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

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Snakes and Ladders

Did you ever play Snakes and Ladders?

Here in America, I think it's more common to see Chutes and Ladders but I grew up with snakes.  I guess that's a little more appropriate for the Australian Outback.

My horsemanship journey has become like one giant game of Snakes and Ladders.  And I think I've just landed on a snake.

If you were raised by wolves and are not familiar with the game, the premise is simple. You roll the dice, move the designated number of squares and the first person to reach the finish line wins.  If you land on a ladder, you advance to the top; hitting a snake takes you backwards.

Cricket and I have hit some good ladders over the past several months.  We moved from a relative fear and apprehension to confident cantering.  We hit a big ladder when I started cantering with one and then two carrot sticks.

We hit a decent snake when she started running for the wall.

I don't mind the snakes.  Not really.  I've been playing this game with Cricket since the day she came into my life.  Sometimes we make steady progress, avoiding the pitfalls and staying a relatively steady course.  At times, every toss of the dice resulted in a backwards slide, often going all the way back to the very beginning.  Other times it's been one quantum leap after another.  I guess that's the nature of the game.

It's not necessarily what happens when you roll the dice but having the courage to stay in the game, even when things aren't working quite as you would like.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

More of What's Been Going On

I never did get around to posting about my lesson with Wendy.  Or any of the other stuff I've been doing this summer.

In early July, we hosted Wendy Morgan, 2* Junior Parelli Instructor, for a day of lessons.  I took advantage of being the coordinator and scheduled two sessions for myself.

We started with an easy session on saddle shimming with Bleu.  I had ridden shortly before the lesson and felt I was fighting my saddle the whole time.  The experimentation that comes with shimming is very much outside my comfort zone so I wanted Wendy to hold my hand a little while we played with some changes.

Here's what I learned:
  • There are three main points to evaluate for saddle shimming: scapula clearance, muscle atrophy and rider balance.
  • Evaluate your horse in motion, free from the saddle.  Observe carriage, head position, stride length, etc.  This is the baseline for anything else you do.  It works best with at least one observer but if you're alone, use a video camera to help you observe.
  • If you already have a saddle and pad set-up, saddle the horse and repeat the circle game.  Notice if anything changes from the "nekkid" circle game.
  • Take a good look at your horse's back.  Use a carrot stick to evaluate uphill vs. downhill and attach a savvy string (one that contrasts well with your horse's color works best) and drape it along your horse's spine.  This gives you a very clear picture of the shape of the back.
  • There are only three basic backs: uphill, downhill and atrophied.  Yeah, it's almost that simple.
  • Make a guess and pick the basic shim pattern. Nothing says you cannot change it.
  • Observe the horse on the circle with the new set-up.  Is it better? Worse?  Remember, if your horse is introverted, it may take some time for her to relax enough to tell you what she really thinks.
  • Experiment until you feel you have a good shim pattern.  Mount up and see if you feel better, worse or whatever.
  • Once you've found a pattern that works . . . KEEP EXPERIMENTING.  This is the hardest part for me but it helps the pendulum really settle in the middle.
This was an awesome session and I'm so glad I did it.  First, we had some huge positive changes in Bleu's back.  I had initially shimmed her for an atrophied back but we just didn't see that this time.  When I changed her to a downhill, A-frame shoulder, everything just looked and felt better.  When I rode, I felt more in balance and less pitched forward.  I need to play with it some more but I'm not in a big hurry.  I feel more savvy and confident with saddle shims now.

Later in the day, I rode Cricket in a 2 hour Freestyle lesson with my friend Shari and her teenage daughter, Kim.  While we all had a slightly different focus, the main theme of the lesson was carrot stick riding with greater control and even a little precision.

I have to say, I was so nervous going into the lesson.  Cricket had been doing great but it was in controlled environments and with familiar horses.  I had no idea what to expect and I was just a little worried my expectations and ego would ruin everything.

