Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Notes from January 29th Lesson

What a gorgeous day!  A January day with sunny skies and 67 degrees!

Just a couple of quick notes from today's lesson....

* ask nicely with leg and seat for the bend and then if no answer, rein.  If still no answer then a very firm rein and the SECOND he answers, move him forward and give him some release.

* remember to keep loose legs to allow horse to move freely forward

Warming Up
* in walk or trot, gain suppleness by asking for inside flexion (use leg first, then rein to request) and then straight and then counter flexion.

* be careful not to gather up the reins when you aren't getting the bend.   Use your seat and send him forward rather than constricting the movement.  I have a tendancy to tighten up the reins when I'm not getting the answer I want.

* when using caveletti, look ahead of them and make sure you have energy coming into them (for Golly it took a little light squeeze as we approached.... I had the thought of lightly squeezing a sponge to release water)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Notes from January 19 Lesson

I started this blog as a way of journaling my lessons and rides and my "aha" moments.   I had started journaling them in a notebook but realized that I couldn't read my own handwriting and I needed to resort to the computer for my notes.   If was going to type the notes I might as well share them with some friends and so this blog was born.

For most of my blog entries I have focused on a single aha moment but I thought that it would also be nice to have a quick list of what I focused on during that lesson to refer back.  So here is the list for my last lesson on January 19th:

  • don't use your leg at the same time as you use the whip.  I have a bad habit of doing this so my instructor has to keep reminding me
  • use the whip on the insides hind leg to ask for more bend and to help fill the outside rein
  • mix things up by asking for inside flexion and then counter flexion, then back again
  • mix things up by moving your circle out by shifting hips and more "thinking" out but still keeping the inside flexion and the moving in doing the same; repeat
  • slowly ask for a stretch but releasing the rein (slowly and let him fill the space); make sure he continues the same pace when doing so
As I complete each lesson, I will continue these notes.  Hopefully they will prove to be a good reference!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Choose Your Battles

As the oldest of three girls, my parents were a bit tougher on me than my sisters.   Like most families, the rules started out a bit more stringent and then as the years and siblings progressed, the rules became more relaxed.  I suspect we just wore my parents out and they didn't have the energy to enforce the rules with the same vigor with my younger sisters.

I can't remember the exact situation but I remember asking my Mom to come down hard on my sisters for something they had done.  After all, she would have gotten after ME for it, why not them?  After she reminded me that SHE was the Mom and I was not, she gave me a philosophy that I use with my kids to this day.  She told me, "Choose your Battles".

The general concept of the philosophy is this -- there are many battles to choose with your children.  For the most part most are not worth fighting.  Things like hair length, some clothing choices or the various ways a teenager exerts their independence from their parents are just not worth fighting.  You are only going to win so many battles with your children so save the effort for the ones that matter.   A happy, healthy, and productive adult is the goal and spoil of the war -- save your battles for what will you get you to that goal.

I have used that philosophy raising my children and today during my lesson I realized I need to also use it in my riding.

Because my knee is still weak from my knee replacement, I cannot ride for more than about a half hour.  For this reason, my instructor is riding Golly for about a half hour before I get on for the last half of my lesson.  This has been great both because Golly is getting the benefit of responsive and quick riding and I am getting the benefit of watching the conversation and learning.

I noticed that she was able to get his inside hind leg stepping deep under and pushing.  However when she did get the deep pushing inside leg, his outside shoulder was pushing out more than it should have been.   She was getting the inside "bend' but seemed to be sacrificing the straightness of the outside.   This baffled me because she is too good of a rider to not notice the shoulder push.   After pondering it a bit I asked why. 

She confirmed what I was seeing -- with the increase in the correct bend on the inside he WAS pushing his shoulder out more than it should.  But it came down to the lesson my Mom had taught me many years ago.  There are so many battles you can fight at once and sometimes to achieve the end goal, you need to compromise.

It makes sense.  Golly is early in his dressage education.  (Although it doesn't seem like it since we have been working on this for a few years... but hey... dressage takes time!).  If he is trying hard and responding to the request for the inside bend and thrust from the inside back leg, it is likely that he may overwork it and push his outside shoulder out.  As long as its not too bad, its fair to compromise on this a bit.  Otherwise it could be confusing to a horse that is trying.  There is a fine line with this of course -- you don't want him to develop a bad habit that will be difficult to fix later.  But some compromise is good!

