Friday, February 21, 2020

Homework galore

Right after my last post, I had (of course) big plans to do X, Y, and Z. Then I fell and bruised my right seat bone area. Enough I could legit barely sit. And when I did sit? I had to sit slouched because I could NOT sit up or put weight on my right seat bone. I thought I had bruised my actual pelvis, though FIVE DAYS LATER I was finally able to determine the pain came from the muscles and not actual bone. It was a long ass week y'all. No lesson that week!

I tried to ride while I was bruised, with various levels of success. I couldn't sit down, I couldn't sit up, I sure in hell couldn't sit back, so I did some two point twice in that week. Unfortunately, I had also tweaked my bad knee when I fell so I couldn't do two point very long. Or with stirrups. *sigh* In the end, I gave Mia several days off. She got to free lunge and be fed treats and she seemed content with that. I was finally able to SIT last Saturday, but wasn't able to be productive in the saddle. Instead we just be-bopped around in the ring (hello 22 degrees and super high winds! No riding outside!). Sunday I was able to do a little bit of work, but in the end just walked, chatted with other ladies at the barn and took it easy.

On Monday (8 days after my fall), I felt good enough to ride and so we had a true dressage ride. There were various degrees of success, but the ride went well enough. Mia was SUPER full of energy and we did some long trotting (trotting with head low, as big as we can, for as long as we can) with some canter work. Mia loved that we were doing long trotting again, and was throwing in some super huge extended trot steps. LEVITATION BABY!

On Tuesday our lesson was cancelled because the instructor, A, was under the weather. I rode and worked on homework: walk/canter/walk transitions, lots of transitions, transitions all over the place, gait transitions, speed transitions, all the transitions. Mia did most of them quite well, but wasn't feeling the canter/walk transitions. She was pretty sure they couldn't be done without jigging, and we had a long argument about it. Trot in them? Eh, not ideal but whatever. Jigging? No. Bad mare.

On Wednesday, we went back to work on the canter/trot transition and Mia had obviously taken time to reflect on our Tuesday ride. She was much more willing to w-a-l-k in the transition. I am quite sure A won't like them, as I think I am tensing and I am super collecting Mia's canter which makes her tense, but it is baby steps in the right direction. Mia is understanding the request and trying, so now we just need to fix me for it to come together.

It was also super cool to canter on Wednesday, Mia is so much more adjustable in her body position! When I feel her be crooked, I can put my leg on and she moves her haunches!! I am now able to feel when she is straight! Her right lead is still her hardest direction to keep her haunches behind her, and we still struggle greatly with haunches in the canter/trot transition, but we have come so far in these 3 months. It's hard to imagine that 7 lessons have made such an immense difference!

I really, really wish I had found A sooner, but everything happens for a reason. At this point, I would put her up as tied for the best instructor I've ever had against M from Michigan. She has made such an immense difference in such a short period of time, she explains things so very well, and she seems to really, truly enjoy giving lessons to us. I hope it doesn't end anytime soon, because I think we are going to go really far by keeping up these lessons!

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Lessons 6 and 7

I've been falling into the "too busy to blog" trap again, and for that I apologize. I should be making a much better effort to document the lessons at least!

I had lesson 6, then a week off due to super cold temps (12 degrees at the barn, yay!), then a lesson, then this week off because I fell and bruised my seat bone area. Good times! Lesson 7 was the better lesson anyway, as lesson 6 was cut short. Mia was stiff, hormonal and moody and while she tried to work, she wasn't very happy and it was pretty obvious.

Lesson 7 was all about developing power. Since I am on track to go Training level (again), we need to increase Mia's power and desire to go forward. Overall, it is coming together. Mia is straight about 50% of the time to the right and 75% of the time to the left. We have found some of the tricks to get her really moving forward (bigger canter and transitions), and she is much more steady on a shorter rein.

The instructor, A, said Mia is now easily doing 3rd level movements for a 1st level horse. I think she is saying that we are now able to do the movements, we need to now create the power and suppleness to match. She said Mia is quite supple for her build, while she will never be as supple as a Totilas or big warmblood, she is developing wonderfully for her body. She isn't stiff and bracing against me for the entire ride, and we are moving much more freely.

A also said that she loves teaching riders like myself, who desperately want more information and who actively works on homework vs the kids who ride because it is something to do. She says she really enjoys our lessons and spends a lot of time thinking about our upcoming lessons. She is putting together a plan for us for spring, to help develop our fitness and training schedule. It's weird, I guess I can say I have an actual trainer now? Someone who is actively developing a path for us, and working with us to get there, it's really weird. I've never had an actual trainer before!

