Thursday, April 30, 2015

just a few things (and a gif)

Isabel continues to impress me. She's doing so well lately!! My only fault is that she's pretty hot to trot and has been trying to speed around the arena - especially after a canter. I want to get her slowing down using just my seat and posting speed (as per our bio-mechanics lesson)... but it's not always working haha. 

So we just sorta fly around on a circle for a few laps until my last dressage trainer's voice plays in my head saying 'get a reaction' and I actually, ya know, half halt with meaning and the mare slows down. I really like her slower trot right now tho bc she feels WAY more balanced. 

isabel is not impressed by my attempts at a selfie
We'll see tho. Our first lesson (other than the bio-mechanics lesson) in over a month is scheduled for Sunday with new dressage trainer C and I am SO EXCITED. 

I'll be eager to hear her thoughts on any improvements 'posting the canter' has made in my seat. I really like what this practice has been doing for my balance, and it's made it way easier to manage Isabel's rhythm - but I really DON'T love what it's doing to my upper body position. 

Kirsten said my upper body would need to come forward to achieve that big swing and openness through my hips - and she's actually trying to lengthen my spine entirely (visualize bringing sternum and belly button closer together, if that makes sense). 

I'm pretty sure once all those mechanics are working, we can tip the upper body back again to get a more 'upright' position while still maintaining the long back and following seat... And it's hard to argue with how well Isabel is going while I'm fussing around with all these positional adjustments in myself... 

see? posting doesn't really look like much at all - tho it feels very exaggerated
(also - how cute is Isabel???)
But all the same, I kinda cringed while watching the video... just gotta keep reminding myself that Rome wasn't built in a day, and that a nice tall upright torso won't mean jack shit to Isabel if my seat grinds into her back with every step. 

So I'm gonna keep playing around with the exercise. I set up a couple jumps for my last ride - a regular old cavaletti, a small coop (~2'), and a 2'3" vertical - and would 'post' the canter in my approach to all the fences until about 3-4 strides out, and it actually really helped me find all the jumps in stride. 

Some spots were a little longer or deeper than I'd ideally like - but nothing really ugly. Plus, resuming 'posting' again after the fence made it way easier to re-balance Isabel in the corners and get my simple change when needed. 

enormous osprey just hangin out at our farm with its lunch - see the fish tail next to it?

My general takeaway is that this 'posting the canter' exercise is improving literally every aspect of our rides - with the exception that I dislike how I look while doing it lol. It's getting easier with repetition, I am more balanced, and legs are staying in a better position. 

the 'baltimore bird' is a much more common sight tho

Having an independent and following seat is more important to me at this point than having pretty equitation... but ultimately I want it all. So we'll see how it goes, I guess. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

post the canter to sit the canter

The much-anticipated bio-mechanics lesson was on Sunday! Trainer Kirsten comes up from Florida for monthly clinic-style lessons (except during winter) and our last session was five months ago, when we focused on moving Isabel from lateral imbalance to achieving front to back balance - ie, shifting her weight from the forehand to the hindquarters. 

We had to cancel last month when Isabel was officially deemed ill, womp womp. The plan for that lesson had been for Kirsten to ride Isabel and work on her crookedness. Theoretically Kirsten would help Isabel achieve a greater degree of balance and straightness than I could, which would then make it easier for me to get there myself.

the blaze-faced chestnuts conspire
This plan got tossed when my lessons with Peanut proved that my inability to properly ride the canter might actually be the bigger impediment to any semblance of balance, more so than Isabel's crookedness. 

So when Kirsten asked how I wanted to spend our 30 minutes, my answer was 'I want to be able to SIT THE DAMN CANTER FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY.' Lol. And this is why I love this trainer - she simply said OK and dug right in, and 35 minutes later I was crying for mercy haha - but with a very clear notion of how to arrive at the seat I want.

it was a busy day for the arena, with the bio-mechanics lessons on the left.... and a natural horsemanship obstacle course clinic on right

So on to the good stuff. And, per usual with these lessons, there's a LOT of stuff. TL;DR version: Post the Canter to Sit the Canter

The lesson didn't exactly proceed in the order I'm writing it - bc we had to stop and start over a few times when I was missing some key positional element. But this is the order I'll use in practice - and the order that finally worked to make it clear during the lesson. 

