Monday, September 26, 2011

Riding Solo

DISCLAIMER: Written Monday afternoon. :)

I have had the barn to myself for the last five days, and it's given me a good chance to reflect on what I've learned as a rider, barn manager and horseperson in the last year that I've worked here. I have immersed myself in this job and this world since I got here and have felt my knowledge and capabilities have truly increased, especially in the last six months as I've had increased opportunities to ride lots of different horses and started competing again. I've learned SO much about managerial duties, organization in the barn and at shows, doing things in a timely manner but quickly and efficiently, scheduling things such as vet appointments and farrier appointments without conflicts to others' schedules, etc. I've learned to fit a lot of work into an 8 hour work day. I've learned where I can take shortcuts and where I can never cut corners. I've figured out a system that truly works for each individual horse in the barn. I've learned an immense amount about nutrition, and with help from my sister and several experts we've devised a "perfect" diet for each and every horse in the barn that gives them optimal amounts of energy, a glossy coat and good weight for their level of fitness and work. I've learned to judge the quality of hay, how to decipher supplements from necessary to a waste of money, how to put weight on a hard keeper, and how to manage a horse's soundness and ulcers through diet.

I've had ample opportunity to observe some of the top vets in the area at work and have learned a lot about diagonosing a lameness, treating it, rehabbing, and preventing injuries. I've learned about caring for various kinds of wounds and foot problems. I've learned a TON about shoeing from the four different farriers who work on our various horses. I've learned about equipment, tack, blankets, and riding clothes and gotten to try a lot of different brands to see what works and what doesn't.

But most of all, I've learned how to ride. It's obviously a forever work in progress, but when my boss is gone and I have five horses to ride on my own, I finally feel competent to do the job properly. Before I got here, I wouldn't know how to ride on my own, work through problems, etc. I didn't have a clue. Finally, I feel like the ability to school a horse on my own is there...obviously needing more development and lots more experience, but it's there. I can get on my own horse and ride him through his problems, loosen him up in a nice long warm up and then spend quality time working him on the flat, ending with a positive result and a good feeling. I can get on a horse who is rehabbing and make his mundane trot sets more fun for him. I can get on the spooky horse who previously I would just fight with (and lose every time), and work him through his spooking and balking and end up getting some pretty beautiful work out of him. Nine times out of 10 I can get off and feel good about my ride, even if things didn't go as I had planned or if there were lots of bumps throughout. I always feel like I accomplished SOMETHING, even if it was small, when I get off. That feeling was NEVER there before. I was always missing that part of my riding. Now I'm just so excited to keep learning, keep soaking up every piece of information I can, and getting a lot more time in the saddle to continue my education.

My dream of being a professional rider is still sitting in the back of my mind. I know I've gotten a late start compared to most professionals, but what is age but a number, anyway? :)

Now, I have also become aware of some key physical issues that are compromising my effectiveness as a rider.
1. My core is incredibly weak. It's always been that way, but I never truly realized it until I started riding correctly with C and physically was not able to sit up and engage my core. I collapse in my ribcage, I creep forward on my pelvis and therefore my position is ineffective and incorrect. I have to be concious of this every single second and literally tell myself to sit back and try to engage those muscles. So far, I'm up against a brick wall. Suggestions welcome :)
2. My back. I've strained my lower back yet again and today couldn't physically sit up. It feels like a jackhammer going straight up my spine as I absorb concussion from the horse's stride. I plan on icing the crap out of it and continuing to ride through it in the vain hope it'll sort itself out. Chiro is out of the budget right now. I know that a lot of the back pain is related to the lack of core strength as well.

And my half chaps have broken..the bottom snaps fell off on both of them. Frustrating as now the zippers unzip while I ride. I've been eying the Ariat Volant paddock boots and half chaps but am scared, literally, to buy them as I'm fairly certain I'll be kicked out of my barn for wearing them ;)

Time for a lunch break. The gang will be back this afternoon after a super successful weekend at Poplar! Can't wait to see them, although it's been really nice to have the barn to myself and to just *be*.

God Bless and have a great Monday!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Five Points Recap!

I finally think I’m somewhat caught up on sleep…maybe. It was a very long weekend, with 8 horses competing and all 3 of us (myself, H and C) were riding. We set up the barn on Friday and got everyone ridden, and then the humidity started setting in, happy to hang around until we left on Sunday. The Horse Park is a fabulous venue, truly one of the nicest venues and stabling areas available to us. We got to bed at a semi-reasonable hour that night after giving baths and doing some magnetic therapy on a few of the horses.

