Riding/Horses

Cantering…Ugh.

Give me a wide open access road or an inviting single track or even a meadow and you’ll find me cantering down it like a boss. A slight uphill grade on an inviting trail is almost always going to be taken at a canter, hand gallop, or if the stars align and Gem is in the mood, a full blown racing gallop. I love cantering. In fact, Gem prefers to canter at anything above 10 mph and we quite literally cantered about 80% of the first 34 miles at our last endurance ride.

I can canter.

Or so I thought.

Put me in an arena and it all goes to crap extremely quickly. Turns out that while I can canter and my seat is good (light but solid and flowing with the horse) I can’t actually steer for crap. So in an arena where there are actually rails and turns are a must, things start to flail quickly.

Ugh.

Someone fix me, please.

When I rode Ralphie, I thought I was just dealing with some Gemmie PTSD. You see, the mare couldn’t/wouldn’t canter the entire first year I had her. When we moved to WI and had an indoor, I spent the first winter (winter of 2010-2011) focused on her canter. Any time my leg hit her side she would either kick, buck or rear. Not good. I backed off and started on the lunge and taught her word commands. Then I used those same verbal commands under saddle keeping my leg steady. Then I began oh so slightly introducing my leg along with it and by the time spring came we were able to perform a canter transition with a leg aide only without dying.

Except….

Then she would flail around the arena at 100 miles an hour and even wiped out on her side once. I stopped asking to canter indoors.

My next thought was to use jumps. We would trot in and she would pick up a canter on the landing and would typically be pretty steady. I would then let her canter a few strides and bring her back to a trot. That seemed to work better and we settled on that for the rest of spring until I could go out on the trails and work her outside.

Cantering on trails came easily and naturally and we spent the summer eating up the trails. The following winter we were stuck indoors and the cycle repeated although she no longer reacted negatively to my leg aid.

All that to say that I have some serious baggage.

Flash back to the present. With Ralphie, I would ask to canter but then tense up and grab with my hands preparing for some major zoomy flailing that never came. He quickly got angry with me though and trying to get him to canter was a mess.

On Misty, I had zero fear. She was fun and safe, yet I could not get her into a canter for the life of me. I was using so much leg to get her to even trot that when Trainer said to canter, I tried to bring my leg back to ask and she would immediately slow down and all would be lost.

When I finally managed to get the canter, we would make it a few strides and I would lose it back to a trot and have to suffer the humiliation of trying to get my caner back all over again. It seriously took me the entire width of the very large outdoor arena (we worked in one end only) to get her to canter.

Trainer would tell me to sit two trot strides then ask for the canter but I never felt organized enough to do so. I am much better from a rising trot, but she insists on using a few sits to make it work.

Then…if I do manage to get into a canter and maintain it longer than a few strides, I am completely incompetent at guiding my horse anywhere. How do you all do it all day long around a course?

Its frustrating to be so horrible at such a very basic thing that I know I can do in a different setting yet seem to be a sack of half rotting potatoes inside the arena. And I can’t really progress much in terms of jumping anything meaningful until I can at least canter around the arena.

Ugh.

 

 

 

 

 

2017 Reading Challenge

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge Book #13

I was really excited about this prompt. One of my favorite books is A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. I find it hilarious and so very real. When I saw the prompt, I took to the internet and searched “books similar to A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson” and was encouraged when I found an entire forum thread dedicated to this exact question.

Scrolling through the comments, I saw two books come up frequently and went to my library website to find out if they had either. They had one of them and I quickly put in my hold request and texted the selection to my mom.

A book about travel- The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

Eric, a former journalist who has toured the most negative time sand places in the worked during his career, is a self proclaimed unhappy person. His newest project is to research those places on Earth that are considered happy and create his own atlas.

His travel takes him first to the pioneer of happiness research where he spends time reading data banks of information to determine his route of travel. From there he begins by heading first to Switzerland, one of the happiest countries on Earth.

Each chapter of the book is dedicated to a new country where he describes the landscape, culture and what defines happiness in that locale. Eric interviews both locals to the region as well as transplanted Americans to see what they think about being happy.


