Saturday, February 25, 2012

If You're Bored Then You're Boring

I'm bored stiff, I'll admit it.

I had previously decided to have Spider take a little "training break" for the winter, meaning that I wouldn't actively train any new things, just work on basics.  And it's so boring!  I've tried to spice things up with cavaletti and schooling different figures, but I'm still bored.  I feel stagnant when I'm not training new things.

I suppose that's what originally attracted me to dressage as a sport.  You're always moving forward, always doing something new.  Unless you're having a weird winter and haven't been riding consistently, then you get bored and stagnant.  I get bored and stagnant pretty easily.  I have to start challenging myself again.

Luckily, the weather has been cooperating and I've been able to ride.  And, it seems that the weather will continue to cooperate for at least the next week (cue ice storm..... Haha!).  Now I just need to decide which one of the many, many things that Spider needs to learn to start with.  On the list: extensions, half pass (I've introduced the concept of half-pass to Spider, but it needs a lot of work) and just generally polishing the Third Level work.  It is my intention to begin schooling the 4th level work and earn my USDF Bronze Medal this year.  Or, at least to start showing Third Level by the end of the year.  I stink at showing, so I can't really make myself any guarantee that I'll be able to get the scores I need for my medal this year!

But those are more "long-term" goals.  My short term goal is to finish my coffee, then get myself out to the arena to ride!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Funny Story From Years Ago

I've always had a pet peeve about horses pooping in the arena.  It just irks me.  Possibly because I used to ride at barns full of Dressage Queens who would let their horses just stop in the middle of the arena to poop.  Seriously, these women were riding highly trained horses, and they would just let them stop wherever they were, with no warning, to poop!  This was usually while I was careening around on some out-of-control sale horse, and I would nearly run them over.  They would then turn to me and giggle "Oops! I'm sorry!  My sweet Fleurfengooglestein had to go poopsie.  Teehee!"  And I would think to myself, "Yeah? Well after that near miss, so do I!  But you don't see me stopping in the middle of the arena to do my business, do you?  Because that would be disruptive to the other people using the ring!".

Of course, not every horse stops while they poop.  Some keep right on going, spreading the "love" all over the arena and making it very difficult to clean up later.  It just so happens a good friend of mine used to ride one of those "moving poopers".  This horse could even poop while cantering, and frequently did.  It was a talent.  Which brings me to my funny story.....

Back in the day, when my friend and I were both struggling young professionals, my friend had the opportunity to ride The Pooper in a clinic with an Olympic trainer.  The Pooper's owner was going to pay for the clinic (The Pooper was in training with my friend), so my friend and I hatched a plan:  I would go along as her groom.  We would both get to attend the clinic for free!  Plus, lunch would be served at the clinic!  Hoorah!  For two struggling young pros, that's like hitting the lottery:  We were going to go to a Big Clinic, not have to pay, and eat that day.  Best Day Ever!

Now, we had heard that the owner of the farm hosting the clinic was crazy.  And not crazy in the usual "horse person" way.  Supposedly, this lady had some sort of OCD about cleanliness.  We had heard stories that she required boarders to completely clean any place their horses pooped with bleach and a mop.  Not because of disease, but just because she didn't want her barn aisle to be dirty.  As a result of her obsessiveness, she didn't have many boarders and they never stuck around long.  I have no idea whether or not the stories were true, but her barn was immaculate.  I don't think I've ever seen a cleaner barn in my life.

So, friend and I show up for the clinic with The Pooper.  The clinic is being held in the indoor, which is about one and a half times the length of a standard dressage arena, but the same width.  The Olympic Trainer is holding court at the near end of the arena, and riders are warming up at the far end.  We get The Pooper ready, and friend takes him down to the far end to warm up.  I stay up at the near end to watch Olympic Trainer.

I'm sure you all know where this is going:  The Pooper does his thing, at canter, down at the far end of the arena.  I cringe, knowing I need to clean it up, but I figure I'll wait for the break between riders to go down and get it as there is no way to get down there without walking through the lesson in progress.  And then I hear a noise behind me.  I turn to look.  It's the crazy barn owner.  "You're with that horse, right?" she asks, pointing at The Pooper, "You need to go clean that up". Her tone leaves no doubt that she means right now.  I grab the fork out of the muck bucket and start plotting my path through the lesson.  I hear the barn owner again, "You need the bucket!"

