Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Vacations for Brains

When will you just leave me alone?!
After two weeks of stress and fighting and one good (though not terribly productive) ride, I gave Guinness a four day vacation last week.
I gave myself one, too.

Honestly, it was needed. In the one good ride I had before vacation, I focused on just listening to my horse and backing way off the pressure and expectations. Now that we're back in work, I'm still finding that I need to back off some. However, the work I am getting from Guinness no longer feels like we are regressing. He feels strong and happy in his work again. Hell, he's even perking up his ears and coming to me in the field again.

Hi Mom! I'm ready for work!

Now, isn't that kind of refresh the whole point of a vacation?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Straight Like An Arrow (more like a broken arrow)

Guys, it's time. I need to come clean about my dressage horse's main fault, the one holding us back from the medium trot and pure collected gaits. The one that's basically destroying our chances to get through Second Level. And, the one causing all the tantrums. I've talked about it a little before, but it's time for the dirty details...

My horse is more crooked than a corkscrew. It's sad, but true.

So cute. So crooked.

This crookedness really came to a head a few weeks ago when I asked him to flex left, and he reared, nearly fell over, and I fell off of him. (More like bailed so he wouldn't fall on me ...) The whole thing is getting a little dangerous, and it's really difficult to fix.

We've managed to pinpoint the two bases of the issue:
#1. Guinness does not step up and under as much with his right hind as he does with his left.
#2. He carries all of his tension in his neck, and locks up at the shoulder. This makes him feel precariously off balance and causes more tension. (Or as I like to call it, The Horrible Tension Spiral of Doom!)

The first issue has an easy fix. If I keep my right seatbone forward at all times (even going to the left), and keep bumping Guinness every time I feel him slack with that right hind, he will step forward with that right hind. However, fixing this issue does nothing if there is a locked and tense wither/neck/poll area blocking all the forward energy a newly stepping hind leg creates.

Of course, as everyone who has ever ridden a nervous and tense horse can tell you, you can't simply "fix" tension. You have to massage it out. You have to be encouraging. You have to stay positive. You have to stretch it out. And? Most importantly? You have to wait it out.  You would think after all these years of riding a tight little stress ball I would be used to this. Of course, I am not.
Ball of tension! Can't you just see the blocked/tight wither/neck/poll area?!

What's working right now is a concert of things. To start, I'm keeping my elbows loose and absorbent, and keeping the left rein constant and forgiving. I'm establishing a half-halt (which sometimes requires a bit of "sit-down-right-this-second" halting to get him to pay attention to), and riding tons of transitions off my seat (mostly walk/trot). In every transition, and anywhere else I feel him tense and stiffen his neck, I ask for a little flexion with my right rein and immediately push my right hip forward and bump with my leg to get him to step up into that slightly relaxed neck.

It's really not pretty, it's creating the hottest horse in the history of horses, and it takes an immense amount of mental awareness from me. But, it's working. It's really working... just slowly.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Heavy Horse and Painful Ring-Finger (A Cautionary Tale)

Well sadly, one of our team is on the injured list. For once, though, it is not the horse. Nope, it's this guy ...
Yep. That sad little ring finger ...
(Man. I do have the ugliest couch in the world.)
Remember how I was talking about trying to eradicate pulling from my list of riding faults? Well, that's become even more necessary as I've developed a painful case of bursitis in my right ring finger. You see, Crooked Horse has become very dependent on my right rein to hold him up when he becomes unbalanced, and I've been allowing him.

Silly me. That ends now.

We're in a difficult training phase right now. It's filled with spectacular horse tantrums, fraying rider patience, crookedness, fishtailing, and the occasional "pee-your-pants-it's-so-damn-good" moment. We ride for the moments.

Tantrum ho! Note the jammed neck, kicking hind leg, stuck shoulder, and my confused and sad left hand? Classic us.
So? Why all the dramatics?

We're at the point where Guinness needs to learn to sit with his hind end when I ask him to. When I sit on him right now, he tends to fishtail his hind end, pop a shoulder, lock his neck, or one of a thousand other evasions. Eventually, he'll throw me off balance and we'll get into a pulling match. I have to stay calm and sit this period out. He'll figure it out, and stop being so dramatic. And then, boom! We'll have great collection.

As Nancy said on Saturday, "Austen, someone has to be the adult in this relationship."

Dammit. I hate being an adult.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Throwback Thursday (the serious throwback version)

 I recently had my mother raid her house for all the old photos of me riding, and the few she found are priceless. (They get cuter as you go down ...)

