Monday, November 26, 2012

Horses are not like potato chips. Tattoos are!

I’ve heard it said many times that horses are like potato chips; you can’t stop at one. I have not found that to be the case as I’ve happily been a one horse owner for many years now. Now tattoos on the other hand are a different story. I’ve wanted another one within seconds of getting my first. I am amazed it took me this long to get it done. What took me so long was finding something that I wanted as bad as my first tattoo and it had to be the same quality, so I went with the same artist. This time I didn’t have an exact reference to provide, more of an idea. I walked in with a picture of Rosie the Riveter and told him what I wanted. I am beyond thrilled with the results. 

The inspiration behind this tattoo is every strong woman that has come into my life. From my mother the city girl who I watched raise a family and run a small farm while my dad was out to sea, my sister the single mother that raised two girls, worked full time and provided a house for the girls to grow up in, to Jeannie who is 10 years younger than me who taught me how to pull my first horse trailer and that if I wanted to get something fixed I could always do it myself. The list of strong women that have shaped my life is long, I now have a daily reminder to be sure that I thank them.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Picture of Grace and I years ago

“I have a new schooling show plan for you” was the message from Sarah. This could be anything from hauling to different shows than the ones we had planned to riding another horse. The answer was revealed during my Saturday lesson “I think you should stay and do English classes on Sunday”. Sarah explained that it would be more show ring time, more patterns and a chance to school two handed. She also suggested that I consider the equation classes at AQHA shows. Other than the fact that I no longer own any English tack or clothes, this seems like a really good idea!

When my family purchased our first horse my Dad assumed that we would ride Western. The horse community around us was predominately English. The kids I rode with were either in Pony Club or attended Hunter/Jumper shows. It wasn’t long before I had ditched the Western saddle and was riding in my first all-purpose English saddle bought from a neighbor girl that was off to college. I went on to participate in Pony Club and Hunter/Jumper shows. I developed some pretty bad riding habits from being over faced by large fences. I switched back to Western when I met Grace at Penny’s barn and began a long journey of learning how to ride all over again.

I’ve ridden Grace English a handful of times; I’ve even jumped her as high as 3 feet. Grace is actually the nicest horse I’ve ever ridden to a fence; the distance is there every time and she doesn’t hesitate at the base of a jump. I on the other hand was done jumping and much prefer having my butt firmly planted in my Western saddle. I have shown Grace Hunt Seat at schooling shows in the past, she actually does well and seems to enjoy moving out. I will have to see how I feel about it. Luckily I can borrow tack for the time being and since we are starting out with schooling shows I don’t have to get too fancy. That reminds me – I will eventually have to wear breeches again, good thing I just started hitting the gym!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Feel - Some Days I Have It

“Feel” is a word that is kicked around a lot in horse training conversations. The word often comes up in conversation when there is a lack of it; more often than not it is the amateur rider that is in short supply of the coveted “feel”. During the clinic with Mario he said one difference between amateurs and trainers is timing; trainers ride more horses and put more hours in the saddle which allows them to develop their timing and feel. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what feel in the saddle was, until a lesson I had just over a week ago; that day I hit the brick wall when it came to “feel”.

Sarah had me working on lateral work getting control of Grace’s hip and shoulder. It seemed as though I could get one end of the horse, but not the other. If I asked her to sit on her hind end and move her shoulder Grace would always step out behind, never holding the ground. We then broke the exercise down to just getting control of the hind end which is where I found the brick wall. Our lesson was now happening completely at the walk, each time I added pressure behind the girth with my heel it pressed against an unmoving object. The harder I tried the more pissed off Grace became. Sarah talked about timing; when to apply the cue. We talked about foot falls at all 3 gaits and when the best time for the rider to influence a particular leg was. It all made sense to my brain but to my body it felt like calculus. I knew that this was something I would have to practice during the week. I pointed out to Sarah that my lower leg wasn’t reaching behind the girth where she wanted it. I was twisting like a pretzel to get it back there which was throwing me out of balance and pissing my horse off even more. Sarah told me to keep my heel down when putting my leg behind the girth and to stop curling my lower leg up. She also made a comment about my hip flexors and recommended that I get back into yoga. It was the first time in a long time that I left a lesson feeling unaccomplished.