I really, really wanted to like this book. I just couldn’t. I’m not sure how so many people likened it to Bill Bryson on any level other than the basic “its a book about travel” because the two couldn’t be less similar than if they were of two separate genres. There was no humor, no travel gone awry story.

I did enjoy the look he provided at countries I had not even heard of or knew very ittle about such as Qatar, but once the initial descriptive passages were over the book quickly got burdened down in the writers own…well…I’m not sure exactly how to explain it…cynicism, pessimism. Either way it wasn’t a happy or light hearted book.

My other complaint is how much quoted research he had. Nearly every other sentence was a quoted text from some research and while I understood his attempt to put some science behind his work, it was over done and slowed the narrative down to a halt. It also broke up the text in a way that was displeasing.

Another failed pick on my part, I do not recommend  reading it.

1/5

 

 

 

 

 

 

Riding/Horses

Shrinking it Down – Pony Jumping

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Misty – a New Forest Pony and my jumping partner Wednesday night

 

Trainer J texted me Wednesday that I was to ride Misty. Her description: the fat grey pony with a horse sized head.

I didn’t think much of it until I arrived and wandered the barn aisle looking for a horse that matched this description. It really didn’t dawn on me that she meant an actual pony until I saw her.

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I stood and stared a bit. I’ve never actually ridden a real pony, of pony height, before. She was so short! Where were her legs?

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The ground is so close to me!

She was sweet although a bit cranky that I pulled her away from her hay pile and striped her naked in the 30 degree temps. Misty has shown First Level Dressage, shown up to 2’6″ and gone cross country. She knew more than I did and right now that is what I am looking for, so I was game to hop on up and get to know her.

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The prior lesson was working over a course of this height  it was nearly as tall as my pony

The lesson was once again very basic – we worked on my seat and position a lot, worked on walk and trot without stirrups, sitting trot and then the canter which I am horrible at and need to write an entire post on because ugh. From there we strung together a small course of three cross rails all set to around 2′. It was a fun little course for me because it really made me focus on my weakest point: planning ahead and riding with purpose. It began with a cross rail on a right turn off the rail going across the width of the arena, then make a right turn at the rail and cut back on a diagonal to hit fence #2, after it was a sharp left hand turn back all the way around the arena at the rail and past fence #1 to get to fence #3.

It made me really have to plan my path and helped me keep things in focus. I’ll do my usual what I did well and what I need to improve at the end, but I want to talk first about my first ever ride on a pony. It was really, really different. To begin with, she is a kick ride. Her natural tendency is to stop whenever she can and holy crap did it take so much leg to get her moving at more than a snails pace. I even used a dressage whip. I am so used to my hyper reactive mare, that this was a totally new world for me. She would trot when asked but it was so slow and I had to keep applying more leg to keep her in the trot and the same was true in the canter. My legs were exhausted!

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The other thing I noticed was how quickly her legs turned over and how short her stride was. I was posting at a million miles an hour which on Gem relates to about a 10 mph trot, but on Misty was more like a 4 mph trot. In the canter, it was the same. My seat had to move with her so much more quickly even though we were not going very fast. It was hard work for sure and required me to be much more relaxed so I could keep up with her.

Being so close to the ground gave me a whole new boost of confidence. I got up on her and looked down and thought “huh..the ground is so close that even if I do fall off it won’t hurt so much” and you know what? All my tension was gone. I didn’t fight myself at all with grabby hands. i asked her to go and let her do it. It was amazing! If Trainer J had built a 5′ fence and told me to jump it, I would have. I was not scared one single moment on her. It was a new feeling.

She also was incredibly well trained. All I would do was sit tall, tighten my abs and she would down transition. I learned what a real contact felt like and barely had to squeeze the reins to get her to respond. It was really nice to ride something so well trained. I loved her by the end of it all.

