Thursday, April 29, 2010

Quality vs Quantity

I feel like this old saying is tried and true no matter the situation. For years I use to feel like I “had” to ride a certain number of times per week. I felt like I had to practice, Eli had to get exercise and we had to keep going. When I was showing heavily I would really plan my riding schedule around the show. Eli would probably be off the day before we left, but the days before that were spent really riding. I was very strict about the schedule. The last year that I showed, I realized that one ride really didn’t make that much of a difference. Eli was going through quite a bit of hoof problems and I would be really stressed if I couldn’t ride exactly as planned prior to a show. Suddenly it clicked and I woke up. One ride does NOT make that much of a difference. It doesn’t really impact how I will do at the show. I’m ready or I’m not. End of story.

I don’t know how well I learned that lesson. I’m trying to keep that in mind. Recently I’ve decided that for my own mental health I need some days away from the barn. I need days where I don’t go out there at all! SHOCK! I know right? It’s been working well, as I’ve been fitting in more time at the gym and just in general avoiding stupid barn drama. I think it’s really helped my mental state. I feel less “burned out” about riding. I think Eli probably likes it to. He sure as hell doesn’t want to deal with me when I’m annoyed and stressed.

Last night I should have listened to my gut. The plan was to ride last night and not tonight as I have a massage after work. I got annoyed with stupid barn shit about 10 mins after I got there. I felt my aggravation rise. Part of me just wanted to leave and go home. The “old” me popped up and the voice in my head said “but Eli is going to have tomorrow off, you have to ride today”. So I sucked it up and started tacking up. Eli started off stiff, giraffe-like and uncooperative. He was turned out yesterday and the previous two days he was in. Did that contribute to it? Maybe. The previous two days he was willing, supple and bending. Not last night. Maybe it was a result of what was going in my brain. About 5 mins into the ride I wanted to get off. Then the old me popped up and said “but you are teaching him that if he doesn’t cooperate the ride is over.” Really? He’s 15 years old. Would he really think that after one lame ride? I doubt it. I kept riding because, well hell, I had spent the time to groom and tack so I might as well try to make this worthwhile. Eli remained giraffe-like, which is usually the problem that I prefer to fix, as opposed to below the bit. Last night however, I just didn’t want to deal. I tried. We had good moments. We actually cantered once around the ring COMPLELETY (!!!) in both directions. However he was very strong and not set back on his butt like he needs to be. I was focusing on pushing the canter with my seat. So maybe we learned something? Maybe not.

If I had to do it over I would have followed my gut and not ridden. After all I really believe that quality vs. quantity can be applied to the training path. Last night all I did was check a box: I rode Wednesday. That’s it. It wasn’t quality. It did nothing for us. It would have been better for him to have two days off and ride on Friday. Would that have hurt? No! Would he have loss fitness? NO! I need to remember the lesson I thought I learned years go. One ride doesn’t make that much of an impact on the overall training scale. One lesson sure as hell might! But one ride, on my own, with no one helping me when I’m in a pissed off mood sure as hell doesn’t do much. Certainly not anything positive.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tired Lesson

So after 5 days off, of which I spent 4 at Rolex, Eli and I had a lesson last night. I was tired and cranky when I got to the barn. People there were annoying me, as usual. The clinic was running late as usual. However, I did have a new helmet, whip and thinline pad that I was ready to try out! :)

So the lesson started ok. Better than I expected after that many days off. Within 10 mins, Eli was way more lazy than he should have been. That was annoying. We didn't do anything spectacular. Some walk, trot and shitty canter warmup. Ugh. Then the far half of the arena became taken over by another lesson. Then within 5 mins the new boarder wanted to lunge her horse. So I have a first time lesson student on a lunge with cones all over on the far side and a chick with a horse standing outside the gate ready to lunge. I started to get sort of anxious as I thought "where am I going to ride?" Somehow the girl ended up lunging in the same area as the lesson as the instructor pulled the lesson girl to the side to chat. She is always talking to these kids for 15 mins or so at a time, with no riding going on. Weird. But it worked out in my favor last night.

We did the "whip desensitizing" after a bit of canter work. Eli was much more nervous about that and kicked out at one point. We managed to make progress though and then I had a nicely forward horse with some great hock action! The canter after that was good. At the very end Eli would not halt without backing up, so we had to school the heck out of severe half halts to convince him that he didn't go backwards when halting. This was a side effect of both his nerves due the whip and the degree to which I had him collected at the end. It wasn't anything to worry about, but just to work through.

I LOVE the thinline pad! It's great. I really notice a difference in the feel and the lack of bounce at the sitting trot. It seems that the purchase will be well worth the money. :) The helmet is also great, though a bit warm. That is worrisome since last night was a cool night.

