Monday, December 30, 2013

Holiday Wishes and Catching Up...

OK, so I'm a teeeensy bit late with the holiday wishes.  I hope you know I truly mean them.  I totally do!  I'm just really late in expressing it.  The pic above is this year's holiday card.  It's the first one since 2008 that does not have Sug in it.  We normally do a shot of the whole family, but those just did not come out this year. :(  This one was not too horrible, but it wasn't right to have the kids, me and the horses on the card and not the hubby - well, you know how well that would have gone off.

Did y'all have a good holiday season?  Looking forward to ringing in the New Year?  I have to admit, I've never been a fan of New Year's.  Midnight is waaaaaaayyyy to late for me to stay up, and you know, I just don't get the whole big run-up to one second and then... pffffffffffttttttt!  The air is immediately out of that balloon.  We are actually going out for the first time in forever.  Normally if we do go out, it's to a neighbor's place.  This time we're going to the home of some barn friends.  Their daughter is Sophie's age and the two are inseparable.  I hear rumors there will be a hefty amount of champagne.  Yippeeeeeee!

So here's what's been going on since we last chatted.  We've been doing some horse showing.  Yeah, I know, what dope starts seriously horse showing in the middle of a Northeast winter?!  This dope, that's who!  My trainer has had me doing 2'6" hunter and eq classes because she knows how stressed I get doing the 3' jumpers.  She wants me to get more show miles and feels that the lower level hunter and eq classes offer courses that are easier to memorize, taking that little stressor off my plate.  She feels that often trainers put students in classes they really are not ready for, and wants me to get to a place where I am relaxed and confident and bored silly before we move up.  The funny thing is that Sug is not a hunter type horse, and while it pains me to admit it, I am definitely not an equitation rider.

To add an element of excitement to things, I've signed up for the Marshall & Sterling league.  The plan is for me  to try to qualify for the year end finals at HITS-on-the-Hudson in New York.  I'm thinking of it as a smaller, lower version of the Big Eq,  It's got tests and everything, like the Big Eq classes have.  It's a challenge for us, because Sug is a jumper, and feels that trotting a fence or coming to a halt is an egregious waste of time.

Our first show around Halloween was less than successful.  Well, in one way it was.  We got out there, and we survived.  BONUS!  The second show was just Sophie and me, and was a great time, as it was just me and my daughter hanging out with our ponies.  We both rode pretty well, but more importantly, we spent a lot of quality time just chill in' with each other and James and Sug.  We wound up as champions of our respective divisions, but really, the best part of the day was just being together.

Here's a vid from our medal class.  Not perfect by a long shot, but we didn't totally embarrass ourselves, so I'm pleased.  Sug was so funny, she clearly thought that after the trot fences we were done.

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A couple of weeks after that Noah and I did a show in Gardnertown, NY.  So I had another really cool day hanging out with my other kid and our ponies.  James was a good boy for Noah and they got some nice ribbons.  Sug was her usually Sainted Mare self, and several people told me how much they liked her.  (Don't you love when people compliment your horse?  It's like when they compliment your kids.)  We did pretty well, too.  I beat Noah in the hack (crazy, as James is more of a true hunter than Sug) and then the Boy went and beat me in the M&S medal class, the one I'm trying to qualify for!  I was proud and a bit put out at the same time.

Fast forward to the weekend after Christmas.  Soph and I showed at Old Salem Farm in New York.  Holy crap, is that place ever nice!!!  I mean, really, it's crazy when most of the barns we show at are nicer than my house!  Sophie and James were so pretty together; they just seemed to flow confidently around the ring, both looking so relaxed and at ease.  Several people in the in-gate area commented on her riding and what a good boy James was (big cheer for the OTTBs out there!) and I was so proud!  They were champions of the Pre-Children's Hunter division!!!  At Old Salem Farm, no less!

Sug and I did not have a bad showing.  We didn't do as well as Sophie did, but we got some decent ribbons.  Our flow and rhythm around the course is getting better; we're not as choppy.  I'm getting better about putting my Big Girl pants and doing the numbers down the lines.  Sug doesn't have a big step, so it feels like we are going hell-for-leather and that feels a bit precarious to me.  I don't think I'll ever understand why you have to do a pre-determined amount of strides.  Why kill yourself for 4 strides when you can do a lovely flowing 5?  Whatever, I'm getting better.  It's so funny - at both shows people complimented Sug, telling me how much she helps me out, which says a lot about what a doll she is, and also about my riding! LOL!

So that about brings us up to date.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Human Calculator...

One of those "Jesus, take the wheel" distances.
"So much for things going well."  That's what I was thinking during my lesson last week.  Recently my lessons had been going well, I had a great session with my favorite clinician,  and then we did well at a show.  And by that I mean that I rode pretty well, not just that I got nice ribbons.  So, quite frankly, I was  expecting that things would be on an upswing.

