Friday, January 29, 2010

So much for that

So the plan was to ride on Wednesday. That didn't happen, because my neck was really hurting.

It wasn't necessarily because of the sawdust shoveling, but I'm sure it contributed to it. I had gone to my chiropractor on Monday for neck pain and had gotten some massotherapy as part of the treatment. She massaged some of the muscles really deep, and I figured my pain on Wednesday was soreness from the massage.

Thursday I was in a lot of pain, so I went in again and had another treatment, including massage therapy. I felt much better, and was thinking I could finally ride on Friday.

Except that today's high was around 20 degrees. I'd love to ride, but I need to breathe to do it, so I stayed home. We have company coming this weekend, plus I have to work, and it's not supposed to get any warmer, so I don't see any saddle time in my future. Looks like it will warmer up to the mid 30's in the middle of next week. Now that's a temperature I can handle.

You know, I had planned to take some lessons with one of my trainers students while my trainer was in Florida. The way this winter is going that might not happen. Blah. I'm not happy! Although I'm sure the horses don't mind the break. They just won't be happy when I make them go back to work!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Because someone had to

I wrote a post about my riding, and got very excited about my next rides. Then I got to the barn on Tuesday, all set to ride, and this is what I saw in the arena.

Awww yeah. The sawdust delivery came. And the sawdust room is such that the dumptruck can pull into the arena and dump the load of sawdust right into the sawdust room. Unfortunately it doesn't all go into the sawdust room, and so it must be shoveled. Since I am the only one who rides in the arena, I'm the one who has to shovel it if I want an unimpeded ride.

I started shoveling at 3:55. By 5:00, here is what the pile looked like.


After shoveling sawdust for an hour I was too pooped to ride. I turned both horses out together and picked their stalls, then headed home. I will ride them today instead. At least I got some exercise!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Improving my seat

I'm pretty surprised that I'm making any sort of progress in my riding at all, considering how cold it's been and how much I hate to ride in the winter. However both horses are going so well that I just can't stay away from the barn. That doesn't mean I don't complain a lot though. Once I'm actually on a horse it's not that bad. It's just the driving out there, grooming, etc that sucks. It's all so much better when it's warm and sunny outside.

Anyway, as I've written before I spent quite a few weeks riding Kaswyn bareback because I was concerned about hurting his back again. I wanted to take it nice and slow and make sure he was building the muscles up in his back properly. I spent some time making sure he was stretching down in the neck so that I could get his back muscles relaxed, up, and working. There was a nice article in Dressage Today by Cesar Parra about the training pyramid and it included a diagram of how the horse should stretch into the bit but not be on the forehand. I tried to keep this picture in my mind as I rode Kaswyn at the trot and canter, and I made sure that he was still connected to my hand but was stretching and using his back.

I found this video of Cesar Parra demonstrating warming up using this kind of stretching work. The first 2.5 minutes illustrates this nicely.

Video: Cesar Parra on the Stages of the Training Pyramid

So while I was doing this work I had a lesson and my trainer cautioned me to do some collected work too so that he can begin to build some of those muscles too. So I started to use my saddle again, with a gel pad, and did some collected work. I though Kaswyn didn't feel as good as I wanted him to, and more importantly he didn't feel as solid as Albert felt.

I decided to ride Albert bareback a few times just to see what he felt like. His back felt great - very powerful and carrying. I wanted to get that same feeling in Kaswyn, but I knew that Kaswyn just moves differently and he might not ever feel that way for me.

The big light bulb moment was when I got back on Albert with a saddle. I realized that I was gripping him with my upper thighs. I never noticed it before, but now that I had ridden him bareback I could really tell. With the bareback pad there was nothing to grip onto like there was in the saddle.

I took a minute to think about what I was doing. It wasn't so much a function of "leg on" or "leg off". I could totally take my lower leg off and still be gripping with my thigh. Why was I doing this? It was not necessary, unless I didn't trust my seat and believe that I could just stay in the saddle while letting go with my legs.

One of the things that was hard for me to get the idea of when I switched from hunt seat to dressage was that I should "leave my knee open". On other words, don't grip with the knee, but use the lower leg. I was able to do that eventually, but I never let go with my thigh completely. This, I believe for me anyway, makes it hard for my seat to be flexible, and makes it static. I can't go with the horse's back as easily because my thigh has me glued to one part of the saddle.

