Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ebb and Flow

Life is a continual ebb and flow of change - sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst.  The comfort that I have come to find in these changes is not always in moments we are soaring.  At times it is the in-between moments, where things are neither soaring or falling, but simply treading along the journey, maintaining a steady pace between the highs and lows.

The past week has contained a lot of lows, but it has contained a similar amount of highs as well.  A few days ago, my husband and I enjoyed a night of remembrance of his dad, who left us far too soon.  It came out of nowhere, really.  It is ironic, because only a few days earlier, I had been talking to my mother, who was recounting something a therapist had shared with her once about grief.  It ties into the "Ebb and Flow" theme effortlessly.  They had told her that grief is not unlike the ocean tide.  At times, the waves hit close together.  Other times, they may be much further apart.  But it doesn't change the impact the wave has upon you when it hits - the force is the same. 

So that is what happened the other night.  We were watching a movie that was filmed in Hawaii, and when the film came to a close, the closing credits were set to a hawaiian song we had used at his dad's funeral.  And there it was - the tidal wave, crashing upon us, knocking us down, without any warning it was coming.

Then it expounded into yesterday, when I found out a boarder and close friend was going to have to move her horses.  For the first time, I got to experience the perspective of the barn owner in this situation, and I can almost understand why some don't handle it so well.  The initial reaction is to take it personally.  Thankfully, because we do have a good foundation of friendship, the whole thing was settled and talked out in less than a day, and I am ecstatic to see her be able to have her ponies close to home where she can truly enjoy them.

I know this really doesn't have much correlation to my riding particularly, but I am learning to apply all these life lessons and experiences to my riding as well.  I had my lesson the weekend before last, and it was spectacular.  Then I came home and tried to apply all the things we had worked on, and we were still having issues.  Things really came to a head this past Saturday, when Robyn and I both had issues with our horses.  I was able to work through things somewhat, but was still not particularly satisfied with how they were going compared to how well our lesson had gone such a short time ago. 

We went home, regrouped over a cup of coffee the next morning, and analyzed.  We analyzed feed changes, weather patterns, terrain and footing, rider position and tension...every extinuating circumstance imaginable was discussed and beat into the ground until we came up with a plan.  We hooked up my new trailer and took the horses over to Kelsey's to try riding in a contained, flat area.  We lunged first, only for a few minutes, but enough to take the "buzz" off after trailering, etc.  We both tweaked a few approaches in terms of tack.  I approached every step with a different manner that day.  When I went to mount, April took a few steps forward.  Instead of asking her to halt, and then walking off, I got off and led her back to the mounting block.  I remounted, and this time she only took a step forward.  I got off again, then remounted while she stood quietly.

Then I progressed to the walk, and this time I didn't waste any time letting her hack around with her preffered "giraffe" form...I asked for contact immediately.  Within two circles, she was round, soft, and had consistent weight in my hands.  Once we had continued this through several circles and changes of direction, we moved on to the trot.  It was flawless. 

We got back to the farm that night, settled the ponies back in, and toasted our success with a six pack of Blue Moon.  Then, the exuberation carried over into building a riding ring at the top of the hill, so we would have a flat contained area to school in for awhile.  Our arena lighting had been finished while we were over at Kelsey's, so by the end of the night, we had a real ring, complete with lighting and all. 

I repeated all these little changes Monday night, and again last night.  Both rides were dramatically improved, but not without their little hiccups.  Monday night's ride contained a little bit of the skippy gait-breaking canter she has bene doing, but we literally worked through it in a matter of minutes.  Last night, she was being so spectacular, I trotted her over a little crossrail, and was rewarded with the most amazing canter off the backside of the fence.  She got a little fussy shortly afterward, when I asked her to collect again at the walk and go around quietly.  It is hard for her to come back after cantering or jumping.  But we worked through it, and by the end, we had several more circles of a beautiful trot, without her breaking into a canter at all.  Robyn actually commented on how nice of a mover she is, and what a lovely shoulder my sweet mare has.

So you see, it is all about the ebb and flow, in riding as well.  I used to be the queen of dramatic interludes after a ride.  As a matter of fact, a year ago, last night's ride would be nothing short of a disaster, because I had such a tendency to focus on the negatives rather than the big picture.  Now I am learning to translate the real message of the ride - not the fact that is went badly at one point, but the fact that we worked through it and transformed the ride back into a positive experience by the end. 

This fiery red mare is teaching me so many things.  There are days that I really miss Delilah, but I know that April has come into my life with a very distinct purpose.  She has already taught me so many things, and I can't wait to see what lesson she has for me next.  It has been an adventure, to say the least.  I am looking forward to whatever may be next.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Taste of Success!

