Mental Walls (Literally)

Friday afternoon the sun shined and it was 60 degrees and it was GLORIOUS. Like, Vitamin D, yes please and ponies and seriously, I don’t think I realized how grumpy I’d been until suddenly I was seriously giddy happy. Sunshine, it’s a good thing. The arena footing was still a little more wet than I would have liked so we stuck to walk and trot work, but it’s not like we have any shortage of things to work on at those gaits.

I’m bad about my flatwork rides being the same old walk/trot/canter both directions so I spent some time on Friday morning reading up on ideas and other things to do and it paid off. I really focused on doing something every eight strides or so, trying not to go any length of the arena without doing something – transitions, shoulder-in, circles, leg yield, sitting trot, collecting/lengthening. It was awesome to feel the change. What started as a ride where Doc was behind my leg and pulled his nice ‘ears-pinned, kick at leg’ every time I asked for more turned into one of my favorite flat rides I’ve had on him.

By halfway through the ride, he was moving off my leg so nicely, working in a frame, really in the bridle in a way we struggle to get to. It wasn’t necessarily 100% consistent because #workinprogress, but it was a definite improvement over a lot of our rides this winter. The best part was the horse who refused to trot and only acquiesced with a sloth, legs dragging jog early on was light as could be off my aids and giving me awesome transitions. Definitely telling that I need to be doing more during my rides as opposed to just going around and around.

I saved you from having to listen to my baby voice, you’re welcome

Saturday morning was my usual lesson, although we were back in the indoor thanks to rain. Ugh. Still, I’ll take rain over snow and ice any day. Not quite as good of a warmup as yesterday, but neither of us likes riding indoors as much.

We worked on an exercise we also did last week with four poles/cavaletti.

To start, we rode through the bounce, picked a direction and went over both end poles in a sort of moon shape, and back out over the bounce. My biggest issues here are sitting up and keeping my collarbone up, surprise surprise. Once we got that done, we added a circle over the two end poles. I needed a lot more collection to get that done which is something that’s an ongoing work in progress too.

so far, so good

The last way we rode it was (is?) the most challenging for me: bounce, right pole, left pole, inside turn towards the wall, back over the right pole, left, out over the bounce. Theoretically, not awful. And most of it was fine, since we’d already ridden it two other ways. Until we added the inside turn.

An inside turn towards the rail in the outdoor? Fine. Don’t love it, but I can do it. Add an arena wall? Mental roadblock times 1000. Even though I know we’re capable of making the turn, I zero in on the wall, stare at it and convince myself we’re going to just, I don’t know, run into it? Crash and die? Looking past the wall and focusing on where we’re going helps, but there’s still that moment I see the wall as we start the turn and I lose my marbles.

DEFINITELY almost fall off your horse because you can’t SIT UP omg

I know it’s 100% mental because I managed to get it done today. It wasn’t pretty, but I sat up and wheeled that horse around like we were in a reining pattern and it felt good to end on a positive note.

That all being said, it definitely pointed out a mental weakness I need to work on. I’ve gotten over a lot of my fears and insecurities this last year, so it feels interesting to discover a new one, so to speak.

Also, SERIOUSLY STOP LEANING HOLLY this is why you eat dirt. Damn ground poles.

 

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Magical fairytale glitter-filled experiences

Last Friday night, I got a group text from my trainer asking the Saturday lesson group if we would be riding the next day, despite the horrible-bitter-worst-ever cold (my words, not hers). After some grumbling (about cold, not ponies), it was decided we would breakfast at 10, then head to the barn. Any day that starts with a waffle is good in my book. The conversation then continued with the idea of riding in the snow. Immediately my mind is filled with thoughts of Instagram images like this…

Glamorous gallops through soft snow while I elegantly guide my majestic Saddlebred among snow covered evergreens…

Cough. Newsflash.

Not exactly.

