Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgivings of an Adult Amateur

I have lots to be thankful forLife with horses as a working adult amateur equestrian isn't the most streamlined at times, but it's also a blessing. I thought I'd take a moment to pinpoint a few things in particular that I'm especially thankful for this year:
Photo credit: Nature of Light Photography. Used with permission.

I'm thankful to I have a job that, though it doesn't involve horses, allows me to afford and have time for them.

I'm thankful that I get to participate in a sport that I love, and though I may never be at the top of it, I can still have fun and be successful

I'm thankful that I get to go see my horse after work, breathe in that barn-smell, and be in a place that instantly relaxes me.

And I'm thankful for the great barn that I board my horse at and that I have the option to skip stopping by if I'm just not feeling it that day, without having to worry if my horse is being well cared for. 

I'm thankful for my amazing friends who have helped me by being there and waiting for the vet when something was going wrong and I was stuck on the train coming home from work.

I'm thankful that I only had to make two after-hours calls to the vet this year, and that they even turned out to be reasonable bills - and one of them happened when freezing outside! (I know there's still time left in the year to add to this, ponies - don't get any funny ideas.)

Just some casual butt-stitching by headlamp.

I'm thankful for my questionable sanity in spending over one third of my income on a creature who essentially eats money and then poops it out, because it's ridiculous how happy that creature makes me.

I'm thankful for my husband's questionable sanity in allowing me to spend over a third of our income on this money-eating creature. (Let's be honest though, he doesn't really have a choice.)

Sometimes date nights are actually course walks.

I'm thankful that he accepts the fact that I spend more time with the horse than with him. (Which he doesn't really have a choice about either.)

And I'm thankful that even though he doesn't have a choice about the horse, he realizes how ridiculously happy it makes me and not only does he choose to stay married to me, he actively supports me and my crazy dreams.

Photo by Sophiea Bitel. Used with permission.

I'm thankful that years and years ago now, my parents (somewhat reluctantly at first) acquiesced my request for a pony.

I'm thankful that my parents didn't buy me the pony - they made me work for it and earn it myself.

And I'm thankful for that pony, who taught me almost everything I know about commitment, responsibility, and hard work. I'm thankful for those traits because they helped shaped who I am today - and I like who I am today. 

I'm thankful that horses weren't a phase - they still teach me patience and compassion everyday, and continue to help me become a better person. 

All in all, I'm thankful that I'm able to live this life doing something I love alongside people and animals I love.  

What are you thankful for?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Lesson Recap: Canter Poles (with video!)

I trailered Maggie out to an early morning jump lesson on Saturday. I warmed her up on my own and tried to get her nice and forward before our trainer came down. Inside leg on asking for forwardness, outside aids steady to capture the energy. My inside leg resulted in more forwardness to some degree, but it also had the side effect of creating some serious cranky ears. Maggie may have been a little cranky because she didn't get to finish her breakfast, but I can't say I blame her. I'd be cranky over that too.

Enjoy some video stills!
There were already some canter poles set up in the area and the game plan for this lesson was to utilize them.  We started out trotting over them, though. I'll say this about ground pole work before talking about the rest of the lesson: I haven't done a ton of it before. Sure, I took Maggie over a bunch of ground poles when I was first starting to introduce her to jumping, but every time I try to do anything that resembles cavalletti or a series of poles on my own I get a little nervous. I'm just not confident about it; so I was really glad to get to work over poles during a lesson to learn what I need to work on, and how to do it properly.

In our first pass trotting through the poles I mistook forward for fast. Immediately, Trainer stopped me and instructed me to come at it again with that same inside leg to outside hand connection that I had been been asking for in warmup. It's not just about getting though the poles, it's about being balanced though them, and I can't expect Maggie to be balanced if I'm rushing her and throwing away the reins instead of helping her stay connected. After Trainer pointed this out to me I realized I had reverted to the exact same tactic I had originally been using over fences - speeding up and bombing through it. Funny how just a little change in exercises will bring us back to square one and really reveal our weaknesses!