Kirsten adjusted my whole alignment - bringing my hips forward and my lower legs backward (I was apparently in a chair seat, tho she didn't use that term). She had me stand in the stirrups at the halt with my hips as open as I could get them. This meant my crotch was directly over the pommel, and my legs felt wayyyyy behind me. 

close up of the clinic. note the balloons and 'bridge', plus there were tarps, jumps, strollers and flags
She told me to play around with it to find the sweet spot of balance. It should feel EASY when everything is aligned - the muscles don't do any work as the joints absorb any motion. Knees and thighs shouldn't pinch, nor should the heel (tho the heel might creep up a bit, and that's ok). Upper body needed to come quite far forward too. 

I held the same position into the walk. Again, she wanted me playing around to find the optimal alignment such that it was easy. It felt really really far forward, and I was quite literally directly over the pommel. But it was plain as day when my knees or thighs pinched and I'd lose balance and either grab mane or fall backwards. 

isabel is always first to notice when we open the gate to the grass and comes a-cantering
Once I had a feel for it, she had me start rising and sitting at the walk. It's a BIG swing through the hips - the 'rise' part brought me to that 'pelvis super far forward' place, and the 'sit' part put my butt in the back of the saddle. And it's not about shoulders and upper body - upper body stayed forward but could not be tense or do the work for my hips. 

Kirsten said the upper body is shaped like a C - tho shoulders aren't rounded forward or pushed backward. I had to be neutral through my chest and back - no arching my back or sticking my chest out. It should feel like the angle of my hips just closes when I sit - belt buckle stays lifted and everything stays the same - but the hips fold closed and seat goes to the back of the saddle.

In other words, my upper body and back should stay the same through rise and sit, with just a big huge swing through my hips.

this is why my trainer tells me to always use splint boots... lumpy bumpy stuff under the spray coating is an open wound... hopefully i've learned my lesson now.
Next we trotted - continuing the same mechanics. This was way easier since Isabel's trot helped push me out of the saddle. Kirsten wanted that same big swing through hips, and no pinching with knees or thighs (which would signify my legs were creeping too far forward again). 

We've all heard before that posting speed regulates trot speed, and I thought I knew what that meant. But this exercise was kind of a game changer. When I had that hip swinging post (that apparently feels way more exaggerated than it looks), it was SUPER easy to rate Isabel's trot off nothing but my post. The swing in my hips remains exactly the same - but I could choose the speed. The difference in Isabel was immediate.

the aluminum spray is BRIGHT in the sunshine
Finally, we went into canter (I say finally, but in reality we spent most of the lesson here and holy shit was it hard...) and continued to 'post.' It was exactly the same thing - tho again the movement in Isabel's canter helped get me out of the saddle. I rose with the leading leg for a stride, sat a stride, then rose again with the leading leg. 

It should be that same exact swing through the hips - the same feeling of 'openness' in the hip angle that I felt when standing over the pommel. My upper body and spine needed to stay neutral through the whole thing - tho I actually needed to be a little farther forward than I wanted to be. And lower legs needed to feel 'behind' me (they were actually just underneath me haha) otherwise I'd start pinching in the knee and thigh. 

Again, the sitting part should just feel like my hips were folding up - no bracing in my upper body or stirrups, or holding my breath allowed! 

This was ridiculously exhausting! And we just went around and around and around... Isabel was super, too - loose and relaxed and stayed in the canter unless I really lost my balance. That's particularly noteworthy bc past efforts to sit the canter lead to lots of breaking from Isabel - probably bc I dig into a driving seat, which Kirsten says literally throws Isabel on her forehand. 

When I can neutralize myself and sit *with* her, she can finally get off her forehand and balance more effectively. 

