Tuesday, July 30, 2013

My Part of the Equation

Lately I feel like I am holding Grace back. In the last 6 months she has become the horse I thought she could be the day I bought her. I’ve have seen more potential in that little mare in the last year than I have in the 12 years before it. She is starting to look like she belongs in the show pen, and is starting to place in the primary colors. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the last few weeks drinking in photos from 3 straight weekends of shows that all happened to have a professional photographer. I can’t help but see the stiffness and imbalance in the rider and I wonder just how much better the horse could be if the rider could become one with her. 

I ride 6 to 7 days a week in the summer and 4 to 5 days in the week all winter – all outside. I bust my ass to make myself better for my horse, but I still feel like I falll short. I’m never quite sure what the other riders at the shows are doing that I am not or maybe they are not doing something that I am? I’ve had some great lessons with Sarah lately that are creating some amazing body awareness. One lesson focused on breathing, pulling my breath up into my shoulders, filling my sternum with air before letting it out and melting into my horse. At last week’s lesson I had a moment at the jog that was downright magical; I could feel my horse’s joints bending through my seat and hips, and felt her place each hoof on the ground. The next day I became frustrated at home when I couldn’t capture the same feeling at the lope as I had at the lesson. Why is this so freaking hard?

I had an appointment at the Strength Lab today with James Bowman and I shared with him some of the body issues I’m having in the saddle. From my arched lower back to my tight hip flexors and hamstrings, I went through all the areas that I tense when riding. We discussed that I am not in pain like I was years ago, but my body is still guarding itself when I'm riding, preparing for the inevitable fall especially at the lope. The more I talked the more I could see the wheels in James head turning; he was quickly jotting notes down and calling out names of exercises. At one point there were 7 exercises on the list leading me to believe that this was not going to be one of those wonderful hour long body work sessions. 

James took me through each exercise first giving me a demo and then talking me through each move as I tried it. Each move was structured to build strength while increasing mobility, James explained that they are equally important in the saddle. Each exercise looked easy enough when he did it, but I found them to be both mentally and physically challenging, yet by the 3rd or 4th repetition my brain and body started to figure it out and my range of motion increased. My hips felt amazing by the end of the session and the tension in my low back was replaced by engagement from my abdominals. I have my homework laid out in front of me; 7 exercises that with a warm up should only take 30 minutes a day and I am only to do them 3 days a week. James said that if I am consistent I should see dramatic results in 6-8 weeks and if the exercises become too easy to let him know and he will step it up for me.  I promise to keep you updated and will even break down some of the exercises over the next few weeks. My goal is to be able to pull my weight in the partnership that I’ve built with that amazing little mare.

Monday, July 29, 2013

New Video

No time to write but here is an updated video!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Woman and Her Truck

I drive a Ford but my hat is off to Chevy for finally marketing to the women who drive trucks! This is my current favorite commercial!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Weekend 3 of Horse Shows

This weekend was the 3rd consecutive weekend of hauling Grace to horse shows. We came away with some new pretty ribbons and even more show ring confidence. We are one month away from the Region 1 AQHA Show. I have a list of things to train harder on between now and then, but most of all I have really enjoyed sitting on Grace in the show pen. In the last two weeks I've had 2 different people ask if she was the same horse that they've seen me show before, they were sure that I had a new horse. That to me is a huge compliment, and it speaks volumes to Grace's change in demeanor in the show pen. One of the judges from last weekends show was a steward at today's show. She told me today how much she enjoys watching Grace and again described her as a "nice working horse". I've always thought the world of my mare, but having other people tell me that they like her when I am at a horse show is a new experience. 

I wanted to keep a close eye on Grace over the last few weeks to see how she held up to hauling and showing. We had hot days each weekend and our hauls were between 40 minutes and 2 hours, this weekend was the only weekend that she didn't overnight at a showgrounds as we were able to come home for the night on Saturday. Grace felt the most tired to me today, I had to keep my leg on to keep her going. She was also a little cranky when tied to the trailer, giving me her mare ears and stink eye when I would approach her. She was wonderful when I was in the saddle, no attitude and no ear pinning, on the ground she was letting me know she was tired. The footing at the club we were at today is deep, and not at all like the footing that I condition her on. There have been complaints about it since the club put it in early in the spring. They replaced it this last week and it still needs more time to settle. I could feel Grace working really hard to get out of it at the lope, I only took her in 4 classes 2 of which were patterns. When I was asked to add the Quarter Horse Pleasure class I declined, I didn't want to push Grace when she was already tired and I didn't want to spend any more time in the deep footing. I will say that in footing that deep Grace's lope was lovely, and very ridable. I even won a championship equitation class under one of the judges, it was nice to be able to sit the lope without stirrups. We also won Western Riding under both judges, I want to sharpen up our changes before Region 1. At the last two shows I felt like the flying changes were a bit late and could have been cleaner, but the pattern itself is at least 100 times better than last year.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Horse show Pictures!

