Saturday, 31 May 2014

Contrast

This weeks lessons couldn't have been more different, even though they had the same twisty, windy jump course set up.

I had my lesson Wednesday night and was reunited with the always wonderful Checkers. She was feeling fresh and sassy and we had a fun, forward ride. I feel like I am riding her jump much better, but still I must be intimidated by it a little since she is the only horse I seem to never have forward enough in the jumping portion of the lesson (the flatwork is always an exercise in slowing her down a bit!). There is obviously no problem with her forward button, but after getting jumped out of the tack so often on her, I think I must be backing off subconsciously over fences. Coach is yelling "forward", I'm telling myself we need more forward, this is going to suck.... but yeah.... Whatever the case, I did much better on her than before, but not nearly as well as I ride some of the other horses (which still isn't 'well' ha ha). There were still a few not so pretty moments and one fence I wish I could take back since I basically crept up to the fence and since she is so honest she just launched over it from a standstill anyways. I got left behind and basically balanced off her mouth. Poor Checkers, I have no idea how she can possibly be quite so kind and patient. I like to hope she knows just how awful I feel when I do dumb stuff like that! Of course, if I could only bring myself to really get her forward, that jump wouldn't be nearly as large/difficult for me to sit well! I really find the big horses in general difficult to ride properly. I'm not sure if it's partly a physical thing, or at this point entirely a mental thing.


Remember this guy? Don't let the cute face fool you - he's up to no good.
 Today brought hot and sunny weather, and a ride on Splash. He was back to being my own personal Last 10 Pounds Bootcamp, making me work super hard for everything in the hot sun. He's been doing walk/trot lessons with beginners for a couple of weeks now, and it shows. I felt like I was going die. Sadly for him, I am the Most Stubborn Girl In The World (yes, it's an official title and everything, just ask G ;). I wasn't going to give up. I'm pretty sure I was beet red and hyperventilating just trying to do some simple canter circles on the right lead. He's like a pony in that he can shift from a decent canter to a power trot without any warning. He's kind of a jerk, honestly :) My perseverance paid off though and we eventually got it done nicely, and had with a pretty fun ride in general towards the end of the lesson. Why is it always just when things are getting fun, the lesson ends? Anyways, highlights for me were some decent changes. That's exciting, because it's been years since I've ridden a horse that has a flying lead change - it's something I've often schooled and practiced in lessons, but always on my own green horses and with mixed results. I think it's been a little while for the Splash man too, since some were not so good and more...enthusiastic :) Best thing though? A pony that woke up a bit and started taking me to the fences all on his own. He's seriously my favorite when I get him going, and in a way the most rewarding, because he asks for a really aggressive and positive ride, so I have to get way outside my normal quiet ways and do a lot more than just try to have good equitation. He's got so many terrible habits, yet still I like him and think we are good for each other in a funny way.
Chilling out after our lesson. He's pretty sure he deserves some of that grass.

So there you go, two completely different rides. Checkers wants to be super forward, but I freeze before the fences. Splash wants to be super lazy, so I go all "crazy lady" chasing him forward over the fences, even though the fences are way bigger than the ones on Wednesdays. Maybe next time, I'll just ride whatever horse I'm given like a normal person. I can't believe that's my goal, but there you go - Next Lesson I Will Ride Like A Normal Person :)








Some (small) Decisions to Make

Turns out the barn is not offering lessons through the summer since the coaches will be away competing and they run summer camps the other weeks. I'm not sure how I missed that memo! They took pity on me and said I could come on most Wednesdays for a group lesson, but the available time right after the kids camps essentially means I'd have to take the afternoon off work. I really love the lesson horses there, so I'd like to, but financially it makes zero sense since I am just contract and don't get any paid time off. My work has already been really flexible with my time so I can make it to my current Wednesday lessons and have a less painful commute the rest of the week, so I hate to ask for more. I'm scouting the area to see if any other barns are offering lessons during the summer. I could also possibly do a lease for the summer and ride that way - I may know someone, but the finances involved in that with my limited time to ride seem a little prohibitive unless I can find something very close to where I live. Option 3 is to save my money for Ginger (or lets be real, some of that sweet gear I saw at the show last weekend). I'll be done here and home again soon enough. The downside to that of course, is I am concerned that time out of the saddle will set me back - it's only been the last couple of months that I've really got my confidence back and I feel like I am at a really good place at the moment.
Only 10 more weeks and I'll be back home and in the saddle there :)
I do have a lesson this afternoon and a couple of weeks of riding on my current schedule left, so I have a bit of time to think it over. I'm a little teary eyed at the thought of leaving such fabulous horses in the rearview. I'm such a softie, even the ones I pretend not to like so much have wormed their way into my heart :) Good lesson horses seriously deserve way more appreciation in the real world. 

