Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Boot Camp Day 2 & 3: Plenty of "Ah-ha!" Moments

Granted I am writing this a couple days after the last day of boot camp, I have my reasons....I was exhausted!! I have been taking lessons for many years but I have not had the opportunity to do a cluster of lessons in one shot like I did this weekend. It was so worth it! Now onto the nitty gritty...

Day 2 
When I came back on Saturday morning, Buddy looked very well rested in his new stall. Bright eyed and bushy tailed, he called when I got out of the car (Yay! my horse still loves me even after I put him through the ringer). I was one of the first rides since the rider before me had to cancel her first lesson due to a severely pulled hamstring. It was cool but Buddy was fresh and ready to work. We used the same warm-up of making sure he was loose and swinging before testing out his bend-ability. He went right to work making my life slightly easier. Lynn had me start to put him together more and more with "core half-halts" in order to lift his shoulders. She also gave me two new weapons to use when he started to get stiff of tense due to the level of difficulty in the work:

The first tool was giving in to his bracing. During the transitions, I have formed an unfortunate habit of helping him brace in his head and neck in order to achieve roundness. I had to let this go during the exercise and not touch his face at all during transitions. It initially resulted in a high neck nose out transition but the back legs stayed active without disrupting the flow. When added with a slight massage of the rein (versus the steady and firm hold) our transitions did a 180 in look and effectiveness! Yippee!!

The second tool is called the "bending sliding" rein. This is merely keeping the current of your hand to his mouth alive with tiny half-halts coming from each rein in order to keep him soft and supple. It is mostly done with the upper body and you know your doing too much with your hands if the horse's nose starts wagging. This concept was not the easiest to me but when applied correctly I got great feedback from Buddy. I felt it was much easier in the canter although it was more difficult for him. Buddy was fantastic! He felt light and supple by the end and put in no arguments about the difficulty of things asked. I was so proud! He had worked so hard I was forced to give him a small bath but at least it had warmed-up enough by this time. Buddy spent the remainder of the day in the paddock outside his stall so he could watch Lynn's lessons for the rest of the day (another excellent learning experience for him ;) ).

Day 3
Today was the moment of judgement, could I put everything that I had learned this weekend together to make Buddy travel like the third level horse I wanted him to be. Again, Buddy showed no signs of distress in his new surroundings and had even taken a strong liking to his handsome neighbor across the aisle, Costello. On a quick side note, you have to love Mother Nature. She gives us warm and sunny the first two days and pouring rain yet still warm on Sunday. So now it was muggy and my glasses begin to fog...awesome! But we keep on trekking. We mount up in the rain but thank goodness for her covered arena! As soon as the warm-up started, I knew Buddy was starting to feel the work. He was not as supple or easily bendable. I eventually had to permanently implant my spur into his side to keep him moving forward. Along with this I had to remember my new position in the saddle with long loose legs, elbows closer to my ribs, core activated and pelvis more forward. Now I had to incorporate this without forcing Buddy into roundness during transitions, keep him bent and activated with my seat/core/legs and keep bending sliding at trot, canter, circles, leg-yield, half-pass and mediums...UGH!!! This was HARD!!! Buddy was tired, sore and grouchy! It felt absolutely awful and times and I would get frustrated when he dropped out or just stopped refusing to go forward (after watching the video though, it rode much worse than it looked). Lynn kept me cool and talked me through it reminding me to be sympathetic to him since this was still technically new and very hard on top of that. Boo also showed his frustration through multiple sneezing fits which ended up ripping the reins from my hands. At one point, she asked if I wanted to quit since he looked mentally fried but I said lets give him a minute and try one last time. It was just what we needed. I was able to regroup and picture the canter exactly how I wanted it while Buddy was able to take a mental breather. I collected myself and him asked for the canter and got the beautiful result of a lovely up transition, elevated shoulders, active hind legs and true collection. HUZZAH!!! With that we called it quits and lots of praise and a banana was had afterwards :)

Lynn was extremely pleased with the progress we made over the weekend and admitted that she threw quite a bit at us but we rose to the challenge. We have our homework and are going to work on it for the next month since the first show is just a couple of weeks away! The only thing I regret is that no pictures were taken during this experience...this just means I will have to take twice as many the next opportunity I have :) Until next time!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Boot Camp Day 1: Where did those muscles come from?!?

I really cannot express my excitement for this training excursion that I am doing this weekend! Today was the first day of what I have dubbed "boot camp" for me and Buddy. We traveled to my trainer's farm, North Star Training Center, to spend three days of training at her farm while she is home from Florida. I spent the entire morning cleaning tack and packing the trailer with all of the essentials that Buddy would need to stay in Chapel Hill (tack, feed, hay, blankets, etc). We left around 12:30 to get there about 45 min. before my first lesson. Unfortunately, the traffic gods were not in our favor today and dealt out very poor drivers the entire way there. With only 15 min. to get Boo tacked and warmed up I pulled him out of the trailer and threw the tack on. Our five minute warm-up was surprisingly relaxed, elastic, and pliable. This was definitely a plus for what was about to come!

