Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Things I've learned

Three days until my first lesson on the horse I'm leasing!!!  I have my first real ride on him on Friday and I've arranged my coach to give me a private lesson. I'm hoping this will help get me started on the right foot and give me some confidence that completely left me in the test ride. I still find it interesting that I completely blamed myself for the test ride not going super well.  While I think it's important to always look to how I am influencing the behaviour of any horse I ride but I also think it's important to be able to recognize when it's something else. It's not always a good thing to blame yourself when it means that you are missing what is really going on. Food for thought.

I had another "duh!" moment last night in my lesson.  The horse I usually ride, the beautiful black gelding, has a very hard time going round. I have learned that I have more success when I don't even think about that at all but just ride him as best I can. Of course, that makes sense because if I am riding properly, well balanced etc., it makes it easier for him. Still, he rarely is truly round but I wouldn't say he is hollow either. Last week, we had some moments that I felt were truly indicative of progress in this regard. We were both so much more balanced and soft. Then, last night, I was having difficulty with a particular exercise. We were cantering 10m circles and then through poles set up in a half-square. The circles were ok but I just wasn't getting the square as balanced as I wanted. He even broke to trot once. Eek.  I stopped to re-group and talk to my instructor. I was asking about my legs, I suspected that was where things were going wrong.

You know how sometimes the things that people say in passing actually ends up being spot-on?  Yeah. I had asked about my outside leg and my instructor commented that she wouldn't use outside leg because that would be confusing to the horse. Oh. ... OH!  I realized I've been way too active with the outside leg. It started because this horse is so long and stiff he tends to bend with his front end only, so I do a little extra stabilizing with the outside leg to keep those hips from swinging out. But there is a big difference between a supportive leg and an active one! I didn't even realize I had started to over-use it. We did the exercise again and it was so much better.  I felt pretty stupid and I am actually a little embarrassed to be admitting it on the internet :)  But what the hell, it's all about improvement, right?  I wish I had photos, but my husband (aka photographer) is out of town again. Oh well, we are back in the indoor and photos don't look very nice in there anyway. A very worthwhile lesson, I'd say.

I also never followed up with some thoughts about Edgar. It's quite simple really. So simple, I didn't really think that it would be something to pass along. Edgar is pretty green and doesn't work under saddle very often. Therefore, he is still learning to balance a rider. On top of that, the riding area is a field with uneven footing. So it's important to go slow and build his balance and strength.  Occasionally at the trot Edgar will start to lose his balance which is evident by the way he starts to rush and get even more on the forehand (yes, it's possible, lol). In the very beginning, it went from increasing speed to bolting pretty quickly. I think the bolting was mostly an evasion of sorts - he would get unbalanced and anxious and bolting was a way out.  (Side note: he also used bolting to try to get out of work. I noted the difference back in the spring but didn't blog about it specifically. You might remember when I made him keep running after a bolt, beating him at his own game, if you will. I didn't do that until I was sure he was simply being a brat, as opposed to me pushing too hard, and I think that is why it worked so well. That was the last time Edgar bolted with me. I do not think it would have worked so well if I did that while the balance was still the root cause.)

All that to say that you need to be patient. I did a lot of walk-trot-halt transitions, varying the order and duration of each. I had worked up to short canter sessions just before I broke my arm. I always made sure to transition down from canter while he was still balanced so that he could stay calm and build both strength and confidence. I suspect that the riders his owner had out to replace me weren't as patient and likely rushed him to trot and canter when he wasn't ready and/or balanced. So, he bolted with them. I honestly think it's that simple. Of course, part of it could have just been his Fjord brain knowing what he could get away with ;)

I also think it's interesting that he didn't try anything like that last weekend, even though I hadn't ridden him since early June.  I was also (again) careful to pay attention to when he started to come undone.  Hmmm, I guess I'm not terrible at distinguishing some rider issues from horse issues. Then again, even my husband could tell when he started to come undone, lol.