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Hangin' At The Horse Show

This past Sunday, I spent a lovely Sunday afternoon at the Edmonton Classic Horse Show. I see all the listings for shows and can feel a little reluctant to go check them out - not being a local it's hard to know whether it's a smaller sort of thing or whether there will be other spectators. The standard of riding around here is quite high, so higher level dressage or jumper classes might not always mean the show is a big deal - it might actually just be a warm up for the 'big' away show elsewhere.

The show this past weekend was at the Whitemud Equine Centre near downtown in the river valley and easily accessible by public transit. The girls at the barn assured me it would be a good one to watch, so off I went. I actually rode at Whitemud "back in the day" when I was attending the nearby University of Alberta, so it was nice to stop in and see it all again, especially in it's improved state. If I'm not mistaken, it's now owned by the city and run more as an 'equine learning centre' introducing people to horses, than a regular lesson barn. Neat idea!

You'd never guess it's in the centre of the city, although some sneaky cropping of the photo hides the freeway on the left:) You can just see the show grounds in the background. From: www.welca.ca
I made it in time to watch the 1.00m jumpers and the 1.15 jumpers. I like the jumpers because you see such a wide variety of horses and riders competing.. Anything over 1.00m seems VERY big to me, so it's inspiring to see so many good horses and riders out there making it look easy. I ventured over to the hunter ring as well and spent some time wishing for a pony of my own with such excellent lead changes. I only stayed for the 2' open hunters, but I did see a Welsh D competing! For those interested, I did catch her name: Goldhills Toffee. She looked like a lot of fun and had a nice jump. With  her and CobJockey's Connor out there showing us how it's done I still hold out hope for Ginger!
1.00m jumper class. Also the only somewhat timely photo I got - I have many containing parts of horses jumping, or whole horses awkwardly landing :)

I took a quick walk through the vendor tents and was seriously envious of some of the beautiful gear. I fell in love with some super flattering Gersemi breeches I may have to make a trip to the tack store for. As your average working rider, it's a little disheartening to think about the amount of money on display - luckily though, for every really high end set of jumping boots, there was a horse with a more basic set of fronts or even just polos. The rider wear also varied from the super pricey to the more average - evidence, I hope, that there are a few riders like me out there with a not-so-big paycheque and other financial priorities.

At one point I was sitting near where the trainers were hanging out, which was interesting - lots of really great, encouraging people out there, but sadly a few who I now know I'd never do business with. There were a few riders and trainers who weren't having fun at all, and were being rude to the other competitors. I don't think I could ever take myself so seriously, but hey, that's probably partly why they are jumping the big stuff and I'm still falling off over the little stuff :) Still, no need to be ignorant. Overall, though, the vast majority were friendly and interesting company and it was nice to spend part of the day with other horse lovers.

Crazy thunderstorms came through mid afternoon so I packed up and ran for the bus stop as the tent I was sitting under just didn't feel like it would be lightning proof :) I was sad to miss the bigger jumper classes, but it was a fun day nonetheless. If you're new to the area, it's a show I'd recommend as worth checking out - quality competition, but a more laid back vibe than the bigger venues. While there is seating, and a mini trade show/concession, most people just picnic on the grassy banks ringside. The parking/spectating is FREE too so it's not like you've got to invest anything if you don't want to - just bring a lunch and stay away from the vendor tents :) Also, if your day is busy or you're just not into committing a big block of time to watch it's really convenient and in the centre of the city, so you can stop in for a bit on your way elsewhere.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Pedro

Saturday, I had my first lesson since my vacation, and yet another new horse to ride. I've lost track of how many this makes it - just when I think there can't possibly be any others, another name appears next to mine on the whiteboard. I'm starting to get paranoid there is something wrong with me, since the other riders usually have the same horse, sometimes for months, if not years. At any rate, the name said "Pedro", and I was half expecting a little quarter horse, like the only other Pedro I know. This Pedro is a dark bay warmblood type, probably in his late teens. Looks wise, think Lainey, only a bit taller and wider. I didn't think to take a picture, so you'll have to trust me that he is a handsome hunk of a guy, and apparently was quite something in his day.

