Saturday, April 27, 2013

Torn lead rope, "Is Tril supposed to be backwards?"--awesome lesson anyway. Dammit.

Time for another lesson.

Took the new German martingale, took my new gloves, took some ibuprofen, took a puff from the inhaler.  :::puts sunglasses on:::  Let's do this.

A kind friend offered to trailer Tril and me over--well, trailer Tril, I got to ride up front in the truck--and she had a lesson right after mine, so it was a fun twofer for both of us.  We got to have our own lesson then learn by watching someone else's.

But first: as we pulled up and parked the rig, the trainer called out in quizzical amusement, "Is Tril supposed to be backwards??"  My friend and I: "Whuhhh??"  "Tril is backwards."  "Whuhhhhh?"

We got out of the truck, walked to the back of the rig, and sure enough Tril had his previously tied nose sticking out the back of the trailer.  I figured my Houdini had untied himself, as he has done on many, many occasions at the hitching post.

"Is something on my face?"

Working on the next one
I don't know if he chewed through that lead rope or tore it, but dude got himself free.  Unbelievable.  Except it's Tril, so.... believable.  He then apparently decided to take a gander at the world we were leaving behind and turned himself around, though because of having to share the slant load with another horse didn't make it the full 180 degrees (which made unloading interesting).  But, thankfully, my goofball didn't hurt himself, something he so excels at doing.  Considering his major medical insurance had lapsed and he was no longer covered as of midnight last night, I am grateful that tempting the fates only meant a little jocular reminder as to WHY this horse needs major medical.  Seriously.

I'm thinking of starting a trophy wall for him.  I'm sure this won't be the last.
The trainer lunged him and warmed him up, doing a lot of bending at the walk under saddle.  I watched carefully, taking a few videos on my phone, so I could see ways I could get him to use his flat-muscled butt correctly.  She commented he was more stiff than the last time I had brought him out, which made sense--I had not been able to ride him in 5 days,  I'd tried, but the property owner is getting new drainage pipes put in, which meant digging and machinery right in front of the hitching post and tack room three days in a row.  Ah well.
Bendy bendy

I was eager to get on, as I had had enough rides on Tril since my last lesson to have questions.  Not ones I could put into words and raise my hand and ask, but ones based on what I was feeling and not feeling and doing and not doing.  I was eager to get on and see what I discovered.

Well, let's see.

I ride stiffly myself turning to the right and tend to just brace that right rein and not let go.  This annoys Tril and is a prime example of me getting in the way of both of us.  I tend to not let him be straight going that direction because of that braced right rein--unaware, I keep him curved.  "Watch your horse's head," the trainer told me.  Yeah--perpetually turned slightly to the right.  Shoot.  Solution: lots of circles and changes of direction at the walk, making sure he goes straight in between each transition.  This is more for me than for him.

Actually, most of the lesson--perhaps all--was about me and not him.  I felt like a kid starting over again--the trainer actually did say I was going back to kindergarten (later she amended it, "Well, maybe that was going back to third grade").  I did a series of very useful, very excruciating drills where I would sit the trot, two point, post the trot, sit the trot, two point, lather, rinse, repeat.  This gave me tremendous feel for my lower leg position, but OH DEAR LORD.   I love, and hate, how absolutely exhausting and challenging that is.  I shall now do it every ride until it isn't exhausting and challenging, dammit.  I WILL CONQUER YOU.  Legs, shut up.  I have more ibuprofen at home.

Then came the words that instill fear in the heart of many an equestrian: "Drop your stirrups."  Actually, she asked, and I--now fully pissed this easy stuff wasn't easy--welcomed it.  I let my legs go long, but she corrected me--put them back in position.  Now, sit the trot, post the trot, sit the trot, post the trot (thank God she didn't ask me to two point without stirrups) until my hip flexor muscles screamed for mercy.  "Do that until you're too tired to do more, and you're done," she said through a dark grin.  And indeed, I did.  Dammit.

My lower legs have a tendency to creep back behind when I ride, particularly when I cue, and these drills will help keep them in position.  I also learned Tril speeds up when I circle him because I subconsciously am pushing him forward, when pulling on a rein (to turn or otherwise) is actually a slow down cue and the opposite should be the case.  I also tend to have my reins uneven, shortening them for every turn, and need to be mindful of keeping them exactly even.  Ooh, I also brace when I transition (upward or downward) and need to relax my arms and legs rather than scrunch up.

It goes on.  All good to write down and remember while it's fresh to avoid the "Holy shit, I forgot everything she said!  WTF do I do??" feeling I had first time I sat on Tril after our previous lesson.  I will not forget this time!  Dammit.

The frustrating thing about having had so many physical setbacks in the last few years (two babies, two back surgeries, recovery from H1N1, busted ankle) means it seems like I am always going back to the beginning.  I told the trainer after the lesson what is both insulting and embarrassing is how incredibly exhausting such basic work is.  *sigh again*  But, really, it's about getting a proper foundation and building my stamina--everything else just builds on top of it.  She did tell me it's easier to teach kids because kids are willing to do everything they're asked--drop stirrups?  Two point?  Sure!  I like that I still have that child-like willingness, if not a child's body (that I've heard once described as being made of "rubber and magic").

Watching the other regular riders at the barn, I felt small and unskilled, clumsy and oafish, ignorant and coarse.  I still aspire to be As Good As Them someday, and have a thoroughly educated horse who is abundantly forgiving and generous who can help me Get There.

