Proof(s) that things are improving!

These photos make me so happy. Especially the one where I’m making the biggest spaz face and Gordon is in the midst of a wonderful, engaged canter stride. Too bad my hands are so low and wide, but I was doing training level, so I guess training hands are okay ish. Will still try to fix this for the next time (along with our lacklustre impulsion in some instances!).Image

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Working through our issues

Last night’s ride was seriously depressing.

Gordon had way too much energy from being cooped up for several days (the fencing is still being finished at the new place), and he was really lonely without his friends. To top it off, it was pouring rain and the outdoor was muddy as can be (no more indoor available *grumble*).

I went to get out and Gordon skittered away from my weight. My feet slipped out of my stirrups and he tried to rear up and race me back to his friends in the barn. Managed to pull a quick emergency dismount.

Not our best ride. And I have a show in one week’s time. I was panicked. 

On the bright side, I got had a great frustration run afterwards. Ran my fastest 5k of the year so far. That upped my spirits a lot.

And then I got home to see some lovely proofs from our last show – motivation to keep working hard! I’ll put these up in a separate post.

So, tonight, despite my nerves, I decided to put yesterday behind me and give things another go. As often surprises me, today’s ride was as different as night from day. It helped that we were riding with Raven and Maggie, and Raquel and Willis, so Gordon was more relaxed. But then his friends went in and we kept schooling for a little without them – success!

It wasn’t a beautiful ride by any means, but it was actual schooling. It made me feel more comfortable in our new surroundings, and made me feel confident that we will be able to survive, and train, and go on to compete next weekend.

As so often is the case, persevering, relaxing, and training with friends can all make a huge impact on the success of my riding time.

Hopefully my lesson tomorrow is even better! Going to work on our tests.

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A much more relaxed ride than the last two tries at the new barn

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A different night, last week. Reminds me of how much my friends improve my hours in the saddle!

Wish me luck, and happy riding this long weekend!

Creature of Habit

I sort of had a mini freak out at the barn tonight. This hasn’t happened in a long time.

Let me explain:

So we moved to a new barn over the weekend, which was a pretty stressful process. Our coach expected everyone to chip in, because she has A LOT of stuff. She used to own her own place, so she’s fully stocked. We had tack lockers, chairs, wheelbarrows, etc., etc. to move, along with tidying up the new barn, which was basically unliveable for horses last week.

Our new barn is really run-down. It doesn’t have an indoor ring. I’ve never been at a barn like this before.

So the stage is set for why I had a mini (interior) anxiety attack today.

I like things that I know, and this place is very different from any other barn I’ve been at. To make things worse, the fencing hasn’t been fixed in the paddock, so the horses were being kept in the outdoor ring today, and my friend, Ellen, and I had to ride in the paddock.

I am majorly an arena person. I rarely venture out on trails because they make me nervous (read my post on how I would be the spookiest horse ever for more details on my nervous nancy tendencies).

To make things worse, Gordon was extremely fresh. They haven’t been out much the past few days because of the fencing issues. He’d barely gone out today when we showed up to ride. He was pulling and tossing his head, and the bugs were bad. He shot up his head, hit me in the lip and it started to bleed. I got shocked by the electric fence. It just wasn’t a good night.

I was debating whether I’d even bother to get on, given my frustration and nerves. But my friend Ellen was super soothing. She’s much braver than I am, and Merv (the horse she was riding was super chill). Once she was up, I mounted too and we walked (and trotted a little) around the paddock.

Now I can’t say that I ever really relaxed during this twenty minute paddock ride, but I did enjoy myself a bit and I was happy that I convinced myself to overcome my fears. I just need to head out again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, until suddenly this strange and scary new environment becomes the norm to me (and Gordon!).

It’s just tough because I really can’t school Gordon at all in the paddock because the grass is extremely long and the ground is uneven. When things are sorted out with the outdoor ring it’ll go much better. BUT our next show is coming up in a week and a half and we’ve barely worked since the last one. I need the ring to be ready yesterday so I can get myself (mostly mentally) prepared for our upcoming competition.

Hopefully I’ll have a better experience to write about tomorrow night!

Happy trails!

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A few photos from tonight. Looked way more relaxed in these than I actually felt! Thank god for my friend Ellen (foreground selfie-taker extroadinaire) who is able to keep things more relaxed and fun with her great personality 🙂

First show of the season!

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Last weekend marked our first competition of the season! I was nervous going in. Most years I’m riding five days a week, at least, while showing. However, I’ve only been riding Gordon three days a week. I worried that I might not be putting the necessary time in to thrive. I worried that we just wouldn’t have the necessary foundation to work out of.

