Sunday, February 24, 2013

Taking A Vacation From My Spurs

“If you jab that mare with your spur one more time I’m taking them off!” Those were Sarah’s words to me seconds before I lost the privilege of wearing my spurs yesterday. We were working on lope transitions and I found myself totally unable to ask for one without using my right spur. After I removed my spurs Sarah had me climb on her 4 year old gelding “Max” to get a better feel of what I was looking for. Max was started by Sarah; he is just lovely to watch and I found myself admiring his steady way of going at the horse show the weekend before. Max told on me every time I went to my hand without using my leg by lifting his head, he told on me every time I used too much hand or didn’t give to him when he gave to me, Max told on me every time I tensed and hollowed my back. Max is a tattletale! Max also told on me when I got it right by softly going to the bit and lifting his back. It didn’t take long before I was enjoying his rocking horse rhythmic lope with a smile on my face. I was then able to get back on Grace sans spurs and have a really beautiful ride. Looks like the spurs are back in my tack truck for an unforeseen amount of time while I get back in contact with my lower leg.

Sarah is out of town for the next several weekends so Grace and I will be working hard to have something to show her when she gets back. I’ve been riding with Sarah for years, but for the past year have been more consistent, rarely missing a week; it will be odd to go a few weeks without her. At the same time I am looking forward to working through some things on my own. I’ve found that the more my feel develops I ride more like a trainer at home; more proactive as opposed to reactive. I had a very affirming moment with the outside rein on Thursday that I look forward to exploring further. I was asking for a lope and decided to wait until I knew that I had Grace on the outside rein before giving the lope cue. Each time I did this I had a clean departure. There were times that I had to circle at the jog before getting a true connection on the outside rein going to the left, but the extra patience was well worth the quality that came from it.

On Sunday Grace and I hauled out to hit the trails with my good friend Jeanni. Grace was very well behaved and relaxed out on the trail. It was so nice to get to walk along and have a conversation with Jeanni and not have to micromanage every step. We ended the ride with the same statement we make each time “we need to do this more often!” Not bad for a weekend in February.  

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Ride Every Stride Means Ride Every Stride

I had another ahh-haa moment at the schooling show this weekend. This was a big one! Our warm up sessions were beautiful, both the mare and I were relaxed she looked and felt great. Once again it all tensed up in the show ring. I never felt myself tense, but within moments of entering the in gate we were back in that place where I am afraid to sneeze because it might cause her to surge forward.After a few rail classes I was looking forward to our equitation pattern class but Grace gave me an explosive lead change on pattern which frustrated me because her changes at home have been beautiful every time. Sarah pointed out that I was allowing Grace to drop her shoulder and then swing her hind end, she was all over the place.

After the lunch break I did an exercise with Grace that we’ve been doing in our lessons. We ride a square; in the corners I ask for an inside bend, push the hip to the outside asking her to step over behind and then capture the movement with the outside rein using both legs to move the hind end forward. The result is a horse that picks up her shoulders, moves over her back and engages her hind end. I was able to complete the exercise one handed at the jog in the warm up pen. Grace looked and felt amazing she could almost be mistaken for a western pleasure horse. Sarah told me to capture that in my bubble and take it into the show pen. But wait, that would mean I would have to keep riding just like that down the rail. To get Grace to move like that means that I am fully aware of the position of her shoulders, hips and ribcage and I am constantly making small adjustments to keep them in line. LIGHTBULB!!! So I actually have to ride each stride in the show pen and by riding you mean not just sitting there hoping for the best. I went into a class of 25 horses and had the best rail class I’ve ever had. We didn’t place against all the shutdown pleasure horses but the experience was better than any placing. I even had a man walk up to me later who told me he really enjoyed watching me and my horse together.

We ended the day with Ranch Horse Pleasure and Western Riding which are a real treat for us since we both actually enjoy those classes. I was too tense at the beginning of my first Western Riding Class; still we nailed the line changes which were set at 24 feet. Sarah made me take my time going into the second class which made a big difference. Grace took over on one of the crossing changes later in the pattern throwing in some of her extra credit flying changes. I shut her down and got on her case about taking over. After that she waited on me before changing lead, sometimes I need to remember to school at the schooling show. I scratched the trail classes because I could tell the mare was tired and I was pleased with how we ended the day.

I’ve been on the fence about showing this year, it’s expensive, time consuming and there are times I don’t see the value in entering the same ring as the crab crawlers. Then I have moments like I did yesterday where I enjoy being in the show ring on Grace. I feel like we are just now coming into ourselves and getting to the point that we look like we belong at a horse show. One of my goals this year is to compete in the Ranch Horse Please class at AQHA shows. For now I plan to focus on riding every stride in and out of the show pen.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

When I Work Out It Works Out for Grace



I’ve been working out on a regular basis since October. I started with 20 minutes of cardio twice a week. Cardio is my least favorite work out but it always gives me the best results. I have a workout buddy at the office who keeps me accountable for our standing appointment Tuesday and Thursday at lunch. Over time we increased our cardio time to 30 minutes and have plans to push to 35 minutes next week. After the holidays I added 2 days of weight lifting, an exercise that I enjoy. I started working out again because I no longer have the metabolism that I did in my 20’s and after a few years of carrying extra body fat I am ready to dump Frump Girl and reclaim my Inner Goddess. One side effect that I noticed in the first week was how working out consistently improved my time in the saddle.

In October I noticed that on the afternoons I rode after working out at lunch I just sat better in the saddle. My body made sense to me; I didn’t have to spend the first 20 minutes of the ride finding my seat. The more consistent that I became with my workouts the more consistent I became in the saddle. Over the winter I have found myself understanding more of what Sarah says in my lessons. When she tells me to soften my back I know that I need to engage my core and I can actually do it. I have a “feel” that I don’t remember having in the past. During our lessons I have multiple ahh-haa moments and often stop to let Sarah in on them. 2 weeks ago I caught myself dropping the contact each time I asked for a lope transition. I’ve been doing this for years and for the first time I actually understood why it was happening and how to correct it. A week later I found that every time I wanted to slow my horse down I took my leg off her completely again dropping contact this time with my legs instead of the reins. My horse then dropped her back, lifted my head almost to say “Where did you go”. This has also been going on for years and I finally felt it. I’ve had some of the best rides on my mare in the last few months. I know when I am doing it right because it suddenly becomes easy, I can communicate with my entire body and not just my hands. Grace is moving better than ever and is becoming the horse that I look forward to sitting on in the show ring.

There are times in the gym when I get upset with myself for letting my body go for so long. I used to be stronger and was able to easily lift twice the weight that I struggle with now. I never had to think about the food I put in my body because I burned all the extra calories without having to work at it. Then I remember that the super fit body of my 20’s was also incredibly crooked in the saddle and I lamed up more than one horse with my imbalance. I am once again grateful for the little bay mare that is my teacher on this journey.