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 🙂

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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???

 

Great Gifts for Horse Lovers

It’s that time of the year again!  I personally love Christmas shopping.  Spending money on gifts for my friends and family is one of my most favorite activities.  But I realize most people stress over this yearly holiday chore, especially the loved ones of us crazy equestrians.    So I put together a list of neat horsey related gifts that require limited or no knowledge of horses.

Win Pillow

https://www.etsy.com/listing/182238143/18×18-burlap-ribbon-pillow?ref=shop_home_active_6

For $35 this pillow is adorable.  You’d need access to a ribbon, preferably a blue ribbon won by your loved equestrian, so it would require a little bit of planning and sneaking around, but that only makes the gift even more cool.

 

Dana's Doodle's

http://www.danasdoodles.com/bay-dressage-ballet-horse-stall-sign/

Dana’s Doodles website has a plethora of cute horse swag.  This stall sign for $35 is especially cute, and all you need to know is the horse’s name.

 

Ride to Forget Bracelot

https://www.etsy.com/listing/102432662/hand-stamped-cuff-bracelet-horse-quote?ref=favs_view_4

Isn’t etsy awesome!  This hand stamped bracelet says “sometimes I ride to forget, but I never forget to ride”.  Riding is an escape for most of us and this bracelet echo’s the sentiment even when we’re not at the barn. And it’s only $28!!

Effax Leather Care Kit

https://www.smartpakequine.com/effax-leather-care-kit–11737p

Don’t ask me why but I’m obsessed with leather care, and I bet other horse people are too.  We deal with a lot of expensive leather equipment.  Effax is the best, and this kit has it all.

Throwhttp://www.theequestriancorner.com/horseware-newmarket-throw.html

The Newmarket double-bonded fleece is awesome.  It will change your life.  I should know… I spent an absurd amount on a blanket for Savy in the navy and now I would like one for myself, thank you very much.  The color patterns are recognizable to any self-respecting horse person and the quality will be appreciated immediately.

Totes

http://www.theequestriancorner.com/equine-couture-damask-mini-tote-bag.html

This one is no-brainer.  A girl can never have too many totes.

If you’re looking for something more personal, I can’t even tell you how much I would love someone that made my horse homemade treats.  Here’s a website with several easy recipes.

http://www.aboutyourhorse.com/easy-make-horse-treat-recipes

Stocking Stuffers:

Effervescent Brush Cleaner

https://www.smartpakequine.com/effervescent-brush-cleaner-3736p

Horses like mud.  We clean them with brushes.  We then have dirty brushes.  Now we are cleaning horses with dirty brushes.  This is a perfect solution.

Grooming Blockhttps://www.smartpakequine.com/slick-n-easy-3490p

This grooming block may look weird, but it’s a god-send during shedding season, which is just around the corner (after Christmas).

Effox Lip Balm

https://www.smartpakequine.com/effol-lip-balm-7198p

I just want this.

Bling Braiding Bands

http://www.dressageextensions.com/ProductDetail.asp?KEY=1566

These braiding bands are one of those things that we think are cool, but would never buy for ourselves.  Buy them for us please.

Happy holiday shopping!!

Turkey Trot Schooling Show

TT

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.

Connection & Sept Training Update

IMG_3705

I love that happy expression during a walk break.

“On the bit”, “In front of the leg”, “through”…pick your cliché.  They all work to describe the indescribable.  I’m sure Germany has a word that means all of those things, but we Americans struggle coming up with the most perfect phrase or word to capture the most basic dressage principle.  Every time I think I know what connection feels like and I think, finally, Savy is on the bit, we push the envelope and I realize once again how little I know.   After competing successfully at Training Level, I am 100% focused on reaching First.  This means more connection, more drive, and more finesse.  I absolutely have to consistently ride with a true dressage seat, basically using my hips, rather than my usual seat which is somewhere between a dressage seat and a hunter seat.  This is tough.  Almost as tough and getting used to steady connection with Savy’s mouth (short reins).  My hips and lower back have been killing me.  I mean killing me.  To the point where it hurts to walk up right the next day if I’ve been sitting for a while.

And since we’ve stepped it up a notch, Savy is testing me.  We had one of those “come to Jesus” rides the other night that make me question while I do this to myself and my horse.  Rides like this start out innocently enough and then Savy decides, no, I’m not bending to the right.  Absolutely not. This is her go to when the work gets harder.  She tries to evade the connection.  The ride left me with a bad taste in my mouth, but we worked though it, and it gave me some good insight.