And she is making our canter look like this
My future will include 1 ride a week doing exclusively transitions for 45 mins. She doesn't want us staying in one gait for more than 15 seconds before changing to something else. THAT will be an interesting ride indeed! For now, I am simply waiting for my butt to stop hurting so I can ride. I can currently sit up on my horse, but I can't sit down or sit back. I am able to do two point, which is what I did last night, but I can't jump yet because I hurt my knee when I fell. *sigh* When I do my fitness rides, I am to change my speed in the gait every 30 to 60 seconds, from slow to medium to fast to medium to slow to fast to medium to slow to fast, etc. The rationalization is to really get Mia to think forward and to really build muscle through transitions.

The good news is Mia is sound, happy, and is moving very well. I am doing some sort of moderate exercise 6 days a week and that will be increasing to moderate-high levels as winter finally moves out. I may have my first show on April 19, a Combined Test, so fingers crossed?

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Lesson 3, 4, 5 - all about straightness

Lesson three was fun, we did a lot of lateral movement. We re-introduced the haunches in, haunches out, and shoulder out at both the walk and trot. The lessons have been 50% walk, 35% trot, and only 15% canter and it is actually working very well. Mia is starting to develop more muscle, as am I, so that her tempo doesn't change as much when laterals are used for a longer period of time because she has the strength to do them. I wish I had taken the time to write down more of lesson 3, as while it was building on what we learned in lesson 1 and 2, there was a lot of good information.

I was still doing the walk transition requests slightly wrong, too much hip movement and I was looking like a more like a pole dancer than a rider. Less is more, need to teach myself how to move less and not brace as much. When I ride, I tighten up and it affects Mia's movement even when I think I am asking her to do more. When I was finally able to ask Mia to do a half pass without being tight in my hips and thighs? Mia marched her little self right over to the wall without bracing and slowing her tempo. Who knew, right? SMDH

This makes me super happy!

Lesson 4 was short at Mia had tweaked a muscle in her lower left hind. She wasn't lame, but when we asked her to do laterals, she was very resistant when we asked her to use her left hind. For example her canter went from lovely to feeling like we were circling left, but aimed well to the right while riding a camel. She was super inverted and unhappy when we were doing anything that really worked that left hind. We instead did a lot of walk laterals and played with turn on the haunches and turn on the forehand. It turns out that I don't actually ride a turn on the haunches well at all. When we aren't pivoting on our front legs, we are doing a walk pirouette. Which is harder than a turn on the haunches. Go figure, I never knew! Our half passes were really good when I didn't brace and don't allow Mia to lead with her haunches. Learning exactly how to balance the request was nice.

I am really enjoying learning some of the nuances of the movements, broken down into small sentences. I have done shoulder in with 4 different trainers but this is the first one who has said I have now "Mastered" the shoulder in. I told her I won't go that far, but I understand it inside and out now. Reading helped, watching helped, instruction helped, but having her break it down while I was doing it made it click for me. #Win

We are working it!

Last night's lesson (#5) was really good, it was a canter session and we worked HARD. As we warmed up, A commented that she can already see changes in Mia's movement as after 4 lessons Mia is already walking straighter than she did when we started taking lessons. She complimented our homework skills several times, and said she would gladly fire all of her students if she could get more students like me who want to learn, ask questions, and work hard on their homework.  ❤️❤️❤️

The canter work was about really making Mia work her abductor muscles and getting those muscles to build next. Lots of canter transitions, lots of shoulder in at the canter (HARD!), and getting Mia to really carry herself was on the agenda. We found my outside hand HATES being low and my inside hand LOVES to be grabby. It is super hard to change habits, but slowly but surely we are chipping away.

Look how STRAIGHT Mia is!!!!

My big takeaway from this last lesson is I need to find a way to stop bracing my lower body. I do not need to be a contortionist to ride my mare (who knew!) and I need to be much more open, free, and soft. I also need to really work on re-educating my hands (again) to be softer, steadier, more consistent, and more in the "right place" which is apparently not my crotch. HA!

My homework is canter work, though next week's lesson may already be cancelled. It is supposed to be really cold and I will only have ridden 2x because I am going to Chicago for work. We will see how it goes, though homework never ends  and we will just keep working at all of this!

Monday, December 30, 2019

Lesson 2 - Still doing it wrong

Lucky me, after my last lesson I got super sick with a cold and my throat felt like it had been shredded with glass. Totally not great for riding! As such, I got to only "practice" twice before my second lesson. I was working with teaching Mia the new seat cues and with clicker training, she was picking them up pretty quickly! Progress indeed!

Then on Thursday we had our lesson and found we are still doing everything wrong. Ha! Isn't that how it always goes? For the walk cue I was pushing my left seat bone forward and then my right, but at the halt I was just looking like I was doing the cha-cha. I misinterpreted the cue, the "seat bone swing" was while we were walking and not when halted. The walk cue should be just a lifting/opening of the pelvis. The trot cue was pushing down with my seat bones before trotting off, I should just start posting with a forward motion with my seat.