I feel like I didn't ride my best in the warmup- he's a big, bouncy kind of guy and I had to really focus on sitting deep and relaxing my lower back to ride that trot well. His canter is of course, gorgeous, but he felt...big. I've heard some barn gossip that he's not the easiest ride, confirmed by his trying to spook at the jumps as we rode past and generally testing every little bit of me, like not wanting to go forward, then of course being too forward, then ignoring my inside leg, then the outside, then randomly trying speeding up and slowing down. As my British stepdad would say, "taking the piss" :) Checking out our little jump course, my nerves came back in full force, to the point I felt physically ill before our round. A mix between wanting to vomit and/or cry in frustration over it all, really. I waited until the last turn so I could mentally regroup and silently apologize to Pedro for my nerves, and ask him to take pity on me and look after us both. Silly, I know, but it did make me feel better, and the thought of not jumping never actually crossed my mind. Thankfully, Pedro came through for me and babysat me through the course twice. The coach had several compliments for me regarding my riding, but really, Pedro was doing it all and making me look good. He got a little frisky on the final line and tried to throw in a buck (again confirming the barn gossip), but I felt it coming and stopped it before it really happened. Pedro was all "ha ha, just testing" and continued on like a star. Once you aim him at a jump, he's all business - it's the inbetween part that can get a little "fun"

Overall, a lesson I enjoyed, but a little nerve wracking - we explored all those shades of grey falling between supreme confidence and outright panic, but ended on a really happy note. Once again, I'm left looking forward to my next ride :)

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Horses Always Know

I unfortunately didn't get time to ride when I was home. I was really frustrated by that. It was supposed to be my vacation after all, and I had visions of spending time on the deck drinking blender drinks, watching the boats go by, then heading to the barn for afternoon trail rides with friends. It ended up the opposite, with very little time alone with G, and no time to myself, leaving me feeling like I wanted a vacation from my vacation. Not to mention I didn't overly want to come back here to work either. So, to say I was in a rotten and depressed mood as I visited Ginger prior to my flight out might be being generous :) Ginger must be growing up (or at least growing used to me), because in the old days she would have steered well clear of anyone with that kind of emotion brewing beneath the surface. That day, however, she came up from the field on her own and stood next to me, softly leaning her body into me, giving me what I equate as the horsey version of a hug. We stood leaning into each other like that for a few minutes, and it was hard not to feel completely at peace and comforted.  She's not usually very outgoing or affectionate, so it was all the more surprising. She's such a special girl, and I can only hope she understands that I've got her back too.

Looking so good!

Again, those dapples...I wish they stayed year round
I had a good ride today at the lesson barn, but to save you from reading the longest blog post ever, I'll post about it in a day or two. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Going With The Flow

It's been a wonderful vacation, but I've really not done many of the things I planned to do - most notably, spending tons of time with Ginger. I underestimated all the social commitments and general "keeping my life in order" type stuff a trip home involves. The past few days have been non stop and it's been tough for G and I to even fit enough quality time in. I visit Ginger daily, but it's been limited to grooming and stuffing her with treats. I'm having some serious horse withdrawals :(

 That being said, the weather has been absolutely beautiful and the west coast scenery is at it's best. I don't want to leave home ever again!

G and I spent quite a bit of time checking out properties and looking for just the right one. We're nearly impossible clients because G wants oceanfront and I want horses. And we're not millionaires :) We found a few nice places, but this morning I woke up and it just didn't feel right - I'm so happy with where Ginger is boarded it seems silly to make compromises on location or construction in order to afford horse friendly acreage. So, we've come to the conclusion that unless we find the perfect beach house, we're going to spend money renovating our existing house. I'll board (and yes, the verdict is a second horse will join our little family as well in the fall). 

