Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Embracing Mediocrity

As I traverse the equestrian world, I can't help but notice that everyone speaks in absolutes. It's either, "This trainer/person/thingamajig is the best ever", or "This trainer/person/thingamajig is awful and will ruin and/or kill your horse". What the hell is up with that?

Yeah, I know, the prequels sucked. But, I do love me some Ewan McGregor.

I know we're passionate people with strong opinions, but can't we just admit sometimes that everything isn't black and white? I've been doing this "horse" thing for many years, and I've got to say that the overwhelming majority of trainers, people and thingamajigs I've encountered were just average. And that's totally OK. There's nothing wrong with mediocrity! 

Now, for the most part, I don't really care if someone says a trainer/person/thingamajig is "Teh GREATEST Evah!", but what really annoys me are the claims that a perfectly average trainer/person/thingamajig will ruin/kill a horse.

"She rides with that trainer instead of my trainer?! That horse will be ruined in a year."

"That brand of saddle didn't fit my horse, he's going to make his horse lame riding in that brand."

"She doesn't feed the brand of food I like. Her horse is going to die."

"He rides slightly differently from me. His horse is going to be ruined."

(This is all shit I've heard real, live people say in front of me, by the way. You can't make this stuff up.) 

Why do we behave like this? We're all pretty average, our horses are pretty average, our trainers are pretty average, our equipment is pretty average, and all our horses are still alive in spite of our mediocrity. Why are we hating? 

Let's just embrace our mediocrity, because it takes a hell of a lot of dedication, time and money to be average in this sport and we should be proud to be mediocre! 

Somebody needs to make a "Proud To Be Mediocre!" meme. I'd do it myself, but I'm not very good at that stuff.

You could say that I'm pretty mediocre at it......

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Pony Boot Camp

I've always felt the highest praise one can receive for their horse is being able to send it to someone else and have it behave itself. Sure, we all know the little quirks of our horses' personalities and have all the tricks to keep them in line, but can someone else deal with them? That's the true test of training.

This past week I sent my kids off to a friend's horse day camp. Yes, I know.... their life is basically horse camp since we live on a farm, but school just let out, I'm already sick of them, and this gave me a fabulous opportunity to get them out of my hair from 9-3 for a week. Also, it's always good for them to have experience with other trainers and horses to round out their education and blah, blah, blah..... I wanted the house to myself for a week. 

Before the first day of camp, my friend asked if I was bringing along the kids' pony, Spots. My first response was, "That seems like more work, and the point of this is less work." But, my friend assured me that Spots could stay over at her farm, so I wouldn't need to haul him back and forth every day, and her farm is like 5 minutes down the road in case anything happened. So, I loaded up two kids, all their gear, and one pony with all his gear and off we went. This took way longer than expected, but we did manage to make it over there. (I can load me, Spider and all our gear in 15 minutes, this took about 2 hours. It was like herding cats.)

Jack wanted to know why he wasn't invited to pony camp.

After I dropped everyone off, I left the trailer hooked up, just in case. My friend thought this was hilarious, she was like, "Did you think you were going to have to come get him in a pony trailer ride of shame?" Hey, it's always good to be prepared. I always expect the worst, so I'm always either pleasantly surprised or prepared.

See, while Spots is a great pony, if I was writing an ad for him I would not put the words "beginner safe" in there. He has a bit of brat in him, that little Appy pony spark that makes him great for my kids to learn on and still fun for me to ride. But, my kids are not "beginner" riders. They've been riding since they were in utero, and I'm not exactly a "beginner", either. I warned my friend about this, of course, and she actually has way more experience than I do with kids and ponies, so I felt pretty safe dropping Spots off there, but I still wanted him to do well and behave himself.

Turns out, I didn't have much to worry about. He was nervous at first.  He's spent the last several years on our small, private farm learning to dressage and teaching my kids. A gaggle of giggling little girls and ponies was a totally new experience for him. But, my friend and her daughter did a great job of acclimating him and getting him settled, so by the end of the first day he was taking it in stride. When I picked up the kids at the end of the first day I received several compliments on his lovely gaits and transitions. That's music to a Dressage Queen's ears, even if it comes from 10 year olds. (Clearly, my friend is teaching them to have a good eye.) My friend's teenage daughter was also allowed to take him over a jump course, and I'm told he did very well in spite of him having been jumped only once in the entire time I've owned him.

My daughter was a bit disappointed that none of the other girls wanted to ride Spots. They're allowed to swap out horses, and over the course of the week my daughter rode every horse at camp. I had to explain to her that her pony is a bit "spicier" than what the other girls at camp are used to. She was also disappointed that she couldn't jump like the other girls, and I had to explain to her that her mom is a dressage rider and doesn't know how to jump.... I see jumping lessons in that girls' future. My son was mostly happy playing in the dirt and building towers out of duct tape..... He did ride, but he was disappointed that Beau didn't get to come to camp. At 25 I thought camp might be a little too much for Beau.

All in all it was a great experience for the kids and Spots. Especially Spots.  He's eventually going to have to go from learning dressage and how to be a kids' pony, to being the kids' show pony, and the hustle and bustle of Camp was a great way to break him into it. Now I just have to keep up that mentality at home. He gets today off, but tomorrow he's getting enrolled in my own version of "Pony Camp" at home!

The look on his face says it all.

Monday, June 13, 2016

PT and Cross Training

I'm a pretty fit person. I can easily lift 50lb sacks of feed and toss them into the bed of my truck, I can easily jog around after a loose horse until I catch the bastard, I can easily spend 40 minutes at a time doing a reasonable impression of someone who knows about dressage.

What I suck at is things that aren't heavy lifting, chasing down bastards, and pretending you're not doing anything when really you're riding your ass off. And now I'm also beginning to realize that may be a contributing factor in my back problems. 

All the stuff I'm asked to do in PT is hard, and when I try to make it easier by using movements I'm more familiar with, I get corrected. Not because I'm not good at my old familiar things, but because only using certain sets of muscles is tearing my back up and that's why I need PT. I may be able to throw 50lb bags of feed into the bed of my truck, but the 90 year old lady I sit next to in PT totally skunks my ass at straight arm lifts with a 2lb weight. 

This is why cross training is important, both for us and our horses. I know loads of people who cross train their horses, but not very many who cross train themselves. And I'm not talking about the "20 Ab Exercises For Riders" articles you see in Dressage Today and USDF Connection, those are just strengthening the muscles you're already using, I'm talking about actual cross training. 

Actual cross training strengthens the muscles you aren't using for riding and barn chores. That's important, because the muscles that stabilize our joints generally work in opposition to each other. If you're only doing one type of activity (dead lifting feed bags, pretending to be a dressage rider, chasing bastards..), then you're only working one set of muscles and that puts too much strain on your joints. 

One thing I'm learning in PT is that the exercise routines for riders that I see posted everywhere are not tailored to strengthen our whole bodies, and I wonder if this is why I see a glut of riders with hunched shoulders and tight hamstrings. If you're just working your abs and glutes, which is what the riding workouts do, you're definitely going to end up riding this way.

Abs and buns of steel don't help you ride better if they destroy your back and knees. Remember to work other parts of your body, too. 

Once I'm done with my PT, I'm going to try rowing. Not on the water, because I hate boats that don't have jacuzzis and bars, but with one of those rowing machines. I'm also going to keep up with my PT exercises so that I hopefully don't end up back in PT.

I don't have any relevant photos of my own, but here's a photo of a mule doing dressage way better than I have ever done. There's a metaphor in there somewhere. 


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