My trainer and I agreed that some of the canter issue is just "in my head". Like I said earlier, it's me thinking it's going to suck and we are going to break. It's me tensing up as a result of that thinking. I need to be hypnotized or something! Ha ha.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Canter, Canter, Canter

Last night I broke a hard and fast rule. I rode the day of shoeing. I never do that. My farrier prefers it that way and so do Eli's feet. However, when he's about to have 4 days off (maybe 5 if I don't fit a ride in today) then you gotta do what you gotta do. Surprisingly he was very comfortable.

It was a light ride and I worked a bit on keeping the outside short at the canter. No major accomplishments going on here.

After the ride I was talking to a friend. We were discussing how when you "think" you are going to fail, then you do. I believe that I have that issue with the canter to some extent. Especially the first canter in the ride. It sucks and it's a flop. However, I talk myself into believing we can make a lap around the arena. I "commit my body" to the canter. I learned that phrase from a clinician that I no longer work with. Thinking that helps to some extent. I told my friend "I bet it looks like I canter my whole ride!" She agreed and said that I do quite a bit of canter. So what's the problem? It's deceiving. If you aren't really watching me, you don't see the problem. If you are just messing around in the barn, hanging out and talking you think I'm a pro at cantering. What you don't see is that I can't maintain the canter for very long. THAT my friend is the problem. How long can we go until we break? I swear I think that when I ride. That's a problem. I need to *believe* that I can canter as long as I want to. Other people can canter my horse as long as THEY want. Why can't I? I need a horse to borrow for a couple rides. One that I can just canter, canter, canter! Unfortunately I don't have access to a horse like that to borrow.

I leave for Rolex tomorrow. I'm never impressed with the dressage, but this year the WEG test event, KY Cup Dressage is being held. I will catch the last day and get to see the freestyle tomorrow night. I'm going to watch people canter. I'm going to get inspired! I'm going to figure this out. Someday Eli and I will be able to canter, canter, canter! :) Hopefully sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lesson Review

My lesson last night was a typical average lesson. There weren’t any fabulous new exercises or eye opening discoveries. The best thing was that Eli was very forward for most of it due to being at a new place. I love taking him places. He is generally always “on” and doesn’t give me any problems.

I have a canter problem. I can’t. I can counter canter till I’m blue in the face. I can do harder figures in counter canter than I can in true canter. This is a problem, a big problem. My trainer says that it’s rare to find someone that finds something more difficult to be easier. We’ve analyzed it till my brain is mush. I do something different in the counter canter . . . it’s likely I DON’T do something. I plant my position (for fear of switching leads) and I think I just stop fighting things in a way. Now don’t get me wrong, we can do true canter. We just can’t do it for very long. First level tests require quite long spurts of canter. Other tests seem to break it up more. For example, the serpentine in 2nd level (2nd 4?) where you do a simple change every time crossing the center line . . . we can do that! The first 1 canter where you canter basically the whole arena with a 15m circle in the center – nope! Not happening. We will break. Why? Well first of all I lose my hips. I don’t keep them in front. I tend to lock my arms somewhat and not follow. Though I don’t buy that 100% because I feel like I lock them more in counter canter and we have no issues there. I don’t keep the outside rein short enough especially on short sides and circles. Now even when I focus on these things, we still lose the activation and break. And when the activation starts leaving, I push my hips back and try to “urge” on the canter. That is BAD! I’m trying to stop doing that. Even when I stop, we will still break. It’s a mess. We have a much better canter than we had years ago. The quality is better and it’s more collected and less on the forehand. We just can’t sustain in. It’s becoming rather depressing.

So last night we warmed up quite a bit in the trot. We did some loops and half pass. Eli was very forward and very honest in the hand if not a bit a strong. We’ve been focusing on watching where he breaks – sometimes the poll is not the highest and it’s the 2nd vertebrae. We’ve had some interesting lessons focusing on this. One was very forward, very honestly broken at the poll, but REALLY forward with no half halts and just a bat-out-of-hell canter. That lesson was fun! Then Eli changes his mind and instead of going low would like to be a giraffe, so then he has to be ridden low. He likes to keep me on my toes! Last night he was honestly broken at the poll. Which I expected being at a new place. We did have some issues after the walk breaks . . . he thought he’d like to be a giraffe again. I’d rather fix the giraffe than fix the broken 2 vertebrae issue honestly.

Last night we worked on significant half halts in the trot. Then we duplicated them in the canter. That is really hard for me because there’s a fine line in that half halt so that we don’t break. I did well for the first 2- 3 then we’d lose it. Not complaining though because in general I don’t ask for that much half halt in the canter . . . we try to go forward and maintain the gait! We also work on counter flexing at every “point” on the circle. There are 4 points a circle right?! We counter flex for one stride at each point. We do this in the trot and in the canter. It really helps the canter. It also shows me when I let my reins get too long. It’s enlightening that sometimes I keep my reins short, but I let my arms get long. If I do that in the canter the activation is gone and we fall on our face and break.

