Saturday, July 12, 2008

Ok, So I'm a Control Freak.

My last lesson was awesome and so was the one the week before that. Two weeks ago I had a lesson riding bareback and at the walk. By the end of it, I felt solid and comfortable enough to trot. But! I didn't. I know enough to save that for another day and to learn to manage it a couple of strides at a time until I can feel comfortable expanding the time I can post the trot bareback.

Last week was forward seat work at the trot and over ground poles! I started out with my mind freezing up because I felt totally out of control in 2 point performing a crest release. OK I was totally not in control. Trickster in his wise way let me know that if I quit thinking and directing him that he was just going to find the rail and wait until I told him which way to go. Ok so that started my brain again. Well, I found that I started freezing up when he started rushing the poles (event horse gets happy when presented with an obstacle) and my instructor slapped me with a "why aren't you changing directions every lap?" "Uh, I did change once!" "Hey! that means my brain worked once!".

So what that really means to me is that a loss of control (or the feeling thereof) is a major trigger of fear for me. By the end of the lesson, I felt great! I felt better about allowing him to do his job and staying out of the way and that it is still a part of the dialogue between horse and rider and not a drop in communication (rendering me powerless and held hostage).

I have to say that my instructor is amazing about pushing me, but not losing her mind if I just can't do it. She softens and asks again. Likely the best way to work with a horse as well. She doesn't give up on me as long as I'm giving it all I've got too. That is saying something because I'm not the kind of student who is ever going to make her famous. I try my guts out every lesson. I want to ride well/competantly and with as little fear as necessary more than I've ever wanted anything in my life but at my age I'll never be Grand Prix material. Yet, it seems like she's as committed to my goals as I am and even if it's a fairly long road.

I know there aren't alot of instructors with the time of day for approaching middle aged (read "old") chicken pony riders but the ones that will invest their time in us are worth their weight in gold.

Here are pictures of my ponies doing silly useless things: The first is Shazaam. I know he doesn't tuck his legs enough to have any decent form jumping. This was about obedience and just a little something different to do. The second picture is Phantom bowing. The guy is my trainer, Rick Bates.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Easy Does It, I Suppose

I've made steady progress this past month. I haven't really been able to blog it because my husband is home from Iraq and I don't get much time on the computer anymore. Between riding, working and doing things like cooking and cleaning after more than just myself- there isn't any time left over.

I've been trying to ride at least twice a week with at least one of those rides on my instructor's horse (a lovely, flashy bay OTTB named Trickster who prefers to Hunt or Event when he isn't bringing home the bacon teaching wee people or old chicken pony riders). Trickster is a pretty amazing horse to have as a teacher. He always knows when to fill in for you and when to make you work.

As a consequence, working with my instructor and Trickster is an ebb and flow of taking me outside my comfort zone and bringing me right back in it. All of this really makes a difference in conquoring fear. My lessons are increasing my strength, most importantly in my core, but also my legs and back. I also follow a work out routine that focuses on core and back strength as well as overall flexibility. I found that when I started loosening up some tightness in my hips and legs that posting at the trot became easier.

I'm reading a book titled Balance In Movement by Suzanne Von Dietze and it's quite good! I now understand that I naturally manage my body differently now than as an adolescent because my body was proportionately very different and therefore my ability to balance has changed. So level of fitness aside, I need to learn how to manage a different body today from an athletic standpoint. I was extremely athletic until my early twenties but I continued to grow and change until about age 27 (for one thing my bust gained 2 cup sizes as is normal in my family). If I tried to take up any of the sports I played daily like volleyball or softball or track, I'd have to relearn how to manage my body. This means that I actually have to think about how my body works and how my thorax lines up in order to develop the motor skills necessary for successful riding. This to me is a fascinating concept that I wish I'd known more about before I tried to start back riding again.

So where am I? I feel comfortable at the rising trot and my body braces up less and less often. My walk/trot,trot/walk transitions are getting better and all these transitions will have me riding the sitting trot in no time. I am becoming comfortable with the process of losing and regaining my balance. I am actually capable of maintaining impulsion at the rising trot, at least for a little while.

Make no mistake I still feel fear, but I don't allow myself to feel kernels of fear for so long that they grow. For example, when I started trot work, I might only trot (jog really) for 3 strides and then walk again. When 3 strides got boring, I found myself going 5 strides at the trot then walk again. It's fine to procrastinate between asking for trot as long as you want because starting and stopping is hard on the horse I think. I am also fine going to the left and really bad going to the right as far as physical weakness/strength goes so I make sure that however many repetitions I go to the left, I go to the right. This forces me to work my bad side to become more symmetrical. It's better for the horse too.
My fear is kicking in at the faster, working trot now and the jog doesn't phase me any more. Pretty soon, the working trot will be a piece of cake too. It's just a matter of riding it long enough to feel mildly uncomfortable and then back off that stimulus.

My instructor laughs when I stop trotting right in the middle of her "big push" and tell her, "wait! I'm having an adreneline rush!" -but what a gem she is that she understands that even if she can't concieve of having an adreneline rush herself at the trot. I'm guessing that she doesn't realize that my adreneline rushes are born out of fear that teeters on panic. Maybe she does. I have found that some "rush seekers" don't understand that for some people, the "rush" isn't a great feeling but instead is a very bad feeling.

I have to say that riding a few weeks in a forward seat has really improved my dressage seat! I can see the benefits of riding in a forward seat on a regular basis now.

On a very sad note, almost 3 weeks ago, Maximus came up lame on his right hind. The farrier said he felt some sensitivity in the superficial flexor tendon. So after about 10 days of light bute and rest I cannot detect any lameness at the walk and I'll probably wait another week before I ask for a trot. So I've been working Shazaam primarily and Maximus works himself up into a full snit when he isn't the one to go work. I mean a snit as in, bucking, farting, head tossing, etc. So yes he throws a fit but I won't ask for a trot while free-longing to check for lameness. I can't hand walk Maximus either because he wants to act like an idiot and spook at bunnies- ie. he's hot from being cooped up in his 30 X 72 paddock.

On a very happy note, I bought a used Frank Baines Enduro saddle! It has lovely WIDE panels and I'm so excited that I have a nice piece of equipment that will take great care of my horses' backs, especially paired with my Thinline sheepskin 1/2 pad.

I have no new pictures to share so how about a Maximus baby pic?