Crap!  The muck bucket is one of those ridiculous wheeled contraptions.  How am I supposed to negotiate this noisy, bulky beast through the lesson going on?  I eye the horse and rider, try to gauge their path.  I grab the bucket and start off down the wall, rattling and clanking.  I watch, in horror, as the horse in the lesson spooks at me and dumps his rider!  As I'm scurrying down the wall, hoping to somehow be absorbed into it, my friend is giving me the "What the hell are you doing?!?" look.  I shrug and point at the barn owner.

I wanted to die.  Here I was, disrupting a clinic with an Olympian and getting someone dumped, to pick up poop!

The Olympian was non-plussed.  He caught the horse and helped the rider up without ever (thankfully!) looking at me.  I still felt really crappy about it, though.  Until I found out that the rider I had unhorsed was the crazy barn owner's daughter.  That horse should have been used to shenanigans!

Actually....  even now, many years later, I feel a little bad about the whole incident.  But, I will admit that's it's still pretty funny!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Stupid Questions

There was a time in my life when I was a teacher.  I taught biology, mostly vertebrate anatomy and animal behavior, at a university.  I have never really taught a riding lesson, but I still have an understanding, and a sympathy, for those that do.

I remember very well the first day of every one of my classes.  I would begin my lecture, staring out into a sea of blank faces.  I was winging it, really.  I didn't know them, they didn't know me.  I had no clue how to speak to them, how to transmit my knowledge to them.  So I always made sure to tell them, in that first lecture, to never be afraid to ask questions.  I would tell them that "the only stupid question is the one you don't ask".

I learned that lesson when I was just an ignorant undergrad.  I was a biology major, and one course was taught by a professor who was notoriously difficult. Of course, this was a class that was required for graduation.  You had to pass it to get your degree.

This professor was brilliant, a genius on a level that was far beyond us undergrads.  He was far beyond most of his peers.  His lectures always ended up being a stream of consciousness.  He would start talking about a subject, and then his passion would carry him away to the point where no mere undergrad could understand his lectures.

Most of my fellow students were intimidated by him.  They thought that he would think they were stupid if they interrupted his lectures to ask a question.  It just so happens that I am lacking that part of the brain that tells you that you should care what other people think.  And so, I questioned that professor.  I threw my hand up in the middle of a class and said "Wait!!  You're going to fast, I don't understand!". 

And it turns out, in spite of his outward appearance, that he didn't mind being questioned.  He didn't even know that he was talking over our heads, because no one had ever told him that.  Because I questioned him when I didn't understand him, he slowed his lectures down.   I got an a good grade in his class and became one of his favorite students.  Once I realized that he was actually quite nice and very knowledgeable, and not the Evil Draconian Professor stereotype that others thought he was,  I took every class he taught.  I learned so much from him, simply because I questioned him.  In later years, when I moved from being a student of that university to being an employee, he became my friend and mentor.  He remains a good friend to this day. 

And so, when I stood in front of my own group of students, I remembered what I had learned from my friend and mentor.  I made sure to tell them to always question me, because that was the best way to learn.  Of course, they never believed me at first.  I always gave those first few lectures to a sea of blank faces.  I was just as uncertain as they were.  Were they understanding me?  Was I reaching them?  Or, was I just going off on my own tangent... was I blindly talking over their heads?

But, then one student would raise their hand and ask a question.  And I would respond, because their question ignited my passion.  And then it wasn't just a lecture anymore, it was a discussion.  The students were active participants.  And we all learned.

I apply the same rationale to my riding lessons.  I don't just sit there, trying to blindly follow orders if I don't understand them.  I have never been a person to blindly follow orders, anyway.  I question everything.  This is not a fault, so long as you actually listen to the answer.  And I have rarely ridden under anyone who found that disagreeable.  For the most part, I have found that trainers want you to ask questions.  No matter how stupid you think the question might be, the simple act of asking it means that you are listening to the teacher and trying to process the lesson.