Think of it from his point of view.... "yeah... I got this bend down.... look at me! I'm awesome!   Hey, why are you asking me to straighten on the outside?  How am I supposed to do both?  Dang, this woman is NEVER satisfied.  I'm just going to quit trying."

You and I know he CAN actually do both but he doesn't know yet and may not have the muscling to do so perfectly. Let him have the chance to feel good about himself on his success and THEN move on to the next challenge.     Choose your battles!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Ride in the Park

The fog never did let up
The weatherman predicted the temps to be in the upper 60's and sunny today so I couldn't help it.   Despite me just having two rides under my belt since my knee replacement -- one at five minutes in length and the other fifteen minutes long, I had to try for a trail ride at our local park.

The weatherman was wrong.  The temps got up to about the middle 50's and the entire day remained foggy.  I've never been to Scotland but I imagine the weather today was something a Scotsman would find familiar.    It wasn't raining but as you moved through the air, it was wet enough that you felt as if you were collecting raindrops from the air.

So not the weather that convinced me to give the park a try but not bad for a January day.

One of our trail mates -- Wash the Mule!
I had convinced a few other folks to join me so I had some help thank goodness.  One of my friends held Golly as I used a picnic table to mount.   Yeah!.. mounting on the picnic table worked just as well as my tall mounting block at home.

We ambled around the ring for a bit as a start.  I had decided not to ask any "questions" of Golly during todays ride.   He's had seven weeks off as well and he has in the past gotten sour to work without some relaxation time so I thought a simple ride with the only expectation of going forward and having fun would be best.

After a bit we hit the trail and that's when I realized that not only is physical therapy humbling after surgery but riding was also going to be a humbling experience.   I've always been the one that "helped" out on the trail.  Making sure that everyone was safe.  Providing leads across streams or a good "bumper" to a horse that had forgotten their brakes.
On the trail

Today I was the one who needed help and it was a new experience.   I had to ask my trail mates to wait after crossing a stream and stop and when we got to fields to ensure that Golly remained calm and there was NO chance of an upset horse and a potential fall on my healing knee.

It was a new experience for me and I realize its way more fun to help than to be helped.  I sincerely appreciated my trail mates help though.

Overall Golly did well today but I could feel some tension in him and he was quite insistent on not being left behind.  At one point he stopped to pee (this horse pees more than any other horse I've met on the trail) and was a bit upset when he started off again and realized how far back he was from his friends.   We had some light bucks right then but not bad.   Its been a long time since he's been ridden so I don't think he did all that bad considering.

I didn't go long.  After about an hour I decided that any more would be pushing it so we headed back to the trailers.   The picnic table served as a dismount block and I was happy that not only was there no pain, my knee actually felt BETTER than before the ride.  Success!

Friday, January 11, 2013

First Riding Lesson after Knee Surgery

Had my first lesson today in months.   Usually my lessons are pretty tough due to my great instructor and I finish them feeling great about myself and my riding but my muscles screaming.  I knew that wasn't possible today because my leg muscles just aren't strong enough yet after my knee replacement.

I went to physical therapy yesterday and they feel I am getting close to discharge so want to "take it up a notch".  I think they took it up four notches!   Physical therapy is certainly humbling.  I don't like to quit but I was thinking hard about lowering the speed on the treadmill.   Instead I just kept counting down the minutes and hoped I would make it to the end.  I did.  Barely.

So I was a bit nervous about my first lesson back.  I wanted it to go well but was afraid that my endurance wouldn't be there.  I asked my instructor to ride him for the majority of the lesson and that I would get on for the last fifteen minutes or so.

Golly is out of shape and out of practice too so it was going to be tough on us both.  She worked on getting a good bend and suppleness while she was riding.  Lots of serpentines and getting suppleness in the neck and making the hind leg step under and push.

Watching my instructor ride today is a weird mix of pride in my horse who looks SO nice when she rides him (especially after not being ridden for so long) and jealousy that I can't get him that way.  Mostly though I am just glad we get the benefit of her instruction and watchful eye.

 After she rides Golly feels SOOO good.   Supple and light - responsive!   When I got on we focused on the same thing she did.  She asked me to think about stepping to the outside (even though I wasn't actually) while walking and trotting circles by keeping a firm rein on the outside and using the weight of my inside hip to create the bend.   I used the whip on the inside hind leg to make sure the hind leg was stepping and powering the movement.   She had to remind me multiple times to not use the leg and whip at the same time.  Keep the leg light when using the whip and use the whip like I mean it to get a response.  I tend to kick at the same time I use the whip so this will take some repetitive reminding on her part.

