Gettin’ Too Big for my Britches…Literally: Horses, fitness and weight loss

I have been on a quest to loose weight for at least 5 years.  Each year one of my New Years Resolutions is to loose 10 pounds.  But a few months ago I decided I was tired of dieting, tired of worrying about my weight and feeling fat, so I decided to let myself just be.  I decided Big Macs and my 7 seconds of bliss from a peanut butter cup is totally worth a few extra pounds.  And I have gained a few and I’m really OK with it.  My pants, however, are not OK with it.  I actually don’t fit into half of my pants anymore (they’re a size 2…what was I thinking??).  And if my butt gets any bigger I’m going to have to buy a new saddle.  I don’t want to buy new pants or a new saddle and my checkbook agrees.

There are other concerns as well.  I miss feeling strong.  I miss a sweaty, breathy, intense workout that makes all of my muscles vibrate and clears my mind of all thoughts.  I used to think of my workouts as a mental nap without actually being asleep.    Riding is a good workout, but it’s a different kind of workout.  It will make me all sweaty and breathy and turn my legs into spaghetti, but I don’t notice any of that happening until the end of the ride…or until I give Savy a break.  I’m totally focused on Savy and our ride, not my workout.  While I feel fantastic after a good ride, it’s as mentally demanding as it is physically.

Also, I’ve been reading article after article about how being a fit athlete will make you a better rider.  Riding only works certain muscles, and you’re stronger if you work muscles you don’t use all the time.  This all makes sense and sounds good, but it didn’t hit home for me until I read this article by Jan Ebling.

http://www.equisearch.com/horses_riding_training/english/dressage/jan-ebeling-dressage-show-adversity/

Engaging in a workout program is part of what helped him become a better rider…and he was already awesome.  I saw a clinic with Jan at the 2013 Equine Affair, and he talked about fitness.jillian-michaels-unlimited-photo-gallery-jillian-with-horse-2  Unfortunately he decided to talk about fitness and becoming an athlete during the ride of a bigger lady.  I thought it was distasteful and an insult to the rider, but now I realized I got the wrong impression.  The rider was at second level, and he was trying to make the connection that fitness will help you move up the levels, because being fit makes you a better rider.  Duh!

Freshly motivated to workout and become strong again, I bought the Biorider At Home Fitness Training DVD.  I do not recommend this DVD.  It moves too slow and the exercises are nothing special.  I plan on using the recumbent bike at our little gym until my neck fully heals, and then I’m going to start doing Jillian Michaels DVDs.  She packs a full workout into 20-30 minutes!  I love Jillian, I find her extremely motivating and she rides horses!

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Sittin’ on the Bench

A neck injury has me sitting the bench this week.  No riding for me.  Last Tuesday night I slept funny, but I decided to push through it on Wednesday and ride.  Big mistake.  While cantering to the left I felt something snap.  After a few days off I decided to try riding bareback, thinking I wouldn’t work as much.  Turns out there is no aspect of riding a horse that’s not high impact.  So I’m actually giving myself some time to heal.  And I went to chiropractor!  I figured if Savy can do it I can do it.  The doc said I have a sprained disk and that I should just rest my neck.  Like literally just lay on a pillow all evening, or a recliner.

Life has forced me into taking a break.  I miss riding so much.  I’ve been watching youtube videos and becoming green with envy looking at the pictures from the ranch we’re going to for our honeymoon.  I can’t wait to get back in the saddle!  But I have to admit a break has been nice.   I am less stressed out and I’ve actually started feeling my normal zeal for life that’s been missing lately.  Work doesn’t seem overwhelming anymore.  Maybe my neck injury was my body’s way of saying “Hey lady!  Take it easy for a while!”.

Still…I can’t wait to get back to work with Savy 🙂

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Connection and Thoroughness

I realized my non-horsey friends probably had no idea what I was talking about in my last post.  So I had a breakthrough in connection…great!  Now what does that mean…  Connection is also called “on the bit”.  This is the FEI’s (Federation Equestre Interanationale)  definition of connection:  “In all work, even at the halt, the horse must be “on the bit”.  A horse is said to be “on the bit” when the neck is more or less raised and arched according to the stage of training and the extension or collection of the pace, accepting the bridle with a light and consistent soft submissive contact. The head should remain in a steady position, as a rule, slightly in front of the vertical, with a supple poll as the highest point of the neck, no resistance should be offered to the athlete”. Connection creates a beautiful arch in the neck.

