Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Things To Say, But Computer Broken

You may have noticed my absence. Or maybe not.

My computer is broken. The hard drive self destructed. A new one is on it's way,but in the mean time I have to make do with my phone. This makes blogging difficult, but not impossible.

Honestly, I still find it amazing that I can get the Internet on my phone. My phone is more powerful than the first computer I ever owned. Actually, my phone is more powerful and advanced than most of the computers I've owned!

But, it's still awkward to post from here, because the formatting and interface is a little clumsy. Also, the spell-check function doesn't seem to work. All I can get is autocorrect, and autocorrect hates me. So, I won't be doing much posting until my new hard drive arrives. Which is a shame, because there are many exciting things afoot!

Sunday, March 18, 2012


I'm not much of a whiner, but I occasionally indulge.  This is one of those times.

We've already established how I messed up my horse's training, We can talk about that more in a later post.    I'm trying to fix my mistakes now, but at every turn there is an obstacle!

Allow me to elaborate... this was my week:

Our beloved friend Slinky the ferret passed this week.  She was a favorite of my daughter, and a much loved member of our family.  She was 9 years old, very old for a ferret.  Even though we had much preparation for her passing, it was still difficult, particularly for a four year old child who does not quite understand the nature of death.

RIP Slinky Ferret.  You were very much loved, and will be missed.  Thank you for sharing your life with us.

And then one of our spigots went bad, which resulted in a flooded backyard.  Unfortunately, this required a few days of "just dealing with it" because no one had the time to actually fix it.  To avoid further flooding, we only had the well on twice a day, for essentials.  It wasn't fun, but sometimes you just can't get to things.  That's farm life...

And then on Wednesday I was cleaning up outside and went to toss a piece of wood into the scrap pile.  Unfortunately, the piece of wood had a nail in it and I wasn't wearing gloves.  I'll spare you the gruesome details, but there was a trip to the ER.  I haven't had the use of my right hand since then.

And so this past week was a bit of a wash.  But, I am not angry (anymore).  I am not frustrated (anymore).  Because this is my life and, in spite of the difficulties, it's a good life.

There is so much more to my life than just me.  I set a goal for myself, but I failed to see that there was so much more to that goal than just my own ambitions.  And my real life reared up and smacked me down.  I am not an island, and the world does not care about my goals.  Even the tiny little world of my own farm doesn't care about my goals, unless my goal is feeding the inhabitants of my farm.  They care a lot about that.  They also bring me back to the real world, and help me regain my perspective.

In the end, my goals were extraneous .  I should have been paying more attention to my horse's training.  The training is based on the horse's readiness, not the rider's.  My horse wasn't ready.  And, realistically, I wasn't ready to begin training that stage.  I lost my perspective, and when I lost my perspective I lost the feel.  I lost the idea of correct training, I lost the parameters of the working, collected and medium gaits.

And so, I have learned my lesson.  It is not a new lesson, it is a recurring theme in horsemanship.  I'm sure at some point I will need to be reminded of it again.

I still have my goals.  I still want to show 3rd level this year, which means that I need to be schooling 4th, but there is a lot of time left in this year.  I don't need to be schooling 4th level tomorrow.

                   -"I have time."  Alois Podhajsky

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Remember how I said last time that I had lost my lateral work?  Well, it wasn't really lost, just misplaced.

I finally managed to coordinate a lesson for myself.  It's been about three months, which is about two months too long.  Unfortunately, scheduling a lesson is a bit like playing Tetris.  My trainer only comes down here once a week.  I don't have an indoor, so if the weather's bad I don't get a lesson.  But, if the weather's good, then I can almost guarantee that there is some farm chore I must get done that pre-empts my lesson.  Everything has to fall into place perfectly in order for it to work out.  But, enough excuses...on to the lesson.....

I decided to let my trainer know about my current training issues in advance.  The conversation went something like this:

Me:  "I'm pretty sure I've ruined my horse's training."

Trainer: "I doubt that."

Me: "No, I have!  I've completely lost my lateral work!"

Trainer:  "Did you look behind the barn?"

The above dialogue pretty well sums up why having an experienced trainer/coach/instructor/whatever you want to call them is so important.  I'm pretty sure my trainer knew exactly what was going on before he even set foot on my farm.  I'm pretty sure as soon as I said "I lost my lateral work!" he knew what the problem was.  But, even though I'm sure he already knew what the problem was, he humored me by watching me ride around for a few minutes and whine about it.  Then he pointed out that I was letting Spider's hind end trail out behind him.  Oh.... Oops.