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Cold enough to break out the insulated tall boots for the first time all winter

What I did well:

  1. My position was 1000x better and more stable right from the start.
  2. I actually got a canter transition without pulling on her face and asking her to stop right away
  3. Trainer continues to like my jumping position and I never lost a stirrup or caught Misty in the face over the jumps
  4. My shoulders twisted in the circle and the mare’s body bent around me instead of being a surf board going around the turn
  5. I didn’t mess up my jump course and planned my turns according to our pace.
  6. I had fun!

What needs work:

  1. My right leg goes all rogue on me. The left hangs nicely right where it should, but the right tends to want to toe out which put the zipper of my boot on her side and caused my hip angle to be way too open. Part of it is my own biomechanics. That ankle has had surgery and it doesn’t flex very well. so when I try to sink that heel down it toes out to get more flexion. Sorta cheating my way through it. It stretched out a lot by the end of the hour, so it is possible to fix it. It will just take time.
  2. Cantering is my nemesis. I’m terrible at the transition, great once in it, but then I can’t seem to keep the horse in it. Going to write a whole post on this.
  3. Stamina!
  4. Figuring out a way to keep my leg on for forward momentum yet still be able to use that leg to apply aids. If anyone has any great tips, I’d love t hear them. I was using all I had to just keep the horse moving forward, that I had no way to use my inside leg in the turns to balance her or my outside leg to push her away from the rail.
  5. Keeping contact. Every time Trainer would tell me to shorten my reins, I would then extend my elbows so I had shorter reins but I cheated and kept the contact thrown away because my arms were so long. Oops.

Future Plans

  1. I really want to take Gem up there for a lesson. We discussed possibly doing back to back lessons with one hour on a lesson horse and the second on Gem. She thinks it would be really beneficial to jump on Gem right after and apply the same principles to her. I will be missing a lesson due to travel here shortly, so I am thinking of piggybacking next weekend.
  2. Potentially a fun jumper show in June. They do $10 classes and she said I can use Misty or Ralphie in it to do the 18″ and 2′ classes if I am feeling up to it. She also offered Misty for lead line classes for Wyatt which I am all for. Imagine the pictures!

 

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She lent me this book to help with my seat as well. I’m 1/2 way through it and already have a better grasp at what she has been saying.

 

 

 

2017 Reading Challenge

Popsugar Reading Challenge Book #12

My mom should host a book club. Her picks are the best and this one has topped my list of the favorite I have read in this challenge so far.

A book written by or about someone with a disability – Still Alice by Lisa Genova

At 52 years old, Alice has a great life, solid career and a wonderful, if slightly distant, family. She has tenure as a Pscyhology professor at Harvard and travels the world speaking at conferences. Her husband, John, is cancer researcher on the brink of a breakthrough. Everything is going as planned.

Until the day she gets lost going home and doesn’t recognize anything on a familiar street. Soon after she notices that she can’t remember certain words, has difficulty deciphering her own to do list and forgets to go teach classes. When she forgets to board a plane to head to a major conference, she knows she needs to see someone. She was not prepared for the answer though: early onset Alzheimer’s.

The book follows her progression through the disease. Her family rallies around her, handling it the best they each can in their own way.


I adored this book and cried through most of the second half of it which is very rare for me. Told through Alice’s perspective, you get a sense of the losses she suffers, not only in her memories, but in her independence and her sense of self. It is a powerful book with a powerful message.

There are a lot of questions raised through out this book that make you pause and think. In the early stages, Alice plans her own suicide and leaves her future self a daily test and directions in case she fails her test. She does not want to be a burden to her family in the future as a young, but mentally lost dependent.

She has a genetically dominant form of the disease and has three children, each with a 50% chance of having it. Do they want to know? Would you? Her daughter wants children. Should she continue trying to get pregnant knowing that she may pass this on?

Reading how each of her family members treat her is eye opening as well. Some ignore it and plod on with their own lives without wanting to make any sacrifices because “she won’t remember me anyway”. Others try to do everything for her, taking away what little independence she has left. And too few work with her within her abilities and recognize that she still is a person.