After a while of 'posting' the canter, Kirsten told me to sit for a few strides and WOW the difference was unreal! There was a LOT of movement in my joints, but it all felt very fluid and in sync with Isabel's rhythm, rather than braced against it. She only had me do this a few times for short durations before going back to 'posting' - but I was kind of astonished all the same. 

And before we knew it, our 30 minutes had become 35 minutes and Kirsten was off to the next student. 

just isabel and her mini

So my homework is pretty clear - lots of practice posting the canter, with intermittent breaks to sit it. Kirsten said this is also particularly beneficial for jumping, as proficiency at this grants the rider a 'buoyant' seat that allows the horse to settle into that 'quality canter' our trainers are always harping on, with a fluid jumping position built right in. 

Phew... crazy how much I can write about a 30 minute lesson of going up and down... but lots of food for thought here that I wanted to capture before it's forgotten haha. Hopefully it makes sense - if anyone even read this far :)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

'i love this post' - isabel

It's been a rough few days in Baltimore lately... as you may have seen in the news. The turmoil and unrest is mostly limited to a few specific and isolated communities, but the feeling that things aren't ok is pervasive and the atmosphere is heavy. 

This blog is obviously not intended to be a platform for political discourse, and I'm really not one for being controversial on the internet. So I'm not digging into any details or my own personal opinions on the matter...  Just saying that what's going on here makes me pretty sad.  

And I've been so grateful to retreat to the barn for what has been supremely quality pony time. It's been particularly quiet there too, since the trainers were down at Rolex and lessons were cancelled. So just me and Isabel, hanging out in peaceful solitude. 

I feel pretty lucky, honestly. Just while I sat there watching Isabel graze, there were blue birds and foxes and deer... plus all the trees are blossoming. It's really quite idyllic. And really easy to forget everything happening a mere 13 miles down the road...

I admit to sitting around quite a bit longer than usual - well past full dusk, actually - just soaking in the atmosphere. My neighborhood is safe; I wasn't worried about going home... but I still hear all the sirens and helicopters and it's pretty impossible to avoid thinking about the protests and the events that prompted them and wondering about the fallout...

Sorry for the downer post (despite Isabel claiming that, actually posts are the bestest thing evar!) - but it feels relevant given the therapeutic nature of the time I spend with Isabel when maybe other aspects of life are a bit depressing. 

We'll return to our regularly scheduled posts on the minutiae of Isabel's and my journey into the world of eventing tomorrow... with a long but fabulous recap of a meaty bio-mechanics lesson. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

wherein Peanut highlights my flaws

As previously mentioned, we had a good lesson at OF on Saturday, per usual. B brought Wick along (his first solo trailer ride and he was a champ for it - maybe not eating as much hay but still perfectly calm and at ease), but I opted to leave Isabel at home. She'll be plenty ready for next time (esp since the next two weeks are cancelled, womp womp) - but for now I'm sticking with the ever-adorable Peanut. 

(Also - no real media evidence from the lesson since the usual barn rats weren't around... so you just get a random assortment from my cellphone. Enjoy!)

I may or may not have had ulterior motives for wanting to ride Peanut too. I have a surprise planned for this little mare - nothing crazy (no I'm not buying her), but fun and exciting none the less. More to come later ... :) 

So I really wanted to focus on our flat work during this lesson - esp since my first ride on Peanut left a lot to be desired in that department, and our last ride was out in the xc field - making it a little less conducive for dressage. But Peanut *knows* dressage - she's been living at a dressage barn for the last few years and is absolutely capable of nice movement. 

izzy is still my numero uno
The canter is a particular problem area for me... and I'm frustrated to report that we really didn't make any progress. It's like I'm straight up incapable of adjusting Peanut's canter AT ALL. It's a great canter for xc - but nothing even close to what I'd like for the dressage ring. Well, slight exaggeration - we got a decent-ish canter when I put her on a small circle and kept her there... but barring that, nothing I did made a difference. 

