dressage, Riding/Horses

No Rhythm…The First Lesson

Gem hides behind Pete to get out of work. Sorry, girlie..but I can still see you…and now I am the hand that feeds you too!

Once we were settled into the new place, I started searching for a trainer who would come to me. I could travel, but that adds time and money and was a last resort if I couldn’t find anyone willing to come to me. Thankfully, I didn’t have to search far before landing on someone who was not only willing, but fully capable of helping us out. Plus she had a great sense of humor and a willingness to think outside the box, both attributes I love.

My new trainer (you guys don’t even know how awesome I feel to even be able to type that sentence. I’ve never had a trainer before!!! Squeee!!) was slated to come over at 4:30 pm Sunday and I planned on getting on Gem a bit early to warm her up. It was a good thing too as I watched Wyatt come running over with his helmet in his hand and big grin on his face, ready to ride. At first he climbed up with me (he can go faster when he rides with mommy), but since I had tacked up with the dressage saddle instead of my endurance one, it took all of 3 minutes before he said “Mommy, something in this saddle is hurting me”.

My favorite view blocked by my favorite head

So, I hopped down and gave him his room. He wanted to trot so badly, so we started off. Gem is great at being trotted on the ground (thanks to endurance) and we went back and forth a number of times helping Wyatt by telling him to sit up tall, grab mane and grab the saddle. He did really well and laughed the entire time.

My loves all in one place

But…this isn’t about that.

Trainer J showed up right smack on time and I clambered aboard Gem. We had the big field to work in and we got right to work. I loved J right away when she told me that she loves dressage because any horse can do it. She didn’t make any snotty comments about me being on an Arabian, or my cheaper saddle and didn’t even mind the fact that I was in a biothane bridle. She just got busy putting us on a 20m circle of death at the walk and really grew in my estimation from there.

We began at the walk and I told her my #1 problem as I saw it: Gem’s answer to any question she doesn’t understand or doesn’t want to do is to go faster. My answer to her going faster is to think of my imminent death and clench with all body parts. You all know how much that helps.

She just laughed and said we would get there.

Shedding season has begun

We didn’t do a whole lot of interesting things. Basically we stayed on that 20m circle at the walk, then the trot, then did spirals in and out, then did figures 8 at the walk and trot. We worked on our horrible halt transitions mixed in there too. While it seemed boring from the outside, I can tell you that I have never worked so hard while riding my horse in my life. I’ve had a few spattering of lessons here and there and always left them feeling like I could have just kept riding forever. Not this time. When she called it quits, I was elated. Everything hurt and I wasn’t sure I could have gone on.

Instead of a blow by blow I’ll break it down into what we did right and what needs some serious work.

Me: “Gem, you are a dressage horse. Gem: “Meh.”

What we did right:

1.) She loved my lower leg position. This is a really big deal for me because I was taught a chair seat when I very first learned english and I have been fighting that tendency ever since. I was so worried going into this lesson, that she would think my position was crap.

2.) She praised Gem’s movement. She said she tracked up beautifully and moved out really well. Once we get going, she thinks we can do quite well at dressage.

3.) She praised us both for a willingness to learn. While I made my fair share of mistakes, I did my best to listen to her and make corrections as I could. Gem was trying her best too as she always does and she could tell Gem had a good mind and was very intelligent.

4.) I look where I am going. She never once had to tell me to look up.

5.) Spirals. Gem did some great lateral steps as we pushed in and out. My right leg is stronger than my left, but we managed to move n and out of the circle easily both direction.

What needs work:

1.) My natural tendency is to throw away my nice position and ride defensively when things begin to unravel even the slightest bit. I’ve fallen off this mare too many times and it just happens naturally. She told me to be really greedy with my posture and not give an inch to Gem. I can ditch steering and pace, but I am to never give up my good posture.

2.) My elbows are as stiff as boards. I need to follow through more and RELAX. Once I was relaxed through my elbows, Gem was much lighter in the bridle and more flexible around the circle.

3.) While my head moves nicely to look where I am going, I keep my upper body perfectly straight and that keeps Gem from bending. I need to swivel my shoulders as well which changes the weight in my seat bones and legs. It was really an awesome feeling when I did this and Gem bent around me so much better.

4.) RHYTHM. We don’t got any. This was the main focus of the entire hour. We would walk then piddle out, then I would put my leg on and she would scoot forward into a trot then it would take me a full circle to get her back to a walk which would last a half a circle until she petered out and then repeat. Gem is very reactive/sensitive and we were working hard on finding the correct balance to keep her even.

