We jumped crossrails!

It was sunny and warm in Atlanta today, what a relief! I got another great ride in. I decided today was the day to start working over crossrails, and since my barn has no crossrails, I jerry-rigged one out of two lawn chairs and two ground poles. Ever so redneck, but just as effective as the real thing. Up to this point, Baron has never jumped anything except a little log out on the trail. That couldn’t even be called a proper jump; it was more of a 1200 lb bunny hop. The most he’s done up til today is trot over ground poles. So I started by leading him over the crossrail and he was fine, barely glanced twice at it. Once I was mounted, we walked over it a few times, again with no problems. He wanted to trot, so I warmed him up with some large circles. As usual he was being very naughty about pulling toward the gate so I focused on doing actual circles instead of letting him pull us over into a wierd amoeba shape. Once he was better under control and listening, I decided to try and trot over the crossrail.

This didn’t go so well. He got all antsy when we approached the crossrail and tried at the last minute to go around it. I couldn’t let him get away with a refusal, so I had to turn him around immediately and make him go over. This same scenario kept happening each time we approached the rail at a trot. Rather than letting the situation degenerate into a pulling match or a contest of wills, I tried another approach. I made him walk up to the crossrail and only let him trot when he got about three strides away. He would walk calmly up to the crossrail, take a few trot steps and then jump over like it was no big deal. No refusal, no pulling to the side, no signs of hesitation. It was fantastic and so much fun!

I’m not sure why he was so stressed about trotting up to it. It could be that he feels imbalanced or rushed or perhaps I was asking too much too soon. In any case, I’m thrilled with the progress we made today. I’m happy to let him take it slow and feel relaxed in his work. I don’t want to throw too much at him at once and I think backing off and taking my expectation down a notch was the best decision. My next goals will be:

1. Work on getting him consistently into a slow, steady trot with no pulling toward the gate.  I want him to be as relaxed as the trot as he is at the walk.

2. Continue with the crossrail work until he’s comfortable approaching at the trot.

Today was the first day I officially jumped my horse! Yay!

Update

I got to ride a second time this week, which is practically a miracle considering the weather lately and my limited schedule. My goal for the ride was to keep Baron from rushing at the trot and keep him at a slow, controlled pace until I asked him to speed up. My biggest issue with him lately is that he wants to go fast right from the get-go; he is not interested in walking. He wants to trot or, even better, canter! I always start my ride in a small pasture and do some circles and trot work. Then we go for a little trail ride, usually on a loose rein. The first part of the ride is for me to get better- practice posting, practice circles, etc… The second part of the ride is where Baron gets to do some sight-seeing and relax. During the first part of the ride, he rushes through the circles and tries to go out the gate to hurry up and start out for the trail. So this time I insisted that he do a few circles at the walk and then some slow, controlled trot work- no speeding up, no pulling me toward the gate. Once I felt like he had calmed down and was listening to me, I let him go out the gate toward the trail. We did a little trotting and cantering on the dirt road on the way to the woods, but we walked most of the time. I didn’t get as much of a workout as I would have liked, but I was happy that I was able to calm him down and get him tuned into me.

In other news, I have most likely lost my mind. Here’s why: I am considering riding in a hunter schooling show on February 13th. I’ll only do walk/ trot classes, all in the Adult Beginner Division. A friend of mine who has shown with this group before told me that it’s very laid back. No one braids, no one body clips. It’s all about having a good time and getting some experience for your horse. That was great news to me, because I have no intention of body clipping Baron’s already meager winter coat, and I’ve never braided before so I would probably make a mess of it. I confessed to her that I am ever so anxious about showing because I feel like I’m generally clueless about the show world. This would, after all, be only my second show EVER. I am quite paranoid about being the worst rider in the class, but I suppose everyone has to start somewhere. The good news about this group is that they have an ADULT beginner class, which means I would not be competing against eight year olds on ponies! If I get beat soundly, at least it will be by people my own age!