After a few passes at the trot, focusing on staying balanced and in steady rhythm, it was on to the canter. I knew this would be difficult for many reasons, the main one being that I've never actually done a series canter poles with Maggie before. 

So hard. Such attitude.
It went better than I expected at first - she certainly tried. I was kind of expecting her to do one of two things: immediately break to the trot or try and deer leap over them. To my surprise she actually gave it a good try right from the start, properly cantering the first few before we lost balance and broke to trot. 

And what is the obvious solution to keep from breaking to the trot?

You guessed it: more leg.

So basically this was a really, really good exercise for getting me to keep my leg on because the consequences of not doing so were immediately apparent. My goodness, it feels like I'm never squeezing hard enough. 

And I actually asked my trainer to take video for the last couple minutes so - voila! Actual lesson video! (For reference, the first few poles were set at 9 feet, which trainer said is a good distance for a bounce for Maggie, the second to last was at 10 feet which was a good stretch distance for a bounce, definitely not beyond her ability, and the last one was a one stride at 18 feet.)

And I'm so glad I got this video, because it really highlights a whole other issue outside of the canter poles that I don't think I would have paid much attention to otherwise - or at least it wouldn't have hit home as hard without seeing it for myself.

In the saddle, I didn't realize just how much I was moving my upper body. I could hear my trainer coaching me and tell me to use my core and "kick her without moving your body", and I indeed tried to tighten my core without bracing my arms. 

I didn't 100% realize why we were focused on my core and upper body all of a sudden, but from the video I can see that it's because I'm sliding around in the saddle. My whole body is braced and it's moving as one entity, when different parts of my body should be moving independently or at least more controlled in order to help Maggie balance. So...there's another thing to work on over the winter.

Best canter of the day. Still kicking.
Ah, video. Making honest people of us all. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Just Stuff

Random stuff that is.

It's been quiet and low-key lately since our show season is over. With the arrival of Daylight Savings the other week it now goes completely from daytime to total darkness all while I ride the train home from work. Between no shows to prepare for and it feeling like it's nine at night when it's actually five-thirty, I'm left with little motivation for lengthy training rides. 

So sometimes we just lunge.
I've toodled around on Maggie a few times each week though, and we did have a super productive jumping lesson two weeks ago. This past Saturday I took advantage of the being able to ride during the daytime and brought Maggie out to the jump ring to try and reinforce my new mantra: "chin up, leg on, let go". I'm pleased to say my muscles remembered what to do and we jumped very fluidly as long as I 'let go' and kept my lower leg solidly at the girth asking her to stay forward. 

On the flat I've been working on bend and leg/seat aids, mainly at the walk and trot. We've been saving the canter work for jump sessions. Getting her inside hind leg more active and stepping under herself has been a common denominator in both our jump and dressage lessons. Maggie moves off my left leg and seat aids pretty responsively, much better than she does the right. That right hind leg seems stuck to me and under saddle isn't the only place I've noticed it.

Always putting more weight to the right...
When I've got her out on the crossties, Maggie always likes stand more to the right side of the aisle. Some days it's a bit of a struggle to push her over to the middle of the aisle just so I have room to groom her. I've noticed that when I try to push her haunches over from the right she only takes baby steps with that right hind instead of crossing it under her belly to take a big step. My trainer and I did spend a little time poking at her back after our last lesson and her left side is tighter than the right, though not seriously and nothing that a chiro session won't fix. So I wonder if a tight back on the left side means she can't step under with the right hind as well? Does that make sense? Just thoughts... On that note too though, I've been toying with the idea of doing some in-hand work over the winter so I can really watch what her hind legs are doing and try to help her strengthen them.

We've been enjoying the new barn that we're at. I miss seeing my friends next door every day, but we've still trail ridden together and hung out a few times. I've only actually ridden in the indoor twice since I've been at the new place - both on rainy days - otherwise I've been sticking it out in the dressage ring. We've had some unseasonably warm weather for November over the past two weeks so it's seemed a shame to ride in the indoor, even though it's pitch black out. Luckily there are lights over the dressage ring!