The major focus of the weekend is going to be stretching both Buddy and I out. Stretching up and down became the newest addition to my mantra. In stretching down, I was to work on rotating my knee inward towards my saddle to help reinforce my half-halts and quit my lazy chair routine that I tend to get with my legs. This stretched all of the muscles in my thighs as well as some very hidden/dormant muscles all the way up into my groin...ouch! Stretching up entailed strengthening my core in order to sit up and get my bum more underneath me versus behind me. Describing it in words is hard but riding it is even more difficult!

Buddy's bend-ability was his focus which required tons of lateral bending with exercises of over- bending/outside half-halts to get him to really fill up the outside aids as well as half-pass/leg-yield/half-pass to make sure that it was working. This was done and both trot and canter. We started to wrap things up with some medium/extended trots to enforce the soft forward and back with true lengthening. My trainer had us finish with some much needed/deserved "bending" stretch downs...boy what a work-out! Buddy was an absolute star! He tried every step and didn't fuss or argue about the level of work at all. I was surprised and extremely pleased for such a rushed arrival and warm-up!

When the lesson was done, my dad (who is also my trailer chauffeur and camera man) helped me unpack the trailer and get Buddy settled in his new house for the weekend. Buddy has a large stall in the main barn with a (much larger than the one at home) automatic waterer, private patio (small attached paddock) that looks out into the covered arena and tomorrow will have access to his own grass paddock! What a lucky boy! His neighbor across the aisle is very handsome chestnut warmblood who seemed very interested in Buddy's arrival.

Tomorrow morning starts day 2 of the boot camp and I have taken my Advil since my "undeveloped core muscles" and quads were screaming by the time we started to drive home from NSTC. My lesson is at 10:15, meaning I have to be at the farm by 9:30 so it's up bright and early on a Saturday morning to do some serious learning and I'm completely stoked to do it :) Until tomorrow!   

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

February in a nutshell

February was an interesting month...between snow, rain, lessons, ambulance rides, and doctor's appointments and crazy wildlife, it's been a little chaotic! Snow and rain are a total bummer when it comes to riding. Especially because the construction of the covered arena does not start until summer/fall, my riding is primarily done in a grass arena or a hilly paddock for conditioning. But them's the breaks! Mother nature is a fickle one and I don't want to make her any more lethal than she already is, so I accept her forecasts and work hard to work around her.

My lesson from Lynn happened at the beginning of the month when she made her first trip up from FL. The glory of the half-halt and the uphill canter were our focus and though it was not easy, great moments were definitely had! More to come later about our next set of lessons and future show plans.

The ambulance ride was not for me but for my father. To make a long story (12 hours in the Duke University ER) short, there were 3 trips to Durham, lunch in their fantastic cafeteria, 3 EKGs, 1 CAT scan, 1 MRI and 1 spinal tap that resulted in the procedure being repeated 3x because they had trouble getting to my dad's spinal fluid ending with 0 idea on what caused him to be there in the first place...Oi! What a day! But I do have to say, the doctors and all of the staff were fantastic! They were kind and gentle with dad but quick with results and showed real concern when listening to our questions and opinions.

Doctor's appointments came for me when I started experiencing back of the head headaches that were affecting me during the day and made riding very uncomfortable. It was eventually concluded that I had either a migraine/muscle pull that ticked off one of the lymph nodes in the back of my head which was causing my rather irritating headaches. After a shot of "super anti-inflammatory" and some lovely muscle relaxers that did much more that relax my muscles, I am back with fewer headaches, less neck pain and most importantly back in the saddle!

As far as the wildlife goes...it's as I stated previously, they are crazy! First, (something which I wish I had pictures of) our neighbor's 4 miniature donkeys and mountain goat got loose from their contained area and were making a field trip up to my barn. Rounding them up was a sight to be seen! In the end, everyone was returned to their appropriate living quarters and I can now add "donkey wrangler" to my equine resume! Next, our Russian ducks have decided to live between two ponds during the day which made everyone nervous thinking that they left permanently or worse had been killed due to our next wildlife problem. A fox has setup shop in one of the corners of the farm. He is quiet and shy but has a bum leg. Every once in awhile, I will see him laying down in the corner of the dirt paddock while the horses are out. It doesn't give me the warm fuzzies but I have come to the conclusion that he is just doing this for company, but I'll have to keep an eye on it. We are also overpopulated with vultures due to a deer that died on near the pond. Although they don't necessarily cause any problems they choose to leap into flight every time Khakie and I are on a trail ride...the poor guy is starting to get a complex! Last but not least is our newest inhabitant. Yesterday, I saw him/her moving through the back 5 acres (aka the hill arena) and boy was this sucker HUGE! Now, I love me some turtles but there was no way I was getting too close to this one! He/She is now residing in our pond and I think we may be in store for more of her kind and less of the ducklings this Spring :(

Here is the closest picture I could get of super turtle!
Now for current news...This weekend, Buddy and I are taking a training adventure down to Lynn's farm for 3 days of training. I think I will be completely exhausted by the end but I'm hoping to have a couple of break-throughs during this time. I am going to try and write everyday with it like a training journal and hopefully include some more pictures too! We have to start getting into show shape since the first one is the second week in April (eep!). Well, until next time!