Sunday, October 27, 2013

Body Awareness and Body Control

Now that its cold and I'm more inspired to write than ride, I wanted to post about some of the reflecting I did over the summer. With a couple months needed to recondition and acclimate to the humidity, I took things slow, and my rides became much more of a mental game. Without lessons, I figured I could really benefit from trying to process some of the material from the spring in a setting where I could just think, feel, and try.

My plan for Lola's reconditioning was to step down the training scale. Forward, rhythm, stretching to a longer contact. With the humidity, forward was the last thing on her mind. Example of our rides:
7pm arrive at barn thinking it will be cool enough to ride, only to find Lola drenched in sweat (just standing)!
7:15 cold hose sweaty beast
7:30 let her graze
8:00 take slightly cooler and now dry horse to tack up
Usually by then it was getting down to the 80s!

I wanted to make things easy. So we tended to ride out in the field where she was more forward thinking, and I usually did a warm up canter on a fully loose rein. Basically I was trying to get the forward button before I tried to push the forward into any sort of contact. So much of our summer was loose swinging trots and long rein canter.

At the end of each ride I tried to play with something that we struggle with: my seat, canter departs, sitting trot and canter without stirrups. I figure I know what my issues are, so I should really make an effort to fix them outside of lessons too.

The real break through was my uneven seat. I tend to sit off to the right, which isn't much a problem going right, but circles to the left throw me out to the right more. I constantly hear, "Bring your right seat bone to the center of the saddle." Ya... you mean instead of hanging two inches off my horse?? The thing is I just can't! Or if I do, it lasts a stride. So it was something to process.

What triggered all this was a lesson from back in 2010 when I was very first trying to canter Lola. It wasn't going well, and in an effort to clarify my cues for her, my trainer broke down what I needed to be doing for the left lead: step into left stirrup, windshield wiper your right left back, stay sitting up tall. When she broke it down, I was sort of dumbfounded. I was all the opposite of what my body did, no matter how much I told myself to stop I still stepped back into the right stirrup and pitched my upper body forward to ask. She commented that you can't really swing your leg back if your weight isn't more in your left seat and stirrup. You can't. Hmm...

Of course Lola was gone a year in between, and while I had different issues with Bear, canter departs on both horses have felt like a basic building block that I can't rely on. Something so simple, yet they freak me out because I know they are our weak link. So its me, I own this, and I need to fix this to ever progress, because its not like I only need to weight seat bones and swing legs for canter! There are a whole lot of movements I won't do correctly if I can't control my body.

It led me to a whole lot of research on correctly asking for the canter. Of course you can watch YouTube videos for hours and get 10 different ways. I was willing to take any description I could, hoping one would stick. The absolute best online resource in my opinion is USDF's E-Track learning center. I stumbled across this last fall. In a world of different philosophies it is nice to have one with the USDF stamp of approval. The videos, articles, etc that have been selected to be included are done by well known and proven rider/trainers, and they have a sense that educating an unknown person can be dangerous (think child lunging a green horse in side reins only to have the horse go up over backwards). They are conservative in their approach, only the safest methods on lunging, for example, made it into the program.

Anyway, they have this whole series on seat and position. A few of the exercises in that lead to a total break through. I really don't sit evenly on my seat bones at anytime. Even while sitting on a chair to run through the exercises, I sat more on my right seat bone. Now to sit on the opposite seat bone, what you are really doing is lightening or lifting one. So to have even weight on each I need to lift my right a little. It was uncomfortable, and kind of hurt, but so does the sitting trot, right? So you just have to work the muscles to improve.

That nights ride showed immediate results. Lola is hollow to the right (too much bend) and doesn't bend through her body going left. Imagine if the rider is always poking that right seat bone into the right side of the horse's back. Going to the right they can avoid some of that pressure by moving away from it. Going to the left if they bend their body on the left curve they would be moving into that poking pressure. So not surprisingly when I lifted my right seat bone to weight the left she did bend much better through her body on the left! Ta-da! Even rider creates even horse.

