It's funny how I have so little to say, for days on end, and then all of a sudden I have about a million things spinning around that I can't WAIT to put into words. I'm not even going to try to put things in any kind of chronological order, because it was such a huge weekend in so many ways that I can hardly remember what happened when.
I guess we will start out with the latest updates on Samson. He came up mildly lame the other day on his front right, which has been a little unsettling, especially since he has been more or less living the "retired" life lately. He got several days of proactive "doctoring" since we couldn't quite pinpoint anything - so I figured a few epsom salt soaks and stable wraps with witch hazel couldn't hurt. Friday night, a dear friend dropped out to the barn for a visit, and very generously volunteered to massage him since she has her equine massage training. I debated back and forth whether I would even write about this, because I don't think that anyone could possibly understand without having been there. But regardless, something magical happened between the two of them. That's the best that I can try to put it into words. For starters, she has an amazing gift when it comes to working on horses. I have seen horses massaged before, and I know how relaxing it is for them, but this was a completely different story. Samson is the biggest pig in the world when it comes to standing in the crossties - constantly pawing, moving around, and just plain rude. Even when he is adjusted by the chiropractor, when most horses have that initial bout of completely relaxation after the adjustment is done, he still acts unsettled. When he was being massaged however, he was so in tune that he would lay a muzzle on her shoulder contentedly, and respond to what hurt and what felt good. I have never in my life seen that horse so relaxed and content. I think the part that was even better was watching his masseuse - I swear, as she finished, her entire demeanor had changed as well. The two of them really helped each other, in a way that is so uncommon in the human world. There is something about working on an animal, being able to relieve just a little bit of their suffering, that is able to heal a person just as much as it heals the animal being worked on. I don't know if it is because of the inherent goodness of animals, or what it is - but it is an amazing thing to have been witness to.
Next, in the way of "news", is the huge weekend we had at Thalia Farm! We are quickly coming up the one year anniversary of officially being open. We started on the farm August 1st of last year, and officially opened on September 1st. So now, one year later, we have filled the last advertised spot after making the decision to add one more boarder this past month. We found the most amazing couple with a sweet gelding and his companion - a miniature donkey! Seriously, could this be ANY more fun? So that was barn tour number one of the weekend. The second one was a girl that emailed me looking for an opportunity to work at a nearby farm. I have passed up several requests like this in the past, but something about this girl really struck me, and I decided to have her come out with her family to meet and see what we could work out. Long story short, it was an awesome decision. Brenna will start helping out on Tuesday, and is sweet, adorable, and incredibly mature for her age. Her family has an amazing desire to teach each of their kids a strong work ethic, so of course we hit it off right away. Her mom Collette is even hoping to come help out on project days - which we ALWAYS seem to have happening!!! Then, barn tour number three rolled around, who was another amazingly sweet girl with a thoroughbred who wants to be around more people doing her style of riding. Sadly, by the time she got there, our last spot was filled - if I had one more, I would have snatched her up in a heartbeat! But thankfully we set her up with our trainer down the road, and I have a feeling she will be part of our extended farm family in no time! She was very excited about the idea of hacking down to our place to cross country school with us. So all in all, it was a huge weekend of major successes for the farm.
Last but not least, was the riding side of my long weekend, which was full of breakthroughs and victories. I spent Saturday morning in "boot camp" with Kelsey, after working out a plan to increase my exposure to a variety of horses in an effort to work on my dressage. I have been having a really difficult time with that particular part of my riding, so we decided to do a boot camp like she does for her kids. I hacked April down to her, and she was the first lesson of the day. We actually had a pretty brilliant ride that morning - very soft and steady, and quite encouraging in comparison to where we have been lately. It has literally been a daily battle of ups and downs, and I have gotten incredibly frustrated because I can't quite pinpoint what has been going so terribly off track. Last weekend I had trailered over to Ivy and had an amazing ride. She worked really hard on correcting some major position flaws on my part, and once I got the hang of it, we had a beautiful ride. I tried to commit each thing to memory as much as possible, and my next dressage school went great - and then the next one was right back to disaster. It's just been so much up and down. Back to boot camp though - next I got to ride Geno, who is Kelsey's adorable 4 year old OTTB. We took Geno and Pirate over to the big open field to do trot and canter sets together, and it went beautifully. Geno is the complete opposite ride from April - he takes a lot of leg and really has to be put together back to front (mostly by constantly encouraging his less-than-eager-to-move hind end!!!) But I had a blast on him, and was really encouraged when Kelsey noted that I did a great job of putting him together without having to be told what to do at all.
