Friday, August 28, 2009

Waterfront Property

It's come a flood here in beautiful, scenic South Jersey! Needless to say, I'm not getting much riding done today. Vinny and Matilda are surveying their new lake from the security of their cozy stall. They share a stall. They don't need to, I have a stall for each of them, but they prefer to share. I wish I could say it cuts down on cleaning, but unfortunately two horses + one stall = a big mess!

This miserable weather is doing nothing for my training schedule. Luckily, south Jersey is mainly sand, so once the rain subsides the water will drain away. If the rain stops, that is. It's times like these that I get nostalgic for my days at the big training facilities, with their fancy indoors. I often fantasize about having loads of money and building an indoor. Then I remember that I have horses..... and horse people are, by definition, poor!

I heard the lotto is up to $325 million, perhaps if I played I could afford an indoor. But I've always believed suffering builds character. I shall have loads of character!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Slacking Again!

Last week was pretty much a washout, literally. Either it was way too hot for riding, or it was way too wet. And so far, this week isn't going much better! Not that it's hot or wet, the weather this week has been beautiful, but I've just been busy. Next week starts the fall semester at the University I work for and there's always a lot of work to do to get ready.

I did get one ride in on Sunday. It was good, but we really only worked on basic stuff since Spider had off all last week. That seems to a recurring theme this year: "I haven't ridden for a week, so we're back to square one". I really need to get more consistent with his training if we're ever going to get anywhere!

Monday, August 17, 2009


It finally cooled off after sundown last night, so I was able to get out and ride. I don't know what I'd do without arena lights!

Spider felt much better. He was still a little short behind, but we were able to work through it. I'm going to chalk it up to muscle soreness. I've really been concentrating on collected work and transitions lately, so I'm sure his haunches are sore. I know my abs are sore! We did a lot of lateral work in walk, trot and canter to get those hind legs loosened up and moving. It wasn't the best work, but the important thing was to push through and get him moving and we did that.

I suppose we're getting into a delicate point in his training. The work is getting harder and I'm asking more and more of him. There's a fine line between working through some muscle soreness and souring a horse on the work. Luckily we're starting to get into fall, the weather should soon cool and the flies will die down. Then we'll be able to get out of the arena some. A change of scenery will do us both some good!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Four Years and Counting

Today marks four years since I broke my back. It was a riding accident (of course). A horse bolted on me, and the next thing I knew I was on the ground. I've fallen off more times than I care to remember, but this was the first time I ever hit the ground and stayed there. A friend of mine who witnessed the whole thing came and got me up. I could walk, but I knew something wasn't right. I knew I was going into shock, and I knew I needed to go to the hospital, so naturally my first concern was getting my boots off. No way was I letting the hospital cut them off!

I had put several compression fractures into my left pelvic bone and had several more in my L5 vertebra (lower back). I had also managed to crush or sever most of the nerves in that part of my back. My left leg was left mostly numb. I could still move my left leg around, but I had no finesse since I couldn't really feel what it was doing.

At the time, I was the barn manager for a dressage training facility. My dream was to make a career for myself with horses. After my injury I couldn't keep up with the demand of the professional pace and had to step down from the position I'd worked so hard for. I was devastated.

I thought that I would never be the same again. My desire to ride was still there, but my broken body wouldn't cooperate. Sometimes the pain would get so bad that I would sit on my horse and cry. There were times when I couldn't even dismount because of my weakness. I questioned myself every day. What was I doing? My position was terrible and the weakness in my back had made my half-halt non-exisitent. I was in pain every time I rode, and even worse after riding.

Unfortunately, I couldn't shake my addiction. And I've always been too stupid to give up, anyway. Fortunately, I managed to find a group of people to help me recover. I began seeing a physical therapist to help me regain the muscles I had lost and I began seeing a chiropracter to keep my joints in place until my muscles recovered enough to keep them there. And from them I learned that, while my ligaments and joints would never be the same, I could learn to use my muscles to pick up the slack. It ended up being a good thing. Because I know that my joints are bad, I pay much more attention to my posture. I began practicing Yoga and Pilates. I still limp, I tend to trip when I'm tired and the left leg is still a bit numb, but I'm in better shape than most of the college-age kids I work with.

I often reflect on that day. I have played the scene over and over again, looking for something I could have done differently that wouldn't have resulted in injury. But every time I realize that it was just a fluke, a silly accident that could have happened to anyone at any time. It could have been much worse. I was lucky. Even though it was a hard road to get here, I ride just as well now as I did before my injury. And now I know just how strong I am. You can throw me down, but you can't keep me there.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Good Day And A Bad Day

The weather finally cleared up here, and I got a chance to ride. In the nick of time, too. I was about to Google "methadone for horse withdrawl!"

