Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony. ~ Thomas Merton

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Oh What A Feeling!

I am just giddy. There's no other way to describe it. Giddy as a school girl.

I wasn't going to ride last night. After my Pilates session, I'm usually pretty wiped out. When I arrived at the barn, another boarder was there and the company incentivized me to pull out my horse.

We started with a fantastic ground warm-up. We played a little on-line and then moved to liberty. I had so many fantastic moments, I could go on for days describing each of them. One of the coolest things, Cricket offered a flying lead change on a liberty circle in the open arena. Too freakin' cool!

I pulled out my saddle and asked Cricket to stand for saddling. Advancing our saddling friendly is one of my current "sub goals." She stood stock still. Never moved a foot. My pony girl ROCKS!

Mounted up and did our "hurry up and wait." Nice relaxation. Headed out on the rail at the walk. She was soft and easy so I transitioned her up to the trot. Soft, cadenced and relaxed. We did a circuit or two and she just felt wonderful. And the moment was right and my horse felt connected and we came around the corner and I just asked for the canter. She picked up the canter and we cantered down the rail on the right (as in correct and right fore) lead. Downward transition not the most graceful but who the hell cares! More trotting and then a right lead canter that took us most of the way around the arena.

Back to the trot, change directions. The left bend. My current Achilles heel. Decided to go back to the Question Box. Only one problem - the pattern had been disassembled. No worries. I found the middle, where the box used to be and stopped. I asked Cricket to trot out to the rail and follow the rail around back to the imaginary box. All systems go. Out at the trot, through the "box" and ask for the canter. Easy upward transition into the canter onto the correct lead.

We finished with a little trotting and walking. More on our program of "gate friendly." With only one correction on a totally freestyle rein, Cricket stood while I swung the gate back and forth. She protested slightly when I asked her to walk off from the gate. I need to work that one out and I have some ideas.

Our only "issue" the whole session is Cricket's attitude about being on-line. She just doesn't like it. And I'm not sure what to do about it. Cantering on the 22' she gives me a choppy, four-beat canter. It's ugly. At liberty it's a soft, forward three-beat movement. Same under saddle. So what's up with the on-line thing? I think I know but I"m not sure how to fix it. Might be something to address with Carol when I'm at camp.

So my big realizations: I'm not afraid and Cricket's canter now feels like just another gait. How cool is that?!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Game of the Game

Horsenality is not an excuse. It is a piece of information that gives us a strategy.
~ Pat Parelli, The Game of the Game, Mastery Lesson, Issue 1

I've been off in my program with Cricket. No worries, I'll just pick it back up. I spent last night watching the first Mastery Lesson. Wow!

The first lesson, entitled "The Game of the Game" was about the circle game. But not just about sending your horse in a circle. It was about offering the horse choices so she could be an active participant in finding the circle and playing the game. Towards the end of the lesson, Pat talks about the mare's horsenality and the results of the session. And the above quote struck me.

Horsenality is not an excuse. It is a piece of information that gives us a strategy.

It is rare that I will make excuses for Cricket based on her innate introversion. In so many ways, she defies the LBI - to the point I think she is more on the cusp of extroversion than previously thought. But how often do I use her horsenality to shape my strategy towards any given goal or task?

As a LBI, Cricket needs puzzles to solve and she needs to feel clever. She needs time to think, to make the less desirable choice and discover, for herself, why she ought to consider my ideas. How often do I set up the game so she can find it? Not as often as I should.

I've struggled with motivating Cricket on the 22' and the 45'. Some days are great but others, not so much. It's hit or miss. I need to look at the space in which I play and find - as Pat set up for Sam - a way to offer Cricket a puzzle. When she feels smart and successful, she'll offer me more. Just as Sam's horse - a mare similar to Cricket in disposition - began offering more to him.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Forging Forward

So with my new thought of "just do something" I went out to the barn on Wednesday.

First thing was to pull out all my gear to eliminate any excuses later in the session.

I brought Cricket out at liberty. She ignored the hay bales, the feed cans and stopped when I did on the verge of the grass. Beautiful obedience!

I groomed her at liberty, allowing her to roam around the paddock. At first I was content to just watch her graze. Finally I grabbed my CS and we played a little at liberty. After she left twice, I put the 22' on and continued our warm-up on-line. She comes back easily but this is not a pattern I want to re-establish.