There have been many, many times when I didn't understand something in a riding lesson.  And, when I don't understand, I stop and ask for clarification.  I don't care about looking stupid.  Why should I?  I'm the student, by definition I am stupid.  Well, perhaps ignorant and not necessarily stupid, but still... They are the teacher and I am the student.  My questions are valid and worthwhile, and they enrich both of our experiences:  I understand the instruction better, and the instructor learns how to communicate the lesson better.

So, don't be afraid to speak up!  What do you have to lose?  If your trainer gets indignant at your question, you know to move on to a new trainer!  But, the more likely scenario is that your trainer will perk up and respond to your question.  And then it won't just be a lecture anymore, it will be a discussion.  And everyone will learn.

Question everything.  Every question has value.  The only stupid question is the question you don't ask.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Happy Cheap Candy Day!

I've never been really "into" Valentine's Day.  It's just sort of "Meh" to me.  But, I really love the day after Valentine's day, because all the stores sell perfectly good candy at a discount just because it's in a heart shaped box.  Hooray for cheap candy!

In honor of Cheap Candy Day, I'm recycling a post from last year.  I know, it's a total cop-out, but I liked the post and it's my blog so "Pttthbbb!"

Why I Fell In Love With My Horse:

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.

The original post, with comments, is here.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Jail Break

My fences are tall and well built and have 9,000 volts of electricity running through them.  In spite of these features, my horses still manage to escape fairly regularly.

Matilda is the usual culprit.  We've nicknamed her "the fence tester", because she somehow seems to know every time the electricity to the fence goes down and she's small enough to squeeze through the fence when it's not hot.  Whenever we find Matilda in the lawn, we know there's a problem with the fence.

But in the last two weeks we've had two jail breaks involving all three horses and no problems with the fence.  Last night was the latest.  Of course, it was freezing cold, very windy and snowing.  Because why would my horses do something that wasn't terribly inconvenient for me?  So, last night at 10 pm I was trudging around in the snow, capturing wayward beasts and inspecting the fence.  The fence was fine, the gates were all closed, so how did they get out?  I have no clue.  Sometimes the gate latch sticks when it's cold, but I'm pretty neurotic about checking it.  An even more disturbing possibility is that one of the horses may have figured out how to work the gate latch.  I don't even want to contemplate that!  From now on, I'm chaining the gate shut.  That should solve the problem, whether it's a sticky latch or curious equines.

Try opening that without opposable thumbs, you wicked beasts!  Actually, no.... Please don't try.  I'm afraid you might succeed.

A curious thing happened while I was walking the fence line for the final time before I went to bed last night.  I wanted to make darn sure that there was no way the miserable cretins could escape again, since I was not interested in going back out in the snow to capture them, so I was trudging along with the voltmeter testing various parts of the fence.  As I walked along, the horses started following me.  When I stopped, they stopped, when I started walking again they fell in right behind me in a row.  Weird, especially considering that not even a half hour before they had been running around my back yard like hooligans and refusing to come anywhere near me.  I decided to play a trick on them.

I stopped and turned to face them.  Once they stopped, I turned and sprinted through the pasture as fast as I could go.  I figured they would be totally confused by my shenanigans and give up on their creepy stalking.  Just as I was about to start giggling at my "trick", I heard hoof beats behind me.  They were still following me.

It was at this point that I realized this wasn't one of my better ideas.  I am not a good runner and I was now being chased through dark, icy pastures by 2500 lbs worth of hoofed animals that may or may not be able to stop as quick as I could.

I glanced behind me to gauge how close I was to being run over by the stampede.  Then I realized how incredibly slow my inefficient bipedal running is.  My "sprint" was more of an ambling jog for them, and I was really never in any danger of being run over.  I stopped, they stopped, and the "trick" was on me!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Gridiron

Based on the noises emanating from my living room, I think there may be some sort of sporting event on right now.

I jest, of course.  I doubt there is anyone in the U.S. who is not aware that today is the Superbowl.  They may not be able to tell you who's playing (I can't) or be watching it (I'm not), but I'm pretty sure they know it's there.  Even though I'm blissfully football-ignorant, I still used it as inspiration for today's ride.

