Midwest Horse Fair

I took a trip up to the Midwest Horse Fair (my first time attending) to see my riding instructor’s trick riding drill team perform.  She rides with the Midwest Renegades.  Wow is all I can say about trick  riding.  Most people would be happy if they stayed in the saddle, but the trick riders have all kinds of fancy moves that have them dangling from special straps, doing shoulder stands off the saddle, and vaulting off and back on their horses WHILE GALLOPING in patterns.

They weren’t performing until later in the day, so I was able to check out a bunch of other sessions that were going on around the Fair.  I caught most of Jessica Blair/Madison Macdonald’s session on trick riding, which was nice since I know next to nothing about trick riding and they demonstrated basics and talked about how it’s usually done.  They also had 10-year old Jess with them whose trick riding skills were pretty amazing already and she and her gypsy pony flew around the arena.  I think 10 is actually a better time to learn some of those skills – while you are still small, light, and flexible.  Impressive.  One of the things they mentioned was training their horses to run a pattern so that they could focus on their tricks and safety rather than horse control.  And trick riders generally perform one person at a time.  This was not at all true for the Renegades who performed with 10 or 12 (I was so busy being amazed I forgot to count) women on horseback who had CHOREOGRAPHY of their horses to orchestrate as well as any tricks they were performing.  And they encouraged lots of cheering and clapping as they rode around.  Their horses must be bomb proof.

I also saw Stacey Westfall do a training session with a severely uptight horse who could not relax.  He was so anxious and stiff, you could just feel nervous energy radiating off of him.  Stacey spent a long time just irritating him into paying attention to her, which is what I do to my rabbits, so I can now say this is a valid “training method.”  I’m not sure why he was so uptight – his owner/rider said he is ALWAYS like this.  He was somewhat calmer after Stacey worked with him for awhile – getting him to walk around a terrifying hula hoop, and having him lunge in circles around her to wear off some of that energy.  He seemed to really want to please her, but was super terrified of not giving her the right answer, or maybe it was more that he just dreaded the whole exercise completely and couldn’t wait for it to be over.  But, Stacey showed that underneath some of that stiffness and poor emotional control was a very smart horse who had the potential to be very trainable, but his owner is going to have to do some hard work getting him to trust her and be comfortable with both her and in his own skin.

I caught part of Guy Mclean’s (Australian equine entertainer/trainer/bush poet!) work with a young horse who had never been worked or ridden before.  He spent an hour getting the young horse comfortable with saddle and bridle and doing some groundwork with him to establish trust and boundaries – a lot of this involves lunging the horse and using body language and touch to get him to move in certain ways (away, toward, in circles, at different gaits).  It’s a warm up of sorts for the things he intends to ask of the horse when he gets into the saddle.  Really fascinating to watch and Guy has a great sense of humor and attitude – he manages to be present for the horse and the audience at the same time in a calm and relaxed way.  It’s no wonder that his horses love and trust him.  I got to see his more performance-based session with his team of horses where he rides a “stock” horse and the other 4 are “at liberty” without any saddles, bridles, or other means of controlling them.  Guy uses his body language, a long whip (which he only uses to touch them, not to hit or strike), and his mount to get them to line up and run with him.  He’s also able to get individuals to sit and lay down and remain still while he has his mount sidle sideways over them.  It’s some pretty amazing control.  He WAS able to ride for a few minutes at the end of the hour and nothing terrifying happened.  The horse he’d been training seemed a little nervous about this new thing, but accepted Guy so quickly.  The continued training of this young horse will be featured in 2 other sessions Guy is doing this weekend.  One of the things I really liked about Guy was how he views the horses he works with – they are his family.  He said he had always loved horses, but when he considered careers he found he preferred the entertainment circuit (even though he didn’t really have the showman personality) because it meant that he got to keep all the horses he trained with him and continue to love them as family.  Training other people’s horses meant he had to give them up eventually.