Well, that was much longer than I intended!  Tonka has found the container of catnip and is batting it around the house. Guess I'd better give him a little. Off to "drug" the cat and walk Hazel.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The horse does all the work

I am really, really sick of hearing this. I just had one co-worker make this joke as we were standing around this morning. I laughed because I know full well this person knows how physically intense riding can be. But then another co-worker piped up and said “that’s what I think” with such a superior tone as to suggest her opinion is the only one that is possibly correct. I have to admit, someone shamefully, that I was instantly angry. I refrained from showing it as best I could and I managed not to say anything too rude. It doesn’t help that this person was already getting under my skin lately with her my-opinion-is-the-only-truth approach. So I was already sick of it and then that just hit too close to home.

Why do so many people assume riding is so easy? I’d love to see any one of them do squats on a moving “base” for even a few minutes, let alone on and off for an hour. Or maintain core tension for an entire hour while simultaneously not being tense and operating your limbs independently of one another, also on a moving base. Or balancing all your weight on the balls of your feet and calves, using lots of inner thigh, while said moving base throws itself through the air over obstacles. Not to mention helping balance the horse. Or even more challenging (for me) is keeping the horse “between” your seat/legs and hands with a soft, following hand, a relaxed seat, while performing lateral movements. This gets me exhausted faster than just about any activity I’ve ever done, and my usual favorite activities are cross-country skiing and rock climbing!!

I said that it sounded about as silly as saying that riding a bike isn’t exercise. WHOA! That got a strong reaction! But your legs move when you ride a bike, they said. How dare I suggest something so ridiculous? I had to laugh. Then, I couldn’t stop the sarcasm, “Oh, you’re right, your legs don’t move or do any work when riding a horse.”

Ok, so I was at work and had to maintain my cool, but I was really pissed off. To me, it’s simply ignorant to suppose your opinion is right about something you have never experienced. And it’s not just here; a lot of people seem to be very set in this idea. I know, I shouldn’t let it get to me but it just makes no sense whatsoever. Even worse are those who have gone on one trail ride and therefore “know” what riding is like.

Sorry for the rant but I really needed to get that out. Now, I am going to try to turn “frustrated Friday” into “Fun Friday”…I get to go to an interesting presentation this afternoon.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Have you ridden a Fjord lately?

I haven't been up to ride Edgar since just before I broke my arm at the beginning of June. After the arm was ok to ride again, I was hesitant to continue riding Edgar at first. It was my closest experience with "fear" and riding. I wasn't really afraid but I WAS reluctant to risk getting hurt again soon after my month off. Time off is HARD. I hate being limited in what I can do.

While I was recovering, Edgar's owner tried to find another exercise rider. It didn't go so well. Many clearly weren't experienced enough and she didn't let them try him. A couple were ok, but couldn't handle him. One girl seemed to be a good enough rider but when he bolted on her, she couldn't control him. His owner was considering selling him to a home that could actually make use of him. She just couldn't do it though.

My wrist got better but I was still reluctant to get back into working with Edgar. It is very slow going when the work is so far between. It is also difficult since there is no indoor arena or outdoor ring to ride in. I ride in a hay field.

I felt like all the responsibility for his riding was up to me. To be honest, I wasn't up for that task. It is selfish to say but there just wasn't enough in it for me. I had to drive 30-40 minutes to walk-trot around a hay field?? It was hard to motivate myself to go.

On the other hand, Edgar's owner is an amazing person. I really like her and she could really use some help. I've said it before but it bears repeating - life threw some curve balls to this family that resulted in delaying her plans with the horses that she had waited so long to purchase. I'm not going into details out of respect for her privacy but trust me, society owes her a debt of gratitude. I also really like working with Edgar. He is such a people horse, even if he is a trouble-maker :)

I had a nice long talk with Edgar's owner. I discussed with her my dilemma about wanting to work with him but also my commitment to improving my riding and wanting to move up in that respect (hence leasing a Hanoverian :) ). She can't bring herself to sell him just yet. It just isn't "safe" enough. I agreed. She has been longing him and doing other groundwork, so at least he's getting something. She decided to just let him be a lawn ornament for the next few years until she can dedicate herself to him. We also said that I would come up whenever I can, no pressure as to how often. Something is always better than nothing (as long as that something isn't making him worse, of course!)