I am just now getting around to blogging about my ride Tuesday night, because it has been a fairly crazy usual!  I am thrilled to report that my lesson from the weekend really stuck.  I rode April the other night, and applied a massive amount of focus to the position tips we had worked on.  We had an AMAZINGLY improved ride!  I hadn't realized how much the area I was riding in was affecting my position.  Because the property has been so wet and soggy, we have been riding in our little borrowed field right outside the farm.  It drains beautifully...because the entire thing is on a fairly dramatic incline.  So it has been great, in the aspect that we can ride there almost immediately after a decent downpour, but it stinks, because it has caused me to get really sloppy about my position.

We had pieced together the vicious circle of what was happening with April.  She is so forward naturally, that if she scoots out from under me the slightest bit, I fall back onto my butt, she interprets it as a driving seat, and continues to run out from under me, and then it just spins into an unending cycle.  Then she gets frustrated because half of my body is telling her one thing, whereas the other half is communicating something different.  So even though I had the hill to work on Tuesday night, I focused on really controlling my body.  It worked, to say the least.  We spent a lot of time working on the walk, until we produced a pretty darn correct result.  Then we went to the trot, which was challenging downhill.  She has the natural tendency to run onto the forehand going downhill, so I had to really fight to keep my seat correct while holding her from speeding out from under me.  It took a few tries, but by the end of our little workout, we did four huge circles including uphill and downhill slopes, connected, balanced, soft, and relaxed.  VICTORY!!!!

I was ecstatic, and decided to end it as a light workout since it was a huge step in the right direction.  Then I mustered my motivation and tacked up Samson for a conditioning ride.  I was feeling a little restless, so we went for a little moonlit adventure.  He is such a saint.  He barely flinched at the car headlights passing us by.  We worked a lot at the trot, to condition him, and to get me in shape, since I was riding at the two-point.  At one point, he got a little cranked up and buried his head, snatched the bridle, and took off at a gallop....oh dear.  Not ideal, in the dark, down the side of a country road.  Thankfully, he is completely unfit, and two minutes later we were back to a walk while he huffed and puffed from his exertions.  God I love my boy!!!!

I have a few barn tours set up for this weekend, an appointment to look at a trailer, and pony pedicure day (a.k.a. the farrier!) on Saturday.  I am really excited about the people coming to meet Samson.  I have concluded I need a little extra help keeping him worked, especially throughout the winter, so I am going to work out some half-lease situations.  We are three and a half months into running our own barn, and we are full, content, and really blossoming.

In addition, I am completely excited about next weekend.  I have an opportunity to go spend an entire weekend immersed in training rides and lessons, in hopes that we can possibly pull off going to the Pipe Opener at Carolina Horse Park in January.  I can't believe I am actually getting close to going to a show.  I have been hoping, dreaming, and breathing the thought of showing for what seems like forever, and now it seems as if it is finally in reach.  It may seem silly to be so excited over something so small, but when you spend years being the girl on the sidelines, it is all you can think of.  So here's to continuing to blossom, and hopefully continued tastes of success!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Lesson Day Revelations

It's amazing how dramatically things can change in just a day.  I posted previously about the tough time that I had been having with April wanting to do a skippy-canter, and not stay at the trot.  Well, over the next ride or two, it continued to increase by fairly dramatic proportions.  By Saturday, I was frustrated to a near breaking point.  We had a horrible ride and were barely able to work through it to a decent stopping point.  I managed to untack and cool out my pony before plopping down on my tack trunk and promptly bawling my eyes out in a most dramatic fashion.  Poor Robyn...she had a tough ride too, and then she had the responsibility of trying to talk me through the emotional basketcase that I was being....

As it turns out, the next day was my lesson with Ivy.  She strolled up to the arena and inquired how things were going, and I filled her in on the troubles we had been having.  She proceeded to hop on April to see if she felt anything.  By the second circle around the ring in near-perfect form, Ivy rode by me with her singsong voice drifting back behind her...."You're a liar......"

If I hadn't laughed, I might have cried.  She hopped off, and I jumped on to start my lesson.  My heart leapt into my throat for the first ten minutes, expecting April to start skipping around like a fool at any moment.

It never happened.  Ivy started correcting minute details about my position from the instant I got on, and it made all the difference in the world.  We worked on the flat for the majority of the lesson and it went beautifully.  The biggest issues I need to work on are: A) my leg - rooting down into my heel, and bringing my knee away from pinching the saddle; B) my seat - rotating forward onto my crotch (sorry, but there isn't really a glamorous way to say that!) and off of my butt, and relaxing through my hip, and; C) my arms - more importantly, relaxing through my elbows and bringing my hands up and out of my lap.  These three things made all the difference in the world throughout my hour-long ride.  By the end of the lesson, we were schooling over a little cross-rail and working on feeling out distances by using a takeoff pole set out from the base of the fence.

