Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings

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I can feel happy when I eat my ice cream, I feel sad when the ice cream is gone.  I feel tired after spending the entire weekend at a horse show.  My bed feels really good when I collapse in it at the end of the day.  Feelings are everywhere.  You can’t escape them even when you are riding.  Your trainer and clinicians talk a lot about feeling certain things when you are riding your horse.  “Did you feel that push your horse just gave you?”  “Did you feel how connected you were on that lengthening?”  “Could you feel your horse tense up right before he spooked at the vulture?”  All very valid questions.  But truth be told, I’m still not good with my “horse feelings.”

Like in the above photo, I’m obviously not sitting on my butt because I’m leaning too far forward.  I can see that in the photo.  But if you ask me about it when I’m riding, I will tell you that it feels like I’m sitting perfectly tall and upright.  When I’m told “sit on your butt,”  I immediately think, I am!  I know I’m not sitting on my head.  What else would I be sitting on while on a horse?!  When I lean back until told I’m in the correct position, it feels like I’m about to tip over backwards.  Ugh, this feeling stuff is hard.

Trainers also talk about feeling the horse in your hands.  Is there too much weight in your hands?  Is your horse leaning on you wanting you to carry his big head?  Do you feel nothing because your threw away your contact?  It is a hard thing to teach and even harder to understand when it is right.  Your trainer can’t be on your horse with you to feel what you are feeling.  They can only talk you through the sequence of aids until they see that your horse is moving correctly from behind and coming up and out of their withers.  They then say, “do you feel that?  That is correct.”  You then must process what things feel like and then try to reproduce it at a later date and time.  Sure, no problem you think.  Ha!  I usually have the epic fail when I think I’ve reproduced the “feeling.”  I’m told my horse is too flat and I’ve left his hind end trailing.  Sigh.  Again, this feeling stuff is harder then I imagined.

The feeling stuff just never ends while on your horse.  You need to feel when your horse needs a half halt to maintain your rhythm/tempo/balance.  Then once you realize that you need that half halt, you need to determine how much of a half halt to give.  If you do too much, you will have “lost that loving feeling” and ruined your connection.  If you do too little, nothing will have been accomplished.  You also need to make your aids subtle so that it looks like you are doing nothing.  [look up Charlotte and Valegro on YouTube and watch any of their rides – they are the epitome of finding the right feeling on your horse.]  I am the poster child of what not to do.

The worst feeling is when your instructor asks, “Which of those (transitions/lengthenings/leg yields) felt the best?”  Oh no, you are now in the hot seat.  Which one is the right one?!!  Eeek!  Was it the first one?  The last one?  Think woman, think!  You finally blurt out an answer only to hear the following, “Why do you think that one was best?”  Crap!  Put on the spot again!  I still don’t know if I’m right about the first question.  I finally mutter something about my alignment and my connection and pray that I’ve muddled through that portion of the oral exam.  I’d say that I get it right about 60% of the time.  If I could just make it to 70%, I’d feel a bit better.

I equate learning my “horse feelings” with learning my “baker feelings.”  What are baker feelings you ask?  It is the feeling of the bread dough in your hands when the consistency is correct.  My mother has tried for years to teach me to feel the dough to no avail.  She has the magic touch.  Her pie crust and apple crumb topping are divine.  I have tried to replicate that crust and those crumbs.  Fail!  My crumbs melt into a single blob in the oven; my mother’s are delicious individual balls of heaven.  She tells me what is in them, but when I ask how much of each ingredient I need, the answer is, ” enough of each so it feels right between your fingers.”  Thanks Mom, that is helpful…not.

Twenty-five years later, I’m still trying to learn my baker feelings.  I can only hope that my learning curve for my horse feelings is faster.

 

 

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Pony Gone Mad

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You know it isn’t going to be great news when you hear from your trainer early in the day with an email with your horse’s name in the subject line…great, who did what to which horse or what body part?  Luckily, the damage was to an inanimate object.  Even more lucky, there was no damage to the horse that caused the barn damage.