After all this thinking, I asked Albert to trot, and then I took ALL of my leg off of him. To do this I just spread my legs apart from the hip and let my seat fall totally in the saddle like it would if I were bareback. Then I used my seat only to ride, unless I needed the leg for an aide or half-halt. After I used the leg I had to tell myself "legs apart, seat only". It was a little scary at first, because I think that thigh gripping gave me mental stability in the saddle. My mind said "You are on a horse so you have to hang on." I had to convince my mind that I could stay on without gripping. I wasn't going to fall off.

You know, my ride got pretty amazing after that. Albert was a little hesitant at first, I'm certain because he is used to feeling a little clamped by my thigh. But once he realized that I wasn't going to squeeze him there anymore, he really loosened up his back and, wowza! It was so nice. Since then he has gotten increasingly sensitive to my leg, which is great because my aids can be very subtle.

The real proof of if I could make this work would be when I got on Kaswyn. All of my bad habits scream out loudly when I ride my own horse, because I have ridden him more than I have ridden any other horse in my life. I got on Kaswyn and took my entire leg off. And he also felt wonderful. In the last few rides I've noticed, like I did with Albert, an increased sensitivity to my leg aids. I still have to remind myself, especially on Kaswyn, to keep my legs apart and not grip. But it's definitely been a change for the better in my riding.

Of course I'm saying this before I've had a chance to have a lesson. I think it feels better for me, and I think the horses feel better, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's correct. So the real proof will be when I have a lesson. We'll see if I'm on the right track.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Since I haven't been riding much due to the very cold weather and therefore I have nothing horse related to write about, I thought I'd share some of my favorite memories from when I started riding.

I was 12 years old and my new friend, Jean-Marie, took me with her to her riding lesson. I talked my parents into giving me four lessons, and then I worked out a deal with the riding instructor to work off my lessons by grooming horses. This situation lasted for years and created many fond memories. Here are some of the things that stuck with me from that time - circa 1982-1984.

Blue Eyes

There used to be a big, grey, male cat at the barn named Blue Eyes because he had very bright blue eyes. He was never neutered because the barn manager (a man) said he could never catch him. Personally I just think he didn't want to emasculate the cat by giving him the snip. Blue Eyes had no problem spreading his seed and there were usually two litters of kittens a year around the barn.

Blue Eyes was a nasty boy, and would fight with any of his sons and drive them away. He also didn't have qualms about beating up his lady friends either. Nobody could get to close to him to pet him, and frankly nobody wanted to. He wasn't cuddly - he was a bruiser.

Then one day, Blue Eyes fathered a male cat that looked just like him. "Junior" turned out to be a chip off the old block, and one he was big enough he stood his ground against his old man. Those two fought fiercely until one day Junior really kicked his papas' butt. Blue Eyes went away to lick his wounds and heal, but eventually he came back. Then I felt sorry for him, because it was clear that he was but a shell of his former self. He never challenged his son again, but kept a safe distance and was easily run off. He still had the authority to chase the females away from the cat food if Junior wasn't around, so he got to eat. He could usually be found sitting far away from the barn, under the eucalyptus trees, all alone. I'm sure he looked at the barn and remembered when it was his to command. Eventually he slunk off somewhere and died.

Whenever I see a big grey cat with blue eyes, I always think about the rise and fall of Blue Eyes.

Murphy's Oil Soap Gel

At the barn we cleaned tack exclusively with Murphy's Oil Soap. Most people know it know as a liquid for cleaning your wood floors, but it used to come in a tub in jelly form. The smell is the same, but it gave a great tactile experience to stick your hand into the goopy jelly and lather up your sponge. I don't use Murphy's anymore on my tack (I use Carr Day and Martin saddle soap and Leather Therapy Leather Conditioner) because I was told that Murphy's will stretch your leather. But I still love the smell and the memory of gooshing the jelly.

Kopertox and Repel-X

Two other products that have smells that remind me of that place and time. The school horses lived outside, with no barn or run-in shed. Remember, this was California! The "pasture", if you can call it that, was really just a big paddock. It was probably 3 acres, with little or no grass, some trees around the edges, and two large hay feeders in the middle. In the summer it was full of flies, so we tried to keep the horses covered in fly spray. The barn used to buy gallons of Repel-X concentrate and we'd mix and fill up 5 or 6 spray bottles of it. Then in the "winter" the paddock would get muddy and all the horses would get thrush, so we'd have to dose their feet with Kopertox. Gotta love those bright green stains on your hands!

Duck Boots

Everyone at the barn had these boots. So I had to get a pair. These were Sporto's. I wanted Sporto's. I got something close, but not exactly Sporto's. Looking back it seemed so important. Here's the thing that blows me away - I used to ride in these. Every day. They had no ankle support and were so short I don't know how they stayed on my feet! But I loved those boots.

