Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Check ins from Peggy Cummings lesson

Mugwump asked for the list of check ins that Peggy gave me during our lesson. I find them hard to describe because like most things in riding it involves more feel than anything. I have found that the best way for me to retain something is to describe it so I will give this a shot. The first thing I check when I get in the saddle is can I jiggle my thigh bones. It is a small movement, not something you would see from across the arena, it comes easy when my back is soft and my body is unlocked. My horse responds to the thigh jiggle by waking up her hind legs. She doesn’t get faster or quick, she just steps up underneath herself. If I increase the rhythm of movement in my thigh bones when asking for a jog transition my horse steps right into the jog from behind every single time. I could spend hours working on her jog transition with my back locked and never accomplish what I have in the last two ride just my jiggling my thighs.

Peggy taught me a new check in with my reins. I rode one handed during our lesson with the reins in my right hand. She had me hold my left hand on the reins a few inches below my right hand and then slide my left hand down towards the saddle horn pulling the rein length between them taught like a bow. The left hand didn’t put any pressure on my horse’s mouth; the pressure was between the two hands. Peggy reminded me to keep my left wrist straight. This strange exercise put that hinge in the front of my ribcage without me thinking about it. My back immediately filled and softened. Each time my horse would respond to the change in my body by lifting her back and lowering her head. I’ve used it in our last two rides to ‘reset’ any time I felt tension creeping back in. I’m now finding that just thinking about that hand position creates the body posture I’ve been working way too hard to find.

I think that is a big key here, when I am in the correct position everything is easier. My legs naturally lay on my horse’s side, my calves and ankles are on my horse without being forced to stay there. I don’t rely on my spurs near as much because my leg is actually effective. I find that my seat position is closer to the saddle horn, I find myself shifiting it up in to that position a few times during the ride. It just feels better there, for once I have the full use of my body and can move freely in the saddle. I’m willing to bet that my body is in the same spot in the saddle, but my pelvis is no longer out behind me. I had a moment in the lope today where I almost felt like I was riding my horse’s shoulder, but I also noticed that I could stay with the horse with every stride. I was sitting on the crest of the wave as opposed to staying behind it with no chance of catching up.

I hope some of that made sense to more than just me. What I know for sure is that my last two rides have felt amazing and my horse has a hind end like I have never felt before. There are times where it looks downright goofy as my goal this week is to establish my seat so I am for the most part leaving the mare alone. I can get past that since I ride alone and no one is watching. At this point I would stand on my head, chew gum and pat my belly if I knew it would allow my horse to feel that good under saddle.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Peggy Cummings 8/26/2012

The week after a horse show is always a time of reflection for me. I was really unhappy with my rides at Region 1 and I knew that I only had myself to blame. After wiping tears from my eyes in the lineup of my pleasure class, I felt absolutely broken. Why was I again falling apart in the show pen? I wanted nothing more than to hide from the world and never show again. Fortunately this wasn’t an option as I had 2 Horsemanship classes hours later. They were better; I was pleased with the pattern work, but not the rail work. Returning home I went through the mourning process of deciding not to go to Novice Championships this year. With that decision behind me I turned my focus to the big elephant in the saddle – my tension in the show ring.

 I’ve become aware in the last year that many of my movements in the saddle are ridged and tense. I know that I have improved dramatically; I used to describe my seat as “survival riding”. This was the result of years of sitting on rank horses. Still I haven’t always been able to ride my horse from a place of softness and connection; this becomes amplified as we enter the ring at a horse show. The bigger the show, the worse the tension. For each ride the week after Region 1 I focused on keeping my movements soft and only riding one handed. My goal was to be less of a “puma” in the saddle. The result was quite the breakthrough. My horse moved better with each ride, lateral movements were accomplished with ease and lope transitions were the best they have ever been. This could only mean one thing, I am the one standing in the way; the mare is only reacting to me. Just as the Universe always provides when I am ready to learn; Sarah arranged lessons with Peggy Cummings on Sunday.

 I talk to Peggy about the Region 1 show and let her know that my mare warms up well, but everything changes when we walk into the in gate of the show pen. She asked me if it felt like sitting on marbles, which turned out to be a pretty good description I often describe it as driving a truck and the brakes go out, I push on the brake pedal but nothing is there. Peggy had me sit on my hands, first in a neutral seat. From there I had to make small movements in my thighs. I could feel the slightest movement from thighs through my seat bones. Peggy then had me scoot my seat back slightly and stiffen. When I made the same small movements in my thighs I felt no change in pressure on my hands, just dead weight. That is exactly what my horse feels when we walk into the show ring. Peggy said that I disappear and my horse lifts her head and drops her back looking for me. I then become more tense against Grace’s tension and we spiral out of control. From the way she described it I could have sworn she had been at the show watching me. 