Schooling at home, mid-November

My mind was spinning by the time I left, but I felt so relieved to know that such small changes would make such a huge difference in the way she goes.  I stayed to watch Ivy teach a couple more lessons, then headed back to the farm to unload.  After all the ponies were settled in for the evening, I headed over to Kelsey's to enjoy a beer and good conversation about my lesson.  It is so nice to be able to share things from my other lessons with her, and have her help me to expound on them even more.  So many trainers are threatened by a student working with another trainer, but Ivy and Kelsey have both made it so comfortable and non-threatening for me, and I feel unbelievably lucky to have the freedom to utilize multiple resources that each add another piece of the puzzle.

I am attaching the video from Kelsey's ride on April the day after Thanksgiving, as well as an AMAZING picture my little sister finally sent over to me.  Her photography continues to astound me - my girl is so photogenic!!!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Girl Interrupted....

I feel like that has been the story of my life for the past two weeks.  First we had the fall, which thankfully didn't take any longer than a day to recover from, and that was seriously only a hair bit of whiplash.  Then came Thanksgiving, and the inevitable interruptions.  The day after Thanksgiving was great.  I took Miss April over to Kelsey's to see what she thought of some of the issues we had been having.  She had a great ride overall.  April pulled out all of her little tricks, which was a good thing.  First, it affirmed that I am not doing anything wrong for it to crop up.  Second, it gave me a chance to see how Kelsey worked through it.  It ended up being a great ride.  I had to laugh, because Kelsey commented that this is the third time she has been on April, and it has been a totally different ride every time...that's a chestnut mare for you!!!  I have video I am uploading of her ride that day...hopefully will get it posted soon!

Saturday was a gorgeous day, and I pulled April up to go for a ride with the other girls.  I groomed her carefully, and as I went to pick her feet, I discovered a minor issue...she had pulled a nail from her front shoe, and bent up the edge of the shoe.  Thank god for one of our boarders' friends that was there, whose grandfather was a farrier.  He was able to piece together enough tools to maneuver removing the shoe.  Problem solved.  However, being that it was Thanksgiving weekend, my farrier was out of town.  So it took til Wednesday to get the shoe tacked back on.  Half a week lost....sigh. 

I used the weekend to focus on getting Samson back into shape.  He has enjoyed a lot of down time since his suspensory injury, and I ended up taking the approach of putting him out to pasture for a few months to just see what happened.  He has gone back into light work over the last month, but it has been somewhat sporadic.  After April's shoe debacle on Saturday, I pulled Samson out and tacked up for a ride.  We ended up having an absolute blast.  We did some conditioning work through the trails on the property, and ended up cantering over a few little fallen logs.  I had almost forgotten how fun he is out the open!  My new goal for Samson is to get him into shape to go try some foxhunting.  I really think that is his calling in life, if he stays sound.  Ring work is NOT for him.  He is slow, sluggish, and cranky.  So that eliminates eventing and dressage.  The suspensory injury combined with his feet issues have ruled out serious jumping and the hunter ring, at least in my mind.  He could be fully recovered, but I can never justify jumping him extensively.  However, he LOVES to be out in the open.  He is forward, his ears perk forward with a look of excitement, and he is as steady as a rock.  So I have decided to try my hand at a little foxhunting, and see how it goes.  So on Sunday, I hit the roads outside the farm for a little more conditioning work, and had a blast yet again.

Then came the rain.  And more rain.  And guessed it.  Rain. 

The farm has become a soggy pit of mud, more or less, which puts a serious damper on riding.  So even though April's shoe was finally back on by Wednesday night, last night was pretty much a loss for riding without the risk of really tearing up the ground.  I am desperately hoping to find a dry enough spot to get SOME kind of work in this evening.  We have a lesson on Sunday, and I am feeling seriously unprepared for it.

So that is the current state of affairs.  Day by day fading by, and I try to squeeze in as much as I can.  I am hoping to go look at a horse trailer tomorrow, which is very exciting!  I am waiting to hear back on whether or not they will entertain an offer.  It would be nice to have a little freedom to pack up and go at a moment's notice!

Life is good.  I am so grateful for everything I have been given, everything I've worked for, and the people I have to share it with.  It is winter, and it can be frustrating to have goals skewed by the weather, but we will get through it.  I always do!

Hacking home on April the day after Thanksgiving