Things I learned:

1.) Bend those darn elbows!

2.) Swivel my shoulders as I turn, not just my head. This changed the pressure in my seat as well as slightly changing my leg position relative to each other and allowed Gem to actually bend. Instead of being as J called it ” a large surfboard”.

3.) Quit giving up my posture. I’m not going to die riding at a walk on a 20m circle in my front yard. Quit acting like it. Sit tall and steady no matter what Gem decides to do underneath me. As J put it “make it really uncomfortable/hard for her to do what you don’t walk ie..trot when you want a walk. Don’t reprimand her, but don’t give in to her either”

4.) Ask nicely, but if she blows passed me being nice even when repeated, then make her know I mean business.

5.) Set her up really well by asking her early. if I am going to turn, start a few strides out of the turn instead of running her right into it then asking. This set s up so much better.

Just as pissy after as she was before

I was sooo happy with this lesson. J explained things in a way I could make sense out of it, never once yelled at me, and gave me lots of praise when things went right. I can’t wait to lesson with her again. She works out of a nearby facility too and I may trailer to her every other time or so. That way I have an actual physical space to work in so that my geometry can be worked on. It is really hard to make a 20 m circle in 6 acre field with no boundaries. She is also on board with me doing a dressage show in the summer or fall which gives me something to work towards.



Health and Fitness

Adventures in Fitness: Water Aerobics

We did a spin/cycle class on Tuesday (will write that up too, but this is better so I’m doing this one first) and took Wednesday off. Thursday had a few different options and I wanted to try out the indoor pool, so I sent the following text over to my mom:


That is the type of relationship we have and why I love doing this with her. We end up burning just as many calories laughing as we do with the exercise.

She did end up showing and we walked into the pool area to get ready for some aerobics fun. I already assumed I’d be the youngest one, but as the others filed it it quickly became apparent that my mom and I added together would still be younger by about 5 years. We lined up anyway and got started.

I’d love to say that what followed was an arduous and cardiovascular intense 50 minutes, but um…well…it wasn’t.

I lined up so I was chest deep in the semi warm water and got ready. The instructor stayed outside the water on the deck and shouted her instructions. We stretched. Then stretched some more. And then some more. I was beginning to wonder when the actual aerobics was going to start when my mom informed me that it already had. Oh.

About 35 minutes into it I was getting really cold and we finally added some heavy duty pool noodles for resistance. For some unknown reason, my mom’s noodle kept floating out to the 9ft deep end and she would have to retrieve it. Maybe that is why she tried to drown me at the end.

Anyway…we played around with the noodle for a while and then began our cool down stretch.

I’m not trying to sound snobbish at all here, but this was completely worthless. Even the 80 year old ladies who were attending did more chatting than exercising, but it was better than sitting on my couch eating marshmallows and chocolate so there is that.

No more water classes for me though. I’ll stick to dry land from now on.



Dropping the Ball

Being a full time working mother is hard.

In pre-mom life, I juggled a lot of balls in the air. School, work, the dogs, riding, hiking, the hubby, reading. Everything was fairly well balanced with each ball the same size and weight. No one thing was vitally more important than the next and while it took some shuffling around and a bit of exertion, it really wasn’t that difficult to find a happy balancing point for all.

Then Wyatt was born and it was like someone threw a bowling ball into the mix and told me I had to juggle that one too. Being larger and heavier means I have to devote more time, energy and awareness to it. I handle it by just throwing the others up a little higher, giving me more time to ignore them before having to devote myself to them once again.

In general, it works out ok. This past Tuesday it all came crashing down.

Things were looking to be working out – I had a 6 pm spin class I was really wanting to join and Wyatt had a 6 pm cooking class he had been looking forward to for a week. Dusty blocked off his schedule to get out in time for the start of the cooking class. My mom and dad would pick Wyatt up for me and deliver him to the Y so they could also join the spin class.

All my balls were in perfect sync, flowing through the air in matching arcs.

The cooking class information said to call by 12pm the day of to ensure there would be enough food for all participants. I made a mental note and began my work day. Then work got insanely busy. I was hopping from one exam room to the next, putting out fires, scheduling surgeries, talking about amputations and performing minor procedures. I was 15 medical record notes behind by the time the drug rep came for lunch to have a meeting about a new wound care product on the market: one that can actually be used in the acute wound phase and could potentially be a game changer if it does what it claims to. Heck, even if it does 1/4 of what it claims to.

