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.

 

 

 

If I was a horse…

I would be the hottest Arabian or Thoroughbred that you’ve ever met. Let me explain…

To begin my daily anecdote, I should preface by describing just how excited I was to ride today. I spent around an hour or so this afternoon watching instructional dressage DVDs. One was from dressageclinic.com and featured Steffan Peters schooling one of his Grand Prix mounts for 30 minutes. The other DVD was a super old school (and pretty hilarious, but also useful) one called The Classical Seat. In any case, after watching these videos I was really pumped for a good lesson tonight. I was ready to try out a few minor adjustments to my seat and posture to see how it would impact Gordon. However, all of my excitement disappeared when I walked into an incredibly windy arena tonight. The arena walls were swaying back and forth and the wind was whistling as if it was mid-winter.

As those of you who have been following my posts will know, Gordon can be spooky sometimes – particularly in the last few weeks as his grain has been upped to give him more energy for long show days, but he still isn’t getting ridden enough by his owner and I combined for the upped ratio – however, he probably isn’t as spooky as me. In any case, I lunged Gordon first, but as soon as I got on him he felt like a ball of energy. The wind tickled his ankles and he ricocheted out from the arena wall. I got nervous, as I’m apt to do, which never improves these sorts of situations. So I decided to cut my losses and reschedule my lesson for a time when I wouldn’t be a tense ball of nerves. My coach (Gordon’s owner) got on him for a bit and I watched. He only spooked once with her and was really good besides for that. She was calm with him and spoke quietly to him under her breath, praising him for being a brave boy in the particularly scary corners.

Today was just a particularly wuss day for me. Some days I am braver than others. However, in retrospect I feel ashamed of myself for not trying harder to overcome my fears and simply handing my horse off to my coach – she is supportive and does make this option easy though, whereas my Ottawa coach would have convinced me to work through it at all costs (which resulted in my taking a nervous riding hiatus for two months last winter). By the same token though, I am a recreational rider at the end of the day. My livelihood does not depend on my riding skills. I ride for fun and if I’m feeling stressed out by bad conditions around me I’m not going to have fun, and there’s a chance that I might get hurt. So maybe getting off tonight wasn’t such a bad thing after all? I’m still torn about my decision.

What could I have done to push myself through? I should have incorporated frequent soft transitions from my seat into my warm-up, getting Gordon to focus on me rather than on the scary noises around us. I should have spoke to him and distracted him (and myself!) as quickly as possible with some interesting shapes, figures and exercises. This is what I will aim to do next time, on a braver day, when I’m feeling more like a Clyde. Wish me luck!

Happy (and brave!) riding!

Persevering and Working Hard

As a nervous rider persevering is one of the most important things for me to do. Some days I don’t feel like going to the barn because I worry. Some rides I feel like ending things early because the wind is scary, or there’s no one else around. However, I have to push myself to keep going and to push through my fear because most of the time it doesn’t have a basis. If Gordon spooks once, I don’t need to give up and call it a day, or get my coach to hop on. I just need to push through and focus on relaxing and sending him the right signals.

Thursday I sort of let Gordon’s attitude get the best of me – again. He had a two or three spooks and was really fresh from the get-go, so I didn’t enjoy my ride at all. However, at least I didn’t make Jenn ride. I stayed on and worked my hardest. In the end we had an okay ride, but he never really felt fully relaxed. Our dressage test did improve from the last time in terms of the accuracy of our transitions. I do lean forward too much, especially at the rising trot. It’s not so bad when I’m sitting (at the canter or trot). So perhaps I ought to focus on doing the sitting trot for my upcoming shows, even though Gordon apparently works better at rising (and we have both options available at Training).

