Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Seeing Into the Future

All of my usual classmates were away this week, so LA combined a make-up lesson with mine. The other 3 riders are much more experienced than I, as they have all competed in some level of reining or games. There were two adults and one of the Young Ladies. It was a nice change. The atmosphere was a little different, perhaps a little more, more focused. I was not intimidated by my classmates; I know all of them quite well and have adult beverages with one of them quite regularly after riding.

My lesson was....well... awesome! We had a few moments where Gem was resisting my leg cues a bit and bending in rather than out as we went around the arena, but other than that he was pretty attentive and consistent. He did have a big trip once when we were warming up - yes, sometimes he forgets what he's doing or how big his feet are. :-) After our usual warm up, we managed to get a good posting trot going and for very, very brief periods of time, he actually extended his legs a bit! :-)

LA changed the routine up a bit. Instead of loping towards the end of the lesson, she decided to get the loping in at the beginning, right after the walk/trot warm up. We each took a turn loping large. I was second up and for some strange reason, I was not apprehensive. I calmly positioned myself on Gem, inside leg on girth and outside leg slightly back from girth and squeezed. He loped from stand still, on the correct lead! Everyone yelled Yay!! We actually transitioned from a stand still to a lope not once, not twice but three times! LA applauded me - twice! There was one occasion where I was on the wrong lead - sit, sit, squeeze - and we continued on the correct one. As I was standing next to the young lady waiting for my next turn, she said "Wow, you are doing really well!" I am sure my face was beaming.

Because I was loping so consistently, LA instructed all us to lope around at the same time. Lope with everyone? the same time??!! What??!! I didn't even blink an eye!! We gave each other plenty of room and off we went. Gem's stride is much bigger than his quarter horse classmates, so I would catch up to the person in front of me quite quickly. Sometimes I would cut across the arena and find a new spot or sometimes I would trot off the rail and then jump in again.

I wasn't my usual nervous nelly self last night when it came to loping. I believe my hands were "quieter" and I wasn't doing my usual impersonation of a bird flapping its wings (not be be confused with Killing the Birds). When Gem was rounding the corners, I could tell I was more balanced and had more control of my legs and feet. LA did point out that I was still tending to lean forward, causing my butt to lift up. I need to practice "sitting on my pockets".

After loping, LA set up some poles and we did circles around them first at a walk and then at a trot. Gem's flexibility has really improved thanks to LA riding him once a week and I was quite impressed at how close he was to the pole when he was bending at a walk. Trotting around the poles still needs work. :-)

It was such a relaxed, yet productive, session last night. Do you think that Gem picked up on the other horses' level of training?? After all, they weren't the usual school horses. Do you think that he felt their competitiveness and that pushed him to perform better? Perhaps Gem was feeling spunky because my riding ensemble matched his saddle blanket. ;-) I don't know what the heck was going on last night, but I felt great! I am starting to have a better idea of what Gem is capable of and I caught a little glimpse last night of how our future could be..... I am excited!!!!

One big difference comparing last night's lesson to my usual - it was quieter. My usual classmates and I tend to get chatty, particularly while we are waiting our turn. Last night, except for LA's instructions and cheers of encouragement, there wasn't much chatting going on. So perhaps the biggest lesson learned last night for me was to keep my head in the horse space; watch what's being presented in front of you and not what's being talked about beside you. Focus on what's being, there's a novel idea! ;-)

What was I thinking....?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Backing up an 18-Wheeler

I wasn't able to ride on Friday after work. My birthday month celebrations continue and on Friday vodka sodas and girlfriends beckoned. What the heck - my birthday only happens once a year! :-)

I had a good ride yesterday, though. It wasn't very busy at the stables; everyone was at the last big show for the season. He was still in his stall when I arrived, so he was a little antsy. He soon settled down when I started grooming him. I could absolutely tell from his demeanour that it was going to be a good ride. I love that we are connecting in this way.

Sundays are usually pretty good for us. It is the only ride where I am not rushing from work, so I am stress- free when I arrive to see my guy. In addition, I had visitors watching me ride. A girlfriend and her 11-year old daughter came to visit the stables. Gem likes an audience and he actually likes kids. Perhaps they put out some sort of pheromone that tells him that they are not a threat or perhaps it's their size. I don't know, but I am glad that he's gentle with them.

Another boarder was riding her mare at a walk and slow trot when we arrived at the arena. Her horse had an injury that required stall rest for the past 4 months and is now getting back into the swing of things. Unfortunately, the mare doesn't like other horses around her, so we were relegated to the inside portion of the arena, while the other boarder rode large. That was OK, but I couldn't give Gem as much of a work out as I had planned. However, we still had a splendid ride. He felt light on his feet, supple, responsive and balanced. It was a very smooth ride. We worked on leg yielding exercises at a walk and a trot, backing up and some 90 degree turns. I did transition from a jog to a lope a couple of times (yay, me!), but couldn't practice going around the arena because of the other rider. It seemed everything I asked of him, he did. Gem was terrific.