All thoughts of calling the Y were erased from my mind.

I was all excited, still believing things were all falling into place, when I arrived the YMCA and immediately felt my heart hit the floor: I had forgotten to call. I walked up to the counter and asked if he could still get in. No. Apparently they go grocery shopping at 1 pm the same day to get just enough food for those signed up. As an aside, I also had to pay the $10 in advance which I would have been unable to do on the phone anyway,  but that is besides the point. There was no way they were going to let him in.

I felt terrible as I saw my big old bowling ball came crashing down on the ground. I had messed up and my best little man was going to be heart broken because of it.

He came walking in about 10 minutes later with a huge smile telling me he was all ready for his cooking class. Take a wild guess how well he took the news that Mommy forgot to call and he couldn’t participate.

I wanted to cry.

In the end he probably had even more fun playing basketball with his dad on the court (specially when they lowered the hoop for him) and then running around on the track. But still…I knew I had let him down. Letting your kid down is a terrible feeling. I don’t suggest you try it.

In the grander scheme of things, missing a cooking class isn’t so bad. He was none the worse for it and had his own fun, but still. It just made me realize that my juggling skills aren’t so good after all. Nothing like a big old piece of humble pie to start your week.

Keeping everything running smoothly is hard. Its why I stopped riding many months ago when the horses were so far away and the timing just wasn’t working out. Its why having them home now is such a big deal. I scheduled a riding lesson with a new trainer for Sunday at 4:30pm. At my house. Its going to be amazing. Anything I can do to lighten the load, to even things out. Anything I can do to help keep those balls moving in flawless arcs up above my head.



2017 Reading Challenge

Popsugar Reading Challenge: Book 6

Man, my mom picks way better books than I do. From the word go, I knew I would love this book. It has my two favorite things: historical fiction and following the life of a character from childhood through adulthood.

A Story Within a Story: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. 

Canada in the early 1900s – Grandfather Chase builds a button factory where solid, plain and reliable buttons are made for work clothes. His empire expands to add factories for undergarments and he accumulates a sizable inheritance for his three sons. Unfortunately, WWI hits and two are killed at war leaving the button and undergarment factories to his last remaining heir. He has two daughters and thus enters the protagonist of the novel: Iris, the eldest of the two.

The book is written through the first person narrative of Iris and as such we meet each character through her own biases and relations. From the start we understand that Iris hungers for money, prominence in society and worldly exposure and that drives many of her decisions through her life: both the good and the bad. Iris is elderly and writing her legacy, telling secrets and revealing truths buried deep, while also reflecting on her own motives through the microscope that hindsight affords.

The second story, which fulfills this prompt in the challenge, is a third person narrative of a tryst between two young people. It is obvious from the start that they are hiding the relationship, but their motives and identities are hidden from the reader. It is does expertly too – I was kept guessing who this couple was (well, one person was obvious, but the other not so much) until the very end and could have been convinced it was either of two people readily enough.

As the book progresses, we follow Iris through her childhood and into young adulthood where her true nature comes to light. Eventually the book comes to a close when her narrative catches up to the modern day elderly version of herself and all secrets have been revealed.

This section may have some spoilers, although I will not ruin the ending as it is the payoff for getting through the entire thing. 

The book has its fair share of criticisms and acclaims. The biggest criticism I read was the length of the book. At just shy of 530 pages in my print form, it is a lengthy tome, however I did not find that any part lagged or slowed the pace of the narrative down. Of course, when your favorite book is War and Peace, nothing really feels slow or arduous when it comes to this type of story. I relish in historical fiction and tales of a life gone, while not awry, at least not the way the person had intended.

Any book written in the first person will have skewed versions of characters as you only see them through the eyes of the narrator. It does lead to some hidden motives and unanswered questions, but I thought nearly every character was as well rounded as possible except for perhaps Richard although Iris admits her own faults in not being able to give him a better view. In her life, she could never figure him out and this is reflected in her prose about him.

I was  left with a burning question as to what exactly the book that Laura published was actually about. This novel is introduced early into the book and runs throughout as a character all of its own, but the actual text within is never revealed. There are a lot of theories and I have my own, but it is not clear within the novel itself.

I would highly recommend giving this book a read. it is lengthy and it does jump around between Iris’ present day, her past and the story of the young couple and takes a little time to get used to the format. It is worth it though and I give it a full 5 stars.