A simple sentence my friend told me resonated with me: "It's fun riding with someone who gets it."  I later realized she meant me--I was getting it, and that was rewarding for her to see.  I was out of shape, sloppy, exhausted, but I was getting it, and as a teacher myself, I know there is no greater pleasure than seeing that in a student.  I look forward to more of it.  I look forward to not being a perpetual newbie.


Friday, April 5, 2013

Riding lessons. ACK. Perpetual Newbie in-stinkin'-deed.

The last few rides on Tril have been difficult for me as I struggle to speak his language.  He's hard-mouthed, strong, and exhausting, and I felt like we just weren't communicating.  He knows so much and has so much to teach me, but I realized I had no clear idea how to listen to him.  I reached a point of frustration, and felt he shared the sentiment--we both want to please the other, but neither of us was understanding.

So, I buckled down and scheduled a riding lesson with a local professional Arabian trainer.  I figure this is someone familiar with how Tril is trained who can serve as translator for the two of us.  This had been the plan all along--to take lessons with her--but my busted ankle delayed that by about a year.  But, spring break arrived, and I had time and had, DAMMIT, I'm scheduling that lesson and getting out there.  With the help of a friend, I did exactly that.  Dammit.

And you know it's going to be one of those kinds of lessons when one of the first things the trainer says is, "Well, first I'm going to teach you how to wrap his legs correctly."  Awesome.  And then the recommend increasing his hay an extra flake a day as he's down about 100lbs and needs the groceries.  Crud.  And that my saddle pad was insufficient and he really should have something else as (poke poke poke) he's a little back sore.  Phooey.

But!  All of this was offered kindly and gently, and she was absolutely right.  I listened and absorbed, as she certainly knows her stuff and I certainly could learn from it.

She also told me, to my surprise, that her daughter showed Tril as a three year old over at a big Arab show in Santa Barbara, and that they were reserve champion something-something, and that her daughter loved this horse.  Well.  WHOA.  She also said Tril had suspensory injuries which is why he stopped showing when he did, and that he was always a hard keeper over at Cal Poly, which is why I am having so much fun keeping weight on him.  Made her feed adjustment suggestions all the more poignant.  (I think she's his favorite new friend, because thanks to her, he gets a FULL flake of alfalfa twice a day now instead of just half.)

So this is a trainer who really knows the horse, not just the way he was trained.  

With that, she saddled up and took him from a brief ride to get the feel of where all of his buttons and levers are.  

Ooh, purty
She also saw what we've been working on chiropractically with his hind end, and showed me various maneuvers to get him engaging both sides of his body evenly... 

Lots of bending
...and getting that atrophied butt of his working.

Work that butt.  WERK.
Then I got on him and it looked like this:

Laura, relax, you have elbows
It was an introduction to Arabian Hunter Pleasure Horse as a Second Language.  Vocabulary, basic sentence structure, greetings, and basic, useful phrases akin to "Where is the bathroom:"

"Hold frame on the bend."

"Whoa."  Yeah, we liked this one.  Even if my eq makes my eye twitch a little.

"Bend on the turn going the other way.  Engage the hindquarters."

Our communication is getting results--even if just at the walk.  I'm meh, but he looks awesome.  I think I had a Breyer horse that looked like this.
You'll notice not many trotting photos.  I did trot a good amount, but that's on video--which this blogger is annoyingly persnickety about.  Some videos upload no problem, and some get "We're sorry, but there was an error uploading this video."  All of my riding lesson videos are in this uncooperative latter category.  OH DARN.

I was stunned at the end of the listen to discover it was much, much less work to ride him the way she was teaching me versus how I'd been riding him on my own.  There was so much mental energy spent at that lesson, covering everything from his care up through the ride itself, that it's difficult to remember what she was saying.  (God bless video.)

But today, I went for lesson #2--just two days later, gotta make damn good use of my spring break!--and a few things went click!  One, I had been riding him like a dressage horse, trying to push him forward from my seat up into my hands to frame him up.  This did NOT make sense to him, at all, and would result in my legs and arms being drained and shaky in a hurry.  Instead, I just need to tap him with my legs while half halting him and, stunningly, he frames up.  That is not at all what I would have thought would happen.  I thought there was a lot more squeeze and hold--but again, this is an Arabian hunter pleasure horse, not a dressage horse...not that I have ever been much of a dressage rider.  Heh.

Two, I try to ride like an equitation rider and force myself into correct frame, so much so I become tense (which makes me crooked--frickin' irony!).  It's okay to bend my elbows and lift my arms--and I should!  What has happened is I have become stiff and tense and brace while trying to hold my wrists stiff.  The idea of bending my elbows was ludicrously unheard of until this second lesson.  My shoulders and forearms get wonky partially from the tension--just let go and go with the horse is actually okay, rather than try and stiffly hold my own frame.

Three, when I cue my horse with my leg, it goes back.  I need to work on keeping my lower leg at the girth--even though it feels like a chair seat, it's not.  She physically held it in place and hand me look down to prove it wasn't as far forward as it felt--it was, in fact, perfect.  Felt horribly awkward, but perfect.

Four, in the words of my trainer, "Shut up."  I told her while tacking up Tril that the photos were painful for me to look at because my shoulder is crooked, my arms are stiff, I collapse my left rib cage, blah blah blah, and she said with a warm smile, "I can tell you this because you're an adult: you need to shut up.  Don't criticize, don't overthink, just do.  Relax."  

Yes ma'am.