The Sting

In addition to riding in those duck boots, I also rode in jeans. I didn't have chaps, or half-chaps, or gaiters, or anything. Just jeans and duck boots. And I rode English. I can't tell you how many times I finished a lesson and looked down to see that the insides of the knees of my jeans had bloody patches on them. Yep, I rode so much that the jeans rubbed a bloody raw spot on the inside of my knees. The worst part? When the water hit it in the shower later. That's "The Sting". Yowieee!! I still have faint scars on the insides on both knees from this.

Fake Side Saddle

This is something I remember both of my first riding instructors doing. On trail rides, in English saddles, they would swing one leg over the front of the saddle (usually the right leg over the left side of the saddle) to make it look like they were riding side saddle. Now I know this isn't the safest thing to do, but I always thought they looked so cool doing it.

When I remembered this the other day I tried to out on Kaswyn. He immediately picked his head up and got nervous, and was about to scoot out from under me. I guess that's why my trainers did it on school horses who didn't really care what you did, as long as they got to stand under the trees at the end of the lesson.

Snowball and The Snart

One of the school horses was a grey pony gelding named Snowball. He was a great kids pony and would just pack those kids around the ring. He could jump a little bit too, and if you got on his case about being lazy he could really pep up and be a fun ride.

The funniest thing about Snowball was that he used to sneeze a lot. He'd do four or five in a row, usually while standing in line waiting his turn to jump. And every time he'd sneeze, he'd crack a really loud, sharp fart. Now, as 12 year old kids, we thought this was hilarious. Then we'd joke about it later, saying "Ahh...ahh ahh..chooPPPHHBBT!". Yes, it was childish, but we were children! Now whenever I hear a horse Snart (a sneeze with a fart), I think of Snowball.

Whip Fights

For reasons that don't make any sense, Jean-Marie and I used to have whip fights. It's exactly like it sounds. We would each grab a whip and try to whip each other. Yes, really stupid and painful, but hilariously funny. I haven't done it in years, but next time Jean-Marie and I get together there might have to be whips involved. Oh, and horses too, because without them it would just be weird.

What are your childhood horse memories?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Some actual progress

It's hard to have a blog centered on riding and training when you aren't riding or training that much.

The weather up here has been so cold, and I have not been riding. Mainly because when it gets around 20 degrees it's hard for me to breathe, but also because I really hate to be cold. And I hate riding when I'm all bundled up and can't move very well. Riding in the winter sucks, no doubt about that.

I've been getting to ride 2 or 3 times a week. And I don't ride for all that long, because I don't really think it's good for the horses, or me, to be breathing that cold air while exercising. I know a lot of people will disagree with me and say it's fine, but I'm still not good with it.

I had this grand idea that I'd be able to do some training and even take some lessons with a fellow student of my trainer's while my trainer is in Florida. I only wanted to do two a month for January and February, but the way it's going neither I nor the horses will be in any shape for lessons! Maybe in February, but January looks doubtful.

Although we're not making great progress on the fitness end of things, I'm making some small progress with my riding technique. When I had my last lesson, my trainer and I worked on Albert and making him be submissive to my hand without tugging on me or making it so I have to move my hands a lot and loosen his neck all the time. She told me that I should keep my hands steady and just push him into the contact and not let him resist or go backwards or stop. The goal was to have him move quietly forward into my hands without tugging.

We were able to achieve this, and over the past few weeks I've noticed something - I move my hands way too much. It's just a bad habit that I have, to always adjust the horse with my hands first. I was not only doing it on Albert but also on Kaswyn. If I would get any kind of resistance to the bit, even if it was a little tightening of the neck, I would immediately move my hands and fix the problem.

So what I've been doing lately, with both horses, is what when I feel the need to move my hands around, I don't. I just let them be against my hand for a moment, and then drive forward with my leg and seat. It's like I'm taking a really long half-halt that the horse initiated by coming against my hand themselves. Kaswyn and Albert are trained enough to know what they are supposed to do, and now both of them will soften on their own. As soon as I feel them give, I also give a touch with my hands. I had already worked through a lot of this with Albert, but when I realized what I was doing with Kaswyn I started the technique with him. He didn't get it at first, and just kept resisting. Eventually he gave in his neck and as soon as he did I released a little with my hands so we were meeting halfway, and then told him what a good boy he was. The time that I had to do the long half-halt with him has shortened, to the point now where some of them are just momentary.

It's times like these when I feel like I'm really getting it. I just wish I could ride more right now, and ride comfortably. Hurry up and get here spring! I miss ya!

Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr