Learning to breathe

I have been avoiding taking a dreaded bareback lesson for basically weeks now. It’s not like I didn’t ride Lucy bareback all the time, I think it was mostly I knew it would be hard and I didn’t want to work hard. Should probably find a new hobby if that’s the case…

Last Wednesday night was cold though. (If you would like to comment in any other way than commiserating with me, DON’T. I was cold. STOP MAKING FUN OF ME.) It was only 45 when I got to the barn, the sun was going down and when C said, “bareback lesson?” I basically just didn’t have the fight in me (it was frozen). I also figured that was fewer straps for non-glove hands to do, closer to body heat and riding in the indoor meant soft footing if I decided to just bail and fall off.

Turns out, I… enjoyed it?

Yeah.

I mean it was hard, don’t get me wrong. My butt is sore two days later, my hips are like, “hey girl can you go back to yoga plzzzz?!” and my abs are having fun reminding me there are muscles there even if I pretend to ignore them and cover them in ice cream 87.5% of the time.

But it was also fun. We worked on using my breath and hips to change the pace of the horse – something that if you had told me before my lesson I could do, I would have said, “sure” and rolled my eyes. BUT I DID IT.

(From here, this is record for my own knowledge base so beware stream of consciousness and boring.)

Essentially we worked on the swing of my hips at the walk following in the figure 8 motion of the horse’s steps. Keeping my arms at a 90 degree angle, so I’m maintaining my own arms, not letting them be dead weight, and pulling my bellybutton to my spine without dropping my collarbone. Letting my ears drop away from my shoulders (story. of. my. life. it’s a miracle I still have a neck), and using my core to balance and follow. NOT clamping my leg down or letting it creep up and get shorter.

To increase, we added energy to breath, maintaining the same pace and rhythm (four count in through nose, four count out through mouth), making it louder and actually using it to lengthen my spine, making me lighter in the seat. It sounds ridiculous, but makes a lot of sense in context of yoga classes I’ve taken. Breath + hips added pace, all the way through to some really nice upwards trot transitions.

Downward, we quieted the breath. Still the same four/four, but this time being quieter and adding weight to my seat, sitting down. At one point, I got really nice trot-walk-halt transitions through nothing more than seat/breath. Not a single touch on my reins or a ‘whoa’ or anything. Crazy.

Sitting the trot was definitely the challenge of the lesson. It was really hard for me to sit. I would immediately go to clamp down with my legs, which made them shorter, made me actually bounce more and pissed off my horse. Go figure. By relaxing my leg (counterintuitive!) and tilting the front of my pelvis up, Doc actually (kindof) raised his back, got round, and I was able to sit it. At one point we even got a, “You look like a real dressage rider!”

Basically the best comment EVER.

I’m super sore, but have a total new appreciation for riding bareback as more than just toodling along on my horse. I have a feeling there’s going to be a lot more bareback rides in my future this winter.

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Grids and pep texts

Last weekend would end up being the last of our super nice, gorgeous fall weather lessons apparently since I promptly had to turn my heat on on Monday.My usual Saturday lesson was moved to Sunday morning, so after a ridiculously easy hack on Saturday afternoon it was apparent that Doc had been planning on having a lazy-watch-Netflix-couch-potato weekend and I was very rudely interrupting this. Nothing like having non-horse friends in town watch you look like an idiot who can’t get your horse to do… anything. Like trot. Even going out on the track and letting Doc go full out (aka where he usually runs away with me at least once because OMGSOFASTSADDLEBRED) didn’t do it.

Sunday’s lesson ended up being grids, probably further cementing thoughts of, “seriously she spends how much time riding and still looks like that?”

Above video is case in point, where I came around the corner to see everything has been moved up and went WHAT THE HELL THOSE LOOK BIG and Doc said, um I don’t think she wants to do this guys.

