Why My Shoelaces are Fascinating

I surveyed The Potential New Training Facility with the Trainer. She’s vibrating with happy energy. We were standing in the parking lot, from which you can see practically the entire property. It’s a privately owned breeding barn, no boarders, complete with fully functioning separate barn to lease out to Trainer. The lease details are worked out to everyone’s satisfaction. All that remains is her signature. I can see she’s already in virtual moving mode: unpacking things in her brain, arranging horses and gear.

This is absolutely the right place. Her business had quickly outgrown my boarding barn.  She’s good. Makes me happy that other people see HOW good.

Facility has everything she needs in a good training barn. Huge arena, excellent footing, incredible owners, hot walker, turn outs, a ginormous (covered, lit) round pen….and the holy grail of Training Barns everywhere: hot/cold water wash racks AND washer and dryer. Oh, and full size fridge and freezer. (No more ice trips!)

Man oh man. I’m happy.  But also a bit sad.  I’m going to lose the Hudson-Vision that’s run in the background of all my barn days.  That was a perk, but definitely not a deal-breaker. Obviously, I’ll still see him.

“What do you think?”, she says, correctly reading my dropped jaw to mean this place is AWESOME.

“I think it’s fabulous”, I say, without an iota of hesitation.

We’ve already checked out the feed: top quality. Paddock water troughs cleaned weekly. Stall auto-waterers are huge, not the chin dippers, and cleaned out bi-weekly.  Place is immaculate. Horses are drop dead gorgeous. Healthy, obviously well cared for.

“Any issues?”, she says, hoping she hasn’t missed anything.

“Just one that I can think of?”, I say, gazing lingeringly at the property from the parking area.  “You realize we’ve stood here for 45 minutes, just staring, right? Do you think we will ever go to work?”

We both crack up. I continue.

“I think we’ll park, and then spend at least 30 minutes checking the tightness of our shoelaces. Right. Here.”

“Wanna risk it?”, she says, clearly understanding I just said: where do I sign up?

“I’m good with shoelace obsessing”, I say.

We crack up again.

That was a few months ago.

We’re all moved in. Everyone is happy. There’s a winery across the street. We’re surrounded by grape vines and apple orchards. Since its private property, no rider has misused the fantastic standing offer by neighbors to ride along the rights-of-way that cut through the vines, orchards and fields. TRAILS.

I took these cell photos yesterday morning, from the parking lot.

We call this the Infinity Arena....
We call this the Infinity Arena….who needs an infinity pool? We have horses to ride!

Riding in this arena feels like a cross between flying

Imagine being on horseback here...
Imagine being on horseback here…      (photo credit)

and riding atop of the Great Wall of China.

and riding here...at the same time. Except arena is wider...
okay….arena is slightly wider…but you get the idea.        (photo credit)

Who cares if you missed a cue?  LOOK AT THAT VIEW. (There may be a few horses taking advantage of this.)

Check out the orangish row dots at lower right. Wine grapes. Hills of them. Maybe Hudson could use a teeny tiny bit of training after all?

There's a winery behind me too.
Obsessing over shoelaces. Will I ever get them tight?  (Um. No.)

Life is good.  The people are exceptional. The horses, fantastic.

And I have the Best. Shoelaces. Ever.

Impatience is a Good Thing…

…when it allows you to drop the reins, film your horse, and claim he’s being gentlemanly.

Open, closed, if it’s in his way, it bugs him. He’ll close the arena gate as we pass by if it was left open, and is blocking the line on the rail.

Oh Hudson, how I love thee!

Ah, Spring.

So far, this has incited Hudson into two jail breaks.

#1: After getting shoes. He has a most excellent farrier, Dane, who offered to return him to his paddock (probably so I’d stop hanging around trying to look busy, neither of them need me to be present) when done being shod.

I go to the feed store.

An hour later, Laurie spots them surreptitiously grazing in an inconspicuous spot quite close to their paddock. They think we won’t notice the lack of fencing in front of them. Laurie said both their attitudes were something like this: “No no, we’re fine. We’re supposed to be here.  Just grazing.  Near our paddock.  See? There’s a fence.”

#2: Bella steps out her back door in time to see Hudson pick the lock on the main gate, setting himself and Woodrow free.  This gate is closed with a horse-proof carabiner type clip. We still don’t know how he managed this feat.

I generally have to fuss with it to get it open. It’s a clumsy operation.

Hudson and Jane are back on the ouchy-achey road to fitness. Six weeks off of Real Riding might as well be a year for me.  I don’t have even half an Ab left. My inner thighs are sore from posting for ten minutes.

