Nighttime Riding

Today I went for my first night-time ride.  When I started, the sun was just setting and it was so pretty.  I wish I had brought my phone out to the arena so I could have taken a picture.  Sox and I were the only two riding as the other two ladies out tonight were untacking when I was pulling in.  They hung around the barn and my trainer showed up too so I wasn’t completely alone out there.  We didn’t do much.  Sox was a little “look-y” today – and normally he’s not like that, so it was weirding me out a little, then someone nearby was setting off fireworks which combined with the look-y-ness, made me a little hesitant.  Which stinks because we started out strong and ended in a fizzle.  Oh well.  Usually it’s the other way around!

Yesterday I had a lesson with my friend for the first time in many months.  It was kind of a nice ego boost to hear her say so many times how much I’ve improved on this or that.  She was especially impressed with my progress in my sitting trot – so YAY for that!!  Sitting trot is, in my opinion, one of the harder things to master.  Not because it is especially complicated, but precisely because it isn’t.  I know exactly what I am supposed to do.  Getting my body to actually do it is a whole other process.  That’s what makes it so hard for me.  I can’t figure out how to make my body do what I’m telling it to do.  And I know that nothing but time in the saddle working on it will actually make it work.

Anyway, it was a good lesson overall.  She was probably just covering all the basics (it felt like we did a tiny bit of all the things) to see where I am since we haven’t worked together in a while and she’s taking over for my trainer while she’s out on maternity leave.  We worked out a deal too – I will be her groom on Tuesdays and I get a lesson on Wednesdays for free.  Yay.  Well, only for another month or so since my lease ends when I go back to work in the middle of August.  😦  I can’t believe it’s almost over.  Normally, my trainer rides these horses, or tacks/untacks the horses so my friend can ride them (these horse are on training board) so my assistance isn’t needed, but for right now, I can help out, which is cool.  I get to interact with the horses in a different way (other than feeding them treats when I am at the barn) and I’m learning a bit too by watching her ride these horses.  Since we are friends, I don’t feel like I am imposing when I ask a ton of questions.  Plus it is fun to just shoot the shit with her and not have to worry about Sox or anything.

Well, happy riding!  😉  Going back tomorrow morning for some more!

 

Happy 4th of July!

Happy 4th!  I hope your holiday weekend is off to a good start!  My son and I started our weekend off with a little horseback riding.  He hasn’t ridden since April, but told me yesterday that he would like to, so I had him squeeze into his old boots, grab his helmut and hop on Sox.  I handwalked them around the arena a few times.  My son very much enjoyed it.  He said that maybe when it’s not so hot out, he may start riding lessons again.  We’ll see, lol. 

I used Sox’s walk around the arena as his warm up and got right to work when I got on.  I was trying out a pair of gloves today since I keep getting a blister on my left ring finger.  They felt super awkward.  Luckily, the rest of me didn’t feel awkward up there so I was able to adjust.  They weren’t great and I did end up taking them off for the last little bit of my ride.

For once I wasn’t feeling all over the place for my ride.  I mean, sure, there was plenty I could have been doing better, but I was doing better than normal for me, and the best that I could at the time.  I was able to pick up a nice forward trot after a little fuss from Sox.  I could feel the difference in my legs when they weren’t correct – I was doing much better at keeping the bend in my knee (and my elbows) and posting with my hips rather than trying to stand up in the stirrups.  Tuesday I couldn’t stop perching and standing on my toes in the stirrups, but my Wednesday lesson must have fixed that because I wasn’t doing that today.  Thank goodness.

I went over the trot pole exercise we did at the last two lessons and he was really good for it after the first pass where he stopped in the middle of the poles.  Last week he cantered through them, today he halts.  C’mon Sox, lol.  We picked it up and got it going right and I think I may have even dropped into a mostly correct two-point for at least half the passes we made today.  I was also paying a lot more attention to where we were in relation to the rail or our path around things today, as Sox has a tendency to fall to the inside if I am not on top of things.  We stayed to the outside for our whole ride today! Yay!!  Granted, our ride wasn’t super long, but hey – I’ll take all the victories I can get. 

I worked on a little itty bit of sitting trot today.  It was ok, but I kept letting that leg creep up and I’d end up pointing my toes…I don’t know where that reaction came from, but I kept finding my foot ALL the way in the stirrup, all the way to the heel of my boot.  Not ok.  So I spent a lot of my time trying to fix that while sitting the trot.  I probably should have just dropped the stirrups, but I can’t tell that I am moving my legs without the stirrups as well when I don’t have eyes on the ground to tell me. 

