out of the way. With cold rain coming down outside the indoor warm up ring was nuts. I am not at the point that I can really accomplish a good warm up riding next to horses that are standing on their hind ends, so Grace and I headed out into the rain to warm up. When we entered the main show ring for the final warm up Grace and I became stiff and out of sorts. I talked to Sarah before my run who reminded me that it was a SCHOOLING show and I was to take my time and SCHOOL (yes, she said it in caps!). The reining run gave us a chance to get some nice lope work in and Grace changed leads only where asked. Big step for her as in the past she’s been known to make up her own changes everywhere else in pattern.

The trail classes were being held outside in the rain and since we were already wet and cold I decided to go for it. My copies of the patterns were soaking wet and were falling apart as I was trying to read them. The trail judge sat in a car at the end of the arena to stay warm and dry, the pattern was set at one end of what is normally the outside schooling area. There were people wandering into the pattern the entire time, I saw one woman who had to stop mid pattern while someone lunged a horse right into her path. On my first pattern I had someone schooling the trail bridge right behind me. Despite the distractions Grace did and I did well, winning 2 out of the 3 classes. I was really pleased with both the jog overs and lope overs as Grace stayed relaxed and on rhythm.

It took me a rail class or two to get into my body, but when I did I was rewarded by my horse stretching for the bit and driving up from behind at the jog. We stayed on the inside track and lapped the slow pleasure horses on the rail several times. I didn’t care as I was enjoying feeling my mare’s hock drive up from behind for what may have been the first time ever in the show ring. We improved with each rail class, even placing 3rd in a lope class that I accidentally entered.

This is the second show that I’ve entered the equitation pattern classes and I was able to see and feel a big improvement from the first show. Grace was much more relaxed and was better about waiting on me, it was no coincidence that I was better about staying relaxed and taking my time on pattern. During the lope pattern we had to do a simple change from the right lead to the left lead. Grace anticipated when I asked for the jog so I brought her to a halt and made sure to get her into position before letting her lope off. That might have just been the biggest success for me the entire day. Better than any blue ribbon, I used my brain in the show pen! Starting to finally get the point of this “schooling” show thing.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Peggy Cummings 1.8.2012

Sarah put together a weekend for her students that began with Yoga for Riders on Saturday followed by a lesson day with Peggy Cummings on Sunday. I spent most of the Sunday lesson with Peggy in awe of how well it went together with what we learned during Saturday’s yoga session. As Sarah has been telling me for the last 11 years and I am finally started to discover on my own, the horse’s body mirrors the rider’s body.

During our yoga session I learned that my core is not just my abdominal muscles, the core is in fact the torso or as Wikipedia states it “In anatomy, the core refers, in its most general of definitions, to the body minus the legs and arms. Functional movements are highly dependent on the core, and lack of core development can result in a predisposition to injury.” During our class we got in touch with the upper part of our core, and I became acutely aware that I had been tuning out the area between my shoulder blades, which had no problem reminding me this morning that it existed. Our Yoga instructor showed us how much stronger and balanced we were when our cores were engaged and how much easier a pose was when we used our breath and were mindful of our center of gravity and where our core was in relation. She said that by engaging the core our extremities would become more fluid, making our movements easier and less mechanical.

On Sunday Peggy repeated much of what our yoga instructor said the day before. She quickly helped me to find neutral again, this time by touching my ribcage at the point of my sternum. When I engaged that spot my back filled and became soft, I didn’t have to force it. During our groundwork Peggy addressed habits, I had asked her for help in getting Grace to stop with her head level or down, as Grace still has a tendency to lift her head when she stops. Peggy pointed out how locked Grace was on her left front which would not allow her left hind to step up under. Grace could only stop with her head up as long as her body remained in that locked position. Peggy reminded me to only ask for the stop when Grace was soft. We had to change things up to get Grace to unlock, which included working her more from the right side and asking for the stop while she was in a turn as opposed to straight. Peggy said that straight is taught not from a straight line, but from a bend. I will admit I’m still wrapping my mind around that one.

In the saddle Peggy first addressed my position and as we do in every Peggy lesson we saw the difference from the way I usually ride to the way I ride when I am connected. The difference in my horse was once again like night and day. I started out in neutral with my core engaged, but when Grace walked off she dropped her back and I locked. This turned off my connection to my legs which turned off Grace’s connection to her legs. Peggy had me rotate and jiggle my legs, all the while keeping my core engaged. Grace’s hind end woke up and the quality of her walk improved. I was able to get her to bring her left hind leg up underneath herself without using spurs or a whip, but just by bumping with my left leg while I rotated. Grace needs to step up like that in order to build the strength she needs to go straight. Into the jog I quit moving and so Grace threw her head up in the air, once again I had locked her out. Peggy reminded me to keep my legs active and to rotate through the transitions, not only did the transition improve, but so did the quality of Grace’s gait. She activated her hocks and was moving with ease as she now had her core engaged her movements had become fluid.

