Thursday, March 28, 2013

Forced Equindulty.....

"Life is what happens when you've made other plans". This seems to be the great quote of the horse world. The biggest lesson our hoofed partners teach us is how truly little control we have in the world. I got home from Atlanta and more than anything all I wanted to do was ride Joker. I had missed him terribly and I wanted to see if what I was able to accomplish at the clinic carried over to him. Unfortunately Wednesday morning I got the text and voice mail we all hope never to see "your horse is sick". After a little bit of swearing and a few tears (he will be fine btw but is out of commission for probably at least a month) I headed to the barn. I was supposed to have a riding lesson and my coach at least wanted to talk about the clinic.

I need to stop here and say, I have the best riding coach in the world. And what makes her the best is her lack of ego and her true genuine desire to see her students succeed. Etta is the most open minded person I know when it comes to trying new ideas and new ways of looking at things and that is what I needed coming back. She was as hungry to know what I learned as I was to share it, and immediately she started asking how we could apply it in my lessons.

I really didn't want to get on a horse if it wasn't Joker, this time it DID feel like cheating on him and just felt wrong, but she convinced me to get on Dodger (one of the schoolies I had ridden before) so we at least had a horse to demo with. In the end I was glad I did. The difference riding him from the last time to this time was night and day.

Etta and I went over all my notes and then worked through figuring out how to do the artificial floor exercise successfully (thank god because that makes a HUGE difference in my riding - so this is now going to be part of our regular routine for a while) and then I rode. EVERYTHING was different, not just from my side of the saddle but for her watching. My hands were a ton quieter, up to my elbows, my connection to the horse was different (as Wendy would say I was part of the system now), my seat was so much more centered and most of all I COULD STOP THE HORSE (both at the walk and the trot). This was my big goal going into the clinic, my downward transitions. They were UGLY before (pulling on the horses mouth, me coming out of the seat, hands all over the place). They aren't perfect yet (I am still fighting myself not to brace my feet in them) but they are so much better, night and day. I have learned how to use my seat instead of crazy confusion. Another huge change I could feel and Etta could see was how smooth my turns were, because my hands weren't all over the place it seemed so easy to get Dodger to do patterns. I still struggled with getting myself out of sorts and having to "reset" especially if I look up, but we are going to keep working on that one (both on and off the horse). But the nice part is that at least now we know the issue, we know I disconnect when I look up, and that is a piece we didn't have a week ago.

There was one more observation Etta made that I hadn't put together. How much calmer I was after the weekend. All that was going on with Joker yesterday should have had me rattled, unfocused and as a result (something else I learned this weekend) disconnected from the sensory parts of my body. But something from the weekend changed me, maybe it was those balance pads Wendy (LOL). I truly think it is just having a path now, knowing I was understood, having things I can work on instead of that hopeless feeling I had been fighting. I feel out of my rut and unstuck, I feel optimistic that I am fixable and I have a plan to get there. And that for me is a calming place. Even with Joker getting sick, something we knew might happen, I am calm because it has happened, it is no longer a question or an unknown looming over my head. Now I can work on getting him better and know what is going on. I have control back, well not really, but I can kid myself I do *smile*

Please keep good thoughts for Joker over the next couple weeks. As his owner said to me yesterday "he is too good a horse to have to feel like this". He is my special partner and it is hard seeing him hurting!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Breathing is Optional.....

Back from Atlanta. I have no real clue how to put into words how glad I am I did the clinic. It was far beyond what I expected and is going to be really hard to explain if you weren't there. I'll do my best.

The clinic was 3 days long and then on the final day I had a private riding lesson with Wendy. Each of the clinic was divided into half classroom/non-riding time and half riding. The riding time was done as semi-private lessons (myself and another person in my group) that honestly felt like privates. That was my first realization, how despite there being many people in the clinic Wendy does a great job tailoring all the lessons (riding and non-riding) to each participant. I cant say there was one moment I didn't feel applied to me.

The first day was ironically funny, I went into it fearing I would be out of place and everyone else would be perfect. It was quickly clear that I was amongst kindred spirits. The first exercise was everyone sharing what illnesses and injuries they have had. I was last to go, and got to listen to everyone else's list, let's just say we all sounded like we should have been condemned! Broken bones, injuries, illnesses, surgeries, pain. Heck I wasn't even the only person who has to mount from the wrong side of the horse. I knew that first morning I was totally at home with people who got it. We all had challenges, mentally and physically. Even the pro riders who were there had some of the same riding issues the rest of us had.

Most of the focus for me was on re-teaching my body that my right side is still part of my body, that sounds weird but it makes perfect sense after my paralysis my body disconnected itself. So getting two legs back is a lot of my homework. We also worked on my leg position, learning to soften my back and knees, my stops and my turns. That all sounds so simplistic and it goes so far beyond that, but really not sure how to put it into words.