After I rode, I allowed my friend's daughter to climb up on Gem's back (yes, she had a helmet on!!) and I hand walked her around the arena for 10 minutes. She was thrilled to be "riding" and Gem couldn't have been more patient. I just love him. This picture was taken by my friend at the beginning of my ride....yes, that is a piece of hay sticking out of his mouth....he can't resist taking a swipe at the bales when we do our walk around! :-)

Since the beginning of the year, I have been working on verbal commands with Gem. At my age, I think that it is important that he know verbal commands, so that I have a back up plan just in case there are times when I need to reinforce my cues because of lack of physical strength on my part. Some may think I am being lazy, but in my mind I am being prepared for when I get older. He already knows walk, trot, canter, whoa and easy. In addition, we have been working on back, come, wait, over, NO and hup!

I am going to review "back" in this post because he was really showing off his moves on Sunday. :-) After a rough start late last winter (head tossing, stamping his front feet), Gem has mastered "back", both when I am on him and when I'm on the ground! Initially, I was nervous about this maneuver. It is showing submission when a horse backs up and Gem did not want to back up. Others at the stables are quite aggressive with their legs and reins when it comes to backing their horses up and I was quite intimidated. But, I determined a level of asking that I was comfortable with and Gem responded to it.

When I am in the saddle, I have contact with the reins, move my legs in front of the girth and apply a little pressure and then softly say "back" and he backs up! I keep saying "back" to keep up the momentum while still maintaining some leg pressure and if I need to straighten him, I apply very slight tension on the rein of the side that I want him to step back. This is quite a breakthrough because I think it shows that Gem is not only listening to me, but he also trusts me enough to agree to move in a direction where he can't see. We are up to about 10 straight steps!! I suspect that he looks good when he's doing this; he drops his chin closer to his chest which rounds out his neck. :-) When I am on the ground, all I have to do is turn and face the opposite direction next to his shoulder and start walking, saying "back" until it's time to say "whoa". No fuss, no pulling, no yanking. When he is in his stall, I ask him to "back" and he will move away from the door when I open it and will "wait" until I ask him to "walk on".

Yesterday, I had to move some upright poles set up in the arena. I had Gem walk right up beside them, and then I verbally asked him to back up a little - I didn't cue with my legs because I needed to maintain my balance in the saddle to be able to pick up the pole - and then asked Gem to walk on while I was carrying it. Using this technique, we were able to move three poles to different locations. I was amazed that he knew that I wanted little steps when he was backing up next to the pole. How is that possible??? I was also amazed that he had no issue with me carrying a 5-foot pole beside him. In addition, we were working together, in sync!! Wow! He got lots of praise, of course.

It wasn't a strenuous ride yesterday, but it was a good ride, one that left me elated and smiling. I would compare it to finding a gorgeous pair of shoes on sale or perhaps being given something sparkly...No, you know what??? That feeling doesn't even come close to the kind of delight and satisfaction I felt on Sunday, how times have changed!!.... :-)

What was I thinking....?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Gem, get over yourself....

First, I want to thank my blogger friends for their suggestions regarding my current mounting block issues with Gem. I only see Gem 2-3 times a week, so it may take longer to correct this problem. The couple of days in between sessions seems to erase his memory banks and we have to start again. :-) I am trying a combo of the suggestions that you guys provided and will let you know what finally works.

Well, the weather is changing. I actually like Fall the best out of all the seasons when it comes to riding. It's still warmish and dry, fewer bugs and the colours are amazing. Of course a change in season means a change in riding fashion! I love being able to layer clothing to accommodate the weather. In the summer, all you can do is melt into your t-shirt, and believe me when I say that the wet t-shirt look is not a good one for me. :-)

With the change in seasons, comes a change in attitude. I find that Gem is a little more energized. The stifling heat that we had here during the previous few months seemed to zap the energy of every living thing. Now that it's cooler, Gem is revitalized and frankly, so am I.

LA is still riding Gem once a week and I think I will continue with this. He gets a decent workout with her, which he doesn't get from me...yet. :-) She does not ride him on one particular day; it's whenever her schedule allows during the week. LA has been concentrating on laterals to help with his flexibility and working at having him release the bit instead of pulling on it. I have noticed a big difference these two areas; he is much more responsive to my leg and he is better at softening on the bit (not sure if that's the right terminology!) when I ask. He continues to bend inside rather than outside when going around the paddock, but it's not as frequent. He now gets a nice foam around his lips when we are working.