After her stretches, I took her into the arena and saddled her up. Started with some walking and trotting the rail. Incorporated some friendly game with opening the gate. I've taught Cricket to become emotional and now I need to help her understand what I want. I used a savvy string to control the gate and, when Cricket could stand still while it opened, I gave her a cookie, re-latched the gate and moved on. When she gravitated towards the gate, some slow but intense HQ yields convinced her that it was only good when it was my idea.

We used the Question Box pattern to work on transitions - gait and direction. She was very responsive using trot - drop to walk - trot in changing from the left to right bend.

Our first attempt at canter was choppy and unharmonious. Our second attempt was soft, rhythmic and relaxed. I cantered her 8-10 circuits on the right bend of the question box. I don't know that I've ever cantered a stretch that long. She broke gait a few times but eased back up at my request. She even blew out during the canter. Called it a win and quit for the night.

In reflecting, I know I need to find a way to work on the left lead. Some of it's in my head but my Pilates instructor has verified that some of my issues are definitely in my butt - my left hip, to be specific. I'm going to start expanding the circle to go all the way to the rail. Cricket will be on less of a bend and that should help me get in harmony with her. It will also help me start getting comfortable with cantering on the rail, a skill I would like to have solid before heading to camp.

I feel much better about just moving ahead with Cricket. It doesn't matter if we hit more rocky spots. I've come this far and truly feel the sky is the limit.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Other Shoe

Damn that shoe. That blasted "other shoe."

Last night was beautiful. After our freak cold snap on Monday, the temps climbed up into the 60s. The sun broke through the clouds. When I arrived at the barn, it was quiet. Cricket greeted me willingly at the door. And yet all I did was brush her and then feed all the horses. Didn't pull my saddle out. Didn't clip a line on her and play for a bit. Nothing.

My motivation has been stalled. I promised myself something every day until camp. But yet I just balk at getting back on her unless someone else is there to kind of push and prod me. Didn't have this problem during my 30 day program last fall. So what's the problem?

I'll tell you what it is. It's that shoe. That blasted "other shoe." And waiting for it to fall.

See, every good thing with Cricket has eventually been squashed by that other shoe, falling when I least expect it. And I'm afraid. I'm afraid the beautiful things we have achieved will be mashed when that other shoe drops. So if I don't do anything, the shoe will have nothing to squelch. We can rest, albeit lightly, on our laurels and I can say, "this is what we have done."

Unfortunately, resting on laurels leaves you stymied forever in the past. There's no new things to talk about, no new adventures to have, no new accomplishments. That's not what I want.

The trust I must find is not necessarily in Cricket but in us. I need to believe the foundation we are building is solid. I need to believe what she is offering is not a fluke. I need to believe in our partnership. It's hard.

So I have a new goal for my program with Cricket. To do something. To not be paralyzed looking skyward, wondering where the "other shoe" might be. If it does happen to fall, leaving tread marks on my head, then I'll get up - as I always have - and figure out how to move on.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Falling In Love

Every day I spend with Cricket, I fall more in love with my beloved girl. I cannot put my finger on when things changed from frustration to fascination; from fear to fun. Six months ago I was ready to retire her and get out of horses all together. Today, I cannot wait to see her and find out where the next bend in the road will take us.

Cricket and I are at such a wonderful place in our relationship. I feel the trust developing between us. I feel that Cricket is becoming more mature and more emotionally fit. I finally feel I'm at a place where I can work on me and not be constantly worried about her.

I titled my blog Violating Principle #7 because that particular Parelli principle talk about "horses teach humans; humans teach horses." The idea is that a novice rider should choose an experienced horse. I blew right through that when I bought Cricket as an unstarted 2 yr old. I cannot help but feel, however, that I bought the exact right horse for me. Cricket has pushed me to accomplish things I never dreamed possible. She has been patient and tolerant even when I didn't realize it. She has imparted more to me in the past six years than I could every hope to teach her. I am honored to have her as my partner. I am blessed to have her in my life. I am a better person because of her. I love her so very much.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Fantastic Weekend

I have fallen in love with Cricket all over again. I can hardly find the words to describe how I feel about my horse and the place in which we find ourselves.

Friday I played with her on the ground. Using a modification to the Figure-8, as suggested by my friend Kathy, I wanted to see if Cricket could find more purpose and thus a happier attitude. I'm not sure what went wrong - or if anything actually went wrong. Cricket has a bit of a LB emotional fit and ended up cantering, full tilt, at the end - and I mean the very end - of the 45' line. She went up and down the terraces, around obstacles and over jumps. She wasn't exactly tuned out but neither was she ready to tune in. I worked with her a little and finally got her to send without flying out. We re-approached the jump that caused her difficulty and when she put forth good try, I called it a win and quit for the day.

