Saturday, March 22, 2014

To Lesson or Not to Lesson: Training Update

If you've been following AWIP at all you may remember that I was having a difficult time adjusting the interim trainer my barn owner/trainer brought in to give lessons while she was in Florida for the winter.  To make a long story short, I was not adjusting well to the new trainer's style.  

Ears up and forward - how I like to see them.
I felt she was extremely critical of me. I felt (and I'm trying to make clear this is what a felt, not necessarily what may have been happening) like a couldn't go around a 20 meter circle without hearing a correction every other stride.  Criticism, if expressed constructively, is not a bad thing.  I've always been told that if you are managing people, for every negative comment it helps to make a couple positive comments if you wish to keep the person you're dealing with motivated.

However, in this case, I was hearing 5 negative comments, a less negative comment, and then 5 more negative comments.  She seemed to be softer and less critical with my kids, and I told myself I was being paranoid and there'd be no reason for her to be harder on me than the kids.  That being said, some of my barn-mates who were present during my lessons did mention that they felt she was being extremely critical with me, more so than she was with the kids.

I also felt she was not understanding of some of the conformational and health issues I face.  My heels do not go down.  They just don't.  It's a conformational thing.  It's not the achilles tendon, so it's nothing I can fix with stretching.  It's the way the shinbone and the ankle joint are constructed. I've asked chiropractors and orthopedics about it and they say there's nothing I can do, it's just the way I'm made.  T2 tried to accept that, but still asked me to try and get my heels down and toe facing up and out, forcing my foot and ankle into a position that I could not maintain.  This activated the nerve condition I have so badly that after 15 minutes of riding I'd have to stop, as my leg and ankle would completely go neurological and give out.

I can accept that I need a lot of work, but have found that I learn best if we concentrate on one or two major issues at a time.  Any more and it becomes overwhelming.  I fought through the difficulties, knowing that there's an adjustment period with any change.  I sucked it up for just over two months, and I did have some lessons that were marginally better, but most left me upset and tense.  It got to the point where I did not even want to ride, and on lesson days I would feel anxious all day.  I was so tense and over-thinking everything I was doing that I was riding horribly - I couldn't even pick up the right diagonal!  I do want to make one point clear -- I like this woman.  I like speaking with her, she's funny and extremely knowledgeable about horses and riding.  It really bothered (in fact, still bothers) me that I could not seem to work well in her system.

To add to all my worries and woes, Sug was not happy.  She'd always gone nice and round and happy.  Now her head was up, and instead of being round her back was inverted.  Instead of happy forward and relaxed ears, hers were now tense.  I may not be the best rider in the world, but before my horse seemed happy, and now she seemed as anxious as I was.

The confusing part of the whole thing was that I felt a lot of what T2 said made sense, and again, I liked her, and the kids were certainly improving under her tutelage.  I gave it a couple of months, and finally just decided I needed to stop lessoning with her.  I'm looking at it this way:  There are a lot of good teachers in the world, but if they can't get their message to you in a way that you can process and act on it, they are not the teacher for you.  For example, my kids have had a lot of the same teachers over their years in the school systems.  Teachers that Noah has worked well with are not necessarily teachers that Sophie has understood.  George Morris is one of the most venerated horsemen of our age, and has a lot of great experience to pass along.  That being said, his way of passing that message along might not work for everybody.

So for the most part I've been working on my own, just trying to get out of my self-critical mode and get back to a feeling of riding with confidence and feeling.  I've taken a couple of lessons with an eventing trainer at the barn, and have had a blast working with her.  It was amazing, the difference between being absolutely miserable in a lesson and feeling invigorated and joyful.  The eventing trainer concentrated more on being effective in the tack, and less on perfect form.

I said before that a lot of stuff T2 has said made sense, and I find myself consciously paying attention to some of the things she had me work on while I was riding with her.  I'm more conscious of not leaning in around turns, and Sug feels more balanced and less like she's falling in on the turns.  I'm also more alert to the fact that I tend to drop my inside hand on turns, so now I'm trying to raise it a bit, which is also helping my turns.  I'm trying to keep my hands quieter in general.  I'm also trying to keep my body more still as we go over a jump, doing my best not to throw my body forward when taking off and then have it fall back at landing.

So that's it.  While the content of T2's lessons had value; the way that content was delivered made it difficult to absorb.  I'm much happier now, although I feel my riding took a definite step backwards. Sug is much happier now, and back to being round and bendy. There's a part of me that feels like a quitter: I've never been a quitter, always trying to tough things out.  I've certainly been criticized before, professionally and in my riding life.  I've had trainers get frustrated with me, I've gotten frustrated with them, and been frustrated with myself when I can't execute.   I've never faced anything like this, and I tell myself that I gave it a good effort, and really tried to make it work, but it wasn't a fit.  I tell myself it's not a bad thing to decide a situation isn't working for you and you need something different.  I still find it really hard to deal with, because part of me feels that because I like her as a person I should be able to work with her.  Part of me feels relieved to have made the decision and to be giving myself permission to make this decision, part of me feels guilty and like a quitter for not being able to make it work.  Overall, though, the relieved part is the more dominant feeling.

So that's where things stand.  We'll see how things progress moving forward.

I hope things are well with you and your equine partner!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Playtime for Ponies...

Snuzzles with James
When we were about to leave for the barn I asked Sophie to tell me how cold it was out, as I'd been holed up in my office all day.  She replied that it was "about 60-ish." HUH?  In March, in the coldest winter we've had in ages, all of a sudden it's "60ish?"  I wasn't buying it.  So of course I went down to look at the thermometer and lo and behold, the child was right.  More specifically, it was 63 degrees.

