Saturday, April 28, 2012

Asking for More

Today I took Grace to a schooling show and maybe for the first time ever at a show, I felt totally in control of my horse in the show ring. I can directly trace these results back to a lesson I had with Sarah almost two weeks ago.  Prior to the lesson we had a conversation where she told me that I needed to ask more out of the mare at home so that I could get more out of her at shows. If I asked for 75% consistently at home, I could ask for 25% at shows and still be ahead. When I wrapped my head around her concept it occurred to me that I had been hauling to shows still expecting it to just all fall together in the show ring when we still didn’t really have it all together at home. My expectation of Grace was not only unreasonable, it wasn’t fair at all. I am the epitome of the amateur rider, while my intention is to always be “nice” to my horse; i.e. not asking too much of her, it often creates more problems like my horse deciding that she had to be in charge since I won’t take the lead.

During our lesson I asked Sarah to get on Grace to show me the new cues she wanted me to use for getting control of the shoulder and hip. I knew that if I could put the trainer on the horse for even 5 minutes that my job would be that much easier when I got back on. I expected the usual “I couldn’t possibly!” fight from Grace when Sarah asked her for something new. To my surprised it was short lived and within minutes Sarah had my little mare jogging around the arena better than I had ever seen the mare carry herself before. The horse I saw in front of me was even better than the one I have been hoping would miraculously appear at every horse show. I’ve always thought the world of my mare, but I really didn’t think she had it in her to move as nicely as Sarah had her going. Over the next two lessons Sarah worked with me to make sure I was getting the feel, keeping Grace’s shoulder upright, knowing where her hip was at all times and correcting as soon as a mistake was made. It is the kind of riding that I shy from, it feels like micromanaging at first, but my real reason for not doing it is my fear of failure. What if I don’t “feel” my horse drifting to the left? What if I correct at the wrong time and accidently reprimand my horse for something she didn’t do?  This time I was willing to take the risk and do the work, I had to get that same ride that I had seen Sarah get out of my horse with what looked like very little effort.

For the last two weeks each ride has been better than the one before it. I do less micromanaging than I had expected as Grace is more comfortable in her body and quick to respond to a correction. I do feel when she drifts to the left, and my fears of asking more of her are slipping away. I put her on the lunge line one day last week and was blown away by how much better she carried herself on her own. She kept her shoulder up and was telescoping her neck on her own and would step into the lope with her head level each time. In typical fashion this breakthrough has occurred right before the show season. I have a zone show planned for May 5th, and nothing freaks me out more than to totally change the way I ride right before a show. So I took Grace to a schooling show today at the same place the zone show will be held next weekend. I went with a plan, to school at 75% in the warm up and ask for 25% in the class.

During my warm up at the show another rider stopped to tell me how beautiful my horse was. I only mention that because it has NEVER happened before. Plenty of non-horse people tell me how amazing my horse is, but to hear it from another rider gives real meaning to it, something had changed in my horse. Our first class was trail, and while we did well (ok we won the class), I felt that Grace was rushing more than I would have liked, she needed to wait on me. I went back to the warm up and asked for more body control. Our next trail class was the same pattern but with a lope element added. That class was EXACTLY was I was looking for from the mare. She waited for me on each obstacle, and surprised me by how nice her turns on the forehand and haunches were. We also won that class. Our first rail class was not so good. I had ridden trail one handed, and was doing the same for the rail classes. Grace went back to being flat and rushing off her feet in the rail class. I knew I needed to fix it, but was at a loss for some reason. I knew this wasn’t the ride I wanted. In the next class I picked up both reins and asked for 75%, oh right SCHOOLING show! Grace broke into and unasked for jog, I stopped her and backed her up. When we walked off she lifted her head and broke into the jog again, I backed her up again and did not let her walk off until she gave me her head. We walked off nicely this time and the lope was called. Grace tried to launch into the lope; I stopped and backed her up. I loped her off from the back up and my nice soft horse appeared again. As the day went on, she was better with each rail class and I was able to ask less of her.

