Thursday, February 24, 2011


I need to clean my boots something fierce.  Proper leather care is important, it makes all the difference in the life span of gear.  It's a good opportunity to check for wear and tear, too.  And, sometimes it can tell you things about how you use your gear.  Whether you want to hear it or not. 

Case in point, the inside calf of my boots.

Right Boot           Left Boot

As you can see, there's a bit of wear there.  That's normal.  What's not normal is how much more wear is on the left than the right.  I took a close up of the left, for illustrative purposes:

The wear pattern wraps around the back of the boot.  That's not good.  It means my left toe is pointing out while I'm riding.  I'm going to have to be more conscious of that. 

My left leg is my bum leg.  Several of the nerves going to it were injured when I broke my back.  It does not always do what I tell it to and I'm not always sure where it is or what it is doing.  Makes things interesting, especially when navigating stairs.  Or riding.  I have to be more conscious of that leg.   When I go up or down stairs I look directly at it the whole time.  It's tricked me before.  When I ride I check its position frequently, but I guess I've been lax about checking lately.  I will have to fix that.

But for now, I'm just going to clean and polish the boots.  Problem solved!

Monday, February 21, 2011

How To Plan A Ride

"Dressage horse?  Where?  I'm just a fuzzy, muddy pet."

Step 1:  Analyze your horse's training level extensively.  Plot out your training goals.  Plan every movement for your ride.

Step 2:  Get on your horse.

Step 3:  Realize your horse is too tense/rushing/stiff/sore/pigheaded and you are too out of shape/tired cold/hot/cranky to keep to "The Plan".  Scrap the plan and ride the horse you're on.

Ah, "Ride the horse you're on".  I tell myself that all the time, usually when things aren't going my way.    I've been telling myself that a lot here lately.

This winter has been hard.  Snow, ice and frigid temperatures have conspired to keep me out of the saddle.  Then I got the plague, which kept me out of the saddle longer. 

When I finally got back to riding this week, I found a horse that had a lot more energy than I had.  Unfortunately, none of that energy was focused.

After a short warm up (short because he was ready to go and I needed to shorten the reins and put him to work), I started to work on walk-trot transitions.  I got canter.  I decided to go with it.  It wasn't my plan, but at least it was something.

At first, I got carried around the arena by a horse with a lot more forward momentum and energy than I had.  I was struggling to keep up, wondering what to do with all this energy.  We were careening around, it wasn't good.  I was getting tense, Spider was getting tense because I was tense.  Things were just not going my way. 

Sometimes, it's good to remember that there is a living, thinking creature at the end of those reins.  In between that expensive, highly engineered ergonomic bit and that flashy, Swarovski crystal emblazoned  bling-bling browband there is a brain.  A brain that is completely alien to ours.  That brain has its own agenda.  It has it's own wants, needs, language and personality and they are different from our own. 

And so, I let go of my plan.  I relaxed, I put my energy into my seat.  I had a horse that wanted to canter, so I focused the canter.  I took the canter down the long-side, lengthened it.  I brought it back.  Then I did it again. 

That's all we did.  Just cantering.  Lengthening the canter and then bringing it back.  I focused on keeping the tempo regular, his frame good, my position good and overall just letting the energy flow.  I think he needed it.  Later on , when we're both a little more fit, we'll work on the more precise stuff.

I must say, I had a hell of a good time blasting down the long side on a horse with too much energy.  I highly recommend it.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Plague

The weather here has been gorgeous.  High 50s/low 60s F, sunny, no wind.  And what am I doing?  Laying on the couch.  Why?  I've got the plague.

Okay, maybe it's not the plague.  But, I've caught whatever wretched crud is going around.  It's settled into my lungs, so whenever I walk more than a few feet I start coughing.  I'll ride when I have the sniffles, that can be managed.  But, it's hard to ride while hacking up a lung.  Upsets the horse. 

I have been out and about around the yard a bit, though.  Fresh air is good for the plague.  As I was messing around in the garden, I saw this:

Winter is almost over!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Why I Fell In Love With My Horse

Jane, over at The Literary Horse, has asked her readers to tell why they fell in love with their horse.  I read (and love) her blog, so here goes:  A little story about how I met Spider.

Four years ago (nearly five, now) I was the manager of a dressage training facility/sales barn.  Part of my job was riding the sale horses.   There was a little bay Thoroughbred jumper that came through.  His name, I was told, was Spider. 

Spider wasn't that interesting or impressive.  He looked like a jumper.  He moved like a jumper.  While I was riding him one day, someone said to me "He'd make a nice Hunter.".  I'm still not sure if that was a compliment or not.  It didn't matter, he wasn't mine.  He was just another sale horse to ride.  When he sold, I would get 10% of his sale price. 