You know how the first warm day makes you feel like putting on shorts and a t-shirt, playing hooky and taking an impromptu road trip to the beach?  Okay, maybe that's not the exact thing you'd do, but you get the point.  You just want to get giddy and throw away the rules for a while.

Soph and I were both feeling this way when we got to the barn.  It was so nice we thought we'd get the horses out of the ring and maybe go for a trail ride. The time change meant we had some light for a while, but the area was still covered in melting snow and ice in some places, and everything else was a mud bog.  Scratch that idea.

We groomed Sug and James while pondering what Plan B should be. We didn't feel like riding, and we were pretty sure the horses could use a change of pace.  After a while we came up with the idea of just going in the ring and simply playing with the .  If you rode as a kid, you may have memories of dragging your horse around, him following like a big old dog, while you tried to get him to jump over jumps with you, walk over obstacles, or play a game of ring tag.

So that's what we did.  We played Tug o' War with lead ropes.  James really enjoys this game, Sug gave two half-hearted tugs and couldn't be bothered any more.  We unfolded a cooler and practiced walking them over it.  We thought it would take a while for Sug and James to trust us enough to walk over it. Nope.  Apparently they trust us, as both just gave us odd looks and then walked right over the cooler.

Walk on cooler?I got this. Easy-peasy. 
Then we set up an L-shaped chute for them to back up through.  That was a giggle, especially as Sug was so sure this exercise would result in treat opportunities that she was overachieving. You could see the wheels turning in her brain, "You want me to step back? Okay.  How about right? You want right?  I can do right. Or left?  Did you want left? I can do that too!  Or did you want back again? Check- I'm on it!"  I only had to back her through it once and on the second time through she zoomed backwards like she was shot from a cannon, stopping only when she got to the other end of the chute, at which point she gave me a look that clearly said, "Ta-Da!  Treat me!"

We did turns on the forehand, turns on the hind end, we trotted over trot poles. James, Sugar and Sophie all did much better at this than I did.  I got tripped up and went ass-over-elbow.  Sug just stood there patiently while I spit out dirt.

You'd think my lack of ability to stay vertical would inhibit me from trying other mildly athletic activities.  Nope.  I'm one of those people you'll see winning a Darwin Award one day.  If this were caveman times, let's just say natural selection would have gotten me a long time ago.  So when Sophie decided to set up a bunch of jumps, well, I figured Sug and I could handle a bunch of cross rails and small verticals.

You know that fancy footing in your arena?  That stuff is HARD to run in!  Seriously, try running the full length of the arena while leaping over a few obstacles and tell me you don't pull up gasping for an oxygen tank to suck on.   Sug thought this was good fun.  As soon as we started trotting Ms. Mare started tossing her head and snaking it back and forth like she does when she's feeling sassy, with the occasional hop-skip just to put a fine point on things.

While The Sainted Mare and I warmed up at the trot, Sophie was tearing around the arena with poor old James trotting doggedly behind, the lead rope stretched to it's full length.  She'd get to a jump and leap over like a gazelle. James would get to the base of the fence, stall out, and then sorta scramble over as if he'd just realized what his role in the situation was.  James was clearly a bit bemused by the situation. "Umm, Soph? I'm confused.  Aren't you supposed to be on top of me when we're jumping?"

Sug and I took our turn.  I was slightly less gazelle-like.  I lumbered towards the fence, figuring I had about 7 strides before takeoff. As I got closer the distance didn't show itself and I started doubting my ability to clear the fence. I managed to get over it, but let's just say I won't be jumping in any hunter derbies anytime soon.  We jumped a few more just for shits and giggles and then wisely called it a night before I got hurt.

Sophie took this video of one of our efforts.  I've always told her she has a pretty skewed outlook on life.  The angle of this video proves that.  BTW, feel free to giggle.  No hard feelings on this end.


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Madame Mare's Special Month...

February is a big month in our lives.

On February 18th of 2008, The Sainted Mare stepped off the trailer and into our lives.  She's brought joy and laughter to us every day since.  We sometimes look at life as BS (Before Sugar) and AS (After Sugar).  The kids and I prefer the AS portion of our lives, while I'm pretty sure my husband longs for the BS days.

Our first photo together, taken the day she arrived.

Additionally, the 26th marked the 18th anniversary of The Sainted Mare's birth, a day which, to my way of thinking, ranks up there with other big days like Christmas, 4th of July, and the first Saturday in May (aka the day on which the Kentucky Derby is run).  Coincidentally, Sug shares her birthday with George Morris, so I think February 26th should be memorialized as an Equestrian High Holiday.  (Who does one talk to about those things?  USEF?  The FEI?)

Sug didn't want us to make a big fuss about her birthday. (To be honest, I think the Big 18 is hitting her a bit like the Big 50 hits some humans).  In other words, she wasn't wanting any of this silliness:

We did, however, celebrate a bit.  She was treated to a chiropractic/ acupuncture treatment.  She's been feted with a boatload of carrots and mints, and a massage from yours truly.  She had easy duty this week, as she was ridden by Sophie (who at 70lbs is a much lighter load than Mom!)  To cap off the week on a good note, we've made her favorite Bailey's Chocolate Chip cookies and will bring them to the barn today.

As I've said before, it's good to be the Queen.  Happy birthday, Sug - here's to spending many more together!