We had a "pony party" on Saturday - Genia and Kathy hauled their horses to the barn and Becky, who boards with me, joined up with us. We started with some ground play then broke for lunch and then saddled up to ride in the afternoon.

I revisited the F8 with jumps and Cricket took it like a pro. Her attitude was better using the jumps rather than just going around barrels. Of course my flow was pretty poor but I'll get there. We did a little circle game with maintain gait over the terraces and then a little with good canter departs on the circle.

After lunch we saddled up and rode in the arena for awhile. Cricket was all over the map. First, the strange horses and close quarters brought out a lot of her unconfidence. She was pinning her ears and just thinking evil thoughts. We tried to trot our mile around the rail but she just wasn't in to it. She gave me a super soft little trot but she just wouldn't maintain her gait. I opted not to push the issue with her, feeling it wasn't worth it to argue for the sake of arguing.

When I got a clear end of the arena, I put her on the Question Box pattern and asked for walk and trot transitions. She was soft, responsive and arced nicely on the circle. I asked her for some right lead canter and she was just as willing as could be. It was the first time I had asked her to canter since the end of our 30 day program in November.

We took a little stroll outside the arena and I worked on "don't eat until I say so." It's nowhere near as good under saddle as it is on the ground but we'll get there. I asked her to trot out in the field and eventually she would trot on a loose rein and maintain gait until I asked for the halt.

Sunday I headed out to the barn to ride again. I need to expand the question box pattern to the full figure 8 so I can one day "work" on simple lead changes. I need to increase my confidence with left lead canter. I think Cricket is more comfortable on her left lead but I'm not.

After a brief warm-up on the ground I saddled her up and asked for some follow the rail. Her trot was once again all over the map and she kept trying to canter. What I've realized is that I've relied too heavily on my breathe to cue her for canter. When she hears me inhale, she thinks that means canter. Ugh! So I asked her for the trot and focused intently on a two-beat rhythm in time with my breathing. Finally she stretched way down, nose between her fetlocks, and settled into a lovely soft trot. I think, maybe, she was stretching her back, releasing the tension that's been there for so long.

I put her on the question box, using both sides. I used the open end of the arena for her right bend and the enclosed end of the arena for her left. I have this weird, lingering fear that she'll run away with me. Don't ask.

I played with walking and trotting to the right and then changing the bend to walk and trot to the left. We picked up the right lead for a circle then down to the trot for the left bend. All the while, in my head, I had this idea that this would prepare us for simple changes. But I wasn't ready to ask for the left lead. I came around the right, at the canter, and dropped to a trot in the box and intended to head out to the left at the trot. Cricket - whether she knew what I really wanted or just wanted to show off her utter fabulosity - just eased into a left lead canter.

I wish I could have relaxed better into the left lead. I wasn't ready for it and it took me by surprise. I did manage to canter her back to the box and stop. I jumped off of her and called it a win.

Part of me cannot believe she just offered the simple change. Part of me is not surprised. I wonder how much she felt what I really wanted. I have been so worried and just getting all wadded up over asking for simple changes and she just gave presented me with a lovely, soft, clean change.

I don't know that I'll ride tonight. Maybe just a little ground play, cookies and stretches. We have a cell of nasty weather that won't clear out until tomorrow or Wednesday. But I'm trying to stick to my program - every day until we leave for camp!

Friday, March 19, 2010

She Just Wasn't Doin' Right

I finally managed to schedule and keep an appointment with my equine chiropractor. The official diagnosis: ADR - ain't doin' right. My sweet Principessa was out in her hips, her ribs, her shoulder and her poll. The pain in her hip was bad enough that, when Dr. Jim stimulated the point, she flipped her head quite violently. Dr. Jim pointed out how tight and raised the left side of her back had become. This could be the cause of our saddle issues. I'm probably going to have to pay for a follow up visit, she was so out of whack. Until then, I'm to ride her and do her exercises (a list of things that will help hold her adjustment and indicate when something has gone haywire - again!)

For some, equine chiropractics sounds weird, froo-froo and just one more thing to eat up hard earned money. Part of me is not so sure about it but I can see the difference in Cricket after a session with Dr. Jim. So I just close my eyes, write the check and tell Cricket she's damn lucky she doesn't belong to Billy Bob down the road!