I should have figured this out when the thermostat in the car read 7 degrees. Or maybe when it took me 10 minutes to pick my horse’s ice packed feet. But onward we went, because I was there for the Instagram, damnit. 

Did it for the ‘gram

We did have a perfectly nice jaunt around the outdoor waiting for the rest of the group, then the decision was made to head out onto the track and from there, one of the fields. In the process of heading out, Doc and I ended up at the back of the group.

And that’s where we take a sharp turn from my storybook-filled head.

Hiding

Immediately my horse is informing me that he does not want to be at the back, THANKSLADY LET ME GO I AM SADDLEBRED HEAR ME ROAR. I acquiesce and we catch up to the group, ending up in the middle. Then the brave members decide to go faster. And I’m like, guys, what is so wrong with a nice very small sitting trot here really? but trot we do. Until Doc decides I’m stupid and he wants to GOFASTER. I turn to my trainer and very calmly and matter of factly state that I am now nervous and what would she like me to do. Okay, good, ride continues, we just happen to be trotting next to everyone else’s walk. Not running away though, so there’s that. Just snot running out of my nose and watering eyes and BY THE WAY it hurts to breathe WHY DID I LEAVE SOUTH CAROLINA.

I’m starting to feel braver (or more likely, my common sense is just numb from the cold at this point) so off to the field we go. Where Doc decides he’s had enough of my former-western-pleasure-rider brain and he wants none of this. This culminates in a fun sort of dolphin-leap toddler tantrum.

The good news is my new saddle is very secure.

And when it was over? I looked at trainer C and said, “I’m done.”

Back to the barn we went. Well, arena.

Pics or it didn’t happen

Where we posed for photos to prove this did, in fact, happen. Where I realized my face was now so numb I could have had dental work done. Where J had so many layers on, she literally fell off her horse trying to get off.

It was a majikal experience.

That I really, really, really don’t need to repeat again.

How many days until summer?

 

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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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I cannot handle you, September

I love our track lots and lots and lots

Trainer has been on me about conditioning and let’s be real, I like any excuse to go gallop on our track and live all of my Thoroughbred series childhood dreams, so I’m not complaining. Our barn is a former racehorse training barn, so we have an amazing track to go work on. I like to do a lot of my warm-ups and cool downs there too, and Doc likes it because he’s far too good at sneaking bites of grass when I’m not paying attention. Like, dude, this is why you have to do so much conditioning work – ’cause you got a booty like some rap star’s girlfriend and you won’t stop eating.

Walk warm up, two laps of trot, lap of gallop, change direction, repeat

I’ve been using the app Terra Map to help track rides and speed (I am incapable of distinguishing between fast, really fast, kind of fast and too fast).  Mostly what I’m finding is that I’m the one in desperate need of conditioning here. Talk about some dead legs. Two point ‘tober, I am NOT ready for you. It doesn’t help that it’s 90+ degrees here and I’m very, very confused if I live in Indiana or South Carolina or what month it is. I’m trying not to complain because I’m downright terrified of winter, but also… I nearly killed the horse and myself on Friday.

Not actually Friday, but same facial expressions were made

We were doing this same ride routine, only it was 9am and somehow already Alabama-hot-and-humid and by the time I was done, I was pretty sure I was not going to live to see the next day. Not really that big of an issue (Go figure the fact that I lived down south for 7 years, I’m the world’s biggest baby about heat. And cold. Basically my body is horrible at regulating temperature)… except the barn’s water was turned off while they were repairing something. And my poor horse was drenched.

Twenty minutes of sponge/scrape with a glorious forgotten extra bucket of water, I felt comfortable enough to leave him standing under the fan (keep in mind, he could not have cared less this entire time and stood there eating breakfast, so I guess I’m just a paranoid helicopter mom) and downed like 94 gallons of water (jk the two water bottles in my car).

You win, Indiana September, you win.

We walked today. Nobody died. Tuesday accomplishments.

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