We haven’t done grids together before, so this was a new experience for me. Doc, per his usual self, took care of me through them. And yes, I still managed to drift left. Like, here’s an exercise where you literally don’t have to steer Holly and I still manage it. At this point it’s going to be on my headstone: Here lies Holly. Drifted left over an oxer. RIP.

All being said and done, it felt (pretty) good. It’s so comforting to have a horse who I know will get me through (even when I underpower him oops I’M SORRY I FELT LIKE I WAS GOING FAST).

Please ignore the point where I just fall over on my saintly horse’s neck

With that, entries for the last show of the season went in today. CT at 2’3″ starter and gulp… CT at BN. My reasoning being that it’s a schooling show and if I get in there and want to trot everything or just not everything, then I can do that.

Olivia also inspires much confidence. Pep talk (text?) of the century guys (there’s literally no sarcasm in that statement).

Well, Trainer C miiiiight kill me, but I also get to do two dressage tests and GOD KNOWS I need help on those. I’d just like a score less than a mid-life crisis here. I guess we’ll either end the season really high or really low. Aim for the moon, land in the stars basically = aim for BN, chicken out and jump 2’3″ right???

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A lesson in which I cannot steer

Last Thursday my mom happened to be in town for my lesson, which would be my last jumping lesson before our CT last weekend. An 8am lesson unfortunately meant a 5:45am wakeup, but she was a good sport and I bribed her with Starbucks and we were off. Of course, despite all the days surrounding being gorgeous, it was misty and grey out. I’m basically the nicest daughter ever.

Quick warmup, Doc felt really good, and other than being told to get my leg forward like 4543 times per usual, everything went pretty swimmingly.

Our course was still up from the week before, so we had real jumps to go jump too! First couple warm up jumps went well and then she made up a course for me to go jump.

Fun fact: I’m terrible at remembering things told to me. If I can see it on paper, I’m good. Just hearing it? In one ear, right out the other. You can imagine how fun this makes having courses told to me during lessons. It usually involves my reciting it back about 7 times and still getting lost the first time.

This rang very true on Thursday. I got lost on my rollback (..twice?), got lost from the oxer to the yellow (um, every time?) and generally just needed additional caffeine apparently.

I also had an inability to jump the oxer straight. Left drifts are my thing I guess?

Then you get guide poles to make you jump straight

The best part of this lesson was directly influenced by said inabilities to jump straight and remember where you’re going:

Yeah, genius over here jumped crooked, got lost, couldn’t decide which way to go, decided the answer was “put all your weight in your outside stirrup and lean” and add a loose girth… No Hollys or Docs were injured in the making of this film.

We eventually got it (sortof mostly) together, but it definitely lit up some issues that carried forward into this weekend and that are on our winter to-do list. Like… jumping straight? Weird.

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Always better when it’s fun

Ever have those rides where you’re like, well damn, that’s the best that’s ever been? Where you can really look at it and see improvement, know you couldn’t have done that (or at least done it as well) amount of time ago?

That was this weekend’s lesson.

It. Was. Awesome.

We don’t often get to have courses set in our arena, due to the sharing of it we do with lots of other disciplines, but leading up to our CT next weekend (!!) we get one to school over. It was a total freakin’ blast too.

Was it perfect? Oh absolutely not. Among other things, I:

  • Forgot to rollback the first time through
  • Tried to make a turn to the first jump that the laws of physics do not allow on the second time
  • Completely lost all pace down the first line at one point… like, I think we were moving backwards?
  • Put 6 in the 5, like almost every damn time, even when the 5 was RIGHT THERE and SO PRETTY and DAMNIT HOLLY RIDE
  • Am physically incapable of keeping my leg forward

But, when I think about the fact that I’ve been riding this horse since mid-July and hadn’t jumped a course in 10 years until the last few months?

Feels pretty damn perfect.

This was fun

Nothing felt big or intimidating or scary, which is a fantastic feeling. I have so much trust in this horse, more so than I’ve ever had, except with Lucy, who is basically the exception to all rules ever.