Tonight’s ride actually felt pretty good. My boyfriend was out, which gave me more confidence than usual form the beginning. This confidence reflected on to Gordon and he was much less nervous. He is a very sensitive horse that quickly responds to a rider’s emotion, so I need to try to keep my feelings in check (much easier said than done). Anyway, tonight he was pretty calm and had only had one or two very small spooks (mostly in response to a loud car, and since he’s been hit by a car, I think he deserves a little wiggle-room in that department). Anyway, originally he kept wanting to flex out at the gate, but eventually I got most of his focus. I just worry that I was using too much hand and not enough leg to achieve his throughness. This was especially the case during a canter serpentine halt at x exercise I was working on. At first he didn’t want to halt (although I probably wasn’t setting him up properly). As a result, I used more hand than I probably should have. However, he quickly got the memo and became really good at the exercise, and his canter felt way more uphill and together after that point. I really tried to lighten up as he came more together and things felt really good by the end of our ride. I just need to work (as always) on lighter hands and not leaning forward at the rising trot! Hoping to make it out to the barn tomorrow to focus on these issues. Here are some photos from today’s ride:

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Image Sorry for the wonky photo sizes!

Happy riding!

Springtime Adventures

To start off, I have a very funny barn anecdote to share. So Sunday was a little messy outside. The weather climbed up to a balmy 20 degrees (although it was windy so it didn’t feel quite that warm). The rapidly melting piles of snow created a sort of mudeggedon situation in my area of Ontario. The mud was so deep and squelchy (I hope you know what I mean by that), that the mud actually sucked off both my boots as I was out to get Gordon. So, I was standing in the mud in my sock-feet, trying to find firm(ish) ground to stand in to pull my boots back out. It was disgusting, but absolutely hilarious. Apparently the barn owner saw everything from a distance, and was sad that he didn’t have a camera or phone on him to record it and submit to AFHV or YouTube. Later that day another horse owner got fully stuck, and it took two other people to pull her out. I think her boots remained in the mud for the remainder of the day because they couldn’t be pulled out. Very messy situation near the gate. If Gordon was my horse I wouldn’t have let him in this for fear of his getting caught and panicking and injuring himself. However, all of the horses seem fine, so I’m glad that that worked out okay.

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Anyway, so after the mud bath I unintentionally took, I had a pretty good ride. I decided to ride in the jumping saddle long and low to avoid some of the heaviness/fighting for the bit problems that had plagued us the previous ride. Gordon was really responsive and calm. I decided to do a small cross-rail and vertical while I was riding in the jumping saddle. At first Gordon was super forward towards the jumps, but after half-halting every stride leading towards the jump (and letting him open only about two strides before), we got some really nice canter and great jumps. However, when I put the height up a bit, Gordon started acting a bit silly. He was pretty much just rushing things and getting too excited – and also skittering away from my left (inside) leg, which he has a habit of doing sometimes. Anyway, in the end things were fine and overall it was a pretty good ride. It was only my third time jumping Gordon and it gives me a lot of hope that we will have some really fun times over-fences this summer. There are three schooling shows happening at the barn where Gordon is boarded, so we might do some fun low hunter courses there just for a change of pace from dressage.

Tuesday I had a less fun ride. Tuesday was close to thirty degrees colder than Sunday (the joys of spring in Canada), and the wind was whistling like crazy. As a result, Gordon was super spooky and was eyeing everything. This made me nervous, which I’m sure he sensed and which probably resulted in his becoming more nervous. We actually had a fairly decent ride though, in that Gordon was way lighter than he was last week. We had some really beautiful moments of trot and canter that felt really pro. However, because of my nerves, for much of the ride I was leaning forward too much, which is something I really need to be cognizant of. A hunt or forward seat comes much more naturally to me than a dressage seat, so I need to always work at this. But concentrating on my eq. too much can sometimes distract me from “listening” to the horse and responding fluidly – so I will really need to work at striking a better balance between these two elements. Anyway, so things ended up okay, but it wasn’t a particularly fun ride because I was nervous the whole time. This got me questioning whether we would be ready for the first silver dressage show, which is coming up May 11th. I haven’t even had the opportunity to ride Gordon outside yet, and I don’t know what he’s like off-property. Maybe I’m rushing things too much and should just wait for the next show in June to ensure that I’m really ready – mentally and physically? Anyway, I have a week or two more to decide, so there’s no big rush there.