I had been planning on clipping Maggie this year anyway, since I plan to work her more over this winter than any winter previously. Last week was a good time to do it since when I got to the barn after work one 70-degree night last week poor pony was super sweaty just standing in her stall! Fuzzy winter ponies do not appreciate the warm November.

This was PRE-ride.
This is the first time I've clipped her at all and she was pretty nervous. I had done some desensitizing with tiny clippers previously, but this was her first time with the big guns. We took it slow and she got her face stuffed with post-Halloween marked down candy corn (her favorite). 

We finished the first session with just a bib clip:

And then a couple days later I extended it  into kind of a low Irish clip:

Seriously though, those lines looked straight in person...
I'm planning on extending it more and doing a low trace once I decide what do do with the belly hair...leave it or no? Anyone have an opinion?

And fun fact - this is actually the first time I've clipped a "real" horse. This one time in college I body clipped Zipper in the spring because she was so hot as the weather got warm. It was kind of a hack job, but she still looked adorable in my opinion. 

Holy dapples!!
And this other time in college I clipped show cows...

Because isn't that what everyone does in college?
So all in all, not a whole lot going on - and that's ok! It's nice to have a breather.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Event Recap: Myopia Hunt Fall Hunter Pace

I had been looking forward to this event all summer since a friend and I did the Myopia Hunt Club spring hunter pace back in May, which was just tons of fun.

It was no less fun this time! We had an awesome 60-something degree day on November 1st and it was a little cloudy, but the rain held off. We did the non-jumping division again and the optimum time was 1:19:35. We finished in 1:38:14 which put us 0:18:39 off of the optimum time for 35th place out of 61 teams! 

My friend used the "Track My Hack" app again. I think a recent update makes it average the lines though, because we definitely did not take any trails that were even close to being that straight! It still gives a great overview though.
The course was just over 6 miles - slightly longer than the spring pace. I was wishing I had clipped Maggie before hand, because she was quite sweaty by the end! 6 miles on a 60 degree day in a fuzzy suit...that would make me pretty warm too. We didn't push it for the second half of the course and got passed by a few teams, but that was ok with us, we had nothing to prove. Plus without knowing the optimum time before hand it's a total guessing game anyway!

Foliage on display. Photo by S.
Lovely fields. Photo by S.

Despite doing the non-jumping division, I did opt to take Maggie over a few of the smaller fences at the beginning of the course, just for funzies. She went over things well, for the most part, though a little stickier than in our last lesson. I was totally forgetting to 'let go'! We garnered one refusal at a rail jump in the woods with a bunch of pine branches stacked underneath it. I don't think she had seen a jump with that much brush under it before (we haven't jumped an actual brush fence yet either...that'll be fun when we get there...eek) so she stopped and looked. We got over it fine the second time though!

Photo by S.

Photo by S.

The thing that really strikes me about these hunter places is simply how lucky I am to be able to participate in them.  Yes, you're essentially paying to go on a trail ride, but it's a trail ride with an air of competition (which, personally, I'm a fan of) and also, for these Myopia paces at least, we get to ride on land that isn't normally open to the public.

I'm not someone who is hugely into history in general, but I can appreciate living where I do. The Myopia hunter paces connect preserved trails on town-owned land and state forests with private trails on century-old estates that have been passed down within families since they were first settled as early as the 1600's. I really feel privileged to be able to ride around these places, where there really is an aura of history and old-world charm in the air.

We probably should have cantered around this field for the sake of time, but we really just couldn't help walking and enjoying our time there.

Photo by S.

These giant old trees were just simply stunning.

I think it's pretty safe to say that a good time was had by all! I'll definitely be penning in some hunter paces again during next year's season. 

Big thanks to Nature of Light Photography for capturing this moment as we cantered in to the finish! Used with permission.

Snacks after the pace. Maggie says, "MOAR CALORIES PLZ!"
Rio, S, Maggie, and myself. Photo by random guy in a truck reading the paper while waiting for his riders to get back. Thanks guy!