So I play with this a few days, have a week off, then play with it another week. In this time I sort of throw my back out moving a mattress, but it seems to go away on the week off. I then fully throw my back out two weeks later by doing nothing but sitting at a desk. WTF? It was bad, like cry on the floor bad. So I go into the chiropractor and what do the x-rays show? My left hip is higher than my right. Yep! This riding problem was pointed out like 3 years ago! I don't know why I didn't just go to the chiropractor then and ask if, by any chance, I was a little crooked. Instead I've been fighting in, very unsuccessfully.

There is hope! Between adjustments to straighten me out, body awareness practice to check my even weight, and building the right muscles to have some body control, I might just conquer this!

Long story short, I have a long road ahead of me, but a better idea where I'm heading.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Ohio Horse Home #2

Lola's got a brand new home! And just in time.

First off, comments on the picture... no she isn't stabled with her halter on, I hadn't taken it off yet because I was still going to blanket. And forgive her half-way grown out mane. I decided in May that I suck at braids and was taking a break from mane maintenance for awhile. She will either have long luscious pony locks, or get roached! We'll see. By spring she'll have full pony mane again for sure, based on how that looks and our show plans

Now on to the barn! Lola is LOVING her new home. This pick was only a few weeks after moving and she already seems to have gained back any weight she lost at the first barn. The things that I love here very much outweigh the things I wish were different. The thing is, Lola hates stalls. I don't know how she handled the year that she was on lease in the bay area and lived in a stall, but since she came back I can't put her in a stall for more than 10 minutes before she is "that" horse that grates her teeth down the wire front! So stabling was a huge concern for me when moving to Ohio.

Perk #1: stall guards! Not sure what it looks like at night, but any horse in a stall in the day pretty much has his head out the door to look around. This works because they either keep the front barn door shut or a gate across instead. They back door goes to the indoor arena. They also only have maybe eight horses in the barn.

Perk #2: slow feeder. As you can see in the photo she has hay in a hay bag. They keep this sucker stocked full anytime the horse is in the stall. She is not bored in a stall that has a food, and the bag makes the food last much longer.

Perk #3: turnout galore! Small barn means no horse is ever over looked or limited due to the needs of others. She gets daily, ALL day, turnout on grass, rain or shine! This is my preference because it is clearly my horse's preference. I went out on a Saturday a few weeks ago. It wasn't really raining that morning, but steadily got worse, and was pouring by mid afternoon and was down in the low 40's. Perfect test to see what their plan was for rainy day turnout. The owner was giving a lesson in the arena, and said as I walked up, "Your horse is still out in the rain! I've been putting away any horse that comes up to the barn, but she seems quite happy out there." Yep, sounds about right. She lived out in an open field without ever seeing a blanket until she was 7. So with a blanket to keep her dry, I have no problem with her staying outside in the rain.

Perk #4: she's like one of their own. The owner has a few of her own horses, and only a handful of boarders. This means every horse is like her own horse. Blankets get switched when needed, taken off for the sunny days in early October, and on for the evenings. She is more concerned with the horses being happy than the "trouble" or "cost" they might be. She is generous with hay, and I've been able to split her fat supplements to be fed with each meal instead of once a day.

Perk #5: near the trainer. So although facility-wise, I would still love to be boarding with the trainer that I've been using, I am actually only 4 miles away! It is just an easy trailer ride over to her facility for lessons and shows (she does regular dressage schooling shows!). 

So for now, I am grateful to have found such a good place (and in my budget price range!) that I can't be anything but happy there. When I used to gripe about whatever my issue du jour was with the boarding place at the time my husband would often ask me why I was never happy? Was I just picking crappy places? Were my standards too high? Although it might logically make sense that a place charging $400 a month WOULD provide better care than one charging $225, I usually was paying less because I kept my horses out of stalls, not that I picked a terrible place. I don't know what the answer is, but until now, I had resigned myself to the idea that I would never be at ease until I had my horse at home. Now I'm really perfectly comfortable with her care, and SO relieved that I don't have to brave the coming Ohio winter everyday to make it happen!!!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The search for the "right" place

While Lola did enjoy her time at her "Summer House", I was busy researching the next step. Which also meant finding a new trainer.