I did a tiny bit of canter work today as well.  Sox didn’t want to pick up a good canter today to start with.  I’m sure my aids were wonky and I was unbalanced or something, but regardless, he ran out the first few times so I brought him back down to a trot, which he tried to turn into a halt, and we tried again.  Then when he finally did start cantering, it was very choppy and not flow-y at all.  He did it like that the first couple times in each direction, but on about the third try we got it together.  I am sticking to cantering the straightaways and trotting the corners until I am better at telling whether I am on the correct lead by myself.  I’ll get there.  I can usually tell, but not everytime.  So the canter work was alright today as well.

Sox got a good hosing down and I washed his face & mane.  He got a bucket of watered down gatorade too, which he loves.  He was actually good again about me washing his face.  I think we’ve figured out how to do it without setting him off.  He even gave me a few snorts while I rubbed/massaged his neck.  He had a nasty welt on his neck (probably a bug bite), but after a good washing and then some spray, it looked a lot better, but he was sensitive about me touching it.  I let him graze a good long while after and he seemed quite content by the time I put him in his stall.

I decided Lily needed some loves today, so I took her out to groom and realized that she really just needs a bath.  So, I gave her one.  She is so spooky – today she spooked twice at the wash area.  Once she dropped her butt and her back legs looked ready to just take off, and that time startled me pretty good too, but I was able to calm her down both times.  We went in so I could spray her feet and comb her mane, and she kept trying to spook in the barn too, so I quickly finished up, calmed her down and put her back in her stall.  She got a great bath though and looks SOOO much better all clean.  🙂 

Well, we are off to our friend’s pool where we are going to hang out for a few hours before heading to the baseball game.  There’s fireworks after the game tonight so that ought to be fun!

Happy 4th (again) and happy riding!!

Riding before the Storm

Tropical Storm Arthur made his presence known today, but luckily it was after my ride.  I was in the middle of grazing Sox when the sky opened up again so we hung out in the rain a bit, but it was just rain, no lightning or heavy winds.  Today was supposed to be my last lesson with my trainer before she has her baby, but she decided to work next week too, so we have one more lesson together until sometime after the little baby is born.  She wants our last lesson to be a jumping lesson, so that is something to look forward to.

Today’s lesson was GREAT.  (Last week’s lesson was pretty great too, so maybe the pattern will hold through next week!)  My canter actually felt like it is starting to come together.  I couldn’t believe it.  It’s far from perfect, but certainly getting better.  I don’t know why I am having such a hard time with this stupid gait, but I really am moving much slower in my progress in this area than I “should” be.  Of course, “shoulds” don’t really matter.  I was able to do a few smaller laps, not quite a 20 meter circle, but I circled about 1/3 the arena today, and then continued on around the whole arena.  Sox slowed down and thought about stopping a few times, but I was able to put some leg on and keep him going.  I was also able to keep him out at the rail for the most part too!  WoOt!  🙂

We did some figure 8’s over some trot poles before we finished up with the cantering.  Sox kept trying to rush over the poles, and when I rode him yesterday, he broke out in a canter half the times we went over them, so we walked on my half-halt today.  I need to learn how to steady him, how to slow him down and how to not death-grip when he doesn’t necessarily listen to me.  It went pretty well.  He definitely keeps me on my toes by pushing the boundaries in a “nice” way.  For example, when I am coming back down from a trot to a walk to reorganize myself, he will stretch his neck down low and pull the reins from me, or drop to the inside of the circle big time as soon as I am not actively doing something.  Which is totally normal behavior, but it’s more of a recent thing with me and Sox.  My trainer said that Sox is a good teacher because he seems to know when someone is really, really new and is very well behaved for them.  But as he decides that his humans know what their doing, he expects more of them and will keep testing them to make sure they are using everything they have learned.  So keep those legs on to keep Sox at the rail and don’t throw the reins away just because you need to reorganize yourself… Got it.