How do you know if your horse needs to see a chiropractor? Honestly, I don't know for sure. I know when Cricket is off. During farrier work, she'll pull on one leg because standing on the other hurts her hip. On the circle, she'll short stride or take weird hoppy steps with one back leg. I'm sure there are more subtle signs but these are the ones I know.

Here are some ways to evaluate your horse for possible chiropractic issues:
  • Watch your horse being led away from you. Do the hip bones come up evenly on each side of the spine as the horse walks or does one hip bone come more than the other?
  • Watch the tail. It should swing and flow from side to side rather than cocked to one side.
  • Watch the top of the tail - it should move like a sideways infinity sign with both sides being equal.
  • Trot your horse on a circle. Does one rear foot take a shorter step than the other? It may be subtle.
  • Still trotting on the circle, does the horse not want to weight one of his rear legs in one direction or the other?
  • Does your horse drag a hind leg in the trot? (i.e. like a locked stifle)
  • Does your horse struggle with smooth downward transitions?
  • Does your horse buck up when you ride? Not head down, "get off me" bucks but rather hopping with the back legs or kicking out to the side.
  • When asked to canter, is the horse switching lead in the back?
  • Does your horse suddenly scoot his butt under and try to bolt?
  • Does your horse move unevenly?
While qualified chiropractic care is not a replacement for good veterinary care, it can complement the traditional approach of most vets. Some lameness issues are caused by poor alignment and poor muscling rather than an injury. If you seek the care of an equine chiropractor, make sure you check out his/her credentials. A lot of damage can be done by someone who saw or read something and then hung out a shingle. Dr. Jim Reynolds, my equine chiropractor, is certified by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association. They maintain strict standards and have a "find a doctor" function on their website.

So with any luck I should be back in the saddle this evening to start my "Countdown to Camp Carol" program.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Education Opportunity

Last night my good friend Kathy left me a cryptic voicemail about an "education opportunity." As a LBI and total learn-aholic, I was chomping at the bit to return her phone call this morning.

As it turns out, Colleen Kelly will be teaching a rider biomechanics clinic not too far from here. I've heard lots of good things about Colleen and Kathy has worked with me, incorporating things she's learned.

One of my current passions in my commitment to never-ending self-improvement is finding ways to improve my riding. Both on and off my horse.

I'm not terribly impressed with the things Linda is teaching in her approach to posture in freestyle vs. finesse riding. I don't profess to be an expert but there are things she's saying that just don't make sense to me. So I'm finding other avenues to help me better understand proper dynamics in the saddle.

The conclusion I've arrived at is there isn't much you can do to improve a classical seat. In shifting my balance to equally weight both seat bones and pubic bone, I've never felt more secure on my horse. Cricket is moving better and I seem better able to move with her. It's easier to rise to her trot and I just feel more in harmony with her than trailing behind her. Something I think is far too easy to do when you are on your "balance point."

Much of the input for my conclusions about riding have come from my experience with Pilates. For over two years I've been taking Pilates instruction from my good friend and fellow Parelli student, Tina Hicks. What I love most about how Tina is teaching me to use my body is that it flows with how I'm teaching Cricket to be my partner.

My focus with Cricket is to communicate to her what I want and then get out of her way so she can do it, naturally and unhindered by my interference. It's not so different with our own bodies. The design of the human body is elegant and strong. Each muscle group has it's purpose and function. The brain, too often, interferes with this and causes muscles to slack off or do too much. That's when aches, pains and spasms set in. That's when back problems or knee problems develop.

So when Linda says "wrap your glutes to lift your core," I say, "no thank you." How about I learn to lift my core and allow my spinal support muscles and pelvic floor and transverses and all the correct muscles fire just when they need to in order to provide the lift and the support? Because if I want to do in my body what I want my horse to do in hers, traveling around with tight glutes isn't it.

So anyway, back to my education opportunity . . . I am excited to see Colleen and learn more about the biomechanics of the rider and how that affects the horse. I think this will be a very interesting piece of my continued improvement as an effective rider

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Where Savvy Lies

I've been thinking about this a lot. What is savvy? What does it mean to be doing Parelli? A few specific events at the barn have triggered this thought process. Unfortunately I've not been able to work through it until now.

According to the Parelli's, you know you're doing Parelli when: you put the relationship first, develop in four savvies and commit yourself to never ending self improvement. Simple enough. So is the flip side true? If you don't put the relationship first, you are not doing Parelli. If you are not commited to self-improvement, you are not doing Parelli.