The next morning came quite early (3:40 a.m) as we had 8 horses to bathe and braid, 2to lunge, 8 stalls to clean and 16 water buckets to empty and fill by 7:00 a.m. We did it, by the grace of God and a very determined attitude. Everyone had a beautiful dressage test…we were all very excited about where our horses were in the standings at that point! It was my turn after lunch…Pop warmed up really, really nicely. I didn’t do a long warm-up because it was very, very hot at this point and the last thing I wanted was for him to run out of energy before we did our test. Well…it happened anyway. But the test itself was better than last week. My goals for this phase were:

1. Improve my score by 2 points. This would mean scoring around a 34.

2. Improve the comments on my geometry…make circles the correct size, be more
accurate about doing movements on the letters.

3. Keep Pop forward and through during the entire test.

4. Keep Pop’s hindquarters straight in the right lead canter.

5. Improve the halt.

Well, here’s how it went:

1. We scored a 30, which I was thrilled about.

2. My circles were definitely closer to 20 meters than last week and I tried to be more accurate with the letters. I did still have a problem with the turn from B to E to the track, mostly because Pop wasn’t through or going forward (see below!)

3. Pop went down center line beautifully and crapped out as we turned right at
C. I didn’t prepare him enough for the turn or have him bent properly for the turn and as a result he lost his impulsion, his roundness and a few points. This happened again at B, and E..I never truly got him forward and through again, but we did have a few more good moments throughout.

4. One of the comments was “hindquarters right” for the right lead canter, so I definitely didn’t do my job here. I think by this point I was so happy he picked up the canter from the slovenly trot that I didn’t even worry about straightness. MUST BE MORE PROACTIVE.

5. He still had a hind leg too far back in the halt but his legs weren’t crossed this time!

Overall, my feeling was disappointed in myself for not riding him more aggressively and more proactively, but at the end of the day we did make some good improvements from last week and have some more homework to do. He was a good boy and we’ll only get better from here.

Cross-country was much later. I was pumped! I walked the course twice and was especially concerned about 6-7-8; fence 6 was simple but then you had to make a right hand turn 180 degrees to a ditch and then 4 strides to 8. I was worried about
the right hand turn and keeping him forward to the ditch. Goals:

1. Ride up to my distances.

2. Get Pop to turn better than last time. We had a lot of issues with landing on the left lead with a right hand turn coming up.

3. Establish a rhythm earlier in the course.

4. Come in closer to the optimum time.

Here’s how it went!

1. I rode up to no distances. Haha. We took a LOT of flyers because I saw a long one and didn’t have the pace to make it. Poor Pop. He was so good and willing…fence 5 was a wide table and he took off WAY too far away and still cleared it. I rode backwards through related distances…for example, the water was supposed to be a one stride and I did it in 3. I was long on the bank to the coop, also.

2. We for the most part had better turns. We turned well to the ditch, but we almost had a runout at fence 4 because he was flying through the turn without actually turning. Thank God he has a big heart and jumped it anyway but it was close.

3. I don’t think we ever found our rhythm this time. He was wanting to go, go, go and I would let him go and then start freaking out in front of the fence. Luckily for me he’s game and careful.

4. We definitely failed on this one! We had the fastest time on our division by a LOT. Woops!

Nevertheless, we were clean and he jumped confidently. What a rush! Very proud of him and happy the BF was there to watch and cheer us on. He cooled down easily and got poultice and wraps for the night as well as hoof packing. We were sitting in 5th.

Sunday morning dawned chilly but it was soon to warm up a good deal and become BLAZING hot. We again had an early and busy morning with 6 horses show jumping before I rode. All of our boys were very good. Ardy ended up 7th in his second Prelim and Val was 2nd in my division. Pop and I jumped a couple of fences and headed in. To be honest, I walked him into the ring and a sense of calm came over me and I rode the course like the most confident person ever. He was AMAZING. I didn’t worry about distances, I just kept him moving forward and he jumped every fence so beautifully. We had a clean round and I couldn’t keep the smile off my face. What a GOOD BOY. We finished up with a beautiful white 4th place ribbon! I’m so proud of myself and of him. GOALS MET for stadium…which was to get around with rhythm and balance.

So what’s next for the Pop Star? We’re looking to run Novice at the October Starter HT at the Horse Park the first Sunday in October. I’m excited about returning to that course and hopefully owning it this time!
Pop will return to work tomorrow weather permitting, and we have a lot of flatwork to do before the Starter HT. I want to really have the Novice tests down pat by then so it’s almost a formality. I also want to do more fitness work with him before then so I feel like I can ask him for more and he’s capable of giving it. I also need to work on getting a show coat before then!

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more news on Mazzie (who is doing great!) and the rest of the horses in the barn!