As you can see by the photo, Ike decided that his feed bucket was very, very naughty and had to be destroyed to save the barn.  Not sure what triggered this destructive turn.  We did begin switching Ike to a new supplemental feed with yesterday’s dinner. [Purina discontinued their Athlete feed last year.  I stockpiled almost 20 bags in my family room to delay the switch, but the day finally arrived to change over to the Purina Amplify.]  We are not certain if the change in the feed made Ike mad that there was a change in the taste or if he like the new feed so much that he was mad that there was not more.  Or it was completely unrelated to the feed and he was bored.  Either way, Mom had to stop to buy a new feed bucket on the way to the barn today.

Sadly, this is not the first time Ike has destroyed pieces of the barn.  We had to buy a new gate after he mangled the old one when he’d rear on the gate to take it off the hinges.  He also played with the ceiling fan blades enough to damage the motor;  his fan would spin slowly like top getting ready to topple over.  That poor fan was put out of its misery last summer.  And finally, the day is near, when we will have to purchase the lumber to reframe the windows of his stall.  Ike still exhibits termite like behavior in spite of the No Chew sprayed on the wood with chicken wire stapled over it.

Fingers are crossed that the new bucket will survive the night.

The Changing of the Seasons

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So here we are careening towards the end of August. It is almost hard to believe that fall is just around the corner. Where did 2014 go? It seems like just last week that we launched our 2014 show season with our First Level debut. This summer has been a busy one for Ike and me. Three weekend long licensed shows, clinics sprinkled in-between the shows, as well as more lessons than I can count on my fingers and toes. When the seasons change, it seems like an appropriate time to reflect on the outgoing season and prepare for the one just over the horizon.

Some might ask why we are still showing Training Level at this point in the season. Well, it is because we (okay, okay, I) am I still struggling to get good scores for some of the movements in Training Level Test 3 (that blasted trot loop and the canter to trot transitions at the letter). You would think it should be easy for us by now, but being the perfectionist that I am, it bugs me that we can’t seem to get anything more than a 64.__% in Test 3. Grrr. Even at the last show when I thought we’d finally crossed that invisible divide, we still only received a 64.8%. And truth be told, our canter is still a work in progress. Some days we canter and can look like a pair that belongs at First Level, but then a new day dawns, and we are back to the strung out Scooby Doo shuffle. Luckily as the season has progressed, the Scooby Doo days are fewer and fewer…unless a vulture shows up and then all bets are off.

Our First Level work is also inconsistent. There I said it. There are folks that have the skills to go out and get good scores no matter what the day, no matter which test they ride. I am not one of them. Am I happy about that fact? Nope. Do I work my butt off to try to change that? You bet I do. Will the change happen? Your guess is as good as mine.

Ike and I are still trying to figure out when forward becomes too quick, and when our connection goes from steady to too tight or nonexistent. It happens in the blink of an eye, and I’m definitely not always quick enough to catch it as it is happening. I might get lucky every once in a while, but more often than not, we’ve lost the beauty and become the clunky beast. Our leg yield goes from a floaty “8” to a choppy “6.” Our trot lengthening looks more like we a scrambling to the barn in a rainstorm. And that evil canter loop? Pole bending gone horribly wrong. This will not be our breakout year at First Level nor will we be attempting a Second Level test anytime soon.

In preparation for our final two shows of the year, VADAF’s licensed show at Rose Mount and the Region 1 BLM Championships, we spent some time with Ms. C analyzing our scores and more importantly, the judge’s comments. While there are always comments that leave you scratching your head as to their meaning, most of the comments provide valuable insight on how to improve your score. Unfortunately, there are many areas that we need to improve – that inconsistency thing again. What we do well in one test, we blow in the next.  The list of things to work on is long.  We pick one or two at each lesson and do our best to improve.

So with all due respect to Aretha, we aren’t looking for R-E-S-P-E-C-T, we are looking for C-O-N-S-IS-T-E-N-C-Y. Wish us luck!