The Dry Spell Has Ended

The daffodils are blooming. Ground Hog be damned. Spring is imminent!

Sunday mid afternoon I had a thought. “I want to ride my horse”. Not a wholey atypical thought, but one that has not surfaced since November and even then it was weak.

Why? A host of factors really, but the major one was that following this thought the conversation in my head went thus:

I want to ride my horse. It is an 80 minute round trip. Plus time to tack and untack. And I only ride for like 45-60 minutes. And I have x,y, and z to still do today before the work week starts again. And it is a lot of time away front Wyatt and I don’t like that. Sigh. Really there isn’t enough time now anyway.

So when the thought struck me that I want to ride my horse I paused. Hmmm. All I have to do is walk inside, change and then get Gem. An hour ride will only take me an hour and and a half all said and done. It’s nice out, well minus the 40mph wind gusts, and sunny. Let’s do this!


In a whopping 5 minutes I found myself with lead rope in hand opening the pasture gate. Gem was on the far side of the pasture, but started walking towards me the moment she saw me. She met me half way and then walked happily out to the trailer.

I brushed her out, picked her hooves clean, ran my hands down each leg feeling for any new lumps or swelling, and then wrapped my arms around her neck in a massive hug as I breathed her scent in. Oh how I’ve missed my mare!

I decided on the dressage saddle since I’ve only ridden in it one time since buying it. I need a smaller girth and would love to add a half pad under the square one, but all in due time.

When it came time to bridle her, she shoved her head in with such force, such obvious glee that it surprised me. It appears as though Gem has missed our time riding as much as I have.

Then we walked to the hay field and I climbed aboard.


Right about that same time my brain shut off. I stared off at the huge space we had available and completely froze. I was rigid. Any guesses as to how Gem then acted?

After about 15 minutes of us getting nowhere but more and more nervous and frazzled, my brain decided to function again.

What was it I was working on last summer? Halt transitions! Get Gem focusing on me instead of anywhere and everywhere else.

After about 10 minutes of working on soft and semi immediate (we are a work in progress on this skill) halts using as little hand and as much seat and core as possible, Gem finally lowered her head and     began to blow and chew. A sure sign that her brain has decided to function again as well.

With a more relaxed Gem under me I decided to ask for a slow and steady trot. I got what I expected: a strung out, giraffe style high energy with low impulsion trot. I was okay with it though and used it to work on asking her to come back to me while trying to use less and less intense aids to get there.

When she finally softened and gave me a circle in both directions of a lovely trot with head lowered (not on the bit or anything, we are far from that stage yet but this is still massive progress) and ears on me, I called it a day.

Gem does not do well with a drill sergeant on board and releasing her from work once she answers correctly always pays bigger dividends than ramming it home with repetition.

It was a great first ride at home, a great first ride back after 3 months off, and a kick in my pants to do it more often.



Health and Fitness

Adventures in Fitness – Zumba

In my attempt to find some way to get fit without wanting to die to in the process, I am exploring all the options the YMCA has available. Thus I found myself back there at 6 pm Wednesday fighting both an on coming migraine and terrible cramps. Had I not just signed up and had I not been meeting my mom, I would have just gone home to curl under the covers and pretend the world didn’t exist for the rest of the night.

Instead I stood there and watched the cardio studio begin to fill up. I was briefly hopeful that I would survive the class when the instructor showed up in a knee brace, but that was quickly dashed once the music began to play.

I knew going into it that I wouldn’t know all the moves or look good doing them, so when the first song began to play I was happy to find that I could follow along pretty easily and that I picked up the moves within a try or two. There is a special skill that some people have and that is the ability to have someone tell you an instruction and being able to perform it. I believe most horse people are taught this due to the very nature of lessons. A person stands in the ring and tells you to put your left heel down. So you do. They don’t have to come over and physically do it for you or have to show you. You can take the words and form the action. I was praised in residency for being able to do this in surgery and I attributed this skill to my riding.

Anyway…I digress.

This skill helped me during the class. I could not only follow her lead, but could listen when she shouted out the move and follow suit.

This skill did not help my complete lack of rhythm or my inability to loosen up, ever. As the instructor, a slender and fluid moving lady of hispanic descent, upped the tempo with the next song, I fell farther and farther behind. I could either make my upper body or y lower body move with the music. But not both.

It was laughable really.