I spent the week in between lessons determined to get back my feel. I spent a ride in the bareback pad with no spurs but a dressage whip. I rode another time without stirrups, another time with my eyes closed. Still, I couldn’t get my lower legs where I wanted them; I even banged my heel on the large buckle on flank strap – ouch! Those words kept haunting me “keep your heel down when you bring your leg back” How was I going to do that with my midget legs? It was Friday before the big “Ah Ha! light bulb” moment happened. The hip flexor! What if I started the cue from my hip, clear up at the top of my leg? I opened my hip angle, felt the hip flexor lengthen and then moved my lower leg behind the girth. My horse immediately moved her hip over off the pressure. It was so easy it was crazy! So I tried the other leg, same reaction! I rode the entire ride moving Grace’s hind end all over the place and laughing like an idiot. Good thing I ride alone. I was even able to soften my back and keep my abdominal wall engaged. This lightened my seat allowing my horse to drive up even further from behind.

At my Saturday lesson I showed Sarah the progress I had made and went on to repeat to her most of what she has been telling me for the last 10 years. Now that we had control of the hip Sarah had me move onto the shoulder. I was now able to get my horse to rock back on her hind end with a soft hand by using an indirect aid from the outside rein. The goal was to pick her shoulder up to “stand up the pillars”. I felt Grace’s stride completely change underneath me; there was a loftiness to it that was missing before. Her lope was a pleasure to sit and required a lot less work on my part. Grace forgot to drop her shoulder to the right when loping on the left lead; I was even able to slow her stride down by asking her to sit on her hock for a longer period of time. There was a flow to the ride, an “easiness” that I was just starting to capture.

I’m not sure what exactly causes that level of feel to come and go. If I had to guess I would think that it has something to do with the fact that I ride the same horse day in and day out. We get really used to each other’s patterns and our role in them. I have to give myself a break as I do have “feel”. I know this because I put snaps on pair of reins this week so they could be more interchangeable between bridles. Within seconds of that ride I was already cursing the snaps and them remembering why I have taken them off my reins in the past. Snaps attached to the end of water loops on reins mess with my “feel”; they break the soft contact I have with my horse’s mouth. I am also thankful for the brick wall rides because without them I would never grow as a rider and never strive for what I thought only months before wasn’t possible. The journey continues…

Thursday, November 8, 2012

That Time of the Year Again


It got me again - the time change thing. I don't know why it throws me off my game, every year I know that it's coming. I need that extra hour of light at the end of the day - that part of the day is MY time and now I have to fumble through it in the dark. I am determined not to let the lack of daylight get to me, but it's been less than a week and I'm already bummed out about it.

This time of year I am very grateful for my job which allowed me the flexibility to set my own shift. I start my day at the office at 6:00am with the idea that I will leave at 3:00pm. This week was the first time in months that I've come remotely close to leaving near 3:00pm. I've been working 9-10 hour days all summer, so there is one positive to the time change in that I am getting myself out of the office on time. I love being in the office before the sun comes up - really! I get to my desk while the place is still quiet, get to make the first pot of coffee just the way I like it and I get to enjoy some quality time with my customers on the other side of the pond. I wake up at 4:30am or earlier in order to feed Grace and get to work on time. Yes - I am one of those freakish morning people.

Monday was the first day that I had to deal with the time change after work. I had this great idea that I would get all my chores done before I rode, cleaning the pasture, putting down new bedding in the shelter, filling and hanging the hay net. It was 4:30pm before I set my seat in the saddle. I dislike being kept to a schedule when I ride, if Grace needs an hour, I will take the full hour. If we accomplish the task at hand in 25 minutes, then exit the arena and hit the trail. Monday was an hour long ride, and we had ended with a lot of loping. I now had a horse in need of a good cool out and there was very little light to see by. So I did what any stubborn cowgirl would do and I took my horse for a walk on the trails in the dark. Luckily Grace was steady as a rock, and was very much my Seeing Eye horse.

Tuesday and Wednesday I was smarter, I made sure to get out of work close to 3:00pm and rode as soon as I got home. I was even able to get most of my chores done with some daylight. My LED head lamp is now with me morning and night since I start and end my day outside in the dark. I'm trying not to think about how much darker it is going to get over the next month and a half, I really want to keep Grace going 6 days a week this winter, I would imagine that a few of those weekdays will eventually be groundwork days. Riding all winter isn't just for Grace, though I do get a ton of valuable training done in the off season; I need to keep riding for me. It is my happy place, my Zen, my chance to reconnect to my soul. I end up getting more creative in the winter; riding in the dark, riding on the driveway when the arenas are flooded, more groundwork or hauling out to covered arenas. We "spring forward" on March 10 2013, 123 days from now, in the meantime I will be making use of every last second of day light.