Two areas that I still have problems with are the extended trot and loping. I just can't get him into an extended trot when I ask. I can only apply leg pressure and kiss the air for so long! It's like he knows that if he just holds out a little longer, I will collapse...which I do. I know he can do it because regularly we end up doing an extended trot (which apparently looks quite beautiful!) when I am trying to get him to lope! Good grief.

LA has mentioned that she still has to push him to lope. It seems that he just doesn't like loping. Well, let me clarify; he doesn't like loping when someone is ON him. I have a goal of being able to lope around the arena twice, balanced and with my butt in the saddle. May not sound like much to most of you experienced riders, but it's a big deal to me. :-) I will be practicing loping over the next while, so Gem will just have to deal with it.

I actually can tell when LA has ridden Gem by his attitude towards me. If she has ridden Gem the day before I see him, he is pushy with me. It's like he takes out his grumpiness from being made to work by LA out on me! He doesn't come when I call him, he's mouthy, he shakes his head in the cross-ties, he pulls his feet away from me when I am cleaning them and there's a lot of tail swishing going on. What the heck??? I worked yesterday! This is torture! Leave me alone! If LA has not ridden him the day before I see him, he's a pussy cat. He comes to me, he stands quietly, he leans into my hand when I scratch is neck and ears, he almost starts to doze off in the cross-ties and when we are riding, he's almost lighter (it's hard to explain).

I think part of his snarky attitude could be that he is a little sore from his workout with LA. I know she is tougher on him than I am. LA makes him work and doesn't take any of his crap. LA reminds me regularly that he only has to work 4 hours a week and when he's with me (or her), he should be focused on working. I know I let him get away with a lot.

Me: I am cuing you to lope, please.
Gem: No.
Me: Please, I want you to lope.
Gem: Forget it. I will trot, but I won't lope.
Me: But I really need to learn how to do this.
Gem: I don't care actually. I have tried loping in the past, and don't like it.
Me: Please!!!
Gem: No, I would rather stand in the middle with my friends and that is where I am heading NOW.
Me: OK. We can try loping another day. Sigh.

I am getting better at not taking NO for an answer, but it is a work in progress. As my confidence level increases, I hope that his respect for me does, too. It's getting better. Last night was actually a great lesson when it came to boosting my confidence. In amongst all the false starts and inconsistent runs, there were a few highlights. I actually got Gem to lope from a standing position, not once but twice! I was able to change from an incorrect lead to the correct one while we were moving! I lost the reins at one point and although I wasn't able to steer him properly, I remained balanced and solid in my seat while I was trying to get my reins organized as we continued loping. I was able to get him to lope once around the paddock without him loosing momentum. I experienced Gem being on the correct lead in the front, but not in the back - the feeling of my brain banging against the top of my skull is not one that I want to experience any time soon! I was also told that my butt was in the saddle more often than not. :-) My classmates and LA were very complimentary and supportive.

So, listen up Gem.... It's going to happen. You can't avoid it. Don't look at me with those big brown eyes. I am not going to cave! We are going to nail the extended trot and we are going to lope around the arena..not once, but twice. The sooner you accept this, the better.

What was I thinking....?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pedigree Adoption Drive

Pedigree® is sponsoring an Adoption Drive (thanks for posting this Grey Horse Matters), whereby they will donate a bowl of dog food for every "like" they get on their Facebook page. It takes less than a minute of your time to guarantee a bowl of food for a dog!

In addition, if you mention this drive on your blog between Sept. 16th through Sept. 19th, Pedigree® will donate a 20-lb. bag of food to a shelter. How awesome is that?? So please post about the Pedigree drive and enter the link to your blog over at Life With Dogs, a great blog for dog lovers, by the way.

I personally support three rescue groups in my area and this is a great opportunity to help dogs in need. Thanks in advance for your support!!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Dismounting when Mounting

It took me 10 minutes to mount Gem today. Yep, 10 minutes. As soon as I step on the mounting block, he moves a couple of steps, forcing me to get off the block and rearrange things.

He started doing this when I came back from my surgery. It wasn't too much of an issue when I first noticed it. I put it down to the flies bothering him. But then I started to noticed that taking a few steps was becoming the norm. I know, I know - I should have nipped it in the bud when I first noticed it. I started to move him into a corner when I got ready to mount, hoping that having walls on either side of him would help. It didn't. He just backed up.

Today, after 4 or 5 tries at getting on, I stopped trying and hand walked him around the arena - walk on, whoa, back up, wait.....good boy. A couple of times while we were standing, I grabbed the horn and pulled/leaned on the saddle, simulating that I was getting on him. He was fine. Didn't move at all.