We started just warming the horses up.  Cricket was doing well and I asked her for a canter.  She gave me three beautiful laps on the left lead, no hands on the rein, stick on the outside.  It was wonderful!

The actual lesson started with tuning up the disengage - making sure leg = yield rather than leg = forward.  This is something I've been working on and Cricket was very good.  Then we put it in motion, asking for a disengage to a downward transition.  We took this onto FTR and did some great CS disengage.  Even from the canter!

Once this was working relatively well, we did some loose figure-8, disengaging to the halt in the center.  The idea was to create a sweet spot in preparation for simple changes through the center.  During this exercise, Cricket got very snarky about the sticks.  I know part of the reason was me getting focused on the task and probably forgetting my phases.  At one point we abandoned the plan and trotted around the arena, swinging the stick in a high-level friendly game.

Wendy put us back on the rail and we did a "jump friendly game" by approaching low jumps and going sideways around them to continue on the rail.  This was great for me since I get very nervous about jumping.  We changed it up again by adding in yo-yo - either up to or after the jump.

To further incorporate sideways without drilling it, Wendy set up a sideways weave.  I opted to dismount to get my spurs.  We did the pattern a few times and Cricket was doing well.

By this time, I think Cricket and I were both a little tired and frustrated with carrot stick riding.  I decided to ditch the stick and just have some free-for-all fun.  Since it was the last 10 minutes of the lesson, Wendy just turned us loose to decompress.

Cricket gave me some great canter and some very soft simple changes.  Wendy snapped a little video of our ride and it was so nice to see how well we were doing.  Cricket is almost to the point where she'll pick up the canter from the walk and that makes everything smoother and more balanced.

Things have unraveled a little since the lesson but that's a subject for another post and something I'm not too worried about.  We'll work it out . . . just like we have everything else.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Summertime and the Livin' is . . . SWEATY

Summer time in the South is not for the faint of heart.  Walking out the front door is like hitting a wall of humidity so thick you need a machete to get from your porch to your car door.  I know the rest of the nation is suffering a stifling heat wave but triple digit heat indices are a way of life down here.

I don't like the heat.  I like the cold.  I can put on more clothes but there is a socially acceptable limit to what I can remove.

Even if I had the energy to ride, the look on Cricket's face clearly says, "Don't even think of putting your butt on my back."  And frankly, the idea of sitting on her hot body isn't so appealing either.

But camp is coming up.  Less than three months until my L3/4 camp with Carol Coppinger.  I need to get moving.

Cricket is shaking things up . . . again.  God forbid that mare give me more than a few days of thinking I've got everything working.  All our progress with cantering, freestyle and CS riding has hit a wall.  Literally.  Cricket has taken to running, at a good canter, straight into the wall.  But only when I have 2 sticks.  Hmm, how interesting.  Of course she's not so stupid to actually hit the wall and she's not so right-brain that she's doing this out of fear or lack of confidence.  Her sole purpose is to scare the sh*t out of me.  It's not working and I think that's pissing her off even more.

This has nothing to do with cantering or carrot sticks and everything to do with the balance of leadership between my horse and me.  I'm not sure how to convince her to fully turn loose to me.  If nothing else, I'm sure Carol can help us when we get to camp.

Despite the heat and humidity, I need to start a plan to get some things tuned up before camp.  I'm so excited to be able to show Carol how far we've come since she last saw us together.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Back to Basics

I need to go back to some basics with Cricket.

Particularly when it comes to her back-up.

When we play in the arena - at liberty or on-line - she's got a pretty good back-up. For a generally under-motivated LBI.

In her stall when I'm feeding, it's as if her feet suddenly become glued to the ground directly in front of her stall door.

I like all the horses to back away from me when I enter with their feed.  Bleu and Dillon do so with a little wave of my hand, at most.  They know the routine and are happy to comply.  Etruska about has an aneurysm but will back-up and calm down once I approach her stall.