Pat defines savvy as "knowing where to be, when to be, why to be and what to do when you get there." He doesn't say anything about tasks or strings or certificates.

I board at a small barn but we have an arena that is used by more than just boarders. Almost all of them have some level of participation in the Parelli program - from curiosity to enthusiasm to dedicated study. There are two people, in particular, who's comments and actions have prompted this train of thought.

First, I was having a discussion with a L3 graduate about a local trainer. Though the trainer is not terribly normal, neither is he very natural. He has good timing but over-faces the horse and does not understand the value of rapport. He pushed a colt so hard he jumped some very high gates. In watching a video of the trainer, the L3 graduate made the comment "I'd send a horse to him." My reply, "I wouldn't." The L3 graduate further commented, "No, he's not great but he's better than most of what's around here, especially for the price." My reply, "Then I'd save up and send my horse off to someone else."

Second, someone at the barn was discussing trail riding. This person doesn't like riding around the barn because the horse acts "like an idiot." This person prefers to haul off the property because then the horse has to behave. This person is trying to take this horse through the program and is supposedly concerned with the horse's confidence and connection.

I guess I just don't understand. How can you graduate L3 and still be willing to send a horse to a trainer who could push that horse so hard? How can you be concerned with your horse's confidence and not realize how you push that horse through thresholds? Where is the savvy?

I know I've made tons of mistakes with Cricket. There are times I get mad at her. Like when she forcefully pushed my $3,000 saddle off the arena wall, into the aisle way. I don't always remember to start slow and allow her time to engage mentally before I push her to engage physically. I have so much room for improvement in my riding and I know I'm the main thing holding her back. And even though I forget sometimes, there is nothing more important than how she feels about being with me. If she won't catch me, I take care of the rapport. If she gets worried, I take care of her confidence. When she lets me know she's not okay with something, we slow it down until she is okay.

I want my green string. But not just as a token of "time put in." I want it to mean something. I want to know that it is a milestone in this incredible journey. I want it to belong to Cricket as much as it belongs to me. I want to get there with her, not dragging her kicking and bucking.

Savvy is not measured by strings, certificates or tasks checked off on a list. It is measured in the eyes and heart of my horse.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Miles to Go . . .

On Sunday I trotted Cricket for one mile. Literally. Ed (good friend and barn owner) measured out our arena and determined that thirteen laps was the equivalent of one mile. And Cricket and I trotted thirteen circuits around the arena. It was pretty cool!

In all our previous riding sessions, Cricket has been very much out of harmony with me. Asking her up to the trot produces an often bracey, high head and racy movement. The only way I can keep her connected is to do very short yo-yos using walk to trot (three strides) to walk transitions. I was beginning to lose confidence in all I accomplished last fall. I was bummed but okay with starting over (again!).

And then on Sunday she just came back to me. She was a bit snarky during saddling and mounting. It wasn't yet her idea and I kind of plowed through that and got on her anyway. After a little meandering I realized what I'd done and slowed things down to get her mentally with me. We made a circuit of the arena with the reins just laying on her neck. It's the best we've done since November.

Shortly afterwards, Ed told me about measuring the arena. My initial goal was just half a mile. Cricket was forward and very un-cadenced. After six laps I figured why not go the whole mile? Just as we finished the 13th lap, Cricket dropped her head, lifted her back, blew out and just accepted what we were doing. I melted to a halt and dwelled with her.

I find it interesting that Cricket - a fairly classic LBI - would be so forward in the confines of a covered arena. She's supposed to sull up with arena work, particularly repetitious arena work. Hmm, how interesting. I'm thinking it has as much to do with my focus and the feeling that we were going somewhere. I want to incorporate more of this into our riding. It will condition her and give me a chance to improve my balance and harmony with her. It should also help her regulate her trot - something I've been meaning to work on for the past several years.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Musings on Cricket's Horsenality Report

I promise that one of these days I'll blog in detail about Cricket's detailed Horsenality report. Work is crazy busy and just when I think things are going to ease up, they get worse.

I've read over Cricket's report and my initial reaction was "well, I know all that." Keep in mind, Cricket turns 9 this year and I've had her since she was two. I've taken her from unstarted through L4 on the ground and L3 under saddle. I think I know my horse pretty well. So it wasn't a news flash.

I played with some of the more specific concepts and I have to say I was incredibly pleased with the results. I need to read it again and lick and chew some more. As a LBI myself, it takes time for me to think through things. Play time will be limited but that will be good for reading and reflection. I promise more details and more musings. I think there's more to it than my first perusal revealed.