A Different Kind of Obsession

I haven’t been writing lately because I’ve been obsessed with something completely different from horses; pregnancy. Pregnancy. Something every mom is intimately familiar with and unexplainable to those uninitiated. Everyday is a new adventure so it’s not like I know what I’m talking about either. I do know that it’s completely different than what I expected. Since I bought Savy a little over 3 years ago, she’s been my number one priority. I was always thinking about her, obsessing over training, and day dreaming about the perfect centerline at our next show.  I completely expected to continue as normal once I got pregnant, until I was too large to physically ride anymore.

That has not been the case. Almost immediately the morning sickness and fatigue of the first trimester put a screeching halt to any riding. Since I found out I was pregnant I’ve ridden maybe 10 times in almost 4 months. It’s crazy! What’s surprising is that we’ve actually made progress. It seems that each time we work together, either on the ground or in the saddle, our work is more potent. When I ride next, it’s as if we just finished our last ride, even if it was two weeks earlier. What’s even better is Savy’s overall acceptance of the aids has improved dramatically.  She has always chomped on the bit, or tried to evade the bit. Not so much anymore. A few ground driving sessions improved something we’ve been working on for 3 years!

Since my rides haven’t been long, or taxing, I’ve been focusing completely on the basics. Inside leg to outside rein. Bending through the body and not just the neck. Rewarding for each little try on Savy’s part. Taking frequent walk breaks. Keeping the back lifted during the trot to canter transition. She felt so solid, soft and on my aids during our last ride, that I decided to try out some more difficult stuff. Leg yields centerline to B & E, easy. Even tempo, stayed on the outside rein, beautiful cross over. Trot lengthening, easy. Improved the connection dramatically actually. I could have taken that ride all the way down centerline at a rated show!  If we were working regularly with a trainer, it’d be time to up the ante and start working on harder stuff.

If it seems I am really excited and over celebrating just one ride – I am. Even if it was great, everyone knows that with horses it’s one step forward two steps back.  But my riding days, as sporadic as they are already, are numbered. I’m going to hold onto this one great ride. We had a cold snap recently with lots of snow and I barely made it out to the barn, but when I am there Savy has a wild look in her eyes.  As much as I miss her, and riding, I’m happy that she gets this break to be just a horse. She has no pressure, no expectations, and as a result she seems to like our time together even more.


We’re Getting There…

Nicole and I have been saying these words a lot lately.  Things are really coming together for Savy and me.  After two plus years of training, I can finally ride my horse on the bit and over her back consistently. I can make her neck longer and rounder, and I can raise her poll.  We can comfortably and consistently have nice work at the walk, trot, and canter, both directions.  I can’t tell you happy our progress makes me.  Sure, we still have tough rides every now and then.  Savy is still an Arabian mare after all, but we work through the tough spots.

horeIn addition to having a good grasp on the basics, we’ve been working first level stuff pretty comfortably too.  Lenthenings are getting easier. Savy kicks ass at leg yields.  The work is there for first level, now we just have to polish it – i.e. keeping her rounder and completely through during the more difficult movements.  During my last lesson we worked a tiny bit of passage.  It’s so difficult, but after just a few steps of passage, the regular trot work was so much better and uphill (and easier).

There are two major reasons I think that have made all the difference in the world for us.  The first was Savy’s bone-deep cut at the end of December.  My mentality towards Savy and training has totally changed since then.  Mainly, I don’t take the training as seriously.  If we have a bad ride, it doesn’t upset me.  I know that tomorrow is a new day, and every day I get to ride Savy is a gift.  She could hurt herself today and be out of commission for the rest of her life, and it can happen in an instant.  I forgot that riding was a privilege.  A privilege that I have yearned for my whole life.  I find myself rewarding Savy a lot more now, and focusing on all the positive parts of our ride.  As a result, Savy works for me, she tries for me.  We’re better partners now.