So I went up to ride Edgar today. The last time anyone has been on him was me, back at the very begining of June. I expected some protest and bucks, maybe even bolts. But I approached getting ready as if he and I did it every day. His ground manners are so much better than in the spring! He was still playful and knocked everything off the ledge in front of him BUT he wasn't pushy with me at all.

Under saddle, he was awesome! Not one single step wrong. I was amazed. I also forgot how nice his trot feels. I could sit to it all day.
I've figured out what the main "blow-up" issue is, I think. I realized it long ago but never really put it into words, I just rode and adjusted accordingly. Now, I feel I have to be able to describe it to others. Stay tuned for my revelation, I am just too tired tonight to type!

Why am I so tired? We did a lot of stuff around the house this weekend. Along with battling grape vines that have taken over, I painted the shed.
Notice the rust. It looked worse in real life.
Also, the roof was almost completely bare of paint.

Rust be gone!The (almost) finished product. I have to say
I love this shed now. All I need are the ponies :)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Search for Lease, continued.

I had pretty much decided not to lease the big boy I talked about in my previous post on lease-hunting. His owner was looking for a more advanced rider and basically a co-trainer. I know I didn't ride all that well that day for a number of reasons but I am sure I wouldn't disappoint her if she watched me a few more times. It was worrying me so much...what should I do??...and finally, after my lesson on Monday, I came to a decision. I was talking to a couple other women I ride with about my dilemma. One made it clear - if you are that stressed and worried, move on! It's clearly not the right situation. It really could be that simple! I made up my mind to keep looking. I felt so relieved.

But then...

I didn't have a chance to email the owner right away, so I waited until the next day. I got home from work, walked the dog, and made dinner. I finally sat down in front of the laptop with the sole purpose of emailing the owner to say I was going to pass due to different wants/needs.

But there was an email from my instructor waiting for me. Turns out, the horse's owner just figured out in the last week that her boy was reacting to the saddle! Turns out he's been progressively getting worse in some ways with respect to behaviour but she thought it was a combination of the current leaser and having new people try him out. I've read enough about saddle fit issues to know that they can be incredibly subtle, yet serious, but very hard to identify as the saddle. This saddle "fit" by all reasonable standards but still was pinching him. It took some time before the owner was able to see real evidence pointing to the saddle. Of course, she feels terrible but is happy that she can now do something! I like this owner :)

So, we've agreed to try things out for October and then re-assess. I feel 100% better about the situation and am very excited for the opportunity. It looks like my riding is about to change considerably!

Alright, you guys with nice horses --- any tips, stories or anything really, that you can tell me about the transition from school horses to privately owned, nice horses? I'm told it will help my riding immensely. I have a hard time seeing how it's different, in a way. I know the horse will likely respond better, but people seem to tell me a fairly big transformation occurs.

I hope to update on Edgar (the Fjord I haven't really talked about since I broke my arm in June) soon. I've been putting off blogging about him! I am hoping to see him on the weekend so I might even have new pictures.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

It's that time of year!

Harvests are coming in like gangbusters, the markets are overflowing with fresh, ripe, gorgeous fruit and vegetables. This is my time of year. I've always loved fall; at one time probably partly because my birthday is in fall, now in-spite of it ;) Incidentally, I found my first real Grey hair a couple weeks ago. It seems a bit odd to me but I've befriended it. I kinda like seeing it sparkle when I blow-dry my hair. But I digress.

The box of tomatoes we bought this morning.
Harvest time means doing our best to preserve some of that summer goodness, to be enjoyed later. Last year was very successful, almost too successful because this year we decided to make even more salsa and hot pepper jelly! It was pretty hard to ration ourselves as the stocks started to dry up, so naturally we want to do more.

To do more, we need a LOT of produce.
So far, that means we've decided on 4 batches of salsa (2 extra spicy chipotle, 2 tomato peach) and 2 batches of red pepper jelly. Oh, and then today we saw the blueberries and will probably do more blueberry jam. We usually do a few types of jam but I don't really eat it so it doesn't make sense to do a lot. I DO eat the blueberry though.

I am sure we will put up some beets, chili peppers and maybe turnips in a week or two.

