Squeak, Squeak, Squeak Goes the Diesel Engine

Ike peering from barnDid you hear that horrible squeaking noise on Tuesday afternoon?  The one that sounded like a 50 year old bike being pedaled up a hill?  That would have been Ike and me in our dressage lesson.  Sheesh, it sure doesn’t take long for Ike to get a little stiff and rusty, and seemingly lose all the progress we’ve made towards Second Level.  It takes even less time for my riding to fall to pieces.  I suppose that is what happens when you are down to riding once a week.

Such is the plight of the average rider in the middle of winter.  We are at the mercy of the weather since we have no indoor arena.  Why am I not riding regularly?  Too wet, too cold, too frozen, too windy can all be used to explain why.  People like me are not able to leave our jobs, homes, and family and spend the winter in Florida playing with our horses every day.  We live vicariously through videos posted online; we jealously stew over their short-sleeved shirts and shiny, mud-free horses.

It was probably a good thing that I didn’t ride in the gale force winds on Monday.  Ike had a very busy day applying a mud mask to all exposed parts of his body.  It took me a good hour or so of grooming to get the dried, caked mud from Ike’s head, neck, legs, and tail.  There was even mud under the blanket – I’m not sure how he managed that feat.  I was as dirty as he was just from taking off his blanket.  As you can see from this photo, there was a clear line of demarcation between the land of the blanket and the mud flats.

Line of demarcation

Ike’s neck after 15 minutes with the curry…

While I cursed the blanket for sharing Ike’s mud with me, I also was thankful that it was in place or my task would have been even more daunting.  When I was done, even my teeth felt gritty.  A friend suggested that I get some Orbit gum for my dirty mouth.

Thankfully, Ike did not reapply his mud mask on Tuesday, so grooming was quick work and we could get straight to our lesson.  It. Was. Not.  Pretty.  Ike was stiff; all body parts were moving, but all parts were not moving together.  My fingers were stiff in the cooler weather which meant that my reins kept getting too long and uneven and I was always a half a step too slow for a proper half halt.  Transitions were our saving grace.  It took a good 25-30 minutes, but finally Ike’s body started moving more fluidly.  Ah, he is like a diesel engine – he just needs some time to warm up before getting to work.

Once the engine was humming, our work improved 10 fold.  We starting working on our leg yields to supple Ike even more.  I still have trouble keeping the correct alignment.  All too often, I leave Ike’s hind end playing catch up as I let the shoulders bully their way ahead.  Just half halt that outside rein to stop it they say; I say bully to that.  Once Ike’s shoulders take the lead, it is all I can do to slow them down.  I also have to be careful that I maintain the proper flexion since Ike is more than happy to demonstrate his half pass ability. (which by the way is lovely.)  We tried the new First Level Test 3 movement of leg yielding from K to X and then from X to H.  Make sure you have control of those shoulders well before X – it is way too easy to overshoot X and end up with a very steep line to H.

We then moved on to shoulder in and started introducing the Second Level Test 1 pattern.  Holy moly!  We can actually do it!  I am still in shock.  There is a dim chance that we might actually be ready to try Second Level at a schooling show in April.  Ike and I can finally ride the first 8 movements of the test with some level of success.  We are able to show a change between a collected trot and a “medium-like” trot.  The medium trot is still a work in progress, but work has stalled with the poor footing.  We are really in a correct shoulder in position and don’t just have an over bent giraffe neck.  We can ride smooth square turns onto and off of the rail.  Reinbacks are decent.  Luckily, Ike can already walk and free walk, so movements 7 and 8 feel like bonus points.

But that is where are work ended for the lesson.  The footing was not safe enough to push for medium trots or canter.  Call me a wuss, but I’d rather err on the side of caution then end up with a tendon injury that sidelines any work.  Warmer weather will be here soon enough and we will be back to full speed.  I am still practicing my impatiently patient skills.  They too are a work in progress.

alison

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Impatiently Patient

Photo by Pics of You

Photo by Pics of You

Is it just me or have we become a society of “now?”  We no longer wish to wait for anything.  Everyone needs the answer now and will call you repeatedly until you pick up the phone out of frustration to make the ringing stop.  No one wants to take the time to do real research that would take you to the library to find an actual book or peer-reviewed journal to find correct answers…just Google what you want to know and hope the first website to pop up has an accurate answer.  No need to spend all day in the kitchen measuring wet and dry ingredients for cookies, just tear open a package and chomp away.  Why wait for the evening news when you can check your phone 100 times a day to learn that your friend just ate waffles for brunch?