We spent a bit of time working with the whip. Eli is scared to death of the whip. It took me quite some time when I got him to get him use to a dressage whip. He could always see it in the corner of his eye. I had to start with a bat, held at his shoulder and work my way up. To this day his reaction to the whip is still fear. As a result it’s not something that we can really use a tool in our training, at least not on a regular basis. I threaten him with the whip and just move it like I’m going to tap him and I get a reaction. He’s so incredibly sensitive. I do not let many people ride him with a whip, because if they forget and treat him like a normal horse they will likely end up on the ground or in the next county! Last night my trainer had a short lunge whip with the tassel wrapped up. I would halt Eli and he would come up and pat him and rub him and introduce the whip. He would then tap whichever hind leg was out and a few times Eli responded correctly by bringing that leg up and in place. A couple times he took it backwards, which is not the response we want. He got better and better with this and we are going to spend some time in every lesson doing this. The interesting thing is calming my nerves. I’ve had some issues with my trainer having a whip in his hands. I don’t always trust him. He won’t always tell me what he’s going to do. Last night once he finally told me he had no plans other than what I just described I relaxed and it got much better. Who is more petrified of the whip? Ha ha! I just prefer the whip to be in MY control.

Hopefully by writing this blog I learn to analyze my riding better. It sounds like I have a good grasp on things when I read it back to myself. I just wish that I could figure out the canter. It’s discouraging enough that I’ve thought of just retiring from this hobby. For now I will continue working on it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Lesson Day

Normally I have lessons either at my own barn or at my trainer's barn. My trainer comes to the area every other Monday alternating with my barn and Prairie Oaks in Troy. Without going into details, my trainer only does one Monday at my barn. So that means I'm only guaranteed one lesson a month. However, the other barn can't always fill their clinics, so we have the first half of a day at my barn. To ride then I must take a couple of hours of PTO. I have a lot of trips planned this year, so I can't continue to slowly erode my PTO. Today I decided that I'd go to Prairie Oaks after work for a lesson. That required me to bring the trailer to work, because Roger is in the field. There's no way I'd be able to fit the thing into our tiny parking lot, but luckily we have permission to park on this gravel lot next door. The property use to have a green house and is currently for sale. This is the view from my office:

Notice the "new" truck! I don't know if I ever posted pics of the truck on FB. It's used, but in amazing shape. 3/4 ton Dodge Ram diesel! :) YAY! I love how it pulls the trailer. And doesn't it look great on my trailer!?!?! Way better than the old red truck. (Ahh, but I continue to love Old Red, because I may have to use her at times) So today I'm stuck at work and can't run errands at lunch. :( That's a bit sucky. I will leave around 3:30, go get Eli and hopefully get to Troy 30 mins before my 5:45 lesson. Eli is usually "on" when he's not at home, so fingers crossed for a good lesson!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Numero Uno

This is my first blog evah! :) I decided that I wanted to start documenting some things in life. The first being my journey of dressage with Eli. I want to start making notes of my lessons. I have a fabulous trainer and learn some great exercises in my lessons. Very seldom do I write them down. If I did write them down where would I keep them? A blog is a great place! I don't have to store them and this way I can share them with all of my riding friends. YAY! So for now that is the path this blog will take. I might put some normal live stuff in here I suppose. We'll see . . . join me on my ride and see where it leads.

First up: meet Eli!

Eli is a 15 year old TB gelding. I can't believe he's that old. I got him when he was 7. Some people's horses never age it seems! Or they are bad at math. Just the other day when the vet was out he said "how old was he when you got him?" We reminisced abpout the last 8 years. Neither of us could believe that it had been that long!

Dressage is our discipline of choice. . . I guess you could say. A few years ago I started working with my current trainer. Initially it was on a clinic basis. That meant once a month I'd go to a barn to have a lesson with him. I think that started in 07. My memory is bad. Basically I loved working with this trainer and in Oct 08 I sent Eli to him for training. He remained there for 6 months. Unfortunately he hurt himself and was not in training for the last month he was there. If anyone knows Eli, they know he is Master of Injuries. So I wasn't surprised but I was disappointed. I've had him back with me for a year now. Luckily I'm at a barn that my trainer comes to on a regular basis. As often as I can (usually once a month) I make the drive to my trainer's barn for a lesson. We are just learning SO much! I'm a much different and better rider than I was before. So for now that's the end of the history lesson/ introduction.
I will try to post bits and pieces of what I learn in lessons here. Next lesson: Monday April 19th. We are traveling to Prairie Oaks in Troy IL for a lesson that evening. YAY!