I took him back to the mounting block and let him stand there for a minute. I was able to get on him, but as I was swinging my leg over him he shifted his weight a bit, enough to throw my balance off very so slightly.

So, I am really hating this. To me, he is being disrespectful. I asked LA about how to correct it. She had no corrective measures to offer. She has never had this problem and he's fine with her, but she doesn't use a mounting block. I don't want to have the kind of horse that needs to be held while someone is mounting them. I don't want to have a horse like my lesson horse, GM.

One possible solution I was thinking of was having Jean stand a couple of feet away from him on the other side of his back end with a crop. While he's quiet, I will continue telling him he's a good boy. But, when he starts to do his side step, he will basically swing his butt into the tip of the crop, while I say NO. I am hoping that poking himself with the crop will be enough of a deterrent. If anyone out there has any advice on how to correct this situation, I am all ears!!

What was I thinking...?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Riding Under the Influence....

We didn't have lesson this week - waaay too hot. My lesson last week was sort of a non-event for me. I wasn't there mentally for the first time in a really long time. I was psyched for the lesson that morning, but my up mood completely deteriorated in the afternoon. I had to drop everything I was doing and clean up a big, time-sensitive mess that someone else made and my anger, frustration and stress left me with a bitter taste. To be honest, I was more in the mood for a vodka soda and a good ear to listen to my ranting and raving instead of riding.

I was not as patient with Gem when we were tacking up. He has started pulling his feet away from me when I am cleaning them. It's really annoying and he pulls me off balance. The first few times he pulled his foot away, I just kept picking it back up and when he eventually let me hold it for as long as it took, I told him he was a good boy and gave him a little scratch. But, by the time we were going through this routine on the third foot, I lost my patience and yelled "NO!" every time he pulled away which was, unfortunately, a lot. I am sure I looked like some crazed middle-aged lunatic....sigh. Not a good way to start.

I went through the motions of my lesson, but LA could tell something was up and asked me later in private. I didn't go into detail, but she did sense that I was still angry. She said that if my head really wasn't in it, it was OK to not to ride. She would rather me be aware and safe, not distracted or angry.

But how do you determine when you shouldn't ride because you are mentally not there? I mean, you are mental, so how would you know, right? There have been many times that I have tacked up and still had residual stress from work clouding my brain. Yes, I have ridden under the influence of stress!

Spring and summer are pretty easy for me work-wise. But, I am now getting into my busy season at work (last fiscal quarter, year end, renewals, yearly audit and two major conferences). The next 6 months will be brutal. There are going to be times when my mind will not be on riding, but thinking about what deadlines need to be met the next day. My patience level will start to lower. Last year, there weren't too many times that I rode under the influence because, frankly, I was still nervous of Gem and I was focused on staying in the saddle! This year will be a bit different. We are more familiar with each other. I have been working on his boundaries, so I am more assertive with him when he pushes them. This is where it can get tricky; depending on how much under the influence I am, I may be more physical and rough with him without realizing it.

Most times, riding has actually helped dissipate my stress and tension. But where do you draw the line between relieving stress or being unsafe? I find that doing my stretches before I ride helps reduce my physical tightness. Tacking up also helps relax me. But sometimes even my AEIOU routine does not help get rid of the pinched look on my face that appears when I am stressed. No soft face for me.

I want to get the most out of my lessons and my time with Gem. I want to be safe while riding. We all know how quickly a situation can change while riding and how dangerous it can be on occasion. You need to be aware of what is going on so that you can take care of yourself and your horse. There will be a few things over the next few months that will help me determine whether I can ride on any given day -

* maintaining an acceptable patience level with Gem
* being able to change my focus from work to the ride
* if I can loosen up my body and face to an acceptable level
* if I can remind myself that I am going to have fun riding and
not resent having to change clothing at the office and drive
40 minutes to get to the stables
* if I can stop hitting my head on the steering wheel of my car
long enough to drive to the stables
* if I can clear my mind of plotting revenge and remember that
stupid people don't know they are stupid, so deal with it
* if I am not in jail for verbal abuse

OK, I may be exaggerating a bit on some of that list but, seriously, I don't want to take my frustration out on Gem or my classmates. I am not the type to wimp out (I think I was a terrier in another life); it would have to be pretty bad for me not to ride. But, after my chat with LA, I know I can say "No" to riding under the influence, guilt-free. I am actually OK with sitting a lesson out if I am under the influence and not fit to ride....I can just groom my boy, watch the others ride and let the insanity leave my mind... at least, for a short while. You know, perhaps chilling out in this manner will be a lesson in itself. :-)

What was I thinking....?