I will admit that I am not the most patient person.  I have been this way since I was young.  My mother will attest to that fact.  I will scream at the slow person in the left hand lane of the highway.  I will roll  my eyes when the person in front of me at the store waits until after everything is bagged to try to find their wallet at the bottom of their suitcase-sized purse.  I will shudder and weep for the future of our country when the cashier tries to figure out how to make change when I give them $10.01 for a $5.26 purchase.

My horses are doing their best to teach me to be patient.  It. Is. Not. Easy.  I watch as fellow riders seem to sail up the levels with ease while I continue to struggle with the correct alignment for a leg yield or keeping Ike’s haunches from drifting in at the canter.  This may well be the first year ever that we aren’t starting with Intro or Training Level tests.  Ten years is a long time to ride those same 20 meter circles.  I’m sure there are ways to cheat time and get things done faster in our training.  I don’t know how, but I’m sure someone, somewhere, has come up with some tricks.  This impatiently patient person is going to do things the right way.  My ego will just have to take a deep breath and enjoy the slow ride.  Yes, we have used a double bridle in our training, but it is done under adult supervision.  It will not become a crutch.  Most days I ride in my snaffle.

The funny thing is that I can actually see and feel a change in Ike and I even since the championship show.  We can now ride the First Level shallow canter loop with ease.  The canter-trot-canter transition actually occurs right around X.  Our 10 meter trot circles are round with Ike’s outside shoulder pointing the right way; those 10 meter canter circles for Second Level are still a work in progress.  Our leg yields are more fluid and Ike is going to rock shoulder in and haunches in when the time comes.  Ike’s medium trot finally has some power from behind and I am gradually able to sit his trot for longer and longer periods.

What is the difference?  Time, time, and more time.  We patiently school on a regular basis under Ms. C’s eagle eye.  I ride after work most days trying to replicate what we had in our lessons.  I read online articles and my Dressage Today regularly to better understand the theory.  I get back in the saddle and practice some more.  Will we be ready for Second Level in April?  Only time will tell, but when we do, I am certain that my impatient patience will have paid off.

 

Start Where You Are

Ike November 2014

I have practiced yoga for over 12 years now.  I remember struggling with even doing plank pose; and the thought of mastering scorpion pose, crow pose, or half moon pose seemed a pipe dream.  Yet now, I can perform all of those poses without a second thought.  As Baron Baptiste tells you on one of his DVDs, “Start where you are and from there you will progress.”  I try to remember those words as I struggle with mastering the skills necessary to progress to Second  Level.  You have to start somewhere and if you never start, you will never progress.   

The thought of Second Level  is daunting.  For more accomplished riders, they are probably thinking, “What is the big deal?”  I am thinking “Yikes!  This is where the crap hits the fan!”  No more posting the trot, no more big circles or bee bopping around on half speed.  You need to be fully present during every stride – much like you need to be fully present when attempting scorpion pose. 

I have spent some time checking out the new 2015 dressage tests for Second Level.  There is A LOT of work to be done this winter.  Well, let’s be honest, we might need spring  and some of summer to get into Second Level show shape.  I’ve broken down the tests and decided these are the key items for Ike and I to master.

Sitting Trot – This one is all on me.  I still tilt my pelvis in the wrong direction.  I still stiffen rather than relaxing.  I still lean either too far forward or too far back.  When I lean back and brace in my stirrups, I look like I’m water skiing.  (This is as close as I’ve ever come to actually water skiing.)  People say, “strengthen your core.”  My core is strong, but yet I still struggle to find the sweet spot. 

Collected Trot – Phew!  It is a lot of work to get the giraffe to sit down and really engage his hind end.  It is also a revelation to me to feel what a correct collected trot feels like.  It is not just slowing the horse down.  It is all about mushing the energy inwards and upwards.  When Ms. C yells, “there is your collected trot!”  I am thinking, “You have got to be kidding me!  How am I supposed to maintain this?!”

Medium Trot – This fall at the regional championships, we received a 6 for our trot lengthening with the comment “Conservative.”  I could not argue with the score or the comment.  If I tried to push for more, poor Ike would get unbalanced and we’d get scores of 5.  It was better to be conservative.  I am happy to say that our trot lengthenings are coming along.  They are not quite medium trots yet, but I am hopeful that they will be there come spring…of course, I still have to figure out how to sit that medium trot.