Grant, my main man. Appendix Quarter Horse, off the track. Showed prelim with his owner, and taught me not to jump ahead, jump huge jumps from a standstill, stop a bolting horse by galloping straight into 7ft tall corn, stick a multitude of bucks, and dodge bites when removing winter blankets. I 100% owe to this guy my sticky seat and love of galloping. He was a total handful, and I loved him to death. I'm 12 here. (Check out those rockin' glasses and iridescent blue breeches. Whaaat!?)

Rainy (I think). A cobby draft/paint cross. Too heavy to be the safest jumper in the world, and ended up being a straight dressage horse with his owner, I think. I'm 11 here.
Rusty, lesson horse extraordinaire! Pretty sure he was a large quarter horse. Excellent jumper, took me novice XC. Hardest horse in the world to bridle, and taught me how to bridle just about anything. I'm about 8 here.

Reine. I don't remember too much about this guy, except that he was way too big for me to get my legs around, yet somehow had no problems being piloted by the tiny gnat that was me at age 7. Also? Catholic school uniform polo as horse show attire ... winning!

And finally, Ernie. The horse everyone learned to ride on. I'm about 6 in this photo and it was my first year of riding. I loved this pony (and yes, he does look remarkably similar to Guinness. Yes, I have a type when it comes to horses!). Ernie lived to the ripe old age of almost 40. He had to finally be put down just a few years ago, but was giving lessons to little kids until the very end. He just loved his job!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

No Stoppy-Stop With the Handsy-Hands

For the last two months, I've been in lesson heaven. Those familiar with my story know that I am adult amateur in every sense. Until this year, I'd never ridden above First Level dressage before, I work full time, my horse is not a well-bred dressage super star, and my time is incredibly limited. Add to that the fact that I see my trainer only once a month, and it's surprising we're even working on Second Level at this point. So when my trainer mentioned having me trailer the couple hours to her place for a mini "working student" day, I pretty much tossed Guinness into the trailer immediately.

I've been lucky enough to have two of these working student days in the last month on top of my regular monthly lesson, and the amount of feel I've picked up and the mechanics I've learned are really astounding. I don't feel like the same rider I was a month ago. Guinness has been really benefiting from all of my extra riding as well. He doesn't feel like the same horse. He's more confident in the bridle, more on my aids, more flexible, and overall more like a dressage horse.

Still for all of the overall improvements, I'm still working to perfect the basics. Top of the list right now? Eliminating pulling from my half halts and halts. 

Right now, the issue seems to be rooted in my balance. My first instinct is to drop my core behind the motion, which leads me to fall out of rhythm with my horse and lose all of the effectiveness in my seat. Then, I try to stop the growing freight train by lowering my hands and giving a pull. This, of course, just pulls my upper body further behind the movement and causes Guinness to lock his neck and poll against me.
This is pulling. Dear self, don't do this. K thnx, bai. 
The solution? Beat into my brain the need to push the center of my back out towards my hands, while leaving my contact alone. The most I can do is work the reins a bit to keep Guinness flexible in his poll and stop him from locking his neck.

The change in Guinness' way of going is amazing when I manage to stay with him through every half halt. However, I am amazed at how much core strength it is taking me to stay forward enough with my body while still sitting up with my seat.

This horse. What an ab workout...

Thursday, July 3, 2014

July Goals (May Analysis?!)

Since May was much too busy to keep on top of things, I figured I would just postpone goals until July. That's going to make things sort of disjointed, but I suppose that's life.
(In an effort to make this goals post more interesting, I've included adorable puppy photos. You're welcome.)

May Goals:
1. Work through the tension and temper tantrums going from straightness to flexion is causing in Guinness, and establish better overall straightness and balance.
Half success? Hard to think back and remember when we worked through the tension, but we did finally learn flexion. Unfortunately, we didn't exactly fix the straightness issue. More on that soon... 
Who's not straight? Me? Surely not!
2. Keep up with 2nd 1 and review and get comfortable with 1st 2. Video rides again a week out from Harmony.
Oops. Total fail. I didn't end up practicing either test in it's entirely before the show. Honestly, Guinness and I were arguing hard during every ride and getting just a nice trot going felt like reason to celebrate. The one video I have from this period I deleted. It was just bad. 