Friday was a good day. I worked a lot on getting Spider into the right rein by getting him to reach under with his left hind. We did leg yields, turns on the forehand and shoulder in. He was resistant at first, but soon was going nicely. We finished up with some counter-canter and flying changes. I probably should have worked on simple changes, but it just didn't feel like a good time for them. I'm a big believer in riding the horse I'm on, and Spider just didn't feel up to simple changes that day. All in all, it was a satisfactory ride.

This morning I got on him planning to do more of the same, plus work on simple changes. But he was a bit off. Not visibly lame anywhere, but just off. I really couldn't get a good feel for exactly what was bothering him, but he was short behind and reluctant to cross over. I tried some leg yields and shoulder-ins at the walk, then did some trot in a loose frame hoping to work him out of his stiffness. No luck, he still felt off. I think (or at least I'm hoping) he's just a bit sore from the work yesterday. So we called it a day. I washed him down with some linament and gave him a good massage.

We'll try again tomorrow....

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Rain, Rain, Go Away

I haven't had a chance to ride, what with this lovely weather we're having. I'm starting to get a little antsy. I always get a little antsy when I can't ride. My husband has even taken to saying "Why don't you go ride your horse or something!" when I get particularly annoying.

I suppose I'll take this oppurtunity to practice my blogging skills a bit and post some pictures from around our farm.

This is my daughter Summer, and my retired gelding Stravinsky (or "Vinny", for short).

He's learned that if he sticks his head through the fence she'll pet him. Makes for cute photos.

This is Vinny and the pony, Matilda. She barely comes up to his belly, we call her his shadow! She runs the herd, though. Typical pony!

Summer is only a year old, so she can't actually ride the pony, yet. In all honesty, I bought the pony for me. She was just too stinking cute to pass up. Don't tell my husband, though......he still thinks it's for our daughter! I suppose I'll let Summer borrow my pony, sometimes.

Hopefully this rain will let up soon and I'll be able to get out and ride. If not, well....... I guess I'll start building a boat.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fun With Dressage?

The weather here in the Garden State has been crummy lately, which has been a true test of my devotion to riding.
When it's 90 degrees and humid, with thunderstorms threatening at every turn, I find it a little hard to stay motivated.

I'll be the first to admit, dressage isn't really "fun" in the traditional sense. It requires intense discipline. Your aids must be crystal clear and perfectly timed. You must be ready to respond to the the horse's every move instantaneously. Your body must contort into positions it just wasn't designed for. I don't know a single dressage rider who doesn't have a bad back, knee, hip or neck. And don't even get me started on the repetitiveness! I could do a perfect 20 meter circle in my sleep.

But then there are those moments when everything just clicks. Suddenly, it isn't a horse and a rider anymore. My horse's body becomes my body, his strength and agility are mine. It's like a drug. The feeling only lasts for a second, but those seconds keep me coming back.

Maybe I need to join a twelve step program.........

Monday, August 10, 2009

Simple Changes At Last!

Well, sort of.......I'm not going to say they were good simple changes, because they weren't. But they were the closest to real simple changes that I've gotten. So I'm going to take it.

To be completely honest, I'm beginning to think it's me. I really don't think it's a problem with Spider's balance or his strength. I'm pretty sure I'm just lame. Okay, maybe "lame" is a little harsh. But I definitely think the problem is with my aids. I think my timing is off, I'm just not asking for the canter-walk transition at the right time.

This was never a problem on my schoolmaster, I could always nail these transitions. Hell, I had him out the other day, and at 23 he still does tempis like a champ. And that's just it......Spider isn't a schoolmaster. He doesn't know what I want from him. So I need to exaggerate it.

But, I digress.....I believe I was talking about my last ride. We did our warm-up, then moved on to leg-yields. As I discussed previously, I've now made them an important part of our routine. It was hotter than hell, so I honestly didn't expect much. Actually, since it was so hot, we were working mostly on the walk. I asked for a little bit of collected canter, just to change things up a bit. And I loved what I got. It wasn't hurried (probably due to the heat), but it still had a lot of forward energy. So, I figured "What the hell? Let's go for broke!" I collected the right lead canter, then I collected it some more, then I asked for the walk. He melted into a perfect canter walk transition. Then I changed the bend and asked for the left lead canter. Success! I felt like a million bucks!

Unfortunately, our next several tries didn't go as well. There were some simple changes, but there was also a lot of ugliness. On the bright side, I now know that Spider can do canter-halt and halt-canter transitions. I think that on this particular day, the heat helped us. He wasn't behind my leg, but he didn't have much energy. So the transitions were in the bag. I just hope I can re-create that feeling on a nicer day.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Leg Yields and Flying Changes

Tuesday I had my trainer ride Spider. She confirmed a few of the things I've been feeling with him: 1)He's not falling in to the left as badly anymore, and 2) He needs more muscle in his haunches. She was very pleased with his overall performance, however. Well, except for the leg yields....apparently Spider forgot how to do them. How embarrassing!