Cricket is the unmovable object.  And when she does, she walks a forward circle in which she ends up further away from me but doesn't actually back-up.

I had a bit of a come-to-Jesus meeting with her the other night.  While it worked that one time, it wasn't effective because the very next night she was just as staid in her position at the door.

I know the real key is psychology but I'm out of arrows on this one.

Cricket is food motivated but she's also self-confident and independent.  It's a bit of a stand-off and unfortunately she's winning.  And she knows it.


Friday, July 8, 2011

Let's Catch Up

It's been awhile.  Let's sit and chat.

The six weeks have been busy but thankfully not too hectic.  It's not that I've been so wrapped up that I haven't had time to write.  I just haven't been in a place to put it all down in words.

I have a lot of changes going on.  Some extremely positive and some that are causing some discomfort in my life.  Still positive but not all good things are comfortable.

Things with Cricket continue to improve.  Our cantering is become much more comfortable and I've progressed to cantering her with one stick and even two sticks.  We've had some great rides and an absolutely awesome lesson with Wendy Morgan, 2* Junior Instructor.

I feel very, very close to being able to assess my L3 Freestyle.  The only thing holding me back is the feeling that Cricket hasn't quite turned loose to me under saddle.  I want to feel that she's more "yes ma'am" than "let me get back to you on that one." Early in our relationship, I convinced Cricket that I had no leadership from atop Zone 3.  I lacked confidence and was fearful, anxious and inconsistent.  I allowed her to set direction, speed and even control the duration of our ride.  My confidence has taken a quantum leap in the last year and I'm ready to be the leader.  Cricket isn't so sure . . . yet.

On the ground, she rarely challenges me.  Sure, she'll have her "I don't wanna and you can't make me" moments but we figure it out and move on.  That has more to do with her left-brain, introvert nature and my developing savvy than it does with who is actually in charge.

I'm not too worried about it because it's improving with every ride.  Even when she questions me or asserts her dominance over my direction, I'm learning to be patient and persistent.

Life outside my horses is going well.  I applied for and was accepted to graduate school.  I registered for classes and I start this fall.  I'm nervous about going back to school.  I've always been a good student and I loved college and graduate school.  But that was when I was a carefree liberal arts major.  I'm going back to get my MS in Management with a concentration in Acquisition and Contract Management.  Nowhere near as fun as Theological Studies.  But, as I discovered, there isn't much money in liberal arts and a degree in Management, coupled with my years of experience, should be a very good thing for future prospects.

The uncomfortable, yet positive, change is in my very personal life.  I am taking steps to become healthier and to lose weight.  Not an easy topic for me to discuss.  I'm intensely personal and introverted.  I've made some great strides but am going through a stage of self-sabotage.  I totally recognize it, know it needs to stop but am still sliding down that slope.  Why is it so hard to love/like myself enough to do what is best and right?

So there's my life in a nutshell.  I promise to blog specifically on my lesson with Wendy because it was just that awesome that it needs its own post.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Happy Birthday, Principessa

Today is my Crickie-Monster's 10th birthday.  She came into my life almost 8 years ago and proceeded to turn my world upside down.

Everything I thought I knew about horses and horsemanship has been passed under the microscope and little has survived.

She has pushed me to the very limits but never over the edge, beyond recovery.

In her stubborn nature, she's taught me patience and perseverance.  In her willfulness and dominance, she's taught me to be an assertive and fair leader.  In her disobedience, she has taught me to look beyond the surface and find out what is really going wrong.  In her mischief, she has taught me to be more playful.

And then when she softly yields, she gives me the gift of submission.  When she moves out under me and we fly through the fields, she helps me taste joy and freedom.  When she leaves her herd or her food or whatever she was doing when I call to her, she shows the bond of our partnership.

She demands perfection but accepts my flaws.

I love her in a way no person should love another mortal creature.  I am blessed to have her in my life and I am so thankful for all she's taught me.