I think part of the problem is my inability to actually sit the canter with a true following seat. Either I get into half seat, which is easier for me to stay soft in, or I dig my butt into the saddle in what my trainer refers to as a 'driving' seat. Neither achieves the results I want from Ms Peanut (tho the latter will occasionally elicit a squeal lol). Sigh. 

this cat kept mugging me while i groomed isabel. turns out she just wanted her turn with the shedding comb lol
The timing of this lesson (and the somewhat depressing revelation that I STILL suck at the canter) was excellent tho - as it provided perfect fodder for the next day's bio-mechanics lesson, which will get its own post tomorrow. 

Meanwhile - we moved on to jumping with somewhat limited time, given the 8 riders in our group this week. We kept it simple with diagonal lines transcribing sweeping figure-8s around the arena, plus a big wooden coop at one end. 

My objective for the jumping portion was literally to sit there and do nothing - Peanut can actually get it done quite nicely on her own. Aside from one bobble down the first line where Peanut got to the B element a little too quickly and failed to make any adjustments, everything was peachy keen and rode perfectly. Jumping this horse is just so easy - I love it! 

Then it was back to Isabel's barn to get the princess some exercise. I opted to long line, with the idea that it would help her be nice and limber and loose for the following day's bio-mechanics lesson. We only worked for about 35min, and aside from the first lap or two, we tracked right the whole time. 

Ms Thing was very good - she started off kinda speed walking and wiggling from side to side, balancing on one line then the other in rapid succession. But she gradually slowed down and started going straighter and balancing her own self on the circle. 

I really like how this exercise makes Isabel use her body more correctly by pretty much her own volition - independent of whatever a rider might be doing up there. And I've definitely noticed a difference under saddle. So it's going to stay in my bag of tricks for a while, I think. 

Also - I picked up another bridle charm from the Ambitious Equestrian, this time in super sparkly blue ombre. Obviously my new-to-me dressage bridle needed bling too - plus I wanted something to match my xc colors of navy + royal blue. Yay for interchangeable charms!!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

video stills + cat bbq

Accurate blog post title is accurate.

Seriously tho - I will have actual interesting (to me, at least!) content forthcoming from this weekend - but am suffering momentarily from limited time and media so... here's some lighthearted fun stuff for what's probably going to be a rainy icky Sunday. 

I didn't get to watch as much Rolex cross country as I would have liked... this was expected but still kind of a bummer. I tuned in from my phone from around 10-10:45 while B got Wick ready for our lesson at OF. We plugged the whole mess into my trucky truck's speaker system too so I could at least listen on the drive... but connectivity issues ultimately nixed that plan. 

At least I caught a couple good rounds (and subsequent stills lol) - tho checking out the leader board after the fact has me DYING to drop in on some of the on-demand stuff. There are a couple riders I definitely want to watch (Elisa Wallace among them) - but PLEASE recommend any that you really enjoyed too!

Anyway, I'll also have more to say about the OF lesson - but maybe not as much as usual (partly due to a very unfortunate dearth of media - our resident barn rats were not on the premises so media is limited to cute pics of Peanut exactly like the following). 

I didn't take Isabel along even tho we took Wick bc I just didn't quite think she was ready health- and fitness-wise yet. And, ya know, I kinda have a thing for this little mare named Peanut so... yea riding her isn't exactly much of a sacrifice lol. 

For the record, tho - Isabel is doing phenomenally well. Like, kinda blowing my mind. More thoughts to come (especially after what will hopefully be an amazeballs bio-mechanics lesson coming this morning - so excited!!!!), but long story short is that despite my sudden and intense infatuation w Peanut - Isabel is still the main mare in my life. 

So... uh, yep that's about it for today haha. As a reward for reading this far, I give you these pictures of a barn cat offering himself as a bbq sacrifice to the gods of who knows what. 

Seriously - he was just rolling around in the ashes like there was nowhere else he'd rather be. lol cats... Hope you're all having a wonderful weekend!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

saturday schizo + saddle reflocking

The last few days of the work week were tricky bc I have two computer screens at work and one of them suddenly started functioning abnormally. Normally it's full of spreadsheets and research and the like. 