As my trainer would say Savy is playing me.  Nicole and I have been working on quieting my hands so that Savy’s head doesn’t move when I give rein aids.  So during my ride I made a conscious effort to not do anything with my hands down the long side where I could watch us in the mirror.  Savy’s head was still moving ever so slightly back and forth.  I realized that Savy wasn’t pushing into the contact enough, and not truly connected.  This tiny head wag was the only indication.  By all accounts she looked like she was “on the bit”.  Her neck was arched with a relaxed poll, she was moving forward and correctly bent to the inside.  My new driving seat really makes a difference.  I know what it feels like now for her to be “in front of me”, and I’m getting harder to fool.  That being said, these tough rides are usually followed by a couple months of beautiful work and progress.

IMG_3696

Nicole and Savy working baby half-passes.

Speaking of First Level I almost need to starting giving Savy her own training update.  Girl is a rock star.  She pulled out high 60’s on both of her first First Level tests without breaking a sweat.  Her only issue is trot lengthening’s, and it’s only because of strength.  That will come with time.  She is only 5 and not built for dressage.  She does seem to be built for lateral work though.  Nicole started working baby half-passes with her and she didn’t bat an eye.  She just did them like no big deal.  Nicole also told me she almost popped out a flying change in the counter canter because she was so balanced.  She didn’t because she doesn’t want Savy to get too far ahead of me.  I have to get to First Level!!!

Thanks to our new barn buddy Erin, I have some awesome video from out last lesson.

 

IMG_3701

Foxy watching Nicole ride Savy – best barn dog ever!

 

A Day in the Life – Dressage Shows (Day 1)

I got the idea for this post from this fun blog.  I like her Day in the life too.  She got her inspiration from another blog and so on, so this really isn’t an original idea, but it was fun to write.

 

4:30 am: Yes you read that right.  Wake up in the middle of the night to very sleepy and cuddly kitties.

4:31 am: Too excited to snooze so instead take a hot bath and cruise facebook during my allocated “there’s no way I’ll be able to wake up at 5 am without snoozing so I better set my alarm for a half hour earlier” time.

5:00 am: Carefully apply eyeliner and mascara.  No blush because my face turns beat red whilst exercising.  Especially while covered head to toe in show clothing.  In August.

5:05 am: Slick hair back into bun. Adorn cute hairnet (well…as cute as a hairnet can be) with rhinestones.

5:10 am: Debate about which earrings to wear with self.  The dangly ones, the plain studs or the gold pearls.  Go with sparkly studs.

5:15 am: Organize show clothes…pet kitties.

5:30 am: Leave.

5:58 am: Stop at UDF for coffee and breakfast. Other people are at UDF.  Notice they are not wearing show clothes…why else  in the world would they up this early??

6:05 am: Arrive at show grounds to find trainer has already fed horses (score!)

6:10 am: Chat excitedly with still half asleep trainer.

6:15 am: Start braiding hair

6:30 am: Braiding

7:00 am: Braiding

7:15 am: Still braiding

7:30 am: Finish braiding

7:31 am: Proudly show trainer braids

7:32 am: Savy shakes her head and 3 braids fall out

7:40 am: Finish re-braiding fallen braids

8:01 am:  Watch trainers awesome ride

8:15 am: Hurriedly saddle and bridle Savy

9:08 am: Horse bolts in warm up ring (not my horse) and dumps rider (not my trainer).  I am reminded of my own bolting experiences and freak out.

9:09 am: Trainer rides Savy in her first ever First level test.  I nervously watch from the sidelines.  Am too shaky from the bolting horse to take good pictures.

9:30 am: Ok…I’m ready for lunch.  How is it only 9:30!

10:00 am: Wait for class

10:30 am: Wait for class and start to get nervous

11:00 am: Wait for class and start sweating

11:30 am: Eat pizza for lunch.  Start peeing every 15 minutes (nervous bladder).

11:45 am: Pee.

12:00 pm: Pee.

12:15 pm: Pee.  Realize mascara has run and wash off all make-up.

12:30 pm: Saddle up for class.

12:45 pm: Run to restroom for one last pee.

12:50 pm: Mount up.

1:00 pm: Rock my warm up and ride the best I’ve ever ridden in my life.

1:32 pm: Enter ring for test.

1:33 pm: Feel like puking.

1:34 pm: Head down centerline.  Blackout.

1:38 pm: Exit arena dripping with sweat.

1:50 pm: Nervously wait for test scores.

2:00 pm: Check for test scores.

2:10 pm: Check for test scores.

2:20 pm: Check for test scores.

2:30 pm: Get second place!!!

6:30 pm: Finally leave the show for home.

 

Pictures from the horse show will be coming soon!!