So, it’s strange. As a rider, especially as a rider with a disability, I work hard to not compare myself, my progress, what I’m working on to others. But, making the barn switch has exposed me to more. More people. More horses. More higher level riders. More expectations. And, apparently that is super motivating to me? Today as I tacked up for my lesson, I watched as an elderly horse and his mature rider tackled their canter work in the indoor while a jump clinic continued in the outdoor and something in me just said why not try.
Cantering is a tricky thing for me, a combination of something that’s physically hard and mentally challenging because I know my inability to put weight in my legs and disastrous coordination in general makes something I have to really concentrate on. Combining that with a prior horse who did not have the best canter, it’s a combined block. But, today, after some good sitting trot work I was asked what I wanted to do… and I said canter. And I did, walk canter transitions. 2 of them, one lap each.
Clare got all the cookies for being the schoolmistress I need right now, mentally and physically. So lucky to have connected with her and to be able to learn from her at the end of her career right now.
The sitting trot is not a passive action. You can’t sink into it, you push into it – that rhythm, than down action – it’s percussive, it’s powerful. And weirdly enough, it’s now doable.
But first. Piggles and I had a kind of embarrassing failure of a last outing in June, he planted his feet at X and nearly didn’t move, then we were called off course when we weren’t, and decided that collection just wasn’t happening. Oops. But the judge (David Schmutz) was super kind and encouraging and it wasn’t a total embarrassment (that’s saved for when Radar ducked me off, damn pony!)
Anyway. We had a great August, he was going great. Decided to aim for early September show… and then was told they wouldn’t shorten the court. Got it, that venue is out! In September Piggles got a bit ouchy and life changes meant that he’s now partially retired and enjoying his life at Mar Val.
So, where does that leave me? At a new barn, with a new horse to sponsor and riding with multiple trainers for the first time.
Meet Claire! She’s an aged Morgan x Thoroughbred (my favorites!) and is teaching me so much. It’s not easy, hello anxiety! But she makes it worth it. I’m learning how to take my riding to the next level, pushing myself for more, working on moving instead of being quiet, of asking for more. It’s fun! She probably isn’t consistently sound enough to do any rated showing, but for me that’s okay for now – especially now.
She’s teaching me how to bounce, how to push, how to become more secure.
I’ve always just kind of failed at the breathing thing. I’ve literally failed with all my respiratory stuff. And I’ve figuratively failed at just about every yoga class I’ve tried. The whole concentrating on your breath… I just never got it. My mind wanders, I can’t connect my breath to the movements… I just didn’t do it right.
So I was skeptical when my trainer told me breathing was something that would help me get to the next level in my riding. It was one of those things that sounds great in theory, but it practice… not quite.
A few months ago, we started working on it in my rides… expanding my breath over a few strides, breathing in rhythm with the horse’s feet… generally, just being aware of it. Then we moved to actually doing something with that breath, with moving the horse forward in a rhythm.
I am not the most rhythmical of people or riders… but somehow, this made sense. I get how to use my breath in this way… and it works! Now that I’m actually using some sort of rhythm, the horse goes “oh, I can do that!”
Since we had that breakthrough, I’ve gotten some really good walk and trot work, collected and really moving through his hind end. Because I’m actually breathing correctly, I’m giving my horse better direction.
Poor guy is probably thinking, “finally!” And so am I. Now the trick is to translate that Zen from riding to other parts of life… easier said than done.
Sometimes I question why I had to fall in love with horses, of all things. And really, it doesn’t make sense. I am uncoordinated, sometimes fearful, and a perfectionist… and I choose to sit upon a one thousand pound flight animal and attempt to tell it what to do. Sure.
But then I have a ride like I had today and am reminded why I ride. Pig (the horse) and I started off a bit eh – he wasn’t engaging himself and was throwing his weight on the forehand. And we worked on it.
I activated every muscle I could access to raise hands, sit back, and use my body more effectively. He realized he could in fact bend, collect, and get light on the reins. This approach to riding suits my anal side perfectly. I love piecing it apart and putting it back together to improve. I love messing up but then figuring it out and improving. I love feeling the lightness. I love the intellectual challenge.
This weekend I am going to MedX, a big conference this weekend about tech, social media and health. Super-excited!
They have an espresso bar. Enough said.
Had a great riding lesson today! Big takeaways: horse has four feet (duh), counting one two three four helps so much with getting a good collected walk; sitting trot: lower legs off, seat back, use thigh blocks.
Grateful for the work trainings I’m having, nice that continued education is valued.
12 days until DogFest East Bay!
Sometimes you get to the barn and your horse has a peacock feather left in his forelock from the girl before you and it just makes you happy.
This was really miscellany. Props to anyone who read through this rambling list.
Sometimes you just need a bit of leverage. In riding, in life, in anything.
Today that came in the form of a jointed kimberwicke bit on Mr. Piggles the Morgan. Being a bit on the forehand, he is sometimes tricky to get truly yielding to the bit and light in your hands… actually, he’s usually the opposite of light! The kimberwicke is not dressage-show legal at the lower levels, but using it correctly can give me the feel I need to work on acheiving the same results with a snaffle if I decide to show next year.
The main takeaway from today’s ride (besides the usual – go forward, hands higher) was about my inside and outside reins working together and being complementary… inside to a heave bend, outside to enhance flexion. With the bit of extra oomph from the stronger bit, I could really feel the change and responsiveness.
Best part of the day, besides just being out there and having a good ride, was overhearing the other trainer in the arena complimenting my position… to have someone say I’m straight in the saddle is testament to the hard work of my trainer and I.
We talk a lot about expectations in the disability community – about how they are too low for people with disabilities, about how children with disabilities are unchallenged and under-estimated, about how we need to set higher expectations for everyone.
But sometimes, we underestimate ourselves. Today was one of those days for me. I was convinced my horseback riding lesson was going to be ‘meh’. I was a bit dizzy and tired and was worried I was a bit out of shape since I didn’t ride last week.
That was not the case. For the first time in awhile, I had both strength and timing to keep Piggles (yes, I ride a horse named Pig) straight, forward, and (sort of) light on the bit. We had great balanced transitions and light halts.
Everything just came together. Now there were many factors for this (barre class on Friday? lots of walks? who knows!) but it this reminds me to continue to set both realistic and high expectations for myself.
Sometimes I need that reminder, and this great ride when I didn’t think there would be is a good push in that direction.
Friday I had a great riding lesson on Cowboy, a 20-year-old Paint gelding I’ve ridden on and off for a few years. So happy I have the opportunity to ride him again, he’s in a great mental and physical place and is just content with life right now (yes, I’m anthropomorphizing). After having a dog with me all the time since February, I now unconsciously give the horses dog commands… But then again, my dog now responds to “clucks” so I guess it’s even!
Saturday I gave Cassius the opportunity to play in my aunt’s back yard, and it was great to see him have so much fun! He romped around and played a few minutes of fetch and a bunch of rolling around in the grass. Now that I saw how much he enjoyed that, I will try take him there periodically.
On Sunday, I helped with the CCI booth at Animals on Broadway, a huge dog event at a local shopping mall. It was nice to finally meet a bunch of people (and puppies!) from my chapter, as well as a few other graduates. Cassius did perfectly, I think he enjoys anything that involves meeting other well-behaved dogs and having people tell him he’s a good boy.
Next weekend I’m off to Ashland, Oregon to visit family. Strangely enough, Cassius has actually been there before (without me, obviously). I’m excited for our first non-CCI event, and to have Cassius meet the rest of my family.