The temps this Sunday are supposed to be in the 70s.   Remarkable for a January day in Maryland!  Its just too tempting so I sent out an email to my friends and we are going to try a trail ride at our local park.   One friend has promised to help me get on using a picnic table since I can't get on from lower heights yet.  How I am getting off I don't know yet as right now I am using my very high mounting block to dismount.  I guess I will figure that out after I am on!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

FINALLY rode!!!!

Yeah!  Yeah! Yeah!!!!  I finally got on Golly today.  It wasn't earth shattering or exciting -- which is EXACTLY what you want for your first ride back after surgery.  

So happy to be riding again
After our lunging session last week I expected him to be excited again but when I went to lunge him today he was dead quiet.  I could barely get a good working trot out of him.

So after a few minutes of lunging I decided to give it a try.   I pulled him over to my new extra tall mounting block and while my friend Dawn held him, I mounted using my right non-operated leg.   Mounting with my right leg was harder than I thought it would be.  After years of using my left leg to mount, my body is just trained to do it that way.  Now that I am putting thought into it though I am not sure why we ask our horses to be balanced on both sides and we always mount on side.   It just doesn't make sense -- it causes our left stirrup leather to stretch and has to cause our horses to be unbalanced.   Once my left leg is back to normal, I plan on mounting on both sides from now on.

My extra tall mounting block worked great.  Besides the fear of getting on a horse that had not been ridden in seven weeks, it was super easy to mount.

After dismounting on the high block
Golly was nice and relaxed and moved out at a slow amble.  He did feel like a wiggle worm though.   A shoulder out this way.  Correct and then a hip out the other way.  Correct and then the hip out the other side.  Wiggle left.  Wiggle right.  We have some work to do to remind him what straight means.  I am so proud of him though that he was so relaxed.  There are not many horses you can pull out after seven weeks off and they are close to boring.  Its why I love him and don't trade him in for a more exciting and talented model.

I even picked up a trot going both directions.   There was no pain in the leg but I can tell its weak and there is a "funny" feeling at the joint.  Kind of a wiggle left and right that I am sure is because the muscles have not fully healed to hold it in place.  I'm sure they will find their place again though.

Dismounting was a bit scary.  I just didn't know what it would feel like.  Dawn held Golly and I slid down to the new mounting block.  Again... besides the fear of the unknown it felt great.  Success!

Golly was relaxed enough that after I got off, Dawn decided to hop on for a few spins around the ring.  Its been a long time since Dawn has ridden so I think he must have looked pretty relaxed for her to trust that it would go well with her too.  It did go well of course!

So a good first ride.  I know we have a long way to go to build the muscles back up and I noticed in the picture that Golly has lost his muscling as well.  We will get there though.
Dawn hops on too

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

First Work after Six Weeks of Time Off

Wooohooo!!!  We did the new year right!   Nope...  I still haven't gone for a ride but I did pull out the lunge line today to see what he would be like after six weeks of inactivity.

Surprise Surprise -- he was a quite excited walking to the ring.   Excited enough that I decided that it probably would be more activity than my healing leg could handle so once we were in the ring (which is about 200 x 100 feet) I let him loose, pushed him away and said "go play".

He had a great time galloping around the ring, snorting and bucking.  Here is a pic...

After he got his Golly Jollies out, I picked up the lunge whip but still left the lunge line off just to see how he would behave without it.

Surprisingly he was quite good. I wish I could have taken a picture of him being good but I was so focused on him that I couldn't get the camera out.  Despite the ring being 200 feet long, he stayed in approximately a 60 meter circle as if I had the lunge rope on him.   He obediently walk trotted and cantered on cue.  What a boy!

All the gait transitions were made with just a verbal cue except for the canter to the right which took a single crack of the whip.  If you have read my previous blog posts, you know that canter has been a difficult journey for us so considering the time off and the easy transition to the left, I was super happy with what he gave.

I also put up a small jump about 12 inches high and 3 feet wide.  By just pointing to the jump, he eagerly approached and jumped it each time I requested it.

Golly is never going to be a fancy horse but I am very thankful that he and I have a relationship where he trusts me enough to free lunge upon cue even though he had every opportunity to run to the other end of the ring to escape.     He's my boy.. :)