These are pictures from the show from the end of June. I will have to get better pictures of this shirt so you can see how great it is. I wore this same shirt this last weekend and got a ton of compliments on it. This is the shirt that I picked up off Craigslist for $60 - the girl who owned it had moved on to more expensive outfits and her mom was selling it. I have a new saddle pad on the way that should be a better match.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Off Horse Showing

Grace and I just completed week 2 of 3 weekends in a row of horse shows. When I looked at our potential schedule for July I thought it might be a bit much, but also thought it would be the best way to prepare for the Region 1 AQHA show in August. Last weekend's show was good, Grace was much more consistent in both the pattern and rail classes with the exception of a very out of character spook in one of the Western Riding classes. During what was shaping up to be one of the best patterns we've ever ridden she stopped dead during the line changes to spook at a sun spot at the end of the arena. Only a Western Washington horse would spook at the sun! We recovered after that to win the next Western Riding class. The spook left me a little shaken, while it was very rideable it seemed to come out of nowhere I realized I have no clue what to do when Grace decides to act like a horse. 

This weekend we hauled on our own up to a zone show almost 2 hours from home. My parents live 30 minutes from the fairgrounds so I knew I had a place to stay if I came up on Saturday and showed on Sunday. Saturdays at the zone shows are English day with trail classes at the end of the day. I entered in the 18 and Over trail and the Championship Trail class. I figured it would be good practice for Region 1 where I plan to ride in Rookie and Novice Amateur trail. As soon as I saw the patterns at this show I knew I would have to walk them both, they were 2 very different patterns, the Championship pattern was the most technical pattern I've seen at a zone show, it rivaled some AQHA patterns, it just needed a few more poles. One thing I learned this weekend is that I should be walking every trail pattern. I've gotten out of the habit since I haul alone at times and don't have anyone to hold my horse. This time I put her in her stall and still had plenty of time before I had to ride. I found someone to hold her for the Championship walk. The first class went well, we did get a bit stuck in the L and bumped the poles, we placed in the middle of a very competitive class. 

You know the Championship class is going to be good when it starts with a right hand push back through gate, yes - I said back through! From there you picked up the jog and started a figure 8 over a series of poles, you finished the figure 8 at the lope which also included a lead change. It reminded me of something Tim Kimura would lay out. I must have walked that part of the pattern 3 times looking for the line to the poles after the lead change. I knew I had to give myself plenty of room to get straight for the change and still have time to get over the next set of poles. It had to start after the jog pole, I had to make sure I got to the right spot of the first lope pole to set up my line to the lead change. This meant using all the real estate I had between obstacles. Did I mention that the pattern was set in less than half of the arena? Even the judges commented on how tight it was as they measured it multiple times. At the end of the pattern you came out of a 270 in a tight box to step onto the short side of the bridge, turn right on the bridge and then step off into a fan of poles. The bridge was not wide enough for a horse to get all four hooves on it width wise,I watched as several horses before me stumbled off of it. Still, I loved this pattern - it was so technical and it asked a lot of great questions. 

I made a mental note to take my time going into the class, we both needed to be grounded for what was coming. The back though gate was really no big deal and I was much smoother about changing my rein hand than I was in the first class. From there we started our jog over the poles, I came out the second pole and asked for the lope which Grace stepped right into. I loped over my first pole exactly how I wanted to, went deep into the corner so I could come out straight for the lead change. We only had a stride after the change before the next set of poles, which were set as a corner. Grace kind of hoped into the poles, but landed on the other side at a lope. I felt her get flustered for a second so I said out loud "You're ok, you're doing great!" We loped into the L, stopped and took a deep breath. This time she backed the L without touching the poles. From the back up we picked up the lope, loped out of the L, turned left - where I made sure to have her shoulder and loped over a line of 4 poles. I have to say it was a lovely line of poles! Then we jogged into the box for the 270. I again took a breath to settle, and then executed the 270 to the left. I was a hair short of the 270 which left me at an angle. The angle was exactly where I needed to be to get onto the bridge and turn. I made sure that Grace took her time so she wouldn't fall. We then stepped out over the fan of poles and were done. The pattern felt great and I knew it was the best I could do. As I walked out past the judges one of them said "Very well ridden!", there were people in the audience cheering and clapping. I was pretty blown away that I had just done that, it was by far the best pattern I'd ever ridden. There were still several goes after mine, a few of the riders left were the ones that I consistently place under. I didn't really care about the placings, I just knew I was one step closer to feeling like I belonged at AQHA shows. I untacked Grace and then came back to help put the course away. They placed the class while were were putting away poles, I had won the championship under both judges! 

I went out of my way to thank the woman that set the course and told her that I appreciated how technical it was. She said I rode it exactly how it was written, I told her that I walked it several times trying to figure out the questions she was asking. The student judge also complemented me on the pattern telling me that I nailed it. I hope to have pictures soon and need to get someone to film next time we show, but even without footage I won't forget the feeling of that course, everything was clicking at the same time. It reminded me of years ago when I rode jumpers, every once and a while I would pull out a win on a super technical course because I would read a line and just get it and it seemed like no one else did. And to think a year ago I was struggling to lope over a single pole.