The second is my fitness level.  It’s hard to make progress when you’re trying to work through a movement and your muscles are shaky and ready to give out, and then you have to take a walk break.  I expect Savy to be an athlete and it’s only fair that I do the same myself.  I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but Beachbody has made all of the difference for me.  Before I bought Savy I used to workout 5 days a week and eat low calorie meals.  I got stronger, but I never really got the results I wanted.  After Savy I thought my rides would be enough of a workout, but they’re not.  The meal plans and the workouts, combined with coaching from Beachbody have really worked for me.  I push myself harder than I would if I didn’t have a coach and other people doing the programs with me.  I find myself becoming increasingly more passionate about the company and the programs, and that’s why I decided to become a coach.  If I make a little extra money from doing it, then that’s great, but mostly I want to share this feeling with other people.  I’m going to continue my fitness journey with Beachbody, and it would be great to have people doing it with me.  Enough about that 🙂

Our first show of the season is THIS weekend.  We’re showing Training 2 & 3 to get our feet wet.  Depending on how things go, I’d like to show First Level at the next show.  I’m still super nervous about the show, even though I feel pretty confident at Training Level now.  My biggest worry is that Savy is going to jig in the walk.  Jigging – for my non-horsey friends is somewhere between a walk and trot, and judges do not like it.  Sometimes Savy jigs in our rides and sometimes she doesn’t.  So I’m practicing positive visualization by running through our tests, and visualizing them going perfectly. I’ve read a lot about the power of positive visualization.

Also, I washed my comforter so that I can show everyone the re-decorating projects I’ve done lately and it shrunk 😦  Once my new one comes in I’ll get some pics up here.


Alfredo Hernandez Clinic – January 2015

Alfredo Clinic Jan 2015

The new year rang cold and blistery, but exciting with the promise of a spicy Alfredo Hernandez clinic.  Alfredo flew in to temps in the mid-twenties, and tried his best to stay positive about it.  He was entertaining as always, but I only audited for 4 hours.  I was hoping to ride, but due to Savy’s injury (a bone deep gash on her leg that amazingly didn’t cut anything important) I didn’t feel prepared, so Nicole rode her.

The worked on flying changes, and specifically an exercise to help with being late behind.  He had Nicole ride on a 15 meter circle, alternating between haunches in and haunches out at the trot.  Once she mastered that (which took about 5 minutes), he had her do it at the canter, changing leads with the haunches.  It forced her changes to be clean.  10 minutes later she figured that out.  After that they worked on the piaffe with the bamboo, which she also figured out immediately, he stopped and called it a day.  He said there was no point to push it, since she did what he was trying to get her to do.

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Did I mention Savy is incredibly smart and athletic?  That doesn’t mean she’s easy – many of her “clean” changes included a gigantic buck in the middle, but hey.  She’s 5 doing changes.  Give her a break.  I mentioned the attitude to Alfredo and he said it’s what makes her good.  So I’m making peace with bucking during every ride.  It’s just who she is.

Here a few points from my brief auditing time:

  • No petting during work.  The reward is walking.  So if they do something right, walk and reward.
  • If the horse is late behind in the change, ask with the haunches first instead of the shoulder.  Yes, this is not technically proper.  But it’s a learning exercise for the horse, not the way you’d ride in the test.
  • Breaks are the most important part of work
  • Strength is build by repetition, not continuous work – think reps at the gym, you don’t do squats for 45 minutes straight
  • Make the horse flexible before straight.  Alfredo was a fan of working constantly on a 15 meter circle.  15 meters because he didn’t want the horse to touch the arena wall.  This forced the horse and rider to stay on the outside rein.  For the last month, all of my lesson have been entirely on a 15 meter circle.  It appears Nicole is using a new tactic to get me to bend; muscle memory.  She’s completely by passing my mind and drilling the feeling into my muscles.  It’s actually working.

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Luckily Alfredo is coming back in June and July, and hopefully I’ll be riding in those clinics.  Things are coming along well (mostly) in our training.  We’ve been working hard on improving my riding the canter.  Does that make sense?  Savy has a nice canter, I have to learn how to ride it.  I’m learning what doesn’t work (pinching thighs), but I’m still figuring out using leg without pinching.  I get a nice canter for a few strides, and then I lose it and Savy breaks.  This is how the whole dressage thing works, nice moments built on nice moments until one day it’s all nice and you can move on to perfecting something else.  The all nice phase lasts about one week.

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December Training Update – (yes late, I know)

Difficult GirlIt’s always darkest before the dawn.  One of my favorite clichés and one I tell myself every time something seems like it will never get better.  Here’s another one I hear a lot with horses: things always get worse before they get better.  After my emotional breakdown over Savy and our seemingly sour relationship, things have gotten better.  My last post prompted much advice and support from friends and family, and it’s always nice to hear that someone else has felt the same way.  My trainer was beside herself with worry, but things got better almost immediately.  Savy always knows when I’ve reached my limit.  I’ve also changed a few things.  Savy only gets treats at the end of the ride and when I first greet her, I don’t let her walk off at the mounting block, I make her stand still at the end of each ride.  Basically I’m trying to find easy ways to show my leadership without a conflict.  If I want her to stand still and she moves, I just move her back to where she was and ask her to stand still again.  Savy is OK with me being the boss, happier even, but she needs me to actually act like the boss. I’m also learning there’s a difference between insisting and arguing.