But Gordon blew me away.

I read an article a few days before the show (on Horse Listening), about how you can expect to perform up to 50% worse at a show than at home, because of distractions, nerves, etc. I mentally prepared for this and set my sights really low. My goals were to have fun, and to not pull on Gordon’s mouth. That’s it.

Instead we had an amazing warmup and one really focused test. Our first test we got a very low score, a 52, because Gordon was a lonely boy. He kept calling for his buddy, Merv, that had come with us. My coach was holding him right next to the ring during our test – I asked her to have someone hold him out of sight for the second, which I think helped.

The test had some really accurate transitions and he was nice and round all the way through. However, we lost marks on each movement for the excessive calling (lack of focus), and for not having enough impulsion. My issue is when I sit the trot I sacrifice impulsion in order to have a prettier seat – I won’t make that mistake again!

In our second test, things were much better. Gordon gave me a mysterious buck right before we headed in to the ring. This buck ended up giving him a lot of “oomph” from the get-go, and we had a lot more impulsion (although there is still a lot of room for improvement on this front). We also had very accurate transitions, although we could have had more bend in the corners and on one of our circles.

We got a 59% on this one though and came in second out of four in our open division! That’s our first qualifying championship score of the year! I only need one more, I believe, to qualify to compete at training level in September.

One of the things I’m most proud about is the fact that my coach had a class during my warmup, and I managed to get Gordon’s attention and focus and get a great warmup without any coaching – something that I’ve never been without at a show before. To me, that’s progress!

Since the show, Gordon and I have had some great, higher impulsion rides. I’m going to try rising the trot at our next show, two weekends from now.

I also will be writing a post on our new barn soon. I spent all last weekend lifting and hauling all of my coach’s stuff to the new place… and there is some drama worth writing about happening there already.

Never a dull moment when you ride horses!

Applying Yogic Principles to Riding Horses

Hello all,

So, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted. Between moving to a new house and starting a new job last month, I’ve barely had time to dart to the barn for a quick ride a few times a week – let alone to write about riding! However, things have started to settle down again lately and I’m ready to get back to reflecting on my rides.

I’ve had some really interesting rides over the past month – some great, and some not so great. Because I don’t have the time or memory to reflect on all of these (and because I’m sure none of you have the interest!), I’m going to focus on one or two major things that have been helping things to go right lately.

One big thing is applying ideas covered in my yoga classes to my riding. This is sort of a retroactive realization, but I think it’s useful nonetheless. This evening I did a hip opening class on yogatoday.com, and I really had a few “aha moments,” where I was able to breathe into my discomfort and completely relax.

Similarly, with riding, things are often uncomfortable and messy if I don’t relax. I’ve had a few tense and uncomfortable rides (for both horse and rider) in the past few weeks where I tried too hard to force things, to pull, and to hold Gordon up. I was trying to make things happen forcefully, when I should have taken things back to basics and let them happen naturally. There’s no point pulling your horse into a fake frame that ends up making them have short, choppy movements.

I think part of the problem that leads me to do this – and it’s embarrassing to admit – is that often when there are other riders at the barn watching, I get impatient for things to happen more quickly. Since this will also be the case at shows, I really need to learn to let go of what other people are thinking of me and my riding. It’s more important to put my horse’s health and happiness over my ego. But I digress.

To return to what I’ve done to combat this is teaching myself to just let go. Literally. My last few rides have started without any use of the   reins. I toss them away and just hold on to the buckle. I warm up at a completely loose, low trot, steering Gordon into lots of big shapes and figures using just my seat and legs.

The beauty of this warm-up is that when I do pick up the reins, I remember that they shouldn’t be my primary aid. They’re just there as a support and I don’t need them for steering, cranking, etc.

Beginning with this laissez-faire attitude has allowed me to start “working” with a more laid-back attitude. I relax and swing with Gordon, leading to his becoming authentically round and light from my seat. Breathing deep and relaxing leads to a much better experience, just like with yoga.

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More relaxed seat = more relaxed horse.

That being said, working outside has been a big challenge for us lately. After working inside for our never-ending winter, and cold, unpredictable spring, Gordon is still having trouble focusing outside – and our first competition is next weekend! However, I think with a few more solid training sessions and a relaxed attitude next weekend it should be a fun learning experience.

In any case, the best thing about trying to keep yoga principles in mind is that after a relaxing, connected ride you can actually end with that blissful, yogic feel too. An experience that is certainly more rewarding than the frustrated, guilty feeling that accompanies rides that end up being a tug-o’-war match.

Let me know how you relax in the saddle and what sort of impact it has on your horse!

Happy riding.