I never met his owners.  He had been shipped down from Northern NJ.  I never even talked to them.  I never got a clear story of why he was for sale.  Sometimes it was "he was sour" or "wild over jumps" sometimes it was "they bought a new horse and can't afford two".   In sale barns, you never get a good story, anyway.  It doesn't matter why they're for sale, they're just another sale.

One windy day, I was working this little Thoroughbred named Spider in the indoor.  We were on the inside track, several other riders were on the outside.  Suddenly, a gust of wind rattled the wall and two horses bolted past us towards the door to the barn.  Spider spun and started to bolt.  I expected that.  I pulled him up and put him back to work.  He complied without argument.  I was not expecting that.  He didn't really know me.  He'd only been with us a couple weeks or so.  Most horses, in an unfamiliar environment, especially a high stress environment like a busy training/sale barn, with a strange rider and horses bolting would have dumped the rider and high tailed it back to the barn.   Spider wasn't trying to ditch me, though.  As silly as it sounds, I got the impression he was taking me with him.  It wasn't "Hey, there's a scary thing, I'm outta here!".  It was "Hey there's a scary thing, let's get outta here!"  I'd never been on a horse like that before.  I was immediately impressed with this Spider.

As I worked him more, I became more and more impressed with the bay Thoroughbred named Spider.  He wasn't fancy.  He wasn't flashy.  But he had a heart of gold and always tried. 

One day, as I was currying him after a ride, he turned his head to groom me back.  I stopped and looked at him for a moment, then said "Don't get attached to me, you're not mine."  He just looked back at me.  I think he already knew I was his.

I bought him a few weeks later.

Related Posts:
A Story - More about why I bought Spider

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Obviously, this isn't a current picture.  I refuse to post any more pictures of snowy, dreary winter scenes.  This is one of the roses from my garden this past summer.  I can't remember the exact name of it, but it's a very nice plant.

Calm, Forward, Straight asked me about my yoga routine.  I had mentioned that I do my routines by myself.  There are no gyms or yoga studios near me, and even if there were, I wouldn't have time to go anyway.  I have two young children, a household to take care of and the attention span of a ferret with ADD.  Getting in the car, driving to a gym and doing an hour long yoga workout would take up far too much of my time and attention span.

So, I've developed my own sort of practice.  If you're not interested in yoga, the next paragraph will probably be pretty boring.  Feel free to skip ahead.  I'm just going to list the sequences I do.  I'm going to use the translated names, because I can never remember the Hindi names for the poses and can't spell them anyway.  Every morning I do several rounds of a Sun Salutation.  My Sun Salution is: Mountain pose, Raised arm pose, swan dive to forward standing bend, flat back, hop or walk back to plank, four limbed staff, up dog, down dog, repeat.  I do that sequence as a vinyasa, alternatively using each pose to inhale or exhale.  To open my hips and stretch my hamstrings, (which always get tight from riding), I do a sequence of  Warrior II, Extended Side Angle, Warrior I, Triangle pose.  I also have a balancing sequence consisting of Eagle, Tree, Warrior III, Half Moon, Revolved Half Moon.  The balancing sequence is great for strengthening the legs and core.  I generally hold each pose for 4-5 deep breaths.

 The sequences I do are mostly pieces of full workouts that I can do anywhere, anytime.  Sometimes, I'm standing in the kitchen cooking something and I think to myself, "Ooh, my hip feels a little hitchy.  I think I'll do some yoga."  Then I do my hip opening sequence.  It's just that simple.  In this fashion, little pieces at a time, I can usually do several rounds of each sequence every day.  If I tried to do a full hour long practice every day, I'd never be able to get it done.

Breathing is very important in yoga.  As you breathe in, each breath expands the chest, lifts the rib cage and lengthens the spine.  As you breathe out, you deepen the pose, draw the energy in and center yourself.  The breaths don't need to be slow, just deep.  I've found yoga breathing to be very beneficial to my riding.  As I sit in the saddle, I can use yoga breathing to correct my position, engage my core, sit more deeply in the saddle and relax.  As I breathe in, I lengthen my spine.  My rib cage lifts.  My shoulders slide down my back.  My leg reaches down the side of the horse.  As I breathe out, I engage my core.  My seat relaxes into the saddle.  I draw my energy into myself and into the saddle.  I have found that a side effect of breathing out like this is that the horse moves more energetically forward.  Because of this, I often breathe out when asking for upward transitions.  I breathe in when asking for half halts or downward transitions. 

I generally don't have to concentrate too hard on breathing anymore, but occasionally I find myself short of breath from breathing too shallowly or holding my breath during a difficult movement.  That's when I consciously use the yoga breathing techniques to focus myself.  I also find them helpful in maintaining the correct position during canter work.  Like many riders, I tend to fold up and get short in my legs during canter work.  Concentrating on my breathing, lengthening my spine and legs during the inhale, engaging my core and sinking deeper during the exhale, helps with this. 