My halt cue is also incorrect. I have always tensed my inner thighs to halt and that is incorrect. It should be a drawing in of the belly button and just halting my movement. When done properly, Mia stopped dead square several times! It is going to take work to "fix" my muscle memory, changing so much at once is certainly not going to be an instant process. What is right is my down transitions (other than halt). I do them 100% correctly every time already, win!

For this lesson, we worked on really focusing on working specific muscle groups. The lesson was a lot of true shoulder in on a circle at a walk. This is so much harder than it sounds! The goal is to slow down and really work on building new muscle structure so Mia can easily do harder stuff when we ask for it. A says that she doesn't have an indoor and so she rides her horses in all weather at a walk, doing laterals, and builds tons of muscles because she has focused on one muscle group at a time. Makes sense, and I'm willing to try it out. After 40 mins of on/off laterals, Mia was pretty pooped!

A did see some of my pics from my last XC schooling last year and was impressed. She asked how can I have balance issues in dressage if my jumping position is so good? I told her it is my Innovation saddle makes me! LOL! She loved my automatic release and my balance over jumps. She said she is super excited to have us jump in a few months, when Mia has the muscling she wants. She wants Mia to really be able to tuck her pelvis over jumps and thinks that our dressage work is going to fix it pretty quickly. Fingers crossed?!

I am actually more optimistic now than I have been in the entire 2019 year about riding. I was pretty optimistic in the spring, but my doubt that I could actually DO Training level really clouded things and (obv) affected my showing. The finality of the decision for App also seriously affected my entire year. I think I have successfully squashed those feelings of inadequacy and that I "don't belong", and I don't have the guilt for App hanging over me now. A does a really good job of being pretty tough, pointing out my flaws, but not calling me incompetent. I know the winter is going to be tough and long, but I really think this winter will be our turning point. I think we can do it!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Lesson time!

With Mia's neck issue, we had to cancel my lesson. And then the next lesson was cancelled due to illness (not mine). With my extensive traveling, I haven't been able to ride a lot but I have built up some stamina in preparation of our lesson. On Monday, we did a quick fitness ride with lots of trotting before working on transitions. While not super crisp, the canter transitions are coming back and the canter is slowly getting better even with the haunches  moving around.

The lesson went well. Really well. The instructor, A, and I seem to get along great. The biggest takeaway of the lesson is that it is time to up my education game. I make all of my transition queues via my legs, and I need to start making them via my seat bones (GAH). This is going to take time, obviously, but Mia is super smart and the instructor is confident, I am sure we will have it in a few weeks. By using my legs, I am very slightly changing my balance and am affecting her balance. If we can cue off of seat, my legs will be free to do other things. Makes sense I guess!

She also had me change my hands again. I used to ride with my hands down by my hip bones. In MI, I started riding with my hands up. When I had that fix-a-text this year, the judge said (among a lot of other things) I needed to ride with my hands down and wide again. Ugh. A wants me to ride with my hands up, so I am changing again. She also said my saddle may be a little small, my thigh is much longer than my calf and as a result, my knee pokes the plane of the knee roll when I have my stirrups where A wants them (up one hole from where I ride now). Since I am still very passively looking for a new dressage saddle, it may work. A is going to bring out other saddles for me to try out to see if I can find a model I like.

We worked a lot on holding contact and timing of my leg to get Mia to not only step under, but also step out. As soon as I let my leg up, or squeeze when her outside leg is active, she will gladly swing her haunches in. Time to fix that!

My next lesson is next Thursday, after Christmas. I will only be able to ride a couple of times before then, thanks to the last travel weekend for the foreseeable future and my now being sick. I'm actually excited to ride again though, and am really hopeful that weekly lessons will fast-track my progress and success for 2020. Let's bring on change, I am so ready for it!

Thursday, December 19, 2019

All the updates!

Wow, I actually have a bunch to talk about since our last post! First, I had a new saddle fitter out. The saddle fitter we had been using for the past 2 years had passed away. We found Advanced Saddle Fit out of NH and had her out, she knows a LOT about saddle trees and was very detailed in her conversations. She brought 5 trees of other saddles and showed how differently they fit and how they interact and interfere with backs, and that tree shape is more important than tree width in saddle fitting. She said Mia is very steep in the scapula and wide in her rib cage. Mia would only fit trees that were super neutral, and flat in the back without a lot of tree curvature.

Mia's back 2017
We fit the County saddle first and she was super happy with it! While the front of the saddle sits low on Mia's withers, it is very well balanced and required only the minor adjustment of plumping the flocking under the seat. She recommended that I ride with a half pad on every ride, so I will use my Thinline quilted pad, to raise the saddle and reduce the impact since County saddles don't have a ton of panel space for shock absorption. She really likes Pro-lite half pads, however with 5 different kinds of half pads already, I am going to use the Thinline for now.