Under saddle I’ve been alternating my regular lessons with lunge lessons.  Lunge lessons are brutal and not very exciting, but the difference in my seat, legs and communication with Savy is noticeable after each lesson.  I’m realizing that Savy is very sensitive, and thanks to Nicole, very technically and correctly trained.  Savy wants me to keep my position very still.  At all times.  She gets pissy during transitions because unknowingly I lean forward, or move my legs, or raise my hands.  She wants to do her job without much fuss from me.  The lunge lessons help me ride with more awareness of my body.

bubbleAnd in the middle of writing this post, I get a phone call that Savy has hurt herself, pretty bad.  Seriously, I’m not joking.  That’s why I’m just now getting around to finishing this post.  Savy went crazy in the field and managed to tear up her legs, including a 4 inch gash down to the bone on her left hind leg.  Surprisingly she missed anything major, actually missed anything at all.  There was no swelling, no blood, no dirt.  She was centimeters away from tearing her tendon and she even missed the tendon sheath.  The girl was never even lame or sore on it.  She was incredibly angry with being stuck in her stall while her friends got to go outside.  After a week she needed a daily dose  of Ace to keep her calm and happy.  I am so lucky to have a trainer like Nicole.  She handled the situation perfectly.  Before I even knew about the injury she had clean it, wrapped it, called the vet, and walked the field to find the culprit (which of course we never found).  She also provided daily care including washing and wrapping.  My job has been to provide Savy moral support (read treats) and hand-walking.  Through all of this she remained a perfect lady.

After two weeks of stall rest Savy was approved for full work again, so she’s riding in the Afredo Hernandez clinic my training is hosting soon.  I would have loved to ride here but since I haven’t been on her back in a while I feel unprepared.  Nicole will ride and I will take pictures 🙂

When is Enough, Enough?

I haven’t wanted to ride lately, I haven’t even wanted to go to the barn.  I could blame it on the weather, but the truth is, Savy and I are having problems.  I feel like I’m at the point in a relationship where that last fight turns solitary isolated events into a pattern, a pattern that seems unchangeable.  Couple’s counseling?  Savy is ridden by my trainer 3 times a week and I have lessons weekly.  At a certain point I have to be able to ride my horse, and I can’t.  Not really.  I can make Savy do things, because she respects the whip and the spur, but she’s not just unwilling, she actively tells me to fuck off.

I can feel everyone who knows anything about horses thinking in unison, have you ruled all any physical problems.  Of course I have, I do everything possible to make sure she’s happy and comfortable.  You know how I know it’s just me: Savy is a totally different horse when my trainer riders her.  Gone is the chronic attitude, gone is the unwillingness to be in front of the leg.  She’s willing, polite, and she tries so damn hard for her.  She’s working 3rd level movements at the age of 5 with my trainer.  She is athletic, smart and eager to please.  When I ride her all of those aspects that make her wonderful for Nicole, are turned against me.  Every little thing I try to do with Savy is like running through quick sand, up hill.

It’s discouraging to say the least.  When I ask for the trot, no matter how gently I brush my leg against Savy’s side, she flicks her tail and pins her ears.  When I ask for the canter she bucks.  If she doesn’t buck there is even more trail swishing and ear pinning. She lets me know every stride of every ride that she is unhappy.  What am I supposed to do?  I’ve tried being super positive and rewarding every tiny little thing I can, and I’ve tried punishing her.  Nothing works.  My trainer says everything gets worse before it gets better, and that has proven true.  I also totally freak out like this before things get better, because they are so bad, but it feels different this time.  We’ve had this issue since day 1, and everything I do seems to make it worse.

It makes me sad.  It makes me sad to consistently make her do something she so clearly is telling me she doesn’t want to do.  I’m not asking for canter pirouettes here, I’m just asking for simple walk, trot, canter; on the bit and forward.  This is the reasoning I say to myself when I feel sad and guilty for riding her, it’s not hard work.  She’s more than capable of doing it.  But just because she’s capable does it make it anymore fair to her, or to me, if we’re both so unhappy?

This is the essence of what I need to figure out.  Is this fair? Are we a good pair?  Is this going to work?  And my god, what if the answer is no???