The show is on a Saturday and pre-registration ends Wednesday. My friend advised me to wait til the week of the show, see how I feel and how the weather is shaping up, and then register at the last minute if I decide to do it. As of right now, my show jacket still buttons over my baby belly, so we’ll see if that’s still the case in 3 weeks. I know I am somewhat crazy to try and ride in a show while pregnant, but it’s my last chance before I give birth in May. I hate letting opportunities pass me by!

Book Report

As promised, I want to give you some highlights from a book I’ve been reading called “Ride With Your Mind” by Mary Wanless. She talks a lot about the way the brain works and processes information and how this applies to learning to ride, or learning to fix ingrained habits to become a better rider.

First interesting concept: She talks about what happens in your brain when you simply sit on a horse. It’s similar to standing on the edge of a cliff. Your brain is overwhelmed by the sensation of being up high, and in the case of horseback, having something moving underneath you. Your brain has to constantly adjust your balance and center of gravity to match that of the horse. Your brain can only process so many bits of new information at once, so a very beginning rider’s brain is hard at work to simply balance on the horse at the walk. As the rider begins to get used to the motion, the trainer will often say things like, “Keep your heels down and your hands quiet.” Often a beginner can only focus on one body part at a time. If the heels are down, the hands may be all over the place because the rider has not reached the point where she is able to control both these body parts at once while keeping her balance. I remember as a beginning rider (which was not that long ago) feeling like a hot mess. Trying to keep my lower leg still was hard enough, nevermind keeping my hands in one place!

As the rider gets more time in the saddle, the brain learns to “parallel process,” which means control and be aware of multiple body parts at once. The rider starts to gain control of the lower leg while simultaneously being able to concentrate on having quiet hands. Obviously, the longer you ride, the more accustomed your brain becomes to the sensations of riding and the more able you are to control your body and simultaneously your horse.

Second interesting concept: A good portion of the book is photos from lessons with riders at various levels. She goes through each rider’s weaknesses and explains what has to happen in the brain in order to correct these weaknesses. Many rider weaknesses are results of things like postural abnormalities. For example, if you have a spinal curve that causes you to lean slightly to the left, your entire posture and seat will be affected. Instead of being perfectly balanced in the saddle, one of your seat bones will be more heavily weighted. Horses are very sensitive to these little imbalances and their balance is affected by our imbalance, however unaware we may be. A rider who leans to the left has to consciously fix this. Think about how hard it is to sit with perfect posture in a chair. After just a few minutes, your core muscles will become fatigued because they are not used to being used correctly. Similarly, if a rider is constantly shifting left, making a conscious effort to shift back toward the middle will be exhausting at first. Many riders underestimate the effect these small imbalances have on their riding and on their horse’s ability to move in perfect balance. Because they are very hard to correct and require a retraining of muscles, many riders never make the necessary changes. It’s easier to say, “Oh, my horse is just stiff on the left rein. Always has been.” In actuality, the horse may be responding to small imbalances in the rider’s seat. To correct these, the rider will have to work extremely hard and create new “muscle memory.”

More to come….

Call my crazy, but…

I’ve decided I’m going to do at least one show next year. Baby # 2 is due May 12th, at which point I will have a newborn and an almost two year old. How did this happen to me? I don’t even like kids! I adore MY kid, but I am not a kid person in general and did not expect to have two kids, especially not so close together. But here we are.

Anyway, I am absolutely determined to do at least one show next year. I have marked on my calendar a September 25th hunter schooling show. If  it goes well, I will also ride in the schooling show on October 23rd. It is extremely hard to leave a four month old baby and a two year old for an entire day, but if my husband is willing to help out, I’m convinced it can be done. He will have to bring the kids to the show so I can take care of the baby before and after my classes. He was an absolute champ at the show last year, and I’m hoping he’ll be up for it again. I mean it’s one day out of the whole year!!! Surely he can accomodate me for one day!