Mia's back 2019 - more muscle!
Next was my Wintec Isabel. While she doesn't typically care for synthetic saddles, she did like my saddle and said it was also very well fitting for Mia's shape. She adjusted the wool flocking that had been added last year to accommodate Mia's muscle asymmetry, as the flocking had moved (or not put in a great place) and gotten lumpy. She recommended using a sheepskin half pad with the Isabel as well. The synthetic material of the Wintec traps warmth against skin and doesn't transfer heat like leather, so having the barrier of sheepskin will allow air transfer and introduce slight shock absorption. I have several sheepskin pads, so no worries there!
Mia's back 2019
The downside of the session was that Mia had been bit/kicked on her neck the day before. It was so painful, Mia trembled when you touched it. And she REALLY didn't want anyone touching it. I gave Mia both bute and banamine for 2 days, and then bute for several more days to try to make her comfortable. Mia couldn't turn her neck or head, and it took 4 days before she could turn her head to almost her shoulder. As of now, she is about 80%, however is still very stiff in her neck and can't bend her head/neck past her rib cage when bending to the left. Baby steps! Because of her neck, we didn't do anything more during the saddle fit session than a quick w/t/c along the long sides of the arena in a halter in the jump saddle to test out different half pads and it was agreed she traveled the same in the thinline as she did the Pro-lite, but not the sheepskin.
Ouchie! 
Next post will talk about the lesson I FINALLY had!

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Better things will be just around the bend

I knew I was out of town a lot this past month, so I wouldn't ride much. I was right, I rode very little. I haven't ridden more than 1 or 2 times a week for the past month. I was going to try to go to a small hunter show that was Nov 2, unfortunately while Mia is down for jumping all the things, the rust was too great to squeak out a decent hunter round so I didn't go. Things like half halts, balanced jumps, not rushing, and staying collected were no where near what a hunter show would require and I felt no need to spend almost $60 and a half of a day to go to a show when we were so ill prepared.

After that, I went on a road trip to TX for a full week. To clarify, we drove to TX and THEN went on a road trip. I had originally planned on flying down and participating but forgot to book tickets the day I looked them up. When I looked a couple of months later, prices had tripled and was out of budget so joined the drive down to TX, then did the road trip, then drove back. Dude. 6042 miles in 8 days. 12-16 hour days of driving in a vehicle that only comfortably goes 65mph, averaged 700 miles per day, with 3 people in a van with 2 seats. I was so done and over with the damn trip by the time we got back, I told SO never again. That amount of driving is well outside of the realm of "tolerating fun", I think it would be been okay enough of if I had flown down and back but to drive the whole thing? Nope. No way.

After we got back, our 13.5yr old German Shepherd died. We've been expecting it for a while, but for her to actually pass away hit me a lot harder than I expected. She was ridiculously healthy for being as old as she was, which is a testament to our care and her breeding. I really tried to do everything for her, and went well beyond what most would have done with the issues she had. It is an end of an era, as we are taking a break from dogs for a while. I've had a dog nonstop since 2004, and had a dog (but at my mom's) since I was a young teenager. It's weird not having a dog around. When we do end up with another, it will be a smaller dog than a 75lb dog and not one who sheds so much they explode. So last weekend we gathered up the dog beds (much to the dismay of the cats who claimed them as theirs), food, treats, toys, etc and donated them to a rescue. I wanted to make sure other dogs were helped even if we didn't take a dog on right way. When the universe thinks it is time, it will drop another dog in our lap. That's how it has always worked.

I finally started riding again. Last week I rode 3x. The rides are pretty light, as neither of us are in a shape other than round. It is a lot of reminding Mia that we are still under Operation "We are responsible for our haunches, and they belong behind us!". I did buy bigger spurs, I have little half inch nubbins and she was not actually moving off of my leg. I now have 1.5" knobs and it was amazing to feel the difference, once I actually noticed the difference. Her "moving off of my leg" in the canter before still left her haunches in. I can now actually get her to move her haunches behind her now.

While she is doing it, Mia is having incredible difficulty in cantering with her haunches behind her/haunches out. She is using all kind of evasion techniques, from running, to not cantering, to cantering sideways, to being ridiculously inverted, just by asking her to move her haunches behind her. I know it is  a process, and I am not going to be super concerned with correcting every evasion until a month or so of building new muscle, but our nice collected canter is not to be found the second I ask her to put the haunches behind her lol.

Finally, I do have a lead on some possible lessons, actual, real life lessons. I am going to talk to the lady tonight and see if we can get something scheduled. I am excited, I know we will make so much more progress with the canter with some eyes on the ground, even if it is to babysit my behind and remind me to stop doing stupid stuff.  Fingers crossed, it may be approaching winter but I'm ready to ride again!