The Rollercoaster Ride of Showing

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This past weekend was mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting.  Ike and I had our third show of the 2014 show season at the revamped HITS Showgrounds in Culpeper, Virginia.  The show was hosted by the Virginia Dressage Association Charlottesville Chapter.  Ike and I came home with a first, second, fifth, and a six, but not without some tears shed, some aches and pains, and a huge blister on the inside of my right knee where my britches didn’t sit quite right.

Anyone, whether you are a professional sportsman or the amateur competitor, who commits their time, effort and money to the sport that they love, knows how vested you are in the outcome of your dressage test, game or match.  This is why you see 300 pound football players with tears in their eyes when they lose the big game.  The emotional, mental, and physical investment into the sport you love is huge.

You sacrifice in other areas of your life when you commit to the sport you love.  I’ve missed weekends away with friends and family because I’ve been sitting in the barn waiting for my ride time.  I’ve turned down promotional opportunities at work which would mean less time at the barn.  My yard looks like a jungle for most of the year since I’m at the barn rather than tending to the flowerbeds.  The dogs are a bit unruly since I lack the time to take them to obedience classes.  The house is “clean enough” but never ready for a white glove inspection.  I’ve become a budget ninja to fit my horses into my life…and have a credit card on file with the veterinarian which I’m pretty certain helped finance the vet’s latest vacation.  I’m a compulsive list maker to make sure that nothing is forgotten while trying to juggle home, work and barn time.

You feel bad when you fail to succeed.  There are so many people who support you as you pursue this crazy obsession – your spouse, your children, your parents, your friends, and your horse support network that includes your vet and the farrier.  They miss seeing you since you are atop your horse for yet again another lesson.  They come and cheer for you as you head down centerline.  You want to do well to thank them for their commitment to you.  I know that I wish I could crinkle my nose and disappear after the end of a disastrous test.

The commitment to the training also takes its toll on you mentally.  There are dressage tests to memorize.  There are countless lessons and clinics so that you can become proficient enough to brave the scrutiny of the judge sitting at C.  It is a challenge to learn to coordinate your aids to obtain the movement you want…then you have to do it at least 1000 times the exact same way before it becomes effortless.  Even after 5 lessons in two weeks, I still enlisted help at the show to keep Ike and I focused.  A girlfriend who does competitive dog obedience trials and I noted that our trainers are much like our graduate school professors.  They nitpick the minutia since we are driven to do our best.  They constantly ask us questions and expect quick answers.  We are mortified when we cannot quickly answer since there is no time to deliberate in the show ring.  The answers must become second nature and you must always be thinking one or two movements ahead.  Um, yeah, sure, that is how I ride.  Ha!  There are times that I can barely hold it together for the movement at hand.  “Use your corners to rebalance.”  Right, I’m lucky to steer through the corner without knocking a rail down.

You can’t discuss riding without noting the physical toll riding takes.  I’ve had people note that “How hard can it be?  You are just sitting there while the horse does all the work.”  Yeah, no, how wrong you are.  This is not trail riding on a dead broke trail horse as you play follow the leader down the path.  Riding well enough for competition requires that you have aerobic stamina, core strength, leg strength, flexibility, and lightening quick reflexes.  And while you are sitting up there working your ass off, you should look like you are just along for the ride.  I haven’t quite mastered that part yet.  Smile, I’m told.  Photos show that I grimace while I concentrate.  It is a good look…There is also the fact that I managed to pick a horse I consider to be extremely big and who is very fit.  When I am done riding, I am spent.  It doesn’t get any easier as you move up the levels either or so I’m told.  Good heavens!  I guess I’ll join a gym in my spare time to be able to keep up with my horse.  Besides the physicality of riding a 1200 pound animal, I’ve also got my blisters and callouses, my mystery bruises, achy back, and sore ankles.