I think for me what I most enjoyed about the clinic is that all those things I have struggled with for the last two years of riding (and in the gym for 4 years) and had no clue how to explain or put into words, Wendy could instantly see and I didn't have to explain. She was also able to show my body how to move a certain way without me having to understand how to move it. She comes at things from the point of view that if you don't know it how can you do it, and uses your body, through a lot of Feldenkrais work, to teach you what to feel and move. She also could see the real cause of a problem, not the symptom. It made learning from her so easy because I felt understood and things weren't lost in miscommunication or my fears of saying them.

I wish the clinic had lasted a month, I felt like we just started dealing with things and the clinic was over. My hope is to get to a second one later this year, possibly Tennessee in August and continue moving forward. In between I was left with a lot of homework I am already chipping away at.

I cant recommend this clinic enough, for anyone who gets on a horse, and heck even those who don't. Even if we had not touched horses just the non-riding part was so enlightening about how we move and how our bodies learn habits that effect us daily.

Thank you Debbie Anderson for sending me down this path!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

As Ready As I Will Ever Be....

Today was my last prep "equindultry" ride before I head off to the clinic. Tomorrow morning me and my saddle get on a plane and head for Atlanta. The ride today was again Wiley, still my personal favorite from all the rides I have done on other horses. We captured a lot of video today, we have been using this more and more in my lessons (if you haven't heard of Coach's Eye it is an amazing app) and I love being able to see what I was doing and process it from outside the saddle. Today was probably the best my hands and seat have ever been at the lope.

Here are some of the videos we captured...

I promise after Atlanta a recap of all I learned riding all these other horses, but I can't not say today, this has ended up being about so much more than I planned going in. I did this to get ready for the clinic, but most of the lessons I have come out of it with go far beyond that. I have learned to ask questions I didn't even know I had before, I have learned how different every horse is, how each horse is geared for a certain direction and you need to find the horse that matches what you want to do, not try to make every horse do what you want it to be. I have grown so much in these last few weeks. I am a better rider, a better horseman and a different person. I gained a lot of clarity about my future that I never even knew I was missing.

Now it is off to Atlanta, and lets see if in learning all these other great lessons I also learned what I needed to for the clinic.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Riding in on a big white horse.....

Today was my private equindultry lesson for the week. This week's horse was Wiley, a great big grey QH (he looks a lot like Snapper probably does in his dreams - a tall, muscular flea bit grey horse).

Wiley is the first horse I have ridden on this part of the journey who was not a schoolie, he is owned by one of the other boarders at WL. Wiley has been shown in pleasure and is now shown in games. Saying I was intimidated at the thought of getting on him is an understatement. From the moment I took the lead rope it was clear this is a strong horse with the attitude to be difficult if he wants to. I could not have been more surprised when I got on him how good it felt riding him.

The point in being on Wiley was for me to experience a more "forward" horse, a horse with more 'go' than I am used to. And he had that! And quite frankly I will admit that a month ago had Etta put me on this horse I would have panicked, probably screamed and been off him as fast as possible. But what Wiley taught me today is how far I have come as a rider in the last few weeks, how I have matured, how my seat has changed and with it my confidence.

I look back at where I was last fall, how I spent 75% of my time riding worrying if I would fall off, even at the walk and especially at the trot. How consumed I was by my fears, and today that wasn't even a factor. I felt safe, I felt capable, I didn't feel over my head - and frankly it was a great feeling. It was in no way what I expected to feel on a horse with more go than Joker. I smiled through that entire ride (ok maybe except for one stop at the lope, I still need to fix my seat stopping out of the canter, big time). And the smile was probably less about the ride and more about the realization of where I have gotten to. Etta has been telling me for a few weeks how much my seat has changed, and I could see small glimpses of it, but today I totally saw it. And more than that I saw the changes in my thoughts and my confidence and my comfort that have come with finding a solid, independent seat.

I got on Wiley in hopes of getting ready for Atlanta, but in the end Wiley showed me how ready I already am. He made me believe I can handle whatever horse they put me on, that I have grown to where I needed to get.

I said above that today I saw the change in my head also. Truth, this week, I have realized that my path with horses is probably going to be very different than what I thought the plan was. These different horses have brought into focus what I want for my future, they have shown me options I didn't know were out there for me, they have made me re-examine what I want for myself, and the answers are not what I thought they were. I am still trying to figure out what it all means, but I know my path has changed.

It's kinda funny because I am beginning to think the preparation for going to this clinic may have been the real lesson, and that while I expect to get tons out of the clinic, that the reason this opportunity came up was as much about what I have learned these last 6 or so weeks than about the clinic itself. The journey was what was important, not the destination!!!!!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

What did you notice....