We ended the day with a pattern class. By then the show had thinned out and I was the only entry that would be riding the pattern. It was labeled as a Western Pleasure pattern and started out with lope circles with lead changes, similar to a reining pattern. There was then a back , turn on the forehand to a counter lope halfway around the arena, a halt, jogging, halt a turn on the haunches more lope before ending with a jog circle. I had never seen a pattern quite like this, it covered the whole arena. It was the perfect pattern to prepare us for Western riding next weekend. Lots of loping, lead changes and a pattern that Grace doesn’t know. I rode all but the counter lope one handed as it was on the left lead – give us another week for that one. Grace gave me the best lope she had offered all day and her lead changes where just wow! The judge even commented out loud on how nice they were. Grace was in her element on pattern and at the end the judge said “very well done!” I was thrilled with how consistent the mare was throughout the pattern.  She was an absolute joy to ride on pattern at a horse show!! Amazing things happened when I listen to the trainer.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Chia Seeds 4 Week Results

I looked in the mirror the other morning and I noticed that something was different. It took me a minute to figure it out, but then I realized that I didn’t have any new breakouts. My skin was clear. I cannot remember the last time I could say that. The constant red blotchy spots on my neck were now even with the rest of my skin tone. The only change I’ve made is eating chia seeds every day for the last 4 weeks. I’ve had acne since puberty in one form or another. For the last several years my break outs have been rather acidic and take weeks to heal. I’m 37 years old and for the first time and over 20 years I have clear healthy skin. I’m not drinking as much water as I was at first, but I am still drinking twice as much as I had been.

Grace has also been eating chia seeds for the last 4 weeks. After comparing prices and wholesalers I went with Equine Chia (please excuse the obnoxious side banner on the blog). Their price per pound beat out the others and when the seeds arrived they were a darker color than the ones I had picked up from the health food store. In the last week I’ve finally come in contact with Grace’s summer coat. It is incredibly soft and smooth. I’m really looking forward to her dropping what remains of her winter coat so I can really see the results. I see her every day so evaluating weight changes over a short period of time is difficult. I think she looks better, but I will have to get another set of eyes on her to be sure.

 Just maintaining Grace’s weight and not losing any in the last few weeks is an accomplishment. She’s had many extra stressors in her world from spring weather changes, hay that she refused to eat and now her new boyfriend. Our landlords have a beautiful farm next door. Their turnout pasture boarders the property and Grace can see but not touch any horse that they turn out. Lately they’ve been using the turnout for their rather majestic German Warmblood stallion. Grace could care less about him at first, even giving him the cold shoulder, but then spring happened. For a mare that I usually cannot tell is cycling, she sure has made fool over herself in the last few days. She even left her grain to call to him last night when he was being led back to the barn. He left for a horse show last night and she seems to be back to normal today. Luckily even in the middle of a hormone rage she is very ride able and gets right to work when I swing a leg over her. I now have hay that she is cleaning up, the stallion is gone for the week and fingers crossed the big temperature swings are on their way out. I’ll get some pictures this weekend so we can compare her summer coat to last years.

Neighbor's stallion - at least Grace has good taste!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Where Was That Ride on the Weekend?

UGH! I had a GREAT ride last night and it kind of pisses me off! Where was that ride on the weekend when we were at the show? The mare and I were amazing! She was soft, supple and connected. I stayed relaxed and fluid. Her lope was to die for even over a pole on the ground. At least I know I am a champion in my own backyard. Maybe this is like the Matrix and my rides at home are reality and the horse shows are just pretend. I think I’ll stick with that story and see how it goes.

In other news; remember when I talked about feeding Grace the best hay money could buy? Well apparently that isn’t always good enough either. A few weeks ago I bought hay from a different dealer, I usually buy from Sarah’s husband as he only brings in the best hay, but he was out. The hay I bought from the new dealer was a 2nd cutting orchard grass from last year. It was green, beautiful, looked clean and smelled good to me. I still had 2 bales left of the old hay to mix in. Princess Grace decided that the new hay sucked and she downright refused to eat it. At first I thought she was eating less in general because the hays looked so similar I had a hard time telling them apart. When I separated the piles it became very clear that Grace would not eat the new hay. I was able to get a few bales from Sarah to hold me over. Grace is eating every last piece of that hay. Sarah thought that the hay I bought from the different dealer may be dyed green and has a chemical on it that Princess Grace doesn’t like. I tasted both hays and I have to tell you I could not taste a difference. So this Saturday I am delivering the “not good enough for Grace” hay to horses that will eat it and will be picking her up a ton of hay that Sarah’s husband is bringing home from Eastern Washington. I really do want to come back as my horse when I die!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Beating Myself with the Agenda Stick