But Thursday and yesterday? It could only function as 24/7 USEF Network live Rolex dressage streaming. And I wasn't even mad haha. (Just don't tell my boss...)

screenshot of my two side by side work computers. not bad!

Plus, it's impossible to work a full day using the other computer screen without taking a teensy little break here and there... and thank god there are other bloggers out there providing content perfectly suited to distract me! 

Sadly I'm not likely to catch nearly as much of today's cross country as I'd like to, since I'll be working at the barn early, then our lesson at OF, followed by a school with Isabel. Busy and long day, but I certainly can't complain! 

And I'm actually not sure yet if I'll ride Isabel or do a long lining session... as we FINALLY have a bio-mechanics lesson on Sunday and I want Isabel loose and limber and ready to go. We'll see how I feel, I guess. 

Other interesting (or not) updates include getting the flocking in my saddle readjusted again. The panels are recently converted from CAIR to wool flocking, and still had a bit of settling to do before any adjustment would really stick. The fitter Gina expected we'd need to revisit the flocking in April, and she was right! 

The stuffing had flattened out a little bit along Isabel's right side, which is less muscled anyway due to some of our issues with crookedness. 

But now the saddle should be all set through September. Plus, last time Gina wanted me using a no-bow wrap up front, but after the recent adjustment Isabel officially needs zero additional padding or shimming. The saddle is perfectly balanced and fitted to her. Yay! 

Gina took a quick peek at my new-to-me dressage saddle too, even tho it still has CAIR panels and therefore can't be reflocked at the moment. I have every intention of converting it to wool eventually, but she agreed that it's good enough for now - especially given our very low level of dressage work. 

She did recommend using the no-bow wrap under the pommel tho just to mitigate any rocking, plus she recommended a dressage girth that clocks in at a whopping $36.99 -- spare change compared to the Total Saddle Fit girths I've been eyeing. So I'll give that a try - with thoughts forthcoming soon, hopefully. 

So I'm feeling pretty good about the condition and fit of all our gear in preparation for showing. Now all we need to do is actually, ya know, SHOW. Any day now please! Watching Rolex is really whetting the appetite too haha. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

april confo + random mishmash

Isabel's officially back into the swing of things. Aside from her first ride where she pretended to be wild and crazy, she's generally been her workman-like self. Actually - she's been a little better than her usual self - looser and freer feeling, if that makes sense. So it's been tempting to increase the intensity a little faster than I planned.

emma: 'izzy! look at the camera, izzy! looooookie, i have treat wrappers!!!!'
isabel: "No."

But then it rained and the footing became more of a slog, and she was winded more easily. Better to stick to the game plan of slowly increasing trot sets for now. We may start cantering this weekend... or we may not. We'll see!

is it just me, or does she look mighty cute in dressage tack?

In the meantime, I finally got around to taking another crappy almost-decent conformation shot. I wish her pelvis was more level, and that both hinds were directly beneath her... but she's a wiggly beast, let me tell ya. 

april 2015

I think she's generally in a good place right now. My thoughts on her weight vacillate by the day... And we're definitely lacking some condition after a slow winter and recent stall rest... But that should resolve itself as we get back into full work and lessons and whatnot. 

My goal is to get monthly shots from here out - and hopefully I'll get better at taking them with repetition (tho really, any pointers on getting her standing nicely are welcome!). But, just for the sake of comparison, here's the last attempt at a confo shot from August: 

august 2014 

And, bc I can't resist (even tho Isabel would kill me if she knew I put these pics of her on the internet), here's a non-conformation-but-you-still-get-the-idea pic from when I first met her:

So that's pretty much where things stand for now. We're walking and trotting in circles in the ring - exciting! The rest of the barn is getting back to normal too - lessons resumed and all horses seem healthy and happy and rested after their quarantine-induced spring break. 