I tried my best, but the beat was beyond me. The class was an hour long, but as we went harder my head started spinning and I began to see black dots. I made the smart decision to take a breather and soon realized that my head was pounding harder than the beat and I was light headed and cramping hard.

I made the even smarter decision to call it quits half way through and try again another day. I made it home feeling like I was going to pass out at any moment, ate 5 smores with the hubby and son made over our backyard bonfire of unused pallets, and then hid under the covers until the world stopped spinning.

Zumba will have to be tried again.


Meet Me at the YMCA – Day 1

With running out of the picture, I needed to find a new form of exercise to get and then stay fit and healthy. While I’m not overweight, I am definitely not fit and I want to change that. Unfortunately, my favorite spin place closed up shop and the only other games in town were either downtown or the YMCA. My mom and I enjoy working out together – it adds an element of humor not found when working out alone – and I managed to talk her into touring the Y on Sunday.


It is a nice facility and happens to be only 3 miles from my house. They have a covered pool that is open year round (while not warm and cozy, it is sufficient in the winter while the dome is up), four rooms for class activities, one level of weights, an upper level of cardio equipment, a cardio theater that plays a feature film on a large projector screen while you workout, a gym, a cafe and free child care while you are there. They also offer tons of things Wyatt can participate in plus a free date night out once a month.With everything they offer, it really fits nicely into my busy life schedule.

My mom and I both signed up and the best part was that we got 20% off for doing so and the join fee was waived as well. This brought the price down to only $48 a month for my entire family of 3 and only $32 a month for my mom. No other place in town comes close to matching that in price.

Monday around 4:15 pm my phone goes off as I wait for my last patient to show. It is my mom.

“Be there at 5:40 pm”
“Guts and Glutes at 5:40. Be there.”
“No way I can make that work. I have a procedure to do at 4:30, I don’t have my work out clothes with me so I have to go home and change and then I have to make it all the way to Wyatt, get him and go to the Y. Won’t happen”

After we talked for a bit, my mom decided to pick Wyatt up for me and meet me there. I ended up with just enough time to change and catch up to them as they were entering the building. My mom also talked my sister-in-law into using a day pass to give it a try with us.

Wyatt went into the child center until Dusty arrived and took him to the pool and the rest of us went upstairs to studio #3 where we proceeded to laugh, cry and groan for 30 minutes.

Guts and Glutes – a 30 minute exercise class with dumbbells that focuses on your lower body and abs.

So there we were…we dutifully grabbed our mats, light weights (4 lbs for me) and heavy weights (having no clue what we were going to do I used 5 lbs as my heavy) and looked around the room with anticipation. This was going to be fun! And easy because…you know…it was only 30 minutes long. A good intro to the Y.


We began.

About 3 minutes into the warm up I looked over at my mom and told her I hated her. I was not only warmed up, but also cooled down and ready to call it a day. And we hadn’t even really begun!

The real workout began. Planks. Then twisting planks. Then planks with one leg off the ground. Then planks with one of the heavy weights tucked into the crook of your knee and pulsing that knee towards the ceiling – don’t lose your plank now! – for an endless count of 16, switch legs do it some more.


Then came the squats and lunges. Dozens upon dozens of squats and lunges. With the heavy weights resting on your shoulders. Then point your toes out and widen the stance and squat some more. Legs not shaking enough? Go up on your tip toes and squat. Then stay on those toes and pinch your knees in and pulse. Then go back as far as you can with your knees. Stay on those toes!


Legs shaking in defeat – the three of us looked at each other and began to laugh. The teacher giggled.

Back to the floor! Crunches, sit ups, weights, no weights. Legs off the floor, on the floor…come on…you can do it!


By the time the 30 minutes were up, my legs were shaking, my abs were on fire and I was d-o-n-e.

Good introduction, Mother.

I wasn’t done though. I had to meet the kiddo at the pool. The 80 degree water felt more like ice and Dusty doesn’t handle cold water at all. Probably because he is like 2% body fat. When I entered the dome, Wyatt was practically begging Dusty to get in and Dusty was turning blue and chattering. So I jumped in. And immediately regretted that decision.

Wyatt wanted to jump in and I caught him easily since my arms still functioned. When he wanted to race to the deep end and I found myself having to tread water for 15 minutes as he slowly floated along, I nearly died.

I’m not sure how long we stayed in the ice bowl, but eventually we coaxed Wyatt out, changed and went home. It was a good first day at the YMCA and I am really excited for the future.