Why do I feel such an urge to show? Why can’t I be happy just hacking around the barn and going on trails? I think it’s because I need to measure my progress. I want to be a GOOD rider! I want someone to hand me a ribbon and validate all the physical and mental energy I put into becoming better. I don’t necessarily have to win, but I definitely want to do better than I did last time. I want to compete against myself and watch myself place higher and higher the more I work at it. So, if I can get in one show in 2010 with a newborn and a two year old and a full time job, I think that would be fantastic!

So Glad I Decided to Ride Today!

The weather has warmed up here, but today was a nasty day, foggy and rainy. I actually like those kinds of days because they remind me of England, but they make for soggy arenas and muddy pastures, not ideal for riding. I went to do my barn chores and the rain let up to a soft sprinkle, so I decided to tack up and hop on. I’m 6 months pregnant, and my doctors have already advised against my riding, so who knows how many more rides I’ll get in before my husband insists that I stop.

I rode Baron without a martingale for the first time since this summer and I was wondering whether he would go back to his old habit of tossing his head up and hollowing his back. Much to my surprise and pleasure, he sought contact with the bit and arched his neck very nicely, even at the walk!

I try to have a goal for each ride, and this time my goal was to practice some of the things I’ve been reading about. I’m reading “Ride With Your Mind” by Mary Wanless and she has some very good suggestions for visualizing the way your body should move with your horse. I want to do a whole post about this a little later, but for now let me just explain one of her images. She talks about imagining yourself “plugged in” to the horses back, as if your two seat bones are the metal pieces that plug into an electric socket. The idea is to connect with your horse’s long back muscles in the correct spot so that he is comfortable and you are solid in your seat. As I rode today, I visualized myself as an electric plug stuck firmly into my horse’s back and I found it very helpful. I felt more solid and I felt each time I moved off of that correct spot. More on that later…

It is very easy for riders to focus on the negative aspects of their ride, especially if they are like me and are chomping at the bit to get better so they can show. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by what we don’t know or how far we have to go in the learning process. I am far from what I consider a “good” rider, but I am getting better. I decided to focus on that today. Even at 6 months pregnant with a growing baby bump, I feel more secure in my seat than I did this summer and I feel my thighs getting stronger and more snug to the saddle. It helped that my horse was rounding nicely and accepting contact with the bit. He’s quite a comfortable horse to ride when he doesn’t hollow his back!

When I ride at my barn, I always do a little arena work first and then head down the road toward the trail. I got some nice trot work in the arena, and some gorgeous cantering on the dirt road on the way toward the woods. I was even able to sit the canter a little better today. I usually ride it in half seat because I feel more secure standing in my stirrups. It feels more like surfing used to feel. Today I sat it and did fairly well. I grabbed some mane just as a safety net, but I was surprised at how easily I adjusted to the motion. I swear Baron’s canter is a million times better than his trot. His trot is so bouncy and sometimes rushed, but when he canters he stretches out and takes long, smooth strides. I looooooove cantering on him, but not so much trotting. Trotting feels like a lot more work.

Finally, on the way back, instead of turning down the driveway to the barn like he usually does, Baron wanted to keep going. We rode out a little ways along the road where we’ve never ridden before. A couple cars passed and he was perfectly calm, just enjoying the new sights and change of scenery. It was one of those moments where you think, “THIS is why I bought a horse!” Just a quiet peaceful walk where we were enjoying being together. I’m so glad I decided to ride today!

I hate cold weather.

It’s been unusually cold in Atlanta; we even got some snow. When it snows in Atlanta everything shuts down because the roads tend to ice over and no one around here is used to driving in these conditions. The snow in my area was less than an inch and didn’t stick for long. There wasn’t enough to get any good pictures at the barn.

It’s been too cold for me to ride. Georgia peach that I am, I do not handle these temperatures well. I can’t wait for it to get back up in the 40’s and 50’s. Neither can Baron. He hates his blanket. It gets in the way of his rolling endeavors. 🙂