See, here's the thing:  I ride by myself.  I have no mirrors, no observers or fellow riders, nothing to give me feedback about what is going on other than my own feeling.  I ride by feel alone.  I also only ride one horse.  The thing about only riding one horse is that you develop a familiarity, much like an old married couple.  You get so used to each other's quirks that they just start to seem normal, and eventually "correct", whether they are or not.  It becomes so easy to fall into your "comfort zone", feel great about your work because it was "good enough", and then call it a day without ever pushing yourselves to be better (or even good).

So, as Spider was coming further and further behind my leg, I wasn't noticing because we were in a comfortable place.  It still "felt" right, because it was what I had become used to.  I thought we were doing pretty good.  Until one day I asked for a shoulder in and nothing happened.  I decided the problem was a lack of suppleness, and started getting entirely too creative in my attempts to fix what I thought the problem was.  Not that my exercises were bad, but they weren't going to fix the underlying problem.  I was just slapping a band-aid on it, when what I really needed was reconstructive surgery!

It took about three good kicks to get Spider's butt back under him, and then about 100 reminders to keep his butt under him.  Unfortunately, it's a habit for us now and we will need to work on it every ride until it is no longer a habit before we can move back into actively training new things.  But, having someone on the ground to watch us and yell "Kick him!" every time Spider got strung out enabled me to get the feeling for the correct work back.  I have cemented that feel in my mind, I will be working to recreate that feel in every single ride.

But, I will also be having my trainer back next month, because I know I'm going to screw it up!

Oh, and the lesson wasn't a complete beat-down, either.  I tend to only focus on the bad because all dressage enthusiasts are pretty much sadomasochistic perfectionists.  But, my trainer did note that we are improving.  The training has moved forward since he last saw us, we just need to fix one thing:  We cannot be satisfied with "good enough".  We must strive for better, even if that means that we aren't always "comfortable".

Friday, March 2, 2012

Gearing Up...

With the weather we've been having lately I've been feeling quite motivated, and so I've put myself and Spider into "Spring Training".  Show season will be upon us soon and, while I don't really have a plan for that, I do need to get working on some things so that we don't look like complete yokels when I do finally get my act together and show.  So, with that in mind I've stepped up the intensity of our rides.

I've also done some contemplation:  What do we need to accomplish our goals?  Well, I want to get through 3rd level this year.  Which means I really need to be schooling 4th level at home.  But what does that mean?  Honestly, I have no idea.....

Spider and I are really sailing into uncharted waters here, the type that you see on old maps with the label "Here there be dragons".  Dragons indeed.  My dragons are named "Collection" and "Lateral Work".

Image courtesy of USDF

Now, Spider can do the lateral work, and he can be collected.  But, we seem to really be having a problem doing those things at the same time.  It seems that when I ask for more collection, I lose my elasticity and suppleness.  Which is a bit of a problem, as you can see from that training scale up there. The training scale builds on itself, you need suppleness in order to gain true collection.  You need suppleness to do pretty much everything, actually.  I could spend an entire paragraph (maybe two) talking about the problem and why we're having it, but that would be boring.  So, here's what I've been doing to fix it:

Suppleness Exercise 1:  10 meter figure eights, at trot, in shoulder-in.  I mean an exaggerated shoulder-in!  Four tracks!  I hate this exercise, because it's hard.  But it does wonders for Spider's suppleness and for my aids.  It forces me to very conscious of my outside aids to keep Spider from falling out with his outside shoulder, and helps him to shift his weight back onto his haunches and release his shoulders.

Suppleness Exercise 2:  Changes of canter lead on a circle.  This is a fun one!  Spider and I both enjoy it quite a bit.  I take up a circle of any size (a bigger circle is better when you're just starting out)  and ask for the "correct" canter lead, then I bring the horse back to trot and ask for counter canter.  Rinse and repeat.  I started this exercise on a large circle (bigger than 20 meters) and with as many strides at each gait as I needed to get good transitions.  As we've worked on it, Spider and I have gotten it down to a 20 meter circle and only a few strides of each gait!  The lead changes really do wonders for his suppleness.  We're now working towards being able to do canter-walk transitions instead of canter-trot.  I've found this exercise to be really good for getting Spider supple and energized.  His energy and enthusiasm are actually the reasons we haven't been been able to do it with canter-walk transitions yet!  We'll get there.  He just needs to build a little more strength to handle all that energy and enthusiasm.

These exercises are just the beginning, I'm sure.  As we do more, we'll find new problems and build new exercises to get past our problems.  That's the fun in training a horse, I think:  No matter what you're doing, it is only the beginning.


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