(Oh, the SHAME…I mean, um, it’s so, uh, good to be reminded of what beginning riders have to go through…)

You may  have to put up with less than stellar blogging as my brain takes the ouchy-achey road back to thinking…

(FYI, I missed you guys a LOT!)

Hitting the ‘Reset’ Button: Rider Fitness

Jane, after watching yesterday’s video:

Whoa. Horse people:

The dedication.

The successes.

The animal to animal communication.

The risks.

The lumps.

Look at all those athletes – wait – look at all the athletes I know.

I am struck with awe as I remember the horse events I’ve witnessed.  I feel so proud.

“She’s got THAT right. Horses are not sofas that move!”, I scoff.

“I am part of a nation…no a WORLD…of athletes…”, I think (smugly), wonderingly.

8 seconds later, the words “sofa” and “athlete” are still kinda ringing in my ear.

Um. About the athlete part…?

Jane’s video would include a lot of throw pillows.  Possibly a comforter.  For the last month, Hudson has been a moving sofa. I’ve alternately lounged on him and paid him for psychotherapy, resting my head on his butt.

(Granted, he’s a highly athletic sofa with dressage movement and a penchant for cows.)

Honestly? He’s been kindly packing my butt around during and after the whole dad dying in our house thing. (Minimizing is the first step to Denial, which is the fastest way out of Pain. Stay with me here.)

I have shown up at the barn, sporting my newly expanded waistline, throwing a lot of padding on his back, and hoisting myself up to “ride” bareback.

(I’m lying.  He’s 16 hh, and I’m old.  Hoisting is out of the picture. I lower myself on his back from a retaining wall, and reach a hand out to fluff up any smooshed flowers.)

Hudson sighs, rotates his ears back, and stands there with a big –  ? – over his head. I give him the cue to walk on. He sighs again, and downshifts into Amble. We’re off. Usually with Dinero on the end of a lead beside us.  (Being a sofa is much more fun if you can do it with a friend.)

I’ve thrown in a little trot, canter, and being on the bit here and there, to perpetuate the idea that I’m actually doing something. I’m riding in whatever clothes I threw on that morning. No stirrups = capris and athletic shoes? Tank top and sweats? What’s the problem?

Confession: I’m Jello.  Jell. O.

Athletic? Ha.  I’m proving all our tormentors (and doctors!) right: the horse does all the work. Riding isn’t an athletic sport.

I can’t let THAT stand.  I’d be letting down the entire Equestrian Nation.

I proclaim today to be “Jane Stops Procrastinating Day”.

Prepare for tales of Cake Deprivation, Gym Torture, and Righteous Riding Joy.

My goal is to become (and stay) an equestrian athlete. It’s one of those dang goals I have to set over and over again. I’m not a bit lazy.

I might be rather Gym Challenged.

I might also have a slight Pilates Deficiency.

But I’m on it!

(Just as soon as I sweep away all these empty candy wrappers….)

Thank You For Traveling Air Hudson, Please Fly Again Soon…

Most. Uncomfortable. Gallop. Ever.

Below is what I thought, as Hudson blasted down the big arena’s long side in a jarring blur of  pipe rail:

  1. Strange. I cued for a trot.
  2. This is dang uncomfortable. I know we’re at speed, but that shouldn’t…
  3. Why am I in the air?
  4. Why is my air time alternating with slamming into the saddle?
  5. This reminds me of something…almost have it….
  6. How weird is this? This feels just like riding the bull…
  7. I wonder why it feels like…Uh Oh…

Yes. I was that slow.

Seriously. It took the entire long side, many jolts into the air, and 4 or 5 savagely good leaps and pile drives for my brain to arrive here: Hudson was bucking.

I spent an embarrassing amount of time wondering why the saddle kept inexplicably disappearing, being annoyed Hudson wouldn’t stay on the bit (once Dressage Brain is activated, all other reality ceases to exist), and wondering how my equitation could just vanish. I mean, I was in the air at least half the time we were galloping?

Translation: I was too stupid to fall off.

In all the years I’ve ridden him, Hudson has never even kicked out in happiness, let alone bucked.

When I told Bella, she said: “What did you DO?!?”

BTW, this is the right response. I thought the same thing while still on board. Any other horse I’d look at multiple factors, and well, I would have known they were bucking. I did make sure he wasn’t in pain. That was my second thought after, “What did I DO?!?”

This is what I did:

I did not take into account The Bad Thing.

Hudson is going to tell you about it tomorrow…

Shhh, Don’t Scare the Cows…

I have a new riding plan.  It’s unorthodox, but it’s working.