I know I have mentioned that Sox isn’t the most affectionate before, and that hasn’t changed or anything.  🙂  But, he has been showing me more of his style of affection.  He will rub his head on me when I get him from the paddock and when I am done riding him.  Just 1-2 rubs, and most likely because his forehead is itchy, but he doesn’t use just anyone to itch himself on, so that’s cool.  Also, he gives me little mini nickers.  Sometimes when we are walking around the property when we cool down, sometimes when I am grooming him.  Today he was giving me the nickers when I shared my gatorade with him at the wash racks.  I have to wash his forehead and mane with a special shampoo and usually it’s a fight, but today, I started out with just petting him and was able to keep him calm, and even almost happy the whole time I washed his face.  Rinsing went almost as well too.  I love taking care of him, but I hate stressing him out, and washing his face has been stressful in the past, so it was really nice to have today’s bath go so well.  After, I took him inside and dried him off really well, sprayed his hooves and doused him in fly spray.  Then we decided to brave the rain and go grazing.  Sox didn’t seem to notice that it was a little wet out.  He probably only noticed that for once, it was not 100 degrees out!

I’ve attached a picture of Sox from earlier this year.  He just keeps growing on me, I really do love this guy.

 

 

Sox from January.  The camera didn't bother him as bad this time.

Sox from January. The camera didn’t bother him as bad this time.

Thursday lesson – Canter!

I had a lesson today and the focus was cantering.  Before we cantered though, we started out working in trot.  I practiced circles again today.  Then we set up a trot pole between two sets of standards on either “side” of the circle so I could practice two-point over those, while maintaining my circle.  I also did some sitting trot in the same circle (minus the trot poles).  My circles are getting better, but slowly.  My sitting trot has improved dramatically, but I know I am still a long way from being able to say I can do it well.

I am getting better at keeping my legs still though, which is a relief.  I hate when I know I am doing something I shouldn’t be, but I can’t get my body to listen to me and stop doing whatever it is doing wrong.  The longer I ride, the better body awareness I develop, so I know it will come with time.  I can at least recognize when I am doing something wrong now, but I can’t always figure out exactly what I am doing wrong, or if I can figure out what’s not right, I have trouble fixing it.

When we got to the canter work, I was doing a pretty good job of keep my legs long and my heels down.  I have to work on keeping my sternum pointed up and out though, or I end sort of hunching over.  The work we did prior to the canter work helped me get my thighs to relax.  When we started today, I was so tense in my thighs!  It showed up a few times in the canter but I could tell what was causing me to lose my position and generally was able to fix it, as long as it was my legs messing up.  When I drop my chest, i then drop one or both of my shoulders, which then causes me to round my back, I have trouble recognizing that I am even doing it, and then I have trouble straightening back out without getting out of rhythm with the horse.

I cantered in two-point again today.  It’s been ages since I did that and man, I was having trouble with it.  I kept trying to stand up out of the saddle, rather than just letting my hips bend.  When I got to standing, then I would lock everything up in my legs, which of course makes the ride unbalanced and un-fun.  I think I have an image in my head of what it’s supposed to look like when someone canters in two-point, and I don’t feel like my body is doing what I am picturing, so I try and compensate and end up doing it all wrong.  I don’t mean to go with the picture in my head, but I am pretty sure that’s what is happening.  I am realllllly short (4’11) so when I post or two-point, I am naturally not going to be able to look like I go as “high” as other people do.  I also need to just listen to what my trainer says and if she says I am correct, then I need to get that picture in my head.  Which is what I am working on doing.

I am going riding on Sunday again, no trainer, just me and Sox.  And who ever else happens to be at the barn on Sunday.  I know what I am working on.  Lots of canter: sitting canter and two-point canter.  My trainer and I were talking about homework between lessons today, and she said that she wants my summer lease to provide me with at least one thing:  confidence at the canter (I assume this also includes some improvement as well).  When we first started cantering, I was awful.  I was scared I would fall – which I eventually did – at the canter.  Falling off was probably the best thing for my canter though.  I was able to learn that falling is not the end of the world as I had pictured it.  Even though I knew, in theory, that it wouldn’t be the end of the world, my nerves always got the best of me.

After the fall, I was able to experience that everything was fine.  I relaxed so much more.  I still got a little antsy at first, and it felt like it would take forever to learn to do it right…and steering was just impossible for me.  So I cantered the long side of the arena and then would stop, then repeat.  I now try to go around the ring as many times as I can, but I believe 2.5 laps is the most I have been able to do so far.

I still get a little nervous over certain things.  There are moments when I am absolutely convinced that the horse will trip or slip or stumble and then we will both fall down and I will die.  Well, maybe not die, but definitely something bad.  If it’s not a gentle corner, I am sure it’s too sharp of a turn and something bad will happen.  Part of that is because when I was learning, my arms sucked.  They were everywhere and once I yanked on him at the right moment and I did cause Sox to trip going into a corner while cantering.  He didn’t fall, but it was a good stumble – enough that my trainer said she was worried for a second.  I know that, in theory, the horse has less of a chance of falling after a stumble than a 2-legged creature does simply because they usually still have 3 other legs to keep them up.  But that doesn’t make me less nervous.  So, currently I ride the canter around the entirety of the arena.  I have cantered twice in the smaller dressage ring and it was nerve-racking for me.