There were/are a bunch of other big names in the horse world on the schedule for this weekend.  I probably should have done more research beforehand!  But I really enjoyed the sessions I mentioned above.  Also, it was interesting to watch other people ride and see what corrections their instructors gave them (during some of the clinics) and realize that they have a lot of the same problems I do, and know that my riding isn’t completely broken.  Cuz, you know, sometimes I wonder.

 

 

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Part-time

Because I have all kinds of events I have to schedule for work and I have to do this months out for our newsletter, I end up scheduling things like vacation days at the same time because I want to be sure that I get/take some in the midst of all the craziness that can be going on.  When things are planned, then, I have a tendency to forget about them until they are upon me.  Oh, do I have three days off this week?  Yes, yes I do.  I am never without Things to do, though, so it’s not like they will be squandered.

Last week was kind of a mess (a beautiful mess) because I had extra time to take off for Easter and for the conference I went to this past weekend.  Tuesday was particularly lovely.  I had time for a bike ride, a nap, and then at work my first commitment of the day (at 2:30 pm, when I went in) was a meditation class (which I’d forgotten about).  So, yeah, go to work, meditate, order some books, oh, it’s 5 already?, go to water aerobics, home.  That was super.  I expect these sorts of days happen ALL THE TIME for people who regularly work part-time.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t pay the bills.

Wednesday was good, too.  Riding lesson.  We put me in a western saddle because the shape of the saddle encourages you to hold your legs in a certain way (turn your thighs out) and we are trying to break me of of my hunter-jumper habits.  Western saddles are bigger and heavier and the stirrups make your toes stick out (if you want to keep your feet in them), and there’s the big horn on the saddle (for roping cattle), and the back of the saddle is higher.  Still, sitting on it, I didn’t really *feel* a big difference.  “This is a thing I am sitting on.”  But, as we trotted around the arena it was easier to find my center and sit the trot without bouncing all over Copenhagen’s back.  Shockingly comfortable, even.  My instructor was going to give me a break, “You must be tired,” but I said no – I wanted to keep on going because my body was finally GETTING IT, and I wasn’t tired at all.  We tried this with and without stirrups.  Because I’m so accustomed to turning my toes IN (this is an English riding style thing – heels down, toes in – that pretty much gets drilled into you), I couldn’t keep my feet in the stirrups anyway, so dropping them was no problem.  And I didn’t feel like I was going to slide or fall off, either.

I’ve been doing a lot of bouncing on my exercise ball while I’m at home to figure out where my center is and remind myself not to tense up (isn’t it funny that when you focus on some part of your body to tell it to do something, you automatically tense up/stop breathing/etc. so that you can pay better attention to it?  All of this before you’re able to say RELAX, body part!), and to move my hips and knees and keep my ankles loose and flexible, and my lower back ready to absorb some of the impact of the bouncing…  There’s a lot to remember.  And some day my body will remember it and I won’t have to think about it so consciously.  It used to know.  I wish (over and over again), that I had more horse time so that I could figure it out faster.  This is just something that takes practice.

I’m remembering, too, how much I love riding and being around horses and other horse-loving people.  Why haven’t I done more of this?  It’s not an inexpensive hobby.  And, if you want more horse time, eventually you get your own horse to work with/on, or you pay to lease time on someone else’s horse (plus there’s the cost of lessons on top of that, and boarding if you own your own horse).  When I was a kid, we were able to afford riding lessons at summer camp, but I was either told (or assumed) that we couldn’t swing the cost financially on a regular basis.  When I rode in college, we had a student-run barn, and I could pay for lessons/horse time by working at the barn (mucking stalls, feeding, etc.).  This is something I would do now, and may look into when I’m back from my Adventures abroad.  Because I think I’m still going to want to ride.  And for more than just half an hour every other week.

I could feel whenever I got my seat right – I stopped bouncing, felt relaxed.  And it involved sitting back into my butt more, which Copenhagen interpreted as a signal to walk.  Argh.  Sorry, horse.  I don’t mean to send you mixed messages.  I will try to get my body under control.  He was in nap mode anyway, and after asking him to trot with little response from him, we had to get out some carrot stick (lunge whip) encouragement.  A little snapping of that got his attention and we soon had a very smart, energetic trot to play with.  Good lesson.  Jackie was happy with the way the saddle helped me assume the proper position, so I expect I’ll see more of it in the future.  We also talked about riding with the bareback pad, which helps you feel how the horse moves.  I’m open to all of it.