Prepared ingredients for
the tomato-peach salsa.

This is only 2 batches of salsa.
Not bad for a night's work!

Now, a recipe. This is adapted from Bernardin's website.

Tomato Chipotle Salsa Ingredients
9 cups (2250 ml) chopped seeded tomatoes, about 5 lb (2.3 kg)
6 cups (1500 ml) chopped, seeded red peppers, about 2.5 lb (1.2 kg)
1 to 2 cans (each 215 g) whole chipotle peppers
1 pkg (115 g) BERNARDIN Salsa Mix
2 tbsp (30 ml) brown sugar
1 cup (250 ml) red wine vinegar
1/2 medium onion
*Notes: I also add about 4 dried hot peppers (grind them up) and use red peppers that are considered mild-hot called 'crimson reds'. I have a high tolerance for heat and I find the salsa mellows in heat after canning. I only use one can of chipotles in adobo (including seeds!) though, I don't want my salsa to taste only of the chipotles.
  • Wash, seed and coarsely chop tomatoes and peppers. Measure 9 cups (2250 ml) tomatoes and 6 cups (1500 ml) peppers. Place in a sieve to drain off excess liquid.
  • Press chipotle peppers and sauce through a sieve to remove seeds or chop whole peppers.
  • In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine chipotle puree, BERNARDIN Salsa Mix, brown sugar and red wine vinegar. Add tomatoes and peppers; mix well. Stirring frequently, bring to a full rolling boil.
  • Ladle salsa into a hot, sterilized jar to within 1/2 inch (1 cm) of top rim (headspace). Using nonmetallic utensil, remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rim removing any stickiness. Center SNAP Lid on jar; apply screw band securely & firmly until resistance is met -- fingertip tight. Do not overtighten. Place jar in canner; repeat for remaining salsa.
  • Cover canner; bring water to a boil. At altitudes up to 1000 ft (305 m), process –boil filled jars 20 minutes.* Remove jars without tilting. Cool upright, undisturbed 24 hours. After cooling check jar seals. Sealed lids curve downward. Remove screw bands; wipe and dry bands and jars. Store screw bands separately or replace loosely on jars, as desired. Label and store jars in a cool, dark place.
  • Makes about 6 x 500 ml jars.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Today I went to test ride one of the horses I might lease. This nice boy is a 6 year old Hanoverian gelding. He is 16.2 and although my usual horse is the same height, this horse feels SO much bigger!

I was pretty nervous riding in front of his owner. It felt like a test! I didn't expect to be quite so self-conscious and I don't think it helped my riding at all! It was just my luck that today my back was also really hurting, so that didn't help. I've had back pain for the last few months and it's totally related to work - the more I have to sit at my desk, the more problems I experience. When I was doing physio for my wrist, I got some good ideas on how to help my back. It's been working well, but today I woke up sore.

Here we are just warming up.
This boy has a great trot. He's testing me in this picture, checking to see if I really want him to a) work nicely soft & round and, b) stay on the rail. My reins are too long and my stirrups are too short for flat work; that means I am back a bit too far in the saddle. Grrr.
No wonder he was testing me!

Here we are in canter and I think it's better looking , though my reins are still too long. His owner had told me how the previous rider to try him cranked his head in rollkur style and she wasn't really thrilled with that. I think that made me ultra careful not to ask for too much. Since I've never seen him go, it's hard to know how to ride him. I also lack confidence and was unsure of myself, grrrr!This is probably the nicest horse I have ever ridden, even though I didn't give him the best ride. I honestly think that within a couple rides I would be much better with him. I just hope his owner sees that! He gave a few playful bucks and I was surprised at how hard it was to keep his head up when he decided to drop it! And even his little bucks felt very powerful. It was nuts. I didn't have a problem staying on and keep him going but I also think I should have been able to stop him before he did it.

I wish I had more confidence in my ability but somehow I convince myself that I suck. Maybe I need to show next year to get an objective opinion! I hope his owner saw enough good stuff to still consider me but I wasn't sure how to read her after my ride. We'll see, I guess.

I am trying another horse on Wednesday. This is really harder than I thought it would be!