Collected Canter and 10 meter canter circles.  What size?!  I am pretty certain with Baby Huey that a ten meter circle is probably  a canter pirouette.  Still not sure how we are going to master this.  Any circle smaller than 15 meters usually ends up in trot.  Our collected canter quality isn’t always the best; Ike gets a little sticky and the canter feels like a pogo stick.  Just need more time and less help from the neighborhood wildlife (Ike wants to move quickly away from any wild creature.)

Counter canter.  Still our nemesis.  The shallow canter loop of the First Level Test 3 test is about the extent of our counter canter success.  A full three loop serpentine?  No way.  Even just riding the short end of the arena in counter canter is a crap shoot.  I have to over ride and over emphasize the counter bend and yet the boy can still throw in a flying change.  All we can do is keep trying.

Simple Transitions.  Slowly, but surely, we are progressing with our simple transitions.  Our walk-to-canter transitions are better than our canter-to-walk transitions.  The down transitions are better when we train in our double bridle; not at all surprising.  Ike still needs a few trot strides before the walk when we work in our snaffle.  I am still pleased with where we are. 

As if the above isn’t  enough…we also have….

Shoulder in and Travers.  If I had to pick Ike’s stronger movements, I would say it is his lateral work.  How could it not be with those long legs?  As long as I set him up for success, both shoulder in and travers are going well.  At least we have two strong points in our quest for Second Level success.

Rein back.  Rein back is one of Ike’s favorite movements when evading my aids for turn on the forehand and turn on the haunches.  Unfortunately, he also likes to duck behind vertical and give me more than the required number of steps. 

Turn on the haunches.  The best I can say about this required movement is that it is not in Test 1.  This is definitely a work in progress.  “Start where you are.  Start where you are.”

Our work is currently on hiatus as I fight the flu.  Have no fear.  Ike and I will be back to work before you know it.

One of My Favorite Ways to View the World

Ike at the end of September 2014

A great way to view the world!

So Ike and I took time off last week.  Ike spent his week off just being a horse – no demands of his time except for feeding time.  Rumor has it that he did look for me every time he heard a car come down the driveway.  While he might have missed me, I think he enjoyed living like his brother, the lawn ornament.  I spent the week on Ocracoke Island with my husband and our dear friends imbibing on some adult beverages and engaging in some serious hands of Spades.  While I love to get away from the daily grind, I do miss our dogs and horses while we are gone.  How can you not miss sitting astride your horse and the ease of their power?

We caught the 4:30 a.m. ferry off the island (yes, we are those people) and were home by 10:30.  That meant that there would be some saddle time that afternoon!  What a great greeting I received upon arrival at the barn.  Every horse, except for Ike, nickered as I said hello.  Ike promptly greeted me with a gentle nudge, then gave me his “mean face.”  I suppose that was him admonishing me for leaving him for the week.  He is quick to forgive…after a Stud Muffin or two were procured.  Had a moment of panic when I saw Cigar’s face with what looked like blood splattered on his forehead.  Thankfully, it turned out to be pokeberry juice.  Such a shame that he has to resort to eating pokeberries rather the alfalfa/timothy hay that he is provided.  Enjoyed a short but productive ride with the realization that the CBLMs are only three weeks away.

So much to accomplish in the next few weeks.  The training plan involves mostly pure training rather than test riding.  Training Level Test 2 and First Level Test 2 are good tests for us.  We’ve been consistent with our scores all season, so no need to drill the movements.  We are just going to work on climbing the training pyramid which will only make our tests better.

Ms. C introduced half steps to our training right before our week off; she said that both Ike and I are ready for them. Uh, okay.  I think Ike is picking up on the concept faster than I am.  I have a tendency to get a bit strong with my hands, not use my legs enough, and then forget to release my half halt…that of course creates tension which makes Ike’s back tight which then causes all the dominoes to fall and we end up back at square one.  Phew, we are now well outside my comfort zone with what we are doing.  No more happy-go-lucky Training Level stuff allowed.  I can read books and websites all day and night about half steps and teaching collection to a horse and rider, but there is no comparison to actually sitting on the horse and performing the tasks at hand.  It is much like swimming – the only way to become proficient is to jump in the water and do it.  Yes, it will be hard at first (and you might sink like a rock/get some low scores), but with steady practice and repetition, you will hopefully see improvement.  That is what I’m hoping with our half steps/collection work.  Good thing there is no hurry to get to Second Level.  (Sshhh, don’t tell, I’m also still not proficient with sitting ike’s medium trot either and I think posting is frowned upon.)