This book is amazing and everyone should read it. I know it is also a major motion picture, but I like books better than movies and will not be watching it for fear it will ruin the experience.

5/5

Riding/Horses

What Can I Say? I’m Not the Monogamous Type Anymore!

Many moons ago I took a few lessons with a crazy lady. Knowing what I do now, I wouldn’t have mounted up with them at all, but hindsight is 20/20 and all that. Anyway…back then I always felt bad for lesson horses. I’d throw my leg over a horse I didn’t know and have to ask it to work and I just had this deep seated feeling of being sorry to do so. Like it wasn’t fair for me to be working a horse who didn’t know me. Plus with a lot of lesson programs, you just never know what the care is like and how many times that horse has already been worked. It is actually what led to me purchasing Gemmie. I didn’t want to ride horses I barely knew – I wanted a relationship.

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Misty –  a new set of ears to look through Wednesday night

Flash forward seven years and my thought process has flipped 180 degrees.

Last night was a jump lesson (more details to come when I have more time to type it all up) and I was riding a new mount. As I groomed and tacked her up I was surprised to notice that I didn’t mind. Its not that I no longer care about the horse or that I want to use a horse as a means to an end, but I think owning Gem has taught me that it isn’t really so bad to ask a horse to do some work for an hour or so even if you don’t have that bond with them. As long as you are fair to the horse, act kindly and don’t ask more than they are capable of giving, it really can be a enjoyable experience for both.

My current situation is really different than any lesson barns I had known before. Maybe times have changed, maybe it is the regional difference of being in the south versus suburban north or maybe I just lucked into something great, but the lesson string of my past is nothing like my current trainer’s set up. The horses I ride are either her personal horses or a boarder’s who doesn’t mind allowing their horse to be used for a lesson from time to time. So these horses are being used judiciously, have a person who loves and cares for them and isn’t just being taken out to go around a ring all day long.

Whatever the reason, I am loving my new found infidelity. Not only am I being pared with horses that allow me to work on new skills and focus on me (you know instead of just trying to tame the beast beneath..umm…looking at you Gemmiecakes), but I am learning what it feels like to ride different horses and what suits me best. Gem will turn 19 this May and while she is in great shape and capable of being tortured by me for years to come, I know that in the nearer future I will be on the look out for a new main squeeze. Getting to ride different types of horses of various personalities and training levels is teaching me what I really want and need.

Being a one horse at a time type of gal and turning 35 soon means that if I get another horse in 3-5 years, it may very well be the last horse I purchase. That means that I want to get exactly what I am looking for.

In short, I am loving getting the chance to ride new things and learn what I want, need and enjoy. Of course, the better I become at my new found discipline of…well, I’m not really sure since I’m just working on beginner basics stuff but something english and arena/course based…what I want and need may change, but for now I am enjoying the variation quit a bit.

 

 

Uncategorized

Enjoying Horses Again

Have you ever been so deeply entrenched in something that you don’t even notice you no longer enjoy it? Or that at least you lost the reason for doing it in the first place and replaced it with this new drive?Have you accomplished your goal and then felt a little deflated because the only reason you were doing this is now gone and you have no clue what to do next?

That has been me the last 10 months.

I started endurance because Gem hated everything else I tried with her. She excelled in it and was happier at rides than I had ever seen her, so I kept going and put in the sometimes awful conditioning time because it was needed in order to compete successfully. Some days out on trail were magical and some were so terrible I questioned my sanity for continuing on.

There was always some future goal to achieve throughout all this madness: completing a 25 mile ride, then a 50, then a 100. With each step up, I had to become more focused, more strict with the miles we rode, the pace and the terrain. Every ride was pre scheduled and my GPS was glued to my wrist. I never went more than a mile without checking in on our pace and distance. It was a necessity if I was going to get her conditioned enough to do the 100 with the limited trail time I had available.

It all paid off too. We got our completion on a respectable course in a respectable time, neither chasing the clock nor rushing and causing harm. Gem had all As all day and looked just as fabulous 18 hours after the start as she had the night before it. I was proud of all the work that I put into getting a horse nobody thought could even go a mile safely on trail through it and I was proud of my mare for never giving up.