+ + +

The conference was good – informative sessions that have seeded a lot of ideas (I don’t think any of the ones I attended were duds).  Too much sitting for sure – there was a clogging convention at the same venue, and I was tempted to sneak into some of their classes to change things up.  My coworker ended up attending, too, at the last minute, and offered to do the driving.  While there are many Good things about traveling with someone, I’d already gotten into the flying-solo mindset…so, my initial internal response was more of a lukewarm “yay?”  And, instead of catching up on my audiobook queue, we ended up talking most of the time (which, admittedly, WAS really interesting, because I got to know my traveling companion better, but at the same time, when I was super tired, I still didn’t feel comfortable enough to say, “I just don’t have any more energy,” or as my brother would have stated, “I have nothing more to say to you” – even though I DID tell that story on our trip).  I did not fall asleep like my brother would have done, either.

I brought 2 books with me, and only cracked one of them.  I mentioned a love of HGTV, which my coworker shares, so when we got back from a very nice dinner at Medici (we split the spinach lasagna AND some fish tacos because we wanted to try all the things and not just one each), we had about 2-3 hours of home improvement and phone time interspersed with our own running commentary.

I met another beekeeping librarian while I was there.  I forgot to bring my notepad from work, so I grabbed one from home that happened to have bees all over it and when I sat down next to her, she squeeed and told me she was a beekeeper, and then it was bees, bees, bees (and more bees) until we got started for real.  [Aside: I haven’t been to any of my bee clubs meetings yet so far this year, but our group seems to be a lot of older, crustier guys who have Definite Ideas (ok, every single individual beekeeper has definite ideas about how to keep their bees) about how you’re supposed to keep bees, and they don’t always mesh up well with how I’m managing my own hives.  But it’s super cool to meet another female beekeeper of roughly the same age who keeps roughly the same amount of bees and has similar principles.]

Did not sleep well.  Did not get a proper breakfast.  Put me in a bit of a mood for the second day.  RARGH.  <– This is how I was out of patience and energy by 3pm.  Fortunately, we were both ready to wrap things up and get home a little earlier.  (We missed the author panel.)  The northern climes welcomed us back with gusty winds and freak snow storms.  Thanks?  Took a wrong turn off the highway when we were nearly home.  I wasn’t even paying attention at that point because we were ALMOST THERE!  And M. turned to me and said, “Did I just go the wrong way?”  I looked around and answered, “Yes, yes you did.”  And then her phone rang and her husband also pointed out that we were traveling in the wrong direction.  Because he was spying on us.  Being “CREEPY,” as she and her daughters put it.  Still, that enabled us to stop, grab the snack bag (which was full of chocolate chip cookies and Doritos), and reorient.  And about 20 minutes later I did finally make it home to all of my loving (and demanding) lagomorphs.  Hello, Bunnies!

+ + +

I may or may not get around to constructing all of those raised beds I want to make.  It’s cold again today, and I frittered all of yesterday on Being Outside on my bike and on foot in the wilds.  Oh my sweet corn the WIND.  As usual I didn’t notice just how strong it was until I turned around at my halfway point, and then much of the way back was directly into the wind, so while I’d been achieving 20mph speeds on the way out (freakin’ fantastic!), my averages on the way back were much slower (and that much harder) with the wind.  Plus, no one could hear me yelling that I was coming up on their left, so that made for a few scary moments where people were leaping out of my way.  Excitement!  Still, my overall average was ~13mph, which is decent.  Everyone was out with me yesterday afternoon.  I think we must all be ready for spring to really feel like spring.  30 degrees again today and I’m contemplating a hike somewhere.  I bet I get whatever place I choose to myself, since it’s all gloom and doom out there.  Maybe I will pick up some nails/screws for my woodworking project while I am out!  (That’ll help me feel accomplished.)