For the last several months I've been concentrating on half pass. I've been doing lots of shoulder-in and haunches-in and 10 meter circles to get him ready and we've started doing some baby half passes at walk and trot. In my zeal to get the half pass, I've been (stupidly) neglecting the leg yield. In my defense, it's a pretty basic exercise. In fact, it's only called for in 1st level. Then it falls by the wayside and is never heard from again. But, as I learned from Wednesday's ride, it still has a well deserved place in the daily training routine.

Since my trainer had pointed out our deficit in leg yielding, I decided to start there. Our first leg yield was, well, pathetic. As my trainer had noted the previous day, he was a bit sluggish moving off the leg. So I woke him up a little and tried again. And, wonder of wonders, he actually engaged his inside hind leg! Wait, isn't that why we do leg yields? It was one of those "Ah-ha!" moments, closely followed by an "Aw crap, I'm a jackass" moment. Of course I should be doing leg yields, I have a horse that doesn't like to go into the outside rein. Leg yields require the horse to really reach underneath himself with the inside hind leg. Reaching with the inside hind puts the horse into the outside rein. Given Spider's difficulty with getting into the outside rein, I should have been leg yielding like a mad woman! But I was too busy with those pesky half passes.

I was so thrilled with my (re)discovery that we did leg yields in walk, trot and canter for a good 20 minutes. At first, he had a tendency to leave his haunches behind. We soon fixed that, and were yielding like 1st level champions. At this point, I was feeling great about our work. So I decided to step it up a notch. I did a right lead canter leg yield from C to B, then continued right lead canter to A and attempted a three loop serpentine with no change of lead (a la 2nd level test 1). Unfortunately, he did a flying lead change at the first change of direction. FAIL! So I worked with him a little bit, exaggerating the aids for counter canter so that he understood what I wanted. I eventually got my counter canter, and we did our leg yield to serpetine perfectly. So I got a little daring................

I went for it, I decided to do the flying changes. I did my three loop serpentine, but at every loop we did a flying change. A clean, dressage flying change. No Jumper swaps allowed, he sat down and did a flying change. Then, just to drive it home, we went back to serpentines with no change of lead. He did it perfectly! I couldn't be more proud of my little Spider. I just might make a dressage horse out of him, yet!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Over the Hill

I have officially become old! What brought on this epiphany, you ask?. Sunday I was playing with my daughter, swinging her up and down over my head and crawling around on the floor chasing her. She and I had loads of fun. Then on Monday I awoke feeling as though I had been run over by a truck. As I attempted to get my protesting body out of bed I had a sudden realization: I am no longer a spring chicken. Perhaps it's time to step up my exercise routine accordingly.

In a former lifetime, when I worked with horses professionally, I never had to worry about these things. I was the Barn Manager at a 20 stall training facility, there were stalls to clean and horses to ride every day. A work-out routine was the farthest thing from my mind. Fast forward to now: I have a desk job, a one year old daughter and a bad back. I need to exercise!

That's not to say I don't exercise at all. I try to do some Yoga stretches every morning and Pilates several times a week. And farm life brings it's own unique work-out routine: weeding, planting, cleaning stalls and chicken coops, fixing fences and unloading feed (oh, the joy!). But it just doesn't seem to be enough anymore. I just don't feel as strong and fit as I did way back when, and I think it really shows in my riding.

The easy solution would be to ride more, but I can barely squeeze in a ride four times a week and I only have one horse to ride anyway. So it looks like I'll have to revamp my exercise routine. We'll see how it goes........

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Holy Volte!

Ok, I know I'm getting a little redundant with the hock talk, but I must say that since the injections, Spider is going phenomenally. Today's ride was nothing short of sublime. We warmed up with our usual walk, trot and canter on a long rein, then moved on to lateral work. We played around with the shoulder in, turn, renvers that I talked about previously. Then it was time to move on to the hard stuff. I decided I wanted to work on simple changes.

Simple changes have always been a bit of a challenge for us. Spider was a Jumper, and as such he has a solid flying change. But I'm a bit of a glutton for punishment (just like any good dressage rider), so I have this compulsion to take Spider through the levels. He must do the simple change! I firmly believe in classical training and building up the horse in a logical progression. As such, a flying change is simply not good enough unless the horse has the balance to do a simple change. Spider lacks the strength and balance for the canter-walk-canter transition.

But, since he got his shiny new hocks, I decided to give it a try. It didn't work. He's still got a long way to go until he gets the strenth to take on simple changes. However, we did get some really good canter voltes! It was totally a side effect of the collection we were doing in our pathetic attempt for simple changes, but I'm going to take it.

I think that's a really important part of riding: take what you can get. Horses are just like us, they have good days, bad days and blah days. I may be feeling energetic and ready to take on simple changes, but that doesn't mean my horse is. I try to remember that when I ride, and I try to be sensitive to my horse. I didn't get simple changes, but we got something else that I wasn't even looking for. Not bad!


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