This is so HARD when you are still sort of mourning what you left behind... I loved my trainers at home! I had been with my dressage trainer since right after I bought my gelding. I think I took my first lesson with her the spring of 2009, just a month or two after I started him under saddle. We were a little inconsistent that year, but when the little red-headed mare came along the next spring we were desperate to spend as much time with our trainer as possible! (She was a tough nut to crack, in fact I'm still cracking this red mare!)

At the time I was glad for a knowledgeable trainer that was extremely positive and willing to work with a silly amateur that was switching from H/J to dressage AND training her own horses from the ground up. Really, that in itself was commendable. What I realized over time was just how lucky I was to be working with someone that had already trained her own horses up to the point of earning her Bronze, then her Silver, and now half way to her Gold. She also is currently participating in the USDF instructor certification program (a long and grueling process) and I was so excited to get to audit and even be a part of those workshops last fall. I miss her, I miss her lessons, I miss the horse that seems to only appear about 15 minutes into said lessons (you know the magical one that you almost don't believe exists until you experience it again in the next lesson?), I miss her peaceful facility, her perfect footing, and her coverall arena.

Enough moaning... the point is, those are some hard shoes to fill!

I had also worked with an eventing trainer right down the road with probably 20+ years of creating kick ass eventers. She had a beautiful cross country course on her facility, and three nice arenas. I didn't realize until now what a luxury that was. All this might seem the norm in California, but this was all in our little foothill area, and not So Cal or the bay area. Nothing huge, nothing outrageously expensive, all just part of our little horse community.

I started my research on the Columbus eventing scene back in like January! I love that sort of stuff: find the good places, make plans, map out locations. I got excited! Then I realize just how far everything is when you live in the center of a city. Grrr...

Myoptions were limited based on this. It sounds like there are some actual eventing barns northwest and northeast, but since we are just south of the center its tough to justify 45min to an hour drive one way to see the beast.

Lola spent July, August, and September south east of the city. Like any barn, there were positives and negatives. I was determined to have her moved by October (so glad I did, since it snowed this week!). I did find what I think would be the "right" place. Problem is that I really can't afford the "right" place without a little help from a half lease! The thing is, I have never boarded at a trainer's barn, because I can never justify the cost! So its not surprising that I again have landed near the trainer, but not at the trainer. It has worked for me so far, so I might as well stick with it!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Ohio Horse Home #1

When looking for a place to board MANY states away, it can be very overwhelming to make a good decision. So I made it easy on myself. While I made tons of notes on every interesting place I found that MIGHT be an option, I decided to find myself a "summer spot" where she could be outdoors and I could save some money. The right place needed to have so many things that needed to be evaluated in person, such as trainer, arena footing, stall cleaning standards, that I knew it wouldn't be possible to pick the right spot the first time.

So I found a great place where she would live out in a really large paddock with shelter. They agreed to turn her out each day and even set her up on a plan to have her grazing time gradually increased each week while she got used to the grass.

She settled in immediately. I have to say, this horse has an enormous sense of adventure! She took the move with such good spirit. Always interested in the night's location, never stressing. She really was a good traveler (despite not drinking in the trailer). I'm sure she was happy to stay put though!

Right off the bat it seemed like she was gaining back any weight lost on the drive. We waited about a week and then started slowly back into a riding routine. (Both of us were out of shape since June didn't allow much time for riding.)

I had to transition her on to new feed based on what they have in the feed stores, and she seemed to like the Ohio grown grass hay. All peachy.

Our favorite thing was this huge grassy field. It was the best place to ride. Plus with the heat and humidity, my only choice was to come close to sunset and the light actually made for a well lit area to ride even after it was fully dark.