Once again after a lesson with Peggy I feel like I should be retaining this work better than I am. I heard a lot of the same things that she has told me in the past, but today they most defiantly resonated louder. I know that getting in touch with my body the day before was a big part of that. We are leaving for a horseshow this Friday and I was hit with the feeling that I would much rather just spend 6 weeks immersed in the Connected Riding work than going to shows. I have to remember that my goal is to be able to ride in the show ring the way I did in my lesson today. I think Sarah was serious when she talked about getting a second tack room at horse shows for our yoga sessions. I will try anything if I means I hold onto what I got in touch with today.

Monday, January 2, 2012

R.O. Tana – the horse that saved me

As I entered my teen years I began to outgrow my little friend Passu. Not by height – I hit 5’0” at age 13 and thanks to my Irish ancestry I would grow no taller. I felt I had outgrown the pony in experience. Passu was an excellent confidence builder and a wonderful teacher, but I had started taking lessons with a Hunter/Jumper trainer who wanted me to buy a real show horse. Said trainer wasn’t very thrilled when my dad came back with my new horse budget of $600. I seem to remember her laughing when I told her, she thought for sure I pulling her leg. I’m not sure how she pulled it off, but she got my parents to look at a gelding one of her students had listed at $3,000. He was a been there done that hunter who was ready to pack me around a 3 foot course. My dad made an offer of $2,500 dollars, but another offer of $2,800 beat out his and the horse moved on to its new owner. Smart trainer then showed my dad another student’s horse, a solid bright bay Appy mare priced at $1,800. She wasn’t as broke as the gelding, but she had a good foundation and she was beautiful! Dad saw the $1,800 as a deal considering that he had been willing to spend $700 more just a few weeks before, and I made a mental note on how to get Dad to spend 3 times as much has he had originally planned. The bay Appy mare with only a triangle on her forehead for a marking named R.O. Tana was now mine.

Tana and I started showing at local Playdays and eventually moved up to rated Hunter/Jumper shows. She was also my Pony Club mount, taking me to show jumping rallies and combined training events. She was a very sensitive mare who didn’t need a lot of leg and hating having her mouth touched. She would do anything for me as long as I stayed out of her sides and off her face. Tana didn’t fit in with the fancy horses at the big shows; she had the build of a Quarter Horse and was a bit rougher around the edges than the Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods everyone else was riding. I didn’t fit in either, my mom refused to purchase me a pair of leather boots until my feet were done growing, so I rode in knee high black rubber boots until I was 18. At our first hunter/jumper show I wore my black hunt coat and white breeches, having no idea that I was supposed to be in navy blue and tan. My tack was a mishmash of used gear I was able to buy from my allowance and pet sitting jobs. It never compared to the brand new latest high quality leather that my fellow competitors rode in. Not caring much to fit in, Tana and I explored the world together. We spent hours at the Bainbridge Saddle Club and Manzanita Park jumping everything in our path. We hit the trails and the beach with friends, and spent one week every summer at Pony Club camp. One year Todd Trewin moved us up into the Training Level group and we got to jump every fence on the cross country course. Even with the resulting concussion from a fall that day, it was one of my proudest achievements in the saddle.

At the age of 14 I discovered that I could stuff my inadequacies and feelings of not belonging with alcohol. My Irish ancestry quickly brought to light my lack of an off switch when it came to drinking. What started out as teenage experimentation quickly became full blown alcoholism. Before getting sober in May of my Freshman year of high school, I had walked away from Tana and horses all together. I had started playing guitar and had dreams of being a rock star. Early in sobriety I put Tana up for sale, it just wasn’t fair to make her sit around if I wasn’t going to be a partner to her. One day that summer I tacked her up and took her to Saddle club. There was a course set, most likely for an upcoming horse show. I took Tana over every fence and she jumped each one without missing a beat. For the first time in a long time I remembered what it was like to feel again. I drank to stuff my feelings, to find numbness. In treatment they always ask the dreaded question “how do you feel today?” That ride was the first time I could answer the question, I felt amazing, alive, exhilarated and like I had finally come home. I believe I took Tana off the market that day. I kept her until I was 17, and found her what I thought was a good home. She was moved from owner to owner over the next few years, each time her price dropping dramatically. I was told that she had taken to bucking kids off and now was a man’s horse. I often thought of tracking her down and buying her back, but was not in a position to do so. I don’t believe that it is any coincidence that years later a similar looking bright bay mare with a triangle marking on her forehead has found her way into my heart. There are days that I can’t help but to see Tana in Grace’s eyes. Once again my relationship with Grace is my apology to a horse from my past.