It is shaping up to be a busy week with the farrier and vet stopping by, but hopefully there will be plenty of saddle time!

alison

Stop the Flop

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Ladies, this is a blog post just for you.  Two of my friends and I were chatting a week ago.  One runs middle distances, one runs agility with her Corgi, and I ride.  But, we all have the exact same issue – how do you contain the “girls” and stop the flop.    For one, it is uncomfortable even if you are not well endowed.  Two, we all have seen ourselves on video and have cringed when you see the independent movement of uncontained boobs.  You might have halted, but certain parts are still coming to a stationary position.  That video makes you stop and realize that “I need a better bra.”

My friends and I discussed our experiences both good and bad with finding the perfect “over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder”  ( A nod to Bette Midler for that reference!).

One of the bad experiences is wearing a yoga top while riding, running or doing any high impact activity.  Just an utter failure on my part when I tried it once.  The shelf bra support meant a very uncomfortable ride when I did anything more than a walk.  It is not recommended unless you have something more supportive underneath.

Also not recommended by either my friends or me is the well worn bra that you have owned for over 5 years.  You know the one.  The one with no elasticity left in the straps or the back.  I’m willing to bet that we all have one that should have been retired, but it seems to do its job until you decide to be a bit more active while wearing it.  You even try adjusting the straps to no avail.  Please give it a moment of silence and remove it from the rotation.

We also strongly suggest that you leave the frilly and lacy balconette brassieres for non-athletic endeavors.  These bras are built for different reasons than a good athletic bra.  The materials are usually not sweat friendly and the styling is not very supportive.  How horrifying would it be to “break free” in the middle of your dressage test or marathon?!

What do we recommend?  Heading to your nearest athletic store and finding athletic bras made for runners.  They tend to have the most support and compression and work well for equestrians.  Try on your favorites.  Jump, move, turn and stretch in the contenders.  Comfort is key.  If something is too tight, too loose, or cuts into your underarm while in the dressing room, just say no and move on to the next one.  This is definitely like saddle shopping – one size does not fit all.  Find what works for you.

If you would rather shop from the comfort of home, then head over to the Title Nine website.  They rate their bras and bra tops with barbells.  The more barbells a bra has, the more support you will get.  They even guarantee that DDD cups won’t move in their six barbell bras…now that is some impressive support!

Feel free to share your favorite brands and stores in the comments below.  Now it’s time to head back to the barn – it is a shame that my undergarments can’t help my sit trot…

 

 

 

Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot!

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So it is definitely July in the mid-Atlantic region.  That means green head flies, horse flies, countless house flies, heat and humidity.  Ideally you would ride very early in the morning and avoid the blazing sun.  But since I must work to support my equines in the life style to which they have become accustomed, poor Ike has had to endure rides and lessons in the heat of the afternoon.

Our progress since the start of the season makes me think that there is hope that we will escape First Level.  It might not be this year, but it is a realistic goal for 2015.  Some of our biggest strides have been with Ike’s canter, his lateral work, and my riding skills.  I’m pretty certain that there is a direct correlation to Ike’s improvement with my improved skill set.

Ike’s canter has been a challenge to say the least.  Knowing that our starting point was a “Scooby Do” canter, there really wasn’t anywhere to go but up.  As long as Ike is not spooked and I stay focused, his canter is slower and more rhythmic.  I still need to have better following hands as was pointed out to me by Hilda in the spring and more recently by Ms. C and Debbie Bowman.  I also need to remember to use my outside rein to regulate Ike’s stride rather than keeping my death grip on the reins.  The slower more balanced canter has allowed us to have success with the shallow canter loop while schooling at home.  Time will tell if we have success in a show environment.

Our lateral work is coming along nicely.  With my increased knowledge of proper leg, seat and rein aids, Ike and I can now perform respectable leg yields (still can’t stick the solid 8 leg yield every time), shoulder in, haunches in, and trot half pass.  The ability to break down Ike’s body and move specific body parts is huge for me.  We really want to avoid any more comments about my horse not bending and looking stiff.