The cats are very happy to have visitors back too - they are total hams and like to pretend that they're horribly neglected and unloved. The stinkers. Tiny little Diamond in particular has the most pathetic and pitiful mewl that seems to break everyone's heart so that parents are constantly asking us if she needs a home. 

diamond manipulates her way to a free hot dog. nobody can resist her charm, apparently haha

We also had a little barn party to celebrate the official end of the quarantine. Much bbq and beer and pie was had by all, and it really finally felt like an official kickoff to the season (even if the weather was blustery and chilly that day). 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

bath time (& the unhappiest horse in the world)

And I also rode my horse!!!!!! Yay!!!! It's actually been a fairly eventful few days (if boring legging-up type stuff can be considered eventful haha) so just catching up here. 

she's trying to tell me that bath time is literally KILLING her. i don't buy it haha

I tried another long lining session, this time unsupervised. We maybe struggled more with tension and didn't achieve as much relaxation... but in talking it over with N she thinks it only seemed worse bc I held the lines the whole time and experienced the full spectrum. Plus the tension we're working with didn't exactly crop up over night, so I shouldn't expect it to work out immediately either. It's going to take time. 

That was encouraging to hear bc I actually kind of felt bummed about it. My current plan is to aim for weekly long lining sessions - and that they might be particularly good either right before or right after any intense dressage rides. 

foggy camera lens makes isabel look 'ethereal' instead of like a drowned rat lol

Saturday afternoon I went to see Isabel after my OF lesson (where I went xc schooling with Peanut and had ALL THE FUN). It was finally time for our first ride since Isabel's cough-tastic lesson and subsequent flu quarantine. My initial plan was to keep it at an easy peasy loose rein walk, and just focus on me and my own position while Isabel moved on along.

'dis what i think of your plan' - isabel

That got tossed out the window when Isabel reverted to her previous self - the way she went when I first met her. She felt like a stick of dynamite and was drawn like a magnet to the gate. And if we were going away from the gate her nose was pointed out over the fence looking distractedly back at the barn and pastures. 

So I opted to mix a little 'work' into the plan: after every lap or two, pick the reins up and ask her to walk properly into the contact. Upon achieving this, ask for a trot that was expected to be equally nice, and carry it for a small circle before going back to a long loose walk for another lap or two. 

Isabel wanted to RUN haha. Upon picking up the reins she'd start gunning it, thinking contact = go fast. We'd work through it, find that nice walk, go into trot and *poof* my contact would evaporate into a face full of ears. It only took about a half circle to fix that tho, then one full circle of a nice trot, then walk again. And the 'drama' faded with each iteration until she was transitioning verrrrry nicely. Like, 'at the top of our game' nicely.

Her trot work was pretty bangin too, if I may say so. It was perhaps a little *too* forward, but the contact was just BAM, right there. And she felt round and really pushing. Maybe the long lining is really helping to loosen up her back, even if it's not obvious while we're doing it? In any case, I was super happy with her. 

By the end of the ride we trotted a full lap of the arena, across the diagonal, and half another lap before coming back to walk. She never coughed, but was definitely breathing a bit heavily and already kinda sweaty. We were at it for maybe 40 min, tho it was also the warmest day of the year yet - hitting 80F.

So obviously we had to capitalize on the weather and have fun with bath time!! Poor Isabel... Have I mentioned how much she dislikes water? Baths.... are not her favorite. At all. She really acted like the water from the hose was killing her lol. I tried to make quick work of it, tho she needed it badly - her coat looked shiny and fine, but had become greasy to the touch. Ew haha. 

And of course she got to do lots of grazing afterwards - and actually ended up rolling on the grass, which I suppose is preferable to out in her dirt field. She shocked the pants off me tho: she actually rolled all the way over, something I've never seen her do, plus she was rolling UP the hill when she did it. Wow. I guess she's feeling pretty good and limber haha. 

i see a trail ride in our future

Ride 2 on Sunday went along much of the same lines. We added more trot - doing a few sets of a couple laps at a time, and more frequent walk-trot-walk transitions. Isabel was a bit calmer and quicker to get to work, which made me happy. Even better, tho: she was still moving really well and settled in to the contact super easily. Good mare!

Still no coughing, even with lots of deep breathing. So I'm feeling more and more confident that she'll spring back without issue. Fingers crossed!