Then it was back to the farm to hose off and settle in those two, clean some tack, then tack up Rachel. She is an amazing Canadian TB mare that has sensational flatwork who I have always loved. I had ridden her once in the past, but only cross-country to give a lead to another horse. I got her ready and watched Kelsey do a little bit of schooling on the flat and over fences before putting me on her. Once again - totally different ride from anything I am used to. Similar to April in some ways, but very different at the same time. The first couple minutes were a mess, but it didn't take long to start to figure her out. She is extremely sensitive to weight shifts, and she cannot be picked at with the reins at all. She literally has to be ridden completely off the seat and leg, with the reins only functioning to contain the movement coming from behind. What an amazing feeling though, once I started to put the pieces together! Then, to top it all off, I got to ride the most amazing change of leads at the canter. I have never felt anything like it in my life - jumper swaps are one thing, but this was completely different. The feeling of them sitting down underneath you, and then a mere moment where you ask and they respond with such fluidity...it was magic!!!! I walked away from those three different experiences with an amazing new outlook. I think the main thing I took away was that I am not an idiot, or I wouldn't have been able to figure it out on two different horses I have never sat on before. So I was extremely encouraged by those experiences, whereas lately I have been feeling very much like giving up.
So, the last minute boot camp we were able to squeeze around the crazy day of barn tours turned out to be a tremendous success! I went home exhausted at the end of the night, but it was completely worth it! Sunday I had set up a lesson with a straight dressage trainer. I decided the other week that it was something worth looking into, even if I only do it once a month. Well, I can't even begin to gush about what a great decision it was. The instructor I used teaches a lot of old classical spanish-style dressage exercises. In the barn, we talked about what we have been struggling with, and what we are looking to accomplish. I can't even describe the massive amount of progress we made in a single lesson. For starters, we worked a solid twenty minutes on "squares" and spiralling out, in an effort to gain an awareness of where April's shoulders are, and how to move them around accordingly. When we started, April had a tendency to want to raise her head and do her typical giraffe neck - but every time she did, we moved the shoulders. It didn't take long to discover that we had about three strides of "straight" before needing to move the shoulders. It took several reminders for me to not lower my hands, which is a really bad habit I have been working on breaking. I am allowed to open and guide the turn with the rein if needed, but not lower my hands at all. Once we started to figure it out, and Carol could see us getting the hang of it, we progressed to spiralling out, by controlling the inside shoulder. It's funny, because I have always had major problems controlling the shoulders - especially because April has a really big, free-moving shoulder, which is part of what makes her such a lovely mover. It's something that every instructor has been working on with me. Yet in all the lessons I have had to work on it, it never quite "clicked" like it did with this exercise. It was one of those really eye-opening "ah-ha!" moments that I will probably never forget.
Once we had the control of the shoulders, we moved into the trot, where we had another "ah-ha" moment. It is so ironic, because in my flat lesson with Ivy last week, after working on my position, she really worked hard on getting me to really sit down into the saddle on the down beat of my posting - and in doing so, it helped me to create the rhythm of the trot rather than be a mere passenger. Well, Carole worked on the same thing, telling me to "sit my down" - basically, the "up" motion of the trot will happen no matter what, but the down beat is the motion you create with your seat, by controlling the movement of the hind legs with your seat. It took what I had already worked on and expounded on it to a whole new level. We then worked at the same things at the trot - moving the shoulders in and out, while making sure not to let April quicken her pace by focusing on sitting my down beat. Then came a brief bit of working on the canter, which went fantastic, followed by coming back to the trot, which was the biggest success of the day. By once again really hounding me to sit the down, I was able to bring April back to a rhythmic tempo faster than I have ever done after a transition - and all with a single half halt. Gone was the tension in my arms, the gripping in my seat which then results in me clutching with my knee...all of it, gone! It was such an unbelievable and eye-opening ride.
It's funny, because I have always been the type to have my one trainer, and for some reason it feels unloyal to seek out other opinions and instruction. Yet it is amazing to me to see the vast amount that I have learned and realized, simply by allowing different types and styles of instruction to layer upon and complement each other. Each person has added a piece of the puzzle, and I can see now that we won't be stuck in the same place forever. I am genuinely making some huge progress; first in understanding what I am trying to accomplish, and second, in actually doing it!
I am looking forward to many, MANY more exciting updates on finally achieving some huge victories in my former battle, soon to be continued success, with the art of dressage!