I’ve also made great strides with my ability to sit Ike’s trot…one of those key skills necessary to make it to the next level.  I still struggle with maintaining a sitting position during the trot lengthening, and I positively bounce in our canter-to-trot transitions.  I keep reminding myself that this is a journey and that it isn’t going to happen in one day or even in one year.  In the mean time, I’ve upped my abdominal strength with unmounted exercises and will keep building my sit trot time.  It has also helped that Ike now has a stronger topline that can tolerate my bouncing. 🙂

With the hotter temperatures, we are very careful with our schooling – shorter lessons with more focused and quality work.  We take frequent water breaks and Ms. C will hose Ike to help keep him cool.  I’ve discovered Absorbine’s new Botanicals Natural Herbal Liniment Rinse (http://www.absorbine.com/products/muscle-care/absorbine-botanicals-natural-herbal-liniment).  It is a perfect way to cool Ike down and relax his muscles after a challenging lesson.  I’ve asked Ike to swab some on me, but have yet to be successful.  It is tempting to give it a try – the rinse has a refreshing odor that might mask my post workout aroma.

There is a slight reprieve with the sweltering temperatures and we will take full advantage of it for the next few days.

Happy Summer Riding!

 

 

 

 

Time to Step It Up

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Howdy Everyone!  I’ve decided that I will be the one to fill you in on the latest from the barn.  Mom seems to be distracted with issues with the home and work electronics.  She had to fix the home router last week, have the power supply for the phone/television/internet replaced, and now she broke her work laptop.  Maybe I am glad that I am a horse and don’t have to worry about such nonsense.  Maybe I should be worried that she might break me?  What is the big deal with living with no TV or computer for a few days?  I live without it every day.  Silly, silly human.

I gave myself a few days off after my stellar performance at the first show of the year.  I don’t mean to brag, but I was a really good boy.  A bunch of my friends came to cheer for me;  my favorite fans brought apple slices that Mom made me share with my buddy Felix.  You might be wondering how I managed to get a vacation so early in the season…Well I kicked the back of my left knee with a hind shoe and limped around the barn.  Mom overreacted as usual and had the vet come to check me.  It was just a bruise, but I managed to get almost a whole week off to do nothing.  Mom was really nice to me and let me graze in the good grass.  After a few days, I did finally let her know that I was feeling better by taking her for a walk (I let her think she is walking me most days since it seems to make her feel good).

Last weekend Mom signed us up for another clinic.  She seems to think that “outings” are good for me.  At least this clinic was really close to home so I got to sleep in my own stall.  My new neighbor Joe misses me when I am not at home at night.  (Joe moved into Dooda’s stall a month ago; he is a nice fellow who is brown like me.)  The clinic was at Mom’s friend’s farm.  Ms. S has a very delicious parking area with lots of clover.  Mom was all worried that I’d have a green mouth while she rode.  I was worried that I’d missed a good grazing spot.

I tried really hard at the clinic.  The clinician was a judge from New York, Scott Peterson.  He is a really tall man who had funny stories to share about Hilda Gurney.  Like Hilda, he did not hand out candy during my lesson.  I need to work on this lack of handouts.  I tried really hard to do everything that they wanted me to do.  I would hear Scott say that I looked good, but when I would try to slow down as we would get close, Mom would goose me along.  Sheesh.  I think I might need to start a petition to demand candy during all my lessons and clinics.  Yes, I must admit that I am very food motivated.  I will be happy to provide a list of all the candy that I do like to eat.

I was glad to hear that a lot of the problems that we have while riding are due to Mom’s lack of focus and timing.  Ha!  She gets all upset with me when I lift my head to look at something, but she will drift off into lala-land and put on the cruise control.  No wonder I spook sometimes.  Something has to snap her back to reality.  The poor woman did work on her sit trot on Sunday.  The arena we worked in had mirrors, and just between you and me, it was not a pretty picture.  Pogo stick meets toy soldier meets uncoordinated, sweaty woman.  Good thing I had on my thick Ecogold saddle pad to protect my back.  Don’t look for us at Second Level anytime soon.

The take home message from this past weekend is that we need to step up our work in order to escape the lower levels.  Yes, we are doing well, but to ever make it past First Level, Mom and I are going to have to work really hard.  I’m told that I have to slow down my canter – boo.  Mom was reminded that forward does not mean faster.  I need to be more rhythmic in all my gaits – that is fine, but it is Mom’s job to make it happen.  I think it was funny that Scott made Mom count out loud while she rode.  Poor woman was breathless at times, guess she needs to get her butt into the gym for some cardio.  I kind of like that all the hard stuff falls on her shoulders.  That leaves me more time to eat my candy and grass.

Good catching up with you.  Come see us at our next show, but don’t forget the candy!

Ike