After the initial high of the completion, I felt empty. I took the entire summer off then halfheartedly prepared for the Ride and Tie Championships and then promptly took the entire fall off. I thought perhaps it was a lack of a goal that was leaving me wavering on my rides, but every time I looked over the AERC schedule for 2017, I felt nothing. No excitement at picking out a ride. No nervousness. Just a little bit of dread of all the time away, the money spent and the long hours in the saddle fighting a horse who thinks conditioning is a waste of her time and why not just use competitions as her training instead? (Because, Mare, I can’t afford to do that)

I didn’t even renew my AERC membership yet for this season. I haven’t chosen a ride. I haven’t made conditioning plans. I haven’t done anything towards getting a 2017 completion at all. When I rode last weekend, my friend asked what I was planning and I just looked at her. I wasn’t planning anything. She was shocked. I’ve always had a plan. Always another ride to work towards, a schedule of how many miles over what terrain and at what pace on each day available to me to ride.

And you know what? Right now I am having more fun and have been happier while thinking about, during and after a ride than I have been in years.

I’ve been on Gem, on Ralphie and on Pete.

I’ve been on trail without my GPS or a plan.

I’ve been taking dressage lessons on my beloved mare.

I’ve been taking jumping lessons on a new to me gelding.

I’ve been on Pete watching Gem teach the love of the trail to a beginner.

I’ve been carefree, learning and exploring all the different facets of riding and I have been basking in the glory of it along the way.

It really hit home this past Wednesday. I had a jump lesson scheduled that got postponed a week and I was shocked to realize that a) I had been feeling like a kid on Christmas morning all day waiting for the lesson and b) I was really disappointed it would have to wait. I haven’t had either of those feelings in a long time.

I love Gem, all she has taught me and all we have done together. She isn’t going anywhere and is still my main mount, but I am also really really enjoying riding Ralphie and Pete and having absolutely no set in stone goals or plans at the moment. I may make a 50 mile ride happen this year or I may not. It doesn’t actually even matter to me.

What matters right now is how much fun I am having doing a hobby that is pure indulgence. If I’m not having fun, what’s the point? I already don’t have fun 50 hours a week at work plus another several hours a week cooking and cleaning and doing laundry, running errands and grocery shopping. I darn well better be having fun on my horse and for the first time in a long time I am.

I am having a blast and I intend to not stop again.

 

2017 Reading Challenge

Popsugar Reading Challenge Book #11

For this prompt, I had to do several stages of research. For starters, I had to look up a list of all book genres then pick one I don’t typically read. From there I needed to find a best seller and a list of the top 30 of all time came up online. Then it was finding which one was available in multiple copies at the library. Phew!

A book from a genre you don’t typically read – Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Coraline is a young girl who recently moved into a flat in a big house. Her parents work from home and it is nearing the end of her summer break from school. She is lonely most of time, having to entertain herself while her parents work. Most of her time is spent exploring the new house and grounds.

One day she opens a door in her sitting room that supposedly was bricked over to create separate flats in the mansion. Instead of bricks, she finds a dark and musty corridor leading to another world.

A darker version of the well known Alice in Wonderland story then commences as Coraline tries to return to the real world.


The genre I chose was horror and I don’t believe I have ever read a horror novel outside of Frankenstein in college. When I saw Neil Gaiman, I was excited. One of my favorite books is Good Omens co authored by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett and I own most of the Disc World series by Pratchett. This was my chance to read a Gaiman novel within the challenge.

Unfortunately, this is a YA novel and I’ve already written about my feelings on those. This was no different and left me wishing the same topic had been written for a more mature audience. I did read a passage to my son and it scared him, so for the intended audience I would say it does the job.

The book was highly entertaining though, kept my attention and I kept reading past my bedtime to see what would happen. All excellent things in a novel. The characters were a bit bland and the theme was too similar to Alice in Wonderland, but it was a quick two sitting read and enjoyable enough.

3.5/5