Besides, I think Ginger would hate me if I moved her from current location:

I'm hoping to fit in a short ride in the morning before my flight out tomorrow afternoon.


Saturday, 17 May 2014

Dapple Pony!

Ginger is looking amazing! I'm so happy to see her, and so pleased with the care she's been getting.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Tippy McTipperson

Another lesson, another new horse to ride. Apparently it's time for our group to move up to horses that can jump a little bigger, so I was on "Skipper", a small QH type. 
First impressions were that a) he's forward, b) he's a bit spooky, and c) he's very narrow. Like all good lesson horses, he's also quite opinionated.

I really stuggled tonight with keeping my leg from sliding back, and my upper body falling too far forward. Even at a walk, I felt like I couldn't find a good spot in the saddle for myself, and with Skipper being so narrow I felt like I didn't really have anything to wrap my leg around either. I could blame the saddle/the horse/my body type, but lets be honest, the number one thing I hear no matter what discipline or horse I ride is that I need to keep my shoulders back. I am a slow learner :)

Flatwork went alright, again I just felt 'off' position wise. Two point was killing my ankles, which is weird. No stirrups actually made life easier for me in every way, so that was nice. 

Jumping was set up bigger than what I've been used to, which made me slightly nervous on a new horse. Luckily, the course was pretty straightforward and consisted only 6 jumps in a figure eight pattern. I struggled a bit through the first round - Skipper is not as confident as the other horses I'm riding and we had a refusal at the second to last as I just couldn't keep him forward enough to it. We did ok on a re-try, but he's so sticky in front of the jumps that I have a hard time figuring out where I should be - I'm either jumping ahead because he hesitates and I don't, or getting left behind because I think he's going to refuse but then takes a big jump at the last minute. I don't think it looked as bad as it felt...but still, not as nice of a feeling as with the other horses where the timing is much easier to get.

Second round was an improvement, but still not great. Then, through the last combination he hesitated and I got sucked into jumping ahead of him again. Pony decided he'd had enough of my crappy riding/heels up his sides, so planted himself and stopped in his tracks with a little buck the stride AFTER the jump and I popped off over his shoulder and tested the footing (rubber crumb - very soft and nice ;) Call me crazy, but I suspect this is a move he's done before - it seemed quite well rehearsed. Take home lesson - shoulders BACK and WAIT for him! (Also, don't trust him not to take advantage of my alter ego Tippy and play dirty after the jump) The only thing hurt was my pride, so off we went for a third trip through, which went better. I'd like to say it's because I stepped up my riding, but really I think Skipper was bored of the whole game by that point and just cantered on through with no funny business. Lets hope things smooth out once we get used to each other - if nothing else this might be the horse that finally teaches me to keep those shoulders above those hips!
Not me, but it felt a little something like this. Photo from "Fit to Ride: Yoga for Lawn Darts" on Horse Nation


I'm going home to BC for visit on Friday, so no more lessons for a couple of weeks. I will, however, have lots of horse time with the always fabulous Ginger! I can't even tell you how much I've been missing her. After this little interlude in a lesson barn, I'm also excited to have a break and do my own thing with my own horse for a bit :)

Looking forward to kissing this nose!

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Splash-tastic

I had yet another really great ride today. Part of me remains in disbelief over the amount of fun I’m having, but the other (bigger) part is just enjoying the moment and not overthinking anything. Sorry, no new pictures today, but I’ll put a few older ones in to break the monotony J

We were stuck in the indoors again. Even though the sun was mostly shining, it was super windy and there were some storm fronts moving through. I got the ride on Splash once again, and I was a bit disappointed to be honest, as I do love Checkers. While I was waiting for our lesson, the barn girls were all chatting about their favorite lesson horses, of which there were a few. That discussion of course led to least favorites – it seems there is only one least favorite, and that is Splash ‘because he is so lazy’. I’m one of those who doesn’t think horses inherently come ‘lazy’, but hey, whatever.  I couldn’t help but feel a little sad for him.