What's that they say about pride going before a fall?  Not that I had a fall, but I couldn't find a distance if you gave me a ruler and a GPS.  I was adding or subtracting strides like it was my job, hence the human calculator comment. (Wish I could say I made that up, but I saw it on a COTH Form and laughed so much it stuck with me). I would either chip in and floss my teeth with her mane, or leave out a stride and hope she sprouted wings.  God bless her, The Sainted Mare has a very good sense of humor, and she did her best to deal with every crap distance I got her to.

Frankly, I wouldn't have blamed her if she had decided she'd had enough and simply stopped and dropped me on my butt when I got her to yet another difficult distance.  I have no idea why some days I can find a rhythm and pace and other days I pickpickpick in the hopes of finding distance, or I gun her and find myself asking her to leave hopelessly long.

I was starting to feel like Charlie Brown kicking the football.  You know: Good approach, get to that last crucial moment and...AAAAAAARRRRRRRGGGGHHHHH!  Clearly I don't have Lucy to contend with, but I'm sure you get my drift.

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So anyway, there I was, trying and failing and cussing like a sailor.  I was sharing the lesson with my daughter and on the car ride home she said to me, "Mom, you were really frustrated.  I could tell, because I've never heard some of those words before!"  Stellar parenting moment.  Really, and the nominee for Mother of the Year is...NOT ME.

Oh well, onwards and upwards.  Try, try again.  And again.  And again.  And again............

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Return of the Magic Canter...

Since my last post some fun things have happened.  One of my favorite clinicians, Eric Horgan, was in town and my friend Wendy set up a lesson for me.   If you've been following AWIP for a while, you've maybe read about some of my experiences with Eric's teaching. Have you ever had a trainer who just made everything seem easy?  Who cuts through all the confusing mumbo-jumbo and deconstructs things so what seemed difficult yesterday seems incredibly simple today?  Eric Horgan is that teacher for me.

A friend and I rode while Wendy and another friend, Gail, took video.  This was something new, but I could see the potential upsides. So Dawn and I warmed up like we normally would while Eric watched and the ladies filmed.  After we were done, Eric had us come to the center of the ring to tell him what we felt during the warm up, and then he told us what he saw.  He felt that Sug was not engaging that big ol' engine she's got.  He had Wendy show me a clip of her trot where he pointed out that her hind legs were not truly coming underneath and carrying her.  He then showed me clips of her canter.  The canter to the left seemed lackadaisical, while the canter on the right lead had more punch because her inside hind leg was more active. Being able to see what Eric saw while watching the video was amazing.  You know, that whole picture-worth-1000-words thing.

Eric then asked us to jump a small vertical off both leads.  The reason behind this was that our while our warm up gave him a sense of what we needed to work on, watching us jump a bit would confirm some things and possibly show him some other weaknesses.  Our warm up jumps pretty much established that we needed to get Sug's engine firing, and that we had (no surprise) a harder time landing the left lead than the right.

Eric's fix for us was shoulder-in, or what he called walk-with-bend.  We worked on that down the long side, with Eric telling me when to activate my inside leg aid, when to relax the inside rein, and when to give on the outside.  He reminded me to turn my shoulders so that they mirrored hers while at the same time keeping my hips facing forward like hers.  I mean, I know I should be doing those things, but you know how sometimes what you know in your head isn't what your body does. At one point he took the controls from me -- walking beside me and handling the reins and so I could concentrate on what he told me to do with my seat and leg aids. He'd tell me to do one simple thing, and BAM!  Sug would round up and step under, or bend around my inside leg more.

Once I got to doing the walk-with-bend thing pretty well, he'd have me "take her for a test drive" by asking for the trot.  Her walk to trot transitions out of the WWB exercise were sparkling, crisp and powerful  We had a working trot with impulsion and purpose.  When he had us due WWB into a canter depart, she bounded into the canter with such power it almost felt like she was bucking into it.

Now that we were working with impulsion, we began jumping.  Of course I went into what I call "calculator mode" -- adding and adding and choking up on her, basically killing all the impulsion we just created.  Forehead, meet palm.  Smack!  Eric told me to get out on the rail and get my "magic canter". Once I did, then and only then was I allowed to approach the jump.  As we bounded down to the fence, Eric repeated "The canter, the canter, the canter" in a hypnotic rhythm, effectively keeping me in the on the pace I needed.

Now, I know what you're thinking: I could just count strides or sing the Alphabet song to keep myself on a rhythm.  Nope.  I'm rhythm challenged, and apparently unable to multitask.  Math is hard enough as it is.  Trying to do math while remembering to keep my heels down, keep her straight, and not jump ahead - well, that's damn near impossible for this bear of little brain.  Clearly I need to win the lottery so I can pay Eric to do nothing but give me lessons and say "The canter, the canter, the canter" as I ride to every fence.

Not only was I jumping well, Eric had me jumping bigger than I typically do.  He has a way of giving you courage - not Dutch courage, but the kind that comes from doing something right and knowing deep down you can do it again or do something even better.  And off I went to jump a line and a bending line, feeling like "Hey, we got this, no problemo."  The video below is how it worked out.

I might not be ready for any Big Eq finals, and at some points I cringe thinking I look like a monkey humping a football, but hey, it's a start..