For many months the total focus of our training was connection.  If you were to listen to one of our lessons they would sound like this, “squeeze the outside rein, now wiggle the inside rein, more inside leg, squeeze the outside rein and on and on it went with no visible progress.  For months.  Finally, finally we achieved a reasonable amount of connection for our level.  These days, when I squeeze the outside rein Savy softens in her jaw and lowers her poll, when I wiggle the inside rein she flexes to the inside.  It’s a constantly conversation between Savy and I with our bodies; my hands, seat, and legs; her mouth, back and legs.  When a horse is connected, it feels like they swell underneath you, like they suddenly got bigger.  This is because they’re using their back and their muscles are flexing.

Connection isn’t just arching the neck, it’s called connection because the goal is to connect the front of the horse with the back of the horse.  The purpose is to create energy with the hind end, and capture it with the mouth, to create suspension.  A horse is “through” when their neck is arched, the nose is at the vertical (or near it) and the butt is really pushing the horse forward.  It’s kind of like an accordion, contracting and expanding to make music.

In this picture Savy’s head is just about vertical, and she has a slight arch to her neck and she’s stretching over her back.  But I think she could be more engaged and pushing more with her back legs.

Good flexion

In this picture Savy is more engaged, but her nose is too far in front of the vertical.  I would like to combine the two pictures for our ideal frame.

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This picture is of a Grand Prix horse, Grand Prix is the highest level of training a horse can achieve…connection is the base for all of the future training needed to get to this level…You can see this horse’s neck is arched and the nose is totally vertical, and the hind legs are completely underneath the horse.

grand prix

1 year later…

L+C_Engagement-014I am sorry for not writing many blog posts lately.  Between work and wedding planning the words that normally bubble up in my head at random times like driving or showering have been absent.  Or they’re on totally non-fun, non-blog worthy things.  Like, did I remember to send in that accounting entry…or should I have one big cake at my wedding or several small cakes so I can buy 3 different cake plates and 3 different cake toppers.   This doesn’t mean I’m any less horse obsessed.  In fact, I spent all morning falling behind at work while looking at Horse Nation, and buying really expensive fancy tack for Savannah (in my mind).  Also, Dover Saddlery is having their annual photo contest and that consumes at least one hour each day.

September also marks my one year anniversary with my baby girl.  The time goes so fast.

Walnut Creek Starry Nights 9.13 273Lots and lots of exciting things are happening with our training.  We had a pivotal breakthrough moment with connection on July 12, the day before our last show.  After months of frustration trying to “get” connection, in the middle of my lesson my trainer got on Savy to get her over her back and connected, with the hopes that when I got back on I could experience how it feels.   While watching Nicole ride I saw Savy try to pop her head up out of the connection, and just as quickly she was back down.  I asked Nicole how she did it and all she did was squeeze the outside rein.  This was mind blowing!  Mind Blowing!  When Savy comes out of the connection with me I would frantically squeeze with both reins, kick with both legs and do something funky with my seat.   In other words, way over react.

Walnut Creek Starry Nights 9.13 295Since then things have started progressing nicely.  We start each ride long and low, with her stretching over her back, and most importantly, NO attitude.  She does not get fussy when I pick her back up for more serious work, and we’ve been working on some really exciting things!  We’ve started asking her to sit back a little bit and take longer strides – the beginnings of a lengthening, and she’s doing baby leg yields.  And the canter!  We can canter without feeling like either one of us are going to fall.  She still has a lot of strength to build to properly do the new things we’re asking of her.  The mini lengthenings are very tiring for her and we can only really work on the canter one direction because she’s too tired to do both.  She’s a rock start with the leg yield to the left, but still hasn’t figure out how to go sideways while staying straight to the right.  She wants to fall out through her right should and it might just be a strength issue.  We got a few correct strides out of her last week and as Nicole said “it’s enough to build on”.

Here’s some video of us cantering.  She was fussy here, but it’s still a lot better than her bucking.  The second video is our warm up trot.  She’s able to stretch a little over her back right from the beginning!!

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