I’ve watched lots of dressage videos, imprinting my memory, to emulate the good riding later.  Sort of a visual aid to my brain: see this footage?  Do that, K?

I know this works for many riders.

Frustrating. It doesn’t work for me.  I went back to concepts that I understand in my body.

  1. Whatever I am physically holding, the horse can’t use.
  2. Look for the places I brace my body.  Those will be the areas the horse can’t relax in, since I’m bracing against him.

Holding:

it’s not always bad. Quiet holding with my body can be a powerful tool to keep a line straight or block a ribcage from drifting.  The concept also helps me stop unconscious holding: letting the horse have room to move forward within the outline, and not stop impulsion.

Bracing:

Oy.  Is there anywhere I don’t brace, at some point? (Gumby bracing.  Bend one part and another part stiffens!)  I discovered I brace my wrists (?!?!?), creating a counter brace in Hudson, making it very difficult for him to be soft.  He can be super light, but not soft. How do you soften wrists?  I’m still working on that one.

During the last few weeks, I’ve watched the video of Kathy cutting steers on Rhodie many times. She has something I want, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. Stillness? Quiet? Relaxation? Yes, but the way she is doing it is different from what I do.

The next time I got on Hudson, I went through my checklist (it’s Hudson, there’s a little give and take):

Jane: Hmmm….what am I holding? [mentally going through body parts]

Hudson: Jane? I believe you are holding the reins.  Feel free to drop them.

He’s a humorous guy.

Jane: tension in body…where am I bracing myself? Good grief.  Who braces their ankles?!? I will my ankles to stop “bracing” against the stirrups.

Hudson: Don’t care if you brace.  Hellloooo, I’ll just brace back. Win-win. Can we GO already?

I picture Kathy on Rhodie: that quality of internal and external stillness  you need when approaching high flight animals. Why not try?  

Jane: Still.  Completly relaxed. I am one with my horse…I am one with the herd. Ohm.

Hudson: CATTLE?!? WHERE???? I’m on it.  Point me.

His head flew into the air, his ears swiveled wildly, and he became absolutely and totally silent.  He saw the cows in my head, he knew. My body was saying “get ready for cows”, and he was ready.

His reaction was the best possible positive feedback. I did it. I’m quiet enough for cows!

I warmed us up on the access road as if we were moving through a large herd of invisible steers.  He’d begin to amp up (seeing my imaginary cows) and I’d say, with my body “Shhh…don’t scare the cows.” He was instantly quiet. Our connection was electric, solid. For the first time, in his mind, we were partners. I finally hit teammate status with Hudson!

The change is profound.

In order to broadcast “safe”, I have to stay  emotionally and physically contained
in a way that is new for me on the back of a horse. It’s impossible to broadcast “unthreatening” if I’m not self-contained, relaxed, focused, and quiet.

When we went into other gaits, I imagined going through a herd of steers at the trot or canter. Whole new experience. I am GLUED like a pivot to the saddle: a very relaxed pivot. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great start. Finally, I can feel the dressage axiom that was too abstract for me to integrate: my seat belongs to the horse.

This is why I appreciate good horsemanship wherever it shows up.  Apparently I’m too concrete of a thinker to apply spoken dressage axioms.

But watching a good cutting team, I suddenly could visualize it in a way that made sense to me.

Give me an imaginary herd of steers, and I get it.  I GET IT! Whahooooooo!!!

(Shhhh…don’t scare the cattle…)

If you try invisible cattle, let me know if it worked for you or not, and how you felt it went!

What unorthodox things have you done to “get” things in  your disciplines?

Emergency Room Camping

Last summer, Shaun and I went hospital camping.  She had surgery, tried not to die, while I comforted her gently: if you die, I will KILL you.

This Sunday, we went Emergency Room Camping.

Holding Shaun’s good hand while she was on the gurney, I said, “Next year, how about Yosemite? Or the ocean? Something less…fluorescent. No one looks good in hospital lighting.”  Bad vacation pics.

Shaun had a horse accident, without the horse.

I get this.  Done it myself several times.

Horse accidents, especially those in which the rider hits the dirt, are distinctive: there’s usually some airborne time, along with the physics of velocity combining with gravity, just before the earth tilts, and the ground suddenly veers sideways, slamming into your body.

I heard the thud, a crack, a cry, and I RAN.

I saw the twisted neck, the thumb pointing the wrong way, the smashed face, and went instantly into horse accident mode.  Luckily, her neck was fine, just twisted funny.  I knew the thumb was grim: either badly dislocated or badly broken. It was a face down landing, with nothing to break her fall (if we don’t count the thumb). She was pretzeled into a scary crime-scene type outline.