Turkey Trot Schooling Show


I went to the Turkey Trot (a local schooling show) with one objective in mind, schooling in the show ring. Prior to our last show, I went down centerline practically paralyzed with nerves.  My only real goal was to get through the movements; halt at X, don’t go off course, canter when I’m supposed to and pick up the correct lead, and ride reasonably accurate circles.  Savy quickly learned she didn’t have to work hard in the show ring, and I became a passenger.

So for this schooling show, I put no pressure on myself to score well and had no expectations of being high in the ribbons. There were no more than 6 riders in each class so I mentally prepared myself for a pink or green ribbon, and fireworks in the arena.  I am extremely competitive, so this was difficult for me.  Generally anytime I change the status quo with Savy I get lots of bucks and pinned ears.  Surprisingly she didn’t buck at the show, but there was a lot of ear pinning at the canter.

The canter. My nemesis.  I have never been awesome at riding the canter.  It wasn’t so bad in hunters because we just kind of perched there anyway, but I still had trouble with my leads.  Now that I understand bending, I get my lead each time just fine, but I have a tremendously hard time sitting the canter and following the movement.  It doesn’t help that Savy’s canter used to be really difficult to sit at all. Used to being the key phrasing.  Her canter has come a long way and there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to ride it.

My problem is I tense. I tense because Savy likes to be behind my leg, especially in the canter, and to get her forward I squeeze.  Unfortunately I squeeze with every muscle in my body.  This, of course, has the exact opposite affect and makes Savy very unhappy.  I am learning to relax my body and move my hips with the movement.  If Savy isn’t forward, she gets a boot with the leg.  She keeps getting boots until she’s forward.  We’ve make tremendous improvement in only one week.

I still had some issues with the canter in the test, but I consciously attempted to relax. And while she wasn’t as forward as I would have liked, I didn’t stop pushing for it.  Luckily I have videos of my ride and I am starting to see glimpses of the horse and rider I want us to become.

Surprisingly we received a First and Second place in Training 2 & 3 respectively.


Checking In – A New Job!

I’ve been a bad blogger. A couple of months ago I was rocking and rolling with almost two posts a week.  These days not so much.  So much has changed and happened in the last few months.  Most dramatically, I have a new job.  I’m basically doing the same thing, but for a different company closer to home. My old company was moving downtown, and since I live way out in the boondocks, the commute would have seriously impacted my quality of life.  Everything about this job change was different than my previous experiences.  I only started looking for a new job because we were moving.  I liked the company, I liked my work and I liked the people.  It was hard to leave.  I blasted out my resume one Thursday at lunch and by the next week I had set up my interview for what would be my new job.  Two weeks later I had a fresh job offer and gave my notice to Bell.  I like my new job, but things move slower here so even after a month I’m not totally ingrained in my position.  I find myself actually missing the work I did at Bell.  I’m not sure I’ve ever left a job and missed it before…this is new territory for me.

Everything happened so fast, and so quickly on the heels of our wedding and our first rated show, that I felt un-centered and out of touch with myself. I felt stretched too thin, like a rubber band ready to snap.  Savy and I went through a rough patch and I’m sure it had something to do with my strange emotional state for those few weeks.

The biggest change with my new job, aside from the pace of work (which is a good thing), is that our office is totally open. I have no privacy.  I can look down the row of desks and see everyone without moving from my computer.  I’ve always had a large, private cube, so this is weird.  AND cellphone are prohibited due to the nature of our business (pharmaceutical services dealing with patient info).  Even the managers are only in open air, large-ish cubicles with doors but no ceilings.  Four executives sit behind me, including my new manager.  This is weird: my new manager has the same birthday as my old manager, and they both workout at the same Crossfit gym and they know each other.  There’s nothing more unsettling knowing that your old boss and new boss are talking about you.

I am optimistically hopeful that Savy and I are past the “moving to first level hissy fit” stage. I had a truly wonderful ride on her last Tuesday.  She was consistent in the contact, gave me no attitude, and we got to practice leg yields and lengthening’s at the trot and canter.  Last Thursday I was sick so I only did a short, easy ride that I really don’t remember since I was in my cold haze.  Saturday I spent the whole day planning, shopping for, and setting up my brother’s romantic backyard engagement proposal.  I am looking forward to my lesson this week.

Savy and I are getting back in the show ring in November at Training 2 & 3. We’re going to a schooling show and I’m totally ready to actually school her in the ring.  She’s already learned that the show ring is different than the warm up and has gotten pretty lazy and behind the leg.  My goal for the winter is to make our tests as nice as our warm ups.