I found myself getting emotional in the warm up pen at the show on Saturday. Grace and I were just not having the ride I was looking for. First frustration set in and then I felt the tears start to well up. Luckily no one from my barn was around and I was able to talk myself down. I have to ask myself –WHY? Why do I put so much pressure on myself? Why is hauling down the road to a show so darn important to me? And most importantly why do I not have confidence in the one thing that I put more time, energy and money into than any other area of my life?

I talk a lot about not having an agenda when it comes to my horse. I will be the first to tell you that I am not very good about walking my talk. Right now I have an agenda; I want to put AQHA points on my mare before I retire her. I plan to take her to an AQHA show in June that offers both rookie and novice amature classes. I didn’t realize when I put that idea in my head that I was carrying into every ride. Our rides at home have been going really well and I could actually see us getting there by June, but horse shows are not home. It started on Friday night at the show, I was having a lovely ride loping my mare one handed when I decided to go practice the lope overs for the trail pattern. There were 3 poles set on a serpentine that I had watched another rider practice. I headed for the poles just as Sarah entered the arena, she got there just in time to see me hollow my back and stick my legs out in front of my girth all  because I was going to lope a pole. My horse protested at the rider turned puma on her back and started to buck. Sarah told me to stop and pointed out what I had just done. She explained that this is exactly why she wants me in rail classes and not pattern classes right now, because I get so focused on my pattern that I completely change my ride and this is not the experience that she wants my horse to have. It was very clear that I was the one getting in our way. I went back and loped the poles one at a time keeping my low back soft and full. I ended the ride on a good note, but was still incredibly frustrated that I could not keep it together like the picture in my head.

On Saturday Grace just wasn’t coming together for me, I was continually fighting my body to stay soft and support her. I found myself looking at the other horse/rider combinations and asking myself why we didn’t look like them. When the emotional wave hit me, I had the thought that we will just never be that picture I have in my mind. It feels like when I see a drawing in my mind so clear, but only when I put pen to paper I remember that I cannot draw a straight line with a ruler. I wanted to quit, to just spend my weekends back on the trails and chasing cows, why do I torture myself in the show ring? I asked myself “So what? What if this is all there is and I Grace and I will never be that beautiful team I see in my head? What if a blue ribbon at a schooling show is it and there will be no points, no belt buckles, no perfected Western Riding or Trail Patterns, no clapping from the grandstands? What if all the mare and I have are this moment, right here right now?” I have to say with that question a lot of the pressure went away and I finally decided to just ride every stride. I went into my trail classes, let go of the obstacles and focused on what happened in between them. The novice class went really well, the 18 and over started out rough with lope overs, but I was pleased with how it ended. The walk jog classes never really came together, Grace felt flat and stiff and I considered calling it a day. I asked Sarah about it, she felt that Grace needed to lope and that all the jogging was locking her down. The lope classes were better, but it was still not the same horse I’ve been riding all week at home.

So where do I go from here? I know what I need to practice at home, more lope work over poles focusing on keeping my back soft and not riding the pole. I also need to unlock Grace’s shoulders at the lope each and every ride so I can have it securely in my warm up arsenal at shows. I heard what Sarah said about the pattern classes, but I am not willing to give them up just yet. I don’t enjoy rail classes, but I love pattern classes. My hope is that if I let go of the pictures in my head and stop comparing myself to the other riders I will be able to stay in the moment and ride each and every stride. I’m not ready to give up just yet. As for the show in June – it is in June so I’m just going to forget about it for now. At the end of the day I have to remember that I get to spend my time with my favorite horse, and some of my favorite people who accept me for who I am agenda and all.