No flying

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Copenhagen and I got back together for my lesson today (Hawk is on vacation).  He was a bit of a jerk – paying more attention to other stuff than to me – but we accomplished a sitting trot (finally) that didn’t feel like I was bouncing like a ball on his back.  Got to use the big arena, too!   This is us at the end of the lesson.  He’s ready for a nap, I’m…ecstatic about something.

Flung

During my last riding lesson, Hawk tossed me out of the saddle when he saw gremlins midway across the arena (I’m half way through “Centered Riding,” by Sally Swift which suggests that this is a real possibility, especially if you forget to breathe – this is only partly tongue-in-cheek; you do transfer a lot of your feelings to your horse if you are tense, and one of the signs of tension is holding your breath).  He bounced to the left, and I pretty much hovered in the air above the spot where his back had been.  And then I didn’t.  It was one of those things that happened so fast it’s hard to remember/reconstruct the event.  I thought initially that it was my left foot that got stuck in the stirrup, but after thinking about it and examining the bruise on my right knee, it appears that it was my right foot.  Hawk went left, I went off to the right.  He was facing me when I fell, and I almost caught myself, but couldn’t get my foot out of the right stirrup.  I landed on my butt, so, it was a well-padded landing, and had a sore cheek/right hip for a couple days (plus the bruise on the side of my right knee).  Otherwise, I’m fine.  We did a lap or so with me leading him on the ground and then I got back in the saddle and we went back to our lesson without any more shenanigans.  Things actually clicked better after that and I had Hawk at a nice slow trot going both directions.  Briefly disappointed at the beginning of our lesson because we had been looking forward to using the larger arena, but a therapy patient unexpectedly showed up for his lesson, so we got reassigned.  I am hoping that when it gets warmer we’ll be able to ride outside (I think they have an outdoor arena) and have some more room to work with.

I’ve got another lesson coming up this week.  It would be nice if I could find my rhythm again.  I have lots of theory in my head, and exercises to help me practice, plus I know I’m capable of it since I’ve done it before.  <– Having done it before is what makes it frustrating since I’m not quite there right now.  Maybe I’ll ask my instructor if we can do balancing exercises while she lounges the horse – I can practice dropping my stirrups and sitting and posting a trot, and raising my arms to work on centering.

Riding everything everywhere

My riding instructor is now making corrections to (hopefully) transform me into a more balanced rider.  She says I have a hunter/jumper seat, which means I tend to ride more forward and into my legs, and she’d like to have me more open and flexible.  It’s her sneaky way of transforming me into a dressage rider.  I’d have said that that’s way too fussy for me, but after reading about the communication that takes place between the horse and rider in dressage, I am way more impressed with it as a style of riding.

We had some breakthroughs.  Of course, my lessons are only 30 minutes at a time, so it’s hard to keep using the skills I am learning, because, whoops, it’s suddenly over.  But I hope that it’s one of those learning experiences where your body/mind continues to think about/process what you’ve worked on even when you’re not on top of a horse.

I borrowed a book on dressage (beginner!) and it had some very interesting things to say about half-halts (getting the horse’s attention and allowing him/her to collect him/herself by gently pulling back on the reins, then releasing – not a full-stop, just a ‘hey there, I’m gonna ask you to do something, ok?’) and about different kinds of walks/trots/canters WITHIN those gaits.  We put some of this into practice – coincidentally – on Wednesday morning last.  I was on a new horse – Hawk (a lovely paint boy with blue eyes) – who was very responsive to all of my cues, and I’d asked him for a trot.  He obliged, but it was kind of fast and I wasn’t super comfortable posting it.  My instructor suggested I post slower (posting, for the uninitiated, is rising and falling with the trot in such a way that you miss the bouncy part – so your bum is happy, and the horse is happy because you’re not bouncing on his/her back), so I sat a few bounces and then did what she asked and Hawk slowed down immediately.  This was very exciting.  I mean, you’d think that intellectually I’d have figured all of this out after reading those chapters on the different trots within trots, but some part of me still thought, “a horse has a trot at which s/he is comfortable, and there’s not much you can do about it – it’s either fast or slow or bouncy or just right (like in the 3 Bears stories)…”  He also had a lovely canter, which we fell into for a few strides after that very fast trot, because he thought I was asking him to Go.Very.Fast.