Our first CT course back in August (at crossrails lolllzz) was a little bit of a hot mess – I leaned, he ignored me, we had no half-halt and we kind of just ran around on the forehand over small bumps. We had a rail. At 18″. Due to Doc being like, “Woman. This is THE DUMBEST. NO. I AM NOT PICKING UP MY FEET OVER THAT. It does not deserve my respect.” 4 faults… at crossrails.

It’s hard when your horse is like 11 feet long guys

We r gud eventers guyz.

But this… two months later (almost to the day actually) and things were so much better. I (sort of) remembered to sit up, we had a half-halt (!), we did not careen around anywhere, I was able to have input and it really felt like, whoa, damn, I’m doing the thing.

In case you like watching starter level courses for some reason?

A good start would be um, fix your freaking equitation!!!!

Takeaways?

  • Sit the eff up Holly. Collarbone. UP.
  • Leg. Underneath. Self. Forward.
  • Better collection/pace – get the horse underneath himself so he’s not just pulling himself over with the front. Fine at this level, but let’s fix it now.
  • If you see the freakin’ 5, get the freakin’ 5!
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Making adjustments

Last weekend’s dressage ride was one where we had multiple disagreements about things like, “Why can’t only 3/4 of the circle be round and the last 1/4 be a dive straight across?” and “I decided I’m done working so I am exiting the arena.” Super awesome.

I couldn’t. Doc couldn’t. Finally, I trotted a halfway nice 20m circle and called it a day. No point in staying on just to argue if we weren’t going to get anywhere.

Someone is super thrilled about wearing his BOT boots pre-ride

The next day, C took Doc camping with her family and some friends, meaning my next ride was my lesson last night. I was anticipating something better than the week before, but not entirely sure exactly what I was going to get. I probably should have ridden in dressage tack (God knows we need the help), but I also needed my 2ptober baseline beforehand, so jump tack it was.

Turns out, I did not need to be worried because apparently a few days in the woods (including a nice long booty workout the first day) had given me this very pleasant, fun to ride horse back. We did our warm-up and 2pt time out on the track (so much easier to 2pt when you don’t have to steer!) and then met C in the arena for our lesson. Doc was totally game to work, which was so fun. He just immediately settled into this great trot, really reaching and moving along so nicely. It was a huge relief, but also so much fun. I’m not sure we’ve had a ride yet where we didn’t have to work-work-work to get there, but just came out immediately there before last night.

After working on my own position for a bit (I’m seriously incapable of keeping my leg out far enough forward) and some solid flatwork figures, she set two ground poles for 4 strides. First time through, do it in four. Then five. Then three. Change direction. Repeat. Change direction. Five, three, four.

This should not be so difficult. For anyone who can feel a decent pace, it probably isn’t. Spoiler alert: that’s not me.

Getting four was manageable. The three we really had to push, but we got it. Five? Oh five.

Video shot not from last night

We’d get the right pace, then go to turn a corner to go down the line and we’d pull a lovely drop-the-inside-shoulder, dive on to the forehand and lose all pace move. Back to four. Not even a pretty four.

Finally, C had me think about keeping my body still – occupying a “smaller part of my saddle,” with my movement being more up/down than back/front, to get the stride compact, but lifted. That made a world of difference in getting it established (plus, you know, shorter reins, cause my life). For the corner, focusing on holding with my upper inside leg, keeping my hands up, and pushing him around that corner (making it almost a square corner) to prevent the dive-accelerate move. We finally got the five both ways a few times and called it a night.

I’ve definitely got some work to do on stride adjustment this winter. Doc doesn’t actually have a huge stride, but he’s really, really good at pulling you forward so he can accelerate off his forehand, and I’m already weak at holding myself up and prone to getting pulled forward. It’s definitely a weak spot for us right now, making sure I stay up and balanced, so I can adjust and hold better. I know we can get over all the jumps at this level, it’s getting everything right in between them that is the challenge.

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