Like every other horse person on the planet, I knew she had about 15-20 minutes of shock to buffer the pain, before it really started to hurt. The hospital was 30 minutes away: the last 10 minutes are up a nice windy road, the asphalt pocked with sink holes from the rain.

I might have used a swear word.  Or ten.

She’s hurting badly by the time we ease into the parking lot. I hunt for the Emergency entrance.

What hospital puts a kazilllion speed bumps in front of the ER??

Continue reading “Emergency Room Camping”

In Which We Watch A Good Cutting Horse Do His Job

Meet Rhodie. I thought it would be fun for us to watch some excellent cutting work. Rhodie belongs to a friend of Bella’s.  I think you’ll have the same reaction I did, and love watching Kathy ride. She’s incredibly fluid on a super quick, cowy horse. She makes it look effortless, as if the horse is doing all the work, and she’s just along for the ride: just like an upper level rider of any discipline.

It shows again: good riding is good riding, whatever you decide to do. Pair good riding up with an exceptional horse, and you get this super quiet, laser-focused team.

As the video starts, focus on the woman off to the right, in the white hat, who appears to be doing…not much. Horse and rider are astoundingly quiet. It seems to me, you’d have to be completely in the zone to get such a non-reaction out of a herd of steers.

Being the DQ (wannabe) who accidentally cut a steer on her visit to watch roping practice, I can say that for Rhodie to come off the steer the instant she asked, go immediately ‘invisible’, and ease back into the herd  – that’s just plain amazing.

Maybe we’ll get lucky, and Kathy will be able to join us, and tell us a little about the skills needed for cutting, if she has time!

Note: Rhodie is no longer for sale, he was sold yesterday. Bella’s hauling him to his new home today!

Something Funny Happened on the Way to the Dressage Arena…

…I ran into Bella, who said, “Hey, I’ll help, if you want.”

Hudson is over his abscess.  Despite the fact it’s in a terrible site, he’s standing in mud, and conditions are far from optimal, he’s…fine.  It’s healed over enough that a simple cleaning and (needleless) injection of betadine prevents evil bacteria from grabbing hold.

Hudson is sound, energetic, and good to go.  We’ve been working.  In the face of my trainer’s retirement, Bella offering to help me not suck is awesome for the following reasons:

  • I’ve been in deep dressage gloom. How will I ever learn?
  • She trained Hudson. She can look at us and know exactly what’s happening on both sides. She’s felt his evasions and when he’s trying to do it well.
  • She knows dressage, having shown successfully through Grand Prix.
  • I can hear her in a way I haven’t been able to hear other trainers.
  • She doesn’t ride “through” me. I can repeat everything she’s said when I’m not in her presence. It’s a miracle!
  • There is nothing vague about her instructions.  It’s all concrete stuff I can do now.
  • No difficult to grasp metaphors. Yet.  Metaphors are good. But I need a lot of specifics. I always tell trainers I missed some of the basics and need remedial help, but somehow they didn’t see that, and thought it was modesty (?). Bella sees what I missed.  Thank God.
  • After two days of practice, people were stopping us in the arena, and asking me what I did to improve so dramatically.
  • Her help is casual.  It’s short(ish).  It’s huge gift.

A few riders went so far as to claim I could clean up at first level if I’d just enter a dang show. (Doubt this.)  None of my previous training was wrong or badly done.  Good, kind trainers. Maybe I forgot stuff. Maybe I wasn’t ready.  Maybe I was too nervous.  Don’t know.

What I do know?

THERE’S HOPE FOR ME.

I had to write that in all caps, because it feels That Big.

Hudson, whom I thought hated dressage, is starting to become very interested.  He has to perform, he has to think.  Performing and thinking are his happy buttons.

He didn’t hate dressage, he hated how I was riding.  It was fine when I was catch riding, because we only did stretchy stuff, and he got his intensity fix from Bella and roping. When that stopped, he didn’t get his adrenaline fix, and was just…bored.

Now he’s extremely interested in what we’re going to do next.

I also get the best possible positive feedback: if he does it wonderfully, it’s because I told him how to do it wonderfully.

“YOU asked him to do that,” Bella says, when I’m awestruck by a result, “He’s just doing what you asked him to do, remember that.

It’s not a miracle.  It’s not rocket science.  It’s what he’s supposed to do when asked.

Really? There’s no secret club? No big revelation? You learn how, do it, and it works?

THAT’S the secret?

Fabulous.