Later we worked on opening up my shoulders and sitting back/more upright, which allowed me to better telegraph my turns to Hawk before we turned – just by moving my upper body.  He caught onto those cues right away, too.

My riding right now is a hot mess.  It’s been a lot of years and I feel like I’m a little out of control.  Not exactly floppy all over the place out of control, but I need to remember how to talk (and listen) to my horse all over again.  In my last extended stint of riding, I was managing our school barn over the summer and I could ride as much (and as long) as I wanted.  I had a chance to really work with individual horses and get to know them (and they me), and I was a much better/more secure rider as a result.  I kind of miss that freedom of figuring out my riding and my horse on my own.  But this individual instruction is a good thing, too – I’ve never done one-on-one riding instruction before (always group), so the individual attention is kind of nice (kind of overwhelming, too – like if you took a yoga class and you were the only person who showed up and your yoga instructor spent an hour just positioning you).

At the end of the lesson we worked on half-halts, since I only had my book-knowledge of them, and Hawk responded wonderfully to those as well.  A lot of my horses in the past have been lesson horses, who have definitely been more challenging to work with because they ignore a lot of cues, so I’ve had to be “loud” with my legs, or my hands to get them to pay attention.  Hawk was dreamy in this respect.  I could tell that he was listening, and even if I was confusing both of us with some of my messages, he was really eager to do what I asked.  Lovely!

Ill-advised

The last couple of nights I’ve felt like the outside noise was really loud, which I thought was weird, because I haven’t noticed anything up until now.  When I first moved in, I was actually struck by how very quiet it was – compared to my apartment, which was right next to a busy intersection that seemed to attract cavalcades of motorcycles.  UGH.  The noise I was hearing sounded – to me – like helicopters were flying directly over the house.  “Why am I suddenly in their flight path?” I wondered.  “Is there some kind of army training base nearby that’s running some kind of late night/early morning ops?”

Then I thought, well, maybe there’s just a lot of traffic all of a sudden – because the weather finally decided to get nice and people want to be OUT instead of hibernating inside their houses.  And what I’m hearing is probably road noise, which is louder right now because there’s no foliage on the trees to insulate us from the noise pollution.  Reasonable, right?

I got home from work today and heard the noise again – combined with the refrigerator running things were starting to sound a little cacophonous – and realized it was coming from the attic.  Oh.  It’s the ventilation fan.  So, that’s good, because I can go up there and figure out why it’s running.  Cue the dragging of the ladder from the garage into the house.  Not sure where my headlamp is at the moment (in a safe place, obvs), so I grabbed my flashlight and climbed into the hatch.  I hadn’t gotten a good look at the attic fan prior to this.  The inspector told me it was broken, my electrician went up there and said it was jammed – then unjammed it – and reset it so it would work, and I think it ran a few times before it got too cold and then I didn’t hear it all winter.  The warmest it’s been this week was 60 degrees, though.  I don’t *think* that that should heat my attic up past 120, which is what I thought the electrician said he’d set the temperature at.  It was, indeed, running, when I inspected it.  And after multiple repositionings of me across the rafters, I got a look at its electrical bits.  The cover for the box had a hole in it through which a knob was supposed to protrude.  It was askew, so I had to take it off.  The temp seemed to be set at 90 (still didn’t feel that warm to me up there), so I turned the knob up a bit.  The fan switched off, and it was immediately much less noisy in my house.  So, that’s good.  I’m still not sure the thermostat is sensing correctly, so I guess my next step is to get a thermometer up there, so I can tell how warm it *really* is and whether I need to adjust accordingly.

Next time I head up into the attic, I will remember to change out of anything fleecy, because holy crap, I have a ton of insulation stuck to my pants right now.  #feelingbothhandyandincrediblyattractive

You know what Red Green says, “If the women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.”  Probably I need to lay in a supply of duct tape to realize my dreams of becoming Just Like Him.