All that being said, my goals for Sunday are:

  • canter, canter, canter
  • canter in two-point without standing, but use my hips and let them open/close as needed
  • Sit the canter without hunching over
  • canter a different shape than the whole arena.  Maybe half the arena.  Make some turns.
  • Canter-trot transitions, not canter-try to trot but end up in walk-transitions.

Experiences so far & my Goals

So far, I’ve been riding a little over a year and a half, roughly 1 lesson a week.  It’s a slow process when you only ride once a week, but I’ll take it!  Discovering horses has been so amazing for me and I am so very happy I finally found something I can really be passionate about and totally not care that I am geeking out over like a little girl.  My husband isn’t too fond of it all, especially considering the fact that horses were not part of the package when we started dating!   He’s not into horses, doesn’t want to be into horses and would rather I was into pretty much anything else.  Oh well.  I love it.  And I love the horse I get to lease in a few weeks, Sox.

Sox is actually a pony – he stands at exactly 14.2hh.  He is going to be 20 this year, but as my trainer says, he’s built like a tank and shows no signs of slowing down whatsoever.  He is healthy as a….horse (sorry, couldn’t help myself) and loves to work.  He’s not a super affectionate guy, in fact he isn’t affectionate hardly at all, but he lets you know if you make him happy or piss him off.  He especially loves to canter, go over trot polls, and jump.  He used to do cross-country in his younger years but has been a great lesson pony for us small adults and kids for at least several years now.  He’s been around the block, seen it all, and in general, is really laid back.  He’s perfect for a beginner like me.  He’s an all around horse and can do a little bit of everything, which is good because that’s what my training entails.  I don’t have any aspirations of showing or eventing, just riding.

This is Sox (on the right) and Dexter (on the left).  Sox is very unsure about the large camera I am holding up to my face.

This is Sox (on the right) and Dexter (on the left). Sox is very unsure about the large camera I am holding up to my face.

So back to what I came here to talk about – what I have done so far.  I can walk-trot-canter ok.  Not terrible, definitely not great, but just ok.  My canter needs a lot of work still.  I have jumped at three of my lessons – a couple 6 inch cavallettis, an 18 inch vertical single jump and then a double one (my trainer said it was the very beginnings of a little gymnastics!).  No hurries on all that fancy stuff though.  My sitting trot still needs more sitting and less bouncing.  My right leg doesn’t perform as well as my left leg, while my left shoulder doesn’t stay where it is supposed to as well as my right shoulder does.  My back and core are not as strong as I need them to be but we are slowly getting there.

Part of the reason I am leasing Sox this summer is so I can not only get to ride more, but also use riding to get stronger and in better shape.  Some of my goals for this summer include:

  • Improving my sitting trot
  • Improving my canter (sitting the canter specifically)
  • Learning to maintain the same speed of gaits (keep Sox going, especially around those corners) and
  • Not cutting the corners when going around the arena – use that inside leg!
  • Learning what a circle should feel like (20m circle)
  • Keeping my back straight and tall (I always feel like I am leaning back when I am simply sitting tall)
  • Building strength in my core so I can engage it better during my ride
  • Work on transitions (I am not worried about making them look great, I just need them to function better for now)
  • Breathing – I want to be aware of my breath while riding, keeping it calm and relaxed and not holding it
  • Building my confidence in general on horseback.  (off the horse, I am pretty confident)
  • Learn more about horses in general- their care, their health, their nutrition, how to lunge, etc.  My friend has already agreed to a few “lecture” sessions.  🙂

I am also excited to see what I do when I don’t have my instructor telling me what to do on the horse.  Probably the first few times, I will waste a bunch of time just putzing around the arena, but that’s ok.  I’ll get the hang of it eventually.  I have a few ideas and I won’t be technically alone as I plan to always ride when others are at the barn – particularly my friend who also happens to be a trainer (free lessons anyone?)!  My friend is very awesome about making me just get it done – so if she sees me using her as a crutch, she will nip that right in the butt.  I am so looking forward to this lease and my time off.  I am totally nervous, but it’s the positive, good kind of nervous.  Hopefully, the same kind of nervous that propels me into getting things done.