3. Push hard at the beginning of the month and up to Harmony in the Park in the middle of the month. Then, let Guinness have a good week off.
Yes! Despite the fights, we persevered and worked hard. Honestly everything paid off alright at Harmony, and afterwards we took a much needed break from each other and came back fresh. 
Proof of the much-needed arena break!
4. Have a good experience at Harmony in the Park at the middle of the month. Look for confident rides that are more representative of our capabilities. Try to ride every ride, and stay present in the moment. Don't hope Guinness is with me, but actively make it so.
Mostly success! Harmony was certainly a good experience, and my 60% at 2nd made me feel like I'm not totally failing out there. Of course, a lot of our basics were lacking and I ended up being late to my first class which didn't help me ride that test mindfully. One day we'll get reliable rides. Until then, perseverance!!
Owning it at Harmony ... 
5. Finish Bronze scores at 1st level.
Done! Done! Done! I think. I might still do a few first level tests just to see if I can increase our score and be competitive. 

6. Get Bronze score at 2nd level.
Long shot goal accomplished!! So proud of this. 
Gratuitous adorable dog photo, and fancy 2nd place ribbon. :)
5. Get out hacking more. At least once a week for a long ride, or twice a week for a short one.
Technical success. This has been hard, but we've at least been taking short jaunts every week, and occasionally getting out for a long ride. 
Just after this photo, we scared up a huge red-tailed hawk. Nobody panicked. I'm so proud.

Personal May Goals:
1. Yoga. Once a week. Do it!
Yes! Actually managed this. Fell off the yoga wagon a bit at the end of June, but I'm back on and seeing huge results. So helpful, though I still wish I hated it less. 
Getting to do it here at the end of the month certainly helped me enjoy it more. (Word of advice? When doing yoga on the beach, use a mat.)
2. Run a 9 miler. Increase weekly average to 17 miles, try to push for one week of 18-20.
Nope. Flat out no. The heat derailed my athletic training. All my runs have to be done before 7am to avoid the heat (huskies do not do well in hot weather, and neither to sad asthmatics). However, I've adjusted my schedule and am working back up to this. Maybe soon ?
Black Furry Creature would like to remind everyone that 5 mile runs in 75 degree, 90% humidity mornings are cruel and unusual punishment. He would also like to praise the creator of the air conditioner.
3. Keep up with my daily routines and stop letting ice cream and peanut butter sabotage my life. (Anyone else eat multiple jars of peanut butter in a week? No? Just me ...?)
Ha! No. Vacation and hot weather completely derailed all my routines and caused me to rely even more heavily on ice cream and peanut butter to survive. Life is hard, y'all. Peanut butter is a miracle.
"Mom. This is cruel. I love peanut butter..."
4. Get my plants/flowers planted, my yard looking less like a trailer park, and my screened in porch ready for the summer pizza party season.
Success! And, the summer pizza party was full of delicious food, great drinks, and lots of fun. 

July Goals
1. Take advantage of the truck and trailer being easily accessible this month to ride with Nancy more. 
2. Fix the crooked horse! Get Guinness really straight and working through, especially engage that right hind!
3. Fix the crooked rider! Commit weighting the correct seatbone to muscle memory, and increase hip flexibility. 
4. Start asking for more intense movement strings from Pig while keeping thoroughness. 
5. Fix Floating Leg Syndrome. Try to keep my legs on and back without holding with the thighs or knees. Gotta fix this to 100% separate seat from leg. So close!!
6. Ride more horses so I can fix my own straightness issues!
Ride all the horses!!

July Personal Goals
1. Yoga twice a week. Up the ante! (Cue internal groan-fest)
2. Increase runs back to 15-18 miles a week. Run a 7 miler. 
3. Achieve daily to-do list of zero nightly, and set up list for next day before bed. 
4. Get to bed before 10p on the week days. Sleep is important and I need to stop skimping on it.
Off running all the roads...

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Wordless Wednesday-- Chincoteague Edition

Assateague Lighthouse

View from the Wildlife Loop

A super-abandoned beach off of a service road offshoot. 

View of the super secret beach. Miles of empty on an 80° gorgeous Memorial Day. 

View off the Bivalve Trail towards Tom's Cove. 

5:30am sunrise on the beach 

Ponies from the Woodland Trail Overlook

Foal, up close from the north part of the park (only available via access 7mi road on foot) 

1996 mare. Very friendly, and probably remembers a time when the ponies used to roam the island freely and mug treats from tourists. 

The little band of ponies. 

Gorgeous cob-type pony stallion. Really stunning little guy.