My Gridiron.  It's much more interesting than the other one.

I was really unmotivated today.  It's cold again, and I'm bored with serpentines and transitions.  So I set up some poles to trot over to add to the variety.  I even raised up the middle one, just to make things really exciting.  I put it right in the dead center of the arena, so that we'd be able to work around it or through it as needed.

Spider was about as enthusiastic about working as I was.  We had to have a couple little arguments about how he was going to behave.  No matter how many times I tell him that "forward and round will keep him sound", he still has days when he'd rather slog around on his forehand with a hollow back and his head in the air.  I have days like that, too.

We eventually worked it out with some strong half-halts and many transitions, and I put him over the cavaletti at trot.  After just a couple times over them, Spider felt much more elastic and supple.  So, I tried something new:  We went over the cavaletti at trot, then picked up the canter in left lead.  The canter felt nice, energetic but still supple, so I asked for a bit of counter-canter by changing direction.  I got a lovely counter-canter, so I rode it all the way around until we got back to the cavaletti, then transitioned down to trot over the poles and back up to canter (right lead this time).  Same deal: counter-canter around, back to trot over the poles, then left lead.  We repeated our new exercise a few times, then called it a day.  Spider had stayed soft and supple throughout this new exercise, and I didn't really want to push him beyond that.

I think that's a lot more interesting than any old football game.  

Friday, February 3, 2012

Too Good to Last

We've had some really fine days in NJ this week.  Weather in the 60s, in spite of it being February.  I know, I know... everybody in every other non-tropical place in the world is cursing me right now!

Well, you know what, Everybody else?  I've earned my right to gloat!

Here's my farm last winter:

That's my three step mounting block.  It sits next to my arena.  You wouldn't know that from this picture, because my arena is buried in a SNOW BANK!!!
Here's my farm the year before:

This is my 4x4 pickup truck with tow package and aftermarket extra big tires and rims, buried in freaking snow!!!!
And, just for good measure, here I am with my horse in the time before I had my own my own farm.  This was about six years ago, I think,  and it is one of my favorite pictures.  I have it hanging in my living room.  It was the first winter I owned Spider, and it was colder than a witch's tit in a brass brassiere.  (Please excuse my crudeness, but that really is the only way to describe the bone chilling cold of that winter)

He's crossing an ice slick here.  Because it was just that cold.
So, yup, I'm gonna gloat about my good weather!

But, I should also mention other stuff, too.

The Liebster Award has been making the rounds, and I was awarded it by DS over at Adventures in Colt (Filly) Starting.  I very much appreciate her award, and I like her blog very much.  I especially feel close to her because she's just starting on that journey that I started on nearly four years ago: Mother and Horseman.  It's a hard row to hoe, but so incredibly worth it.  Even on the days when I think "Holy Hell, what on Earth was I thinking?!!! Why did I do this?!?! How stupid am I?!?".  Yes, even on those days I can say that the ridiculous little people I spawned were worth it.  Mostly because someday I will force them to be my grooms at shows.....

And so, according to the stipulations of the Liebster award, I will now bestow this fine award on five other Bloggers:

I'm going to try to bestow it unto people that I haven't seen making the rounds:

Equine Biomechanics:  I know I mentioned this one before, but I seriously love it, so I'm mentioning it again!

Schooling Your Horse: Lorraine is great at explaining things, and very approachable!

Bob The Equestrian:  Bob is a "horse dad" who's decided to actually learn to ride the beasts he's been supporting.  His viewpoints are grounding, and hysterically spot on!  He's a voice of reason in our sometimes silly world!

Dressage Curmudgeon:  I love this, because she says what she thinks.  I don't agree with all of it, but I think agreeing is stupid, anyway.

Horses Of Follywoods:  I love Jean.  She is a consummate horseman, and the kind of person I aspire to be.  She was one of the first followers of my blog, and she is the person who's comments I most value.

And I'm adding a sixth, because this guy is awesome:  Cross Country Equine.  Seriously, he's awesome, inspirational and really just everything in between.

In other news:  I am planning on posting a follow up to my last post.  Actually, I've got several follow ups in mind, because it just isn't something that can be summed up in a simple essay....


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