Apparently I\m the only one who can't resist a cute pony face
 As it turns out, I didn’t need to waste any time feeling sorry for him, because Splash continues to rise to the occasion. Oh boy, did I have a forward horse today! I don’t know what’s got into him lately, not that I’m complaining, he’s so much more fun when he’s not trying to suck behind your leg. I’d like to hope we are finally on the same page, because my coach has been in just as much disbelief as everyone else over his new engine. I’m feeling hopeful about it because he still lags a bit at first, but once he is sure that you really want forward and are going to let him go, he’s game. It’s not like I’m nagging him - he wants to do it.  We started as usual with lots of death by no stirrups and two point to warm up, then had a fun, twisty course to challenge us. The focus today was on getting our changes more accurate – lots of dressage-y type work with flying and simple changes at certain points of the arena. Mr Splash has a bad habit of really dropping his inside shoulder to the right. Soft and bendy really aren’t consistently in his repertoire as yet. My instinct is to use more outside rein and inside leg to try to balance him, which inevitably led to wrong leads. Once I remembered to pick up my inside rein and stand him up that way we got on track. Some of our changes weren’t hunter pretty, but we got it done, and for the two of us that’s something to be happy with.

Ginger doing her invisible lunge line routine. Nothing to do with anything, but I did promise you pictures :)
The actual jumping went well, with the highlight for me being one of those perfect moments where we were totally with each other and nailed a difficult tight turn, and in style – my dressage coach would have loved it, all collected and balanced and ever so pretty! Buddy got a little over exuberant towards the end of my ride when we let loose a bit to make the ‘big horse’ strides, and got a little too much in party mode, getting a bit of a humpy back, then trying to take off.  Since he literally feels like a big pony, and isn’t the most athletic guy, it wasn’t scary feeling at all, and I was laughing while I dealt with our new found bucking freight train wannabe. (Who IS this new person who laughs in the face of ‘danger’? ;) Splash is adorable because he is so proud of himself after, and acts like he’s all that, all puffed up and looking as impressive as he can. Even when the ride is long over and I lead him back to his paddock he prances and acts like he’s in a post parade at the track or something, then when I turn him out he waits and stares me down for the treat that he knows he deserves J I think it’s safe to say he’s totally won me over with his enthusiasm – it’s infectious and it’s hard not leave the barn smiling. 
Pretty sure Splash thinks this is him these days:)

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Weekday Lesson

After a couple of weeks of too-darn-busyness I managed to make it back to ride on a weeknight.

I was so happy I did, because we got to ride outside! I'm not making any comments about the weather or announcing spring finally here in hopes of not jinxing the weekend or at this rate, summer. You're welcome :)

Look! It really happened! (Although the jumps were moved down about a foot :)
Riding to the ring...outside! lol
I think the horses were in a state of disbelief as well, they all seemed just a little more 'up' and interested in their jobs. Even my buddy Splash was a rock star and moving out with virtually no nagging. I'd like to say I somehow worked a miracle, but I think we can blame a couple of days off and the novelty of the outdoor ring. It's probably safe to say this time next week he'll be back to seeing just how slow life can be :)

So not much to say beyond that, little dude was amazing - nice and forward, rocked the course, only adding on one line, and even threw in a couple of sweet changes. The engine was working in overdrive and we even got some nice round dressage-y moves between fences. He was totally into it and we both had a blast. A normal day at the office for most, but quite extraordinary for the Splash man and yours truly.
Green grass is still a rare and special treat

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

So Excited

I just booked a week off to go home for a visit. I can't wait to see everyone - it's less than a week and a half away!

Cute pony pic from a couple of months ago - going through pictures of G and Ginger from that day for a previous post may or may not have had something to do with the impulsive decision to spend a fortune on airfare and go without a weeks pay :)





Monday, 5 May 2014

Checkers the Wonder Horse


I had a really fun lesson this weekend. Red mare was really on her game, our return to sub zero temperatures making the her quite spooky and silly (for her, of course - she could stand to learn a thing or two from Ginger about silliness!)