Peggy broke down for me exactly what happens in my body the moment I tense in the show ring. She described where the lock out starts (right below the ribcage) and how it translates to the rest of my body. She reminded me of the ‘come along’ cue she had taught me in the past. The cue comes from my thighs and isn’t visible, it is also near impossible to use when I am locked. On the ground and on my horse Peggy gave me a series of check ins that I could use to get my body moving again and past the state of tension. Most of all she reminded me to “move the bones” in order to check back in with my horse again. During our lesson I felt my horse change underneath me, the quality of her walk improved dramatically as she started to freely use her hind end. I was able to engage her left ribcage just by rotating to the left which automatically brought my left leg in contact with her side. I felt like I was finally talking the same language as my horse.

I have my homework, a list of check ins to make sure I am in neutral position so I don’t lock my horse out. Peggy also recommended that I go to a show and just focus on moving the bones. This is my plan for the schooling show in two weeks. I am now grateful to not be aiming for Novice Championships this year; I can now take the time to master this piece of the puzzle.

Monday, August 20, 2012

On the Fence - Being A Grown Up Sucks Sometimes

Most days I keep my head as far into Rainbows and Unicorns land as it will go. Every once and a while I step back into the land of reality; and then quickly remember why I don’t like it there. I have to decide in the next 10 days if I am going to haul to Novice Championships this year. Entries are due on the 31st. It is not the $275 entry fee that is getting me down, it is the expense of hauling down to Vegas and back that I’m not sure I can pull off in less than 2 months. If money were not a factor I would haul down this year to have the experience of showing under the big lights and then plan to haul again next year with a chance of being competitive. When I think of not going, I feel like I’ve been kicked in the gut; I really was looking forward to showing Grace in Vegas. At the same time I also stop grinding my teeth in my sleep wondering how to pay for the trip. Ugh – being a grown up sucks! 

Region 1 was a real eye opener for me. I did not expect it to be easy or anticipate winning before I went. I had hoped to suck a little less than I did. I didn’t feel overly nervous but the mare became stiff and tense when we walked into the show pen. This was after having some of the best warm ups of all times on the same horse. So something must have changed when we walked through the in gate, the trainer says it was me. I have to admit it was hard not to compare myself to the breed show crowd, I often felt like I just didn’t belong. This feeling was further driven home by a “new friend” that suggested that my horse might just need to stay at the Zone show level. Wow, nice welcome for a Rookie competitor! I know the only way to overcome the show ring issues in the bigger shows is to haul to the bigger shows. I’m just not sure that I am ready for that size of a blow to the ego again. The big show made me miss my small pond. Have I said yet that being a grown up sucks??

There were some really good points to the show. The patterns were the most technical I’ve ever ridden and I feel that I was able to rise to the occasion. I had an excellent trail clinic and wish I had ridden that well in my class. I was on my way to a great pattern in showmanship, until I questioned myself and hesitated. I think I might want to actually master the showmanship class, I no longer despise it. I was pleased with my Rookie Am pattern on Sunday, I wasn’t nervous and had the mare exactly where I wanted her during the pattern, I do wish it had stayed together for the rail work. I had the chance to watch some pretty freaking amazing Western Riding patterns and I do have hope that someday we will look like that. My mind was also opened to the experience of a red neck swimming pool on the day that it was 100 degrees and I will never look at the bed of a pickup truck the same on a hot day. Hmmm, amazing how much better I feel after focusing on the good stuff.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Photo Shoot Sneak Peak

I've been waiting for these photos for over a month. I had a sneak peak this morning with the rest of the pictures on their way. Once I get past picking out all of my riding faults, I sit back and am in complete awe of what a beautiful mare Grace is!


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Moving to the Big Pond

I leave next Tuesday night for the Region 1 AQHA Championship show. I’ve been attending local open and schooling shows throughout the summer. Grace and I are starting to be competitive at the rated open shows and are one of the bigger fish at the schooling shows. I’m not one to focus on points or placing, I rarely sign up for year-end or high point award. The combination of classes I ride in pale in comparison to the all-day riders. My goal at each show is to improve over the last performance, I’m looking for proof that all of my hard work at home is adding up to something. While I don’t go off to shows with winning as the end goal, one visit to my work station at the office  the walls of which are obnoxiously plastered in blue ribbons leaves little doubt that I have done well in the confines of the local level. If it wasn’t for an October date in Vegas, I could get very comfortable hanging out in the small pond. I read a quote once that said “Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.” I hope to remember that as I come to terms with just how small I am in the big pond.