In spite of all the challenges riding presents, I would not give it up for anything.  The emotional low of failing to perform as you had hoped only helps you to appreciate the good rides even more.  Saturday was a challenging show day.  We did okay with our Training Level test, but with a huge spook with resulting tension, Ike and I completely botched our First Level Test 3 ride and the 60th percentile was again unachievable. {Insert tears of frustration and embarrassment here.}  The hardest part was the comments from the judge at the end of the test sheet.  [Note to judges = Please try to find a polite way of telling a competitor what they need to work on.  We all didn’t come out of the womb being world class riders.]  I am proud of Ike and I for regrouping on the second day.  We rocked our Training Level test 2 and won the class.  But best of all, we finally crossed the 60% mark for First Level Test 3 with a 65.6%.  It felt like redemption and gave me hope for our future success.

 

Braiding Woes

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Ready or not, we are headed to the show grounds tomorrow.  Feeling confident about where we are as far as our training.   Managed to squeeze one last lesson in with Ms.C today; if I can survive today’s critique, I can survive the judges at C. 
Feeling less than confident that I can make Ike’s mane into show worthy braids.  You can see the gaping hole left by his rubbing.  Those few strands in the gap are the only long hairs in that section.  Pretty.  We need emergency mane extensions…

Will let you know how it all turns out.

Hello All You Happy People!

Ike shares his latest thoughts...

Ike shares his latest thoughts…

A happy hello to all my friends!

My Mom is yet again a slacker, so I am tasked with filling you in on the latest news from my little corner of the world…Seriously, I don’t know what that woman does with her time.  I mean, she is only at the barn for two maybe three hours a day.  What could she possibly doing that is more important than spending time with me?!!

In fact, Mom left me for another week recently.  She went on what she called a “vaycashun” and said that I was getting one too.  Hmm, I think I got the short end of the straw.  She went to some place called a beach and came home with brown skin and a peeling nose.  I didn’t go anywhere!  How is that even close to being one of those “vaycashuns”?  I stayed in my same stall, hung out in my same paddock, saw my same friends each day.  No sign of a beach anywhere.  I hear a beach has sand and water.  I didn’t even step foot in our arena which is the only sand at the farm.  Water?  I had to paw the water trough to make the water slosh around.  To express my displeasure, I decided to rub off a large section of my mane.  Let’s see Mom try to put a braid in it next weekend!  Muwahaha!

And yes, you guessed it, we have another show next weekend.  Mom says we are going to yet again attempt the test with the canter loops.  Since after she arrived home, there were only two weeks until the show, she has been a bit of a maniacal slave driver.  We had not one,not two, but THREE lessons this past week.  I know that I don’t need that much help, so Mom must think she needs extra help from Ms. C.  I think it is funny when Ms. C asks Mom, “So what did you think of that transition/leg yield/circle/halt?”  Mom gets this blank look about her because she knows that obviously there was something lacking, but she isn’t quite sure what it was.  Why don’t they just ask me?  I can tell you when Mom is noncommittal or making a half-assed effort.  It amuses me to only kind of commit.  Ms. C then fusses at Mom to try harder.  Haha!  The problem is when Mom finally does, we both have to work a lot harder.  Ms. C gets all excited and tells Mom, “there’s your working trot,” “that is your lengthening!”  Phew!  It is hard work to get those comments.  Ms. C says that kind of work is what we need to continue to strive for during each ride.  No more putzing around.  Hmm, all this hard work makes a fellow tired.

At least we will be better prepared for those canter loops than we were at the last show.  Did Mom really think that only two weeks of practice were going to make us proficient?  After all, she’d never ridden countercanter before…and of course, neither had I (at least not intentionally).  Now we more often than not can ride a shallow loop without me showing off my flying changes or dropping out of the canter.  Thankfully, Mom is more refined with her aids.  She even knows where to put her legs.  What a good Mom.  She should get a cookie.  No wait, I get all the cookies at the lessons. 🙂

At least it hasn’t been blazing hot this past week for all this extra work.  Usually by now, we are roasting like marshmallows.  I’ve heard the term “unseasonably cool” used a few times.  That is okay with me.  I hope it is this way next weekend at the show.  If you are out and about in Culpeper, come see me!  I love when folks come and cheer me on!  It is okay to cheer for Mom as well, but we will know you are really there to see me.  I promise not to tell.

Ike