The nice thing about yoga breathing is that you don't have to be insanely flexible to breathe.  Believe me, I am not insanely flexible, or even kind of flexible.  You just have to concentrate a little at the beginning, and soon it will be second nature.  Anyone can do it, even those of us possessing the attention span of a squirrel on crack.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Conditioning Work

That's a picture of Spider and I the first winter I had him.  It was cold that year, and windy.  We were boarding at a place with an indoor, so work wasn't impossible.  It probably should have been, but I was a lot younger dumber then.

In the face of this year's arctic blast, I'm being more conservative.  Not that I really have a choice, since I don't have an indoor and everything's icy.  The unfortunate side effect of that is that I'm really not getting a lot of exercise lately.  Farm work generally keeps me pretty active, but I've been cooped up in the house for too long with this miserable weather.  I'm starting to feel sluggish and squishy.

I exercise every day.  Not because I'm one of those annoying super fit "gym" people, but because I have a bad back.  Daily pilates and yoga workouts are the only thing standing between me and a Rascal Mobility Scooter.  When I don't exercise, I get sciatica.  For everyone that's never had sciatic pain, it sort of feels like someone is trying to jam a steel rod down the back of your leg with no anasthetic.  I am not a fan of that, so I do my workout routines.  My routines are tailored to keep my lower back and abs fit, though.  I rely on the farm work and riding to strengthen and tone my legs, arms and upper back.  No outside activities = I turn squishy.

Of course, I live in the boonies.  There's no gym within a 30 mile radius.  I've practiced pilates and yoga for so many years that I can do it by myself no problem.  I've never taken any other sort of exercise classes, so I'm pretty lost there.  Well, I did take a belly dancing class once.  I thought it would be really good for developing strength and range of motion for riding.  And it is, for people who have rythm, talent and can follow simple instructions.  That's not really me.  It takes every brain cell I have just to remember how to breathe properly during pilates and yoga.  Wiggling my hips and arms around in a circle in time to music is way beyond my capabilities. 

Given my lack of talent for aerobic activity, I turned to the internet.  We have a Netflix subscription that allows us to get videos over the internet.  Perfect.  Except that most of the videos are way too complicated for me.  Seriously, I've spent most of my life learning to remain perfectly still on top of a large, moving animal while giving imperceptible cues.  And now I'm supposed to throw my arms and legs around spastically in time to music?  Does not compute.  I did eventually find a couple videos made for the aerobically challenged, though.  So, I've been doing those.

I really hope this weather breaks soon.  I'm not sure how much more "fitness for dummies" I can take.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Like A Duck On The Ice

Have you ever seen a duck on ice?  It's hilarious.  Maybe not so much for the duck, but it certainly makes me smile.

Our duck, named Lucky,  has taken up residence in the barn for the winter.  At least someone is using it, my horses prefer to stand under a tree.   Every morning during feeding time Lucky comes waddling over as fast as she can, hoping I might spill some grain.  Ducks are not the quickest or most graceful creatures on land when the footing is perfect.  In the ice, she slips and slides in a quite comical fashion.  

Aside from laughing at the duck, this ice is quite miserable.  It is melting, but at a glacial pace.  

To add insult to injury, the post that I accidentally snagged with the chain drag snapped off at the ground.  I'm not sure what happened, although I suspect that one of the horses may have run into it after sliding on the ice.  They were running around a few hours before I noticed it was broken.  I don't have a clue why they felt the need to run around, other than to give me gray hairs or a heart attack.  Rotten beasts!  Luckily, they escaped injury.

It is also possible that snagging the post with the tractor cracked the post and that's why it failed, but I'm trying to blame someone else for this mishap.  It doesn't really matter who broke the post, anyway.   It will have to be replaced. 

For now, it is "rigged".  The ground is frozen solid, so I can't put a new post in, or dig up the cemented in base of the old one.  This particular post is necessary for keeping the fence up, so just leaving it is not an option, either.  So, I decided to tie the broken post to the gate.  The gate is solid, as is the gate's post.  Problem solved.  Sort of.

Obviously, I am not the one who did this.  My husband came out and used ratchet straps to hold everything together.  I would have used baling twine. 

I will concede that his ratchet straps are probably a better fix, though.

Don't tell him I said that.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Foggy Morning

It appears the snow/ice storm passed us by.  Three cheers for that!  Although, I do feel sorry for everyone out there who got hammered.  I had my fair share of that weather last year, it was no fun.

It's been pretty warm here the past two days, in the 40s F, and the snow is starting to melt.  It's been foggy for most of the day.  And not the pretty "Scottish Moors" type of fog.   More like Stephen King's "The Mist".

On the bright side, I did notice this:

What's that stuff?

Oh, that's right!  There's an actual arena under all that snow.  I had nearly forgotten!

It's supposed to freeze again tonight, so I doubt I'll be able to use my arena for riding any time soon.  I might be able to use it as an ice rink, though.  Too bad I don't know how to ice skate.


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