That, of course meant I had a REALLY forward horse - a sharp contrast to Mr Splash from last week. We had a blast on the course and by the second round, we really were in sync. I've mentioned before that Checkers has quite a big jump that I find hard to ride - the answer to that, of course is more forward. Add a a little more speed and those giant jumps just start to flow. I have no idea why it took me so long to figure that out. The answer to all my horsey problems in the past has always been 'forward' - Spooky? Forward. Barn sour? Forward. Behind the bit? Forward. Bucking? Forward....yet still I go for how many lessons before figuring it out. At any rate, we had plenty of forward, I didn't chicken out and just went with it and we had SO MUCH FUN. I can't take credit for it, and claim I rode wonderfully or anything, because Checkers is of course the wonder horse that does it all on autopilot. But I'd like to think I held up my end of the bargain and stayed out of her way and let her look like the star she still is :)

I was chatting to one of the barn girls after my lesson about Checkers' long and successful show career. I'm not surprised in the least - she's an absolute pro at her job and  still just KNOWS that she's all that. Hard to describe, but I've never sat on a horse that has anywhere near the amount of confidence in themselves as she does. Thank goodness she has a heart of gold to go with it. I envy the rider that got to own Checkers in her younger years - I can only imagine how formidable she would have been! Now, with Checkers near retirement and scaled back to one lesson a week, I'm always aware of how incredibly privileged I am to spend that hour with her.
She never fails to pose for her picture. 

Here's hoping spring shows up to stay one of these days - I'd really like to ride in the outdoor!

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Saturdays Are The Best Days

I wake up Saturday mornings and feel more than a little bit like I used to as a kid. That excitement to get to the barn is back like it's never been before. These days I have a bit more of an appreciation of just how precious riding time is so I think I look forward to Saturdays even more than I did as a pony crazy kid.

Of course it helps that I'm absolutely loving this jumping thing. As a kid, I didn't get lessons and the barn I rode at was 'western'. Don't get me wrong, we had all sorts of fun - but there's only so much jumping you can do on a ring sour pony is a western saddle. That didn't stop us from going bareback, of course, and jumping all the logs and ditches on the trail, racing each other and pretending we were characters from our favorite horsey movies - but the barn's focus was really western. I drifted away from the local western show world very quickly, happy to keep to myself and learn the hard way. Once I got older, I had the funds for lessons, but not horses, so went through a long stretch of riding and owning babies and green horses that seemed to be sold once they were solid on the trails and knew the basics in the ring. Finally, along came Lainey, who I bought to fulfill my lifelong dream of eventing. We started her over fences, had fun, and toyed with the idea of getting her out to an event. Of course, then along came the young and wild Ginger, needing so much, and time for Lainey was suddenly in short supply. For the next two years or so, dressage lessons so I could learn to ride my 'spicy' pony were the order of the day. While we both learned and progressed, our confidence crept ever lower, me always feeling like I wasn't quite good enough and feeling the effects of all those green horses, and Ginger ever more anxious that she too, was doing it wrong. In retrospect, the confined and nitpicky dressage lessons were not what either Ginger and I really needed - we're so similar, her and I.  I thought I was doing the right thing by starting her right and with help, but we really needed to just spend some time out of the spotlight enjoying each other without any pressure. A long break at home with many hours on the trails started to sort us both out, but then I got stuck in this funny schedule of contracts and Ginger has spent the majority of the past year on vacation. Ginger, of course, deserves her vacation, but I've had a rough year struggling with what I really want to do horse wise. I've been one more horse drama away from just bringing Ginger home and trail riding her til we're both old and grey. Not such a bad life, of course, but one that felt like more than a little compromise from the brave kid who wanted to do it all.
Winter, 2014. Love the pic, but those uneven stirrups bother me :)

I'm sorry for the novel, I'm just trying to put into words and give perspective on just how wonderful feels to hop on for a lesson these days and learn so much, but also have fun. To be that kid again who can't wait for Saturdays to come. I'm loving learning by doing, and having abstract goals, rather than the more definite, and just embracing the day's ride as it is, not how it should be in a perfect world. I'm taking this new and improved attitude home to the wonderful Gingersnap, and while I'm not sure she wants to be a jumper, or any type of show horse at all, I think for the first time I'm honestly OK with that. I'm back to the kid who just wants to have fun, and there's always fun to be had when Ginger is involved :) As for the jumping - I'm SO hooked - the combination of technical and fun is me all over. Those dressage lessons come in very handy, but we also get to practice flying like that kid on her pony I'm starting to remember again. The jury's still out on whether that means Ginger gets a new friend or not - I'm leaning towards yes, but for now I'm just going to keep enjoying my Saturdays :)

Ginger is always game for some fun