My goal for this past week was to spread my riding out a little more, not end up with lots of rides on Friday again, but the weather didn't play along and Monday became Wednesday and Wednesday became Friday and Friday became another "double equindultry" day. But as much as these take out of my body, I think there are big pluses from hours of riding, I think the longer I am on the better my seat gets and the more I figure out how to relax into the saddle (possibly from sheer exhaustion I can no longer fight so hard against myself).

The afternoon started (and ended) with Joker time. We did about an hour ride. I am concentrating on my body a lot with him these days. Stopping off my seat, turning off my body, keeping my hands quiet. I am sure to anyone watching it looks like we are doing nothing and putzing, we always seem to be in people's way on these rides - my hope for an empty arena yesterday did not happen, there were a bunch of people and a jumping lesson going on - but for whatever it looks like, I know these are the most important rides we have done yet. My breakthrough yesterday on him was figuring out how to use the inside of my leg to squeeze, vs pulling it up to do it. I like those "ah ah moments", when you feel something and it hits you that is what you were supposed to do all along.

I feel like I am having a lot of those moments lately, my lessons feel really productive lately. That sounds weird, they always feel productive, but this has been different. Productive in figuring ME out, figuring out how to use my body, figuring out in my brain what I am being asked by Etta to do. I also feel like I am learning to articulate better what is confusing me. I am learning to say I need that explained instead of feeling like I should get it and asking sounds dumb. I am learning to explain my challenges without feeling like it sounds like excuses. It's a nice change.

After Joker it was off to my private "equindultry" lesson. This week it was Leo. Another buckskin dun schoolie. Leo quickly competed with Dodger for my top spot! The difference between the two, Leo has been shown and is more finished. He quickly remembered what the different cues meant and I could work with him a  little more than Dodger. Leo has an amazingly smooth trot, very flat. A trot you could ride for hours and not be sore or tired. But his lope was where my lesson was at yesterday. I love how fate messes with me and makes sure I get the lesson.

I have REALLY struggled with my right lead the last few months. Sensory wise (most likely from my nerve damage) I don't feel as balanced turning to the right (it is VERY pronounced when I ride without stirrups or bareback) but Leo's job it turns out was to teach me how much of it is in my head too. How much extra I balance on my reins to the right, how much I lift out of the saddle and how much that is screwing up my horses maintaining their gate.

Etta pushed me to lope Leo yesterday (he has a great lope to ride btw) and as usual my right lead was breaking down, but we were going to try it one more time. Not only did it go well but we got two full circles out if, something I haven't done in a while. Half way through I did feel like I was coming off to the right but I made myself fight through it, I know it is all in my head! Etta has told me a million times she doesn't see it even. So I rode through it, we stopped, I was so excited just to have done the exercise and Etta was laughing. She asked me what I noticed. I rattled off a couple answers but none of them were the right answer, then she told me to look down at my horse. Leo was chewing on his now unattached left rein. WE HAD LOPED HALF THE EXERCISE WITH ONE REIN. My ride had gone so well because I wasn't able to pull on that rein and throw my horse off balance. And I had been fine, no freak out, no psyching myself out, the best lope in ages.

We tried to work with one rein after that but of course then my head got in my way and I became all messy with my hands, but Leo's lesson for me yesterday was you don't need all these aids as much as you think you do! Now I need to find that comfort without equipment malfunctions! (that or Etta is going to have to start sabotaging my reins LOL).

A quick dinner with friends (love the Blacksmith!) a few hugs from Joker and it was off to my group lesson, a second date with Dodger. The arena was PACKED. At one point there were 14 people and their horses in the small arena. It looked like a show warm up arena. There was everything from Gizzie, the freshly broke baby, to new schoolies, to show horses, to the dead broke schoolies. Some in the lesson some not. Normally this situation would really stress me out, and I have to admit I did ponder not doing the lesson when I saw how big it was getting,  but for some reason last night I had total peace with it. I think part of it was everyone was being really respectful of each other (which is rare with that many different people doing different things). Rides like that are the main reason I take group lessons, I don't find I learn a ton new in them (I learn better one on one) but they are for me to work on my anxiety riding in a lot of other people. And when I have Joker with me a way for him to remember this is not play time and he needs to be consistent and focused. I miss Joker in group lessons, and last night would have been a good one for him, but I know part of my ease last night was knowing I had a very calm laid back consistent horse under me who wasn't going to be any different if there were 100 horses in the group. Lesson from Dodger, I need to find that consistency in Joker. It is my goal after I get back from Atlanta. I have been selfish and focused on me for the last 6 weeks or so, now it is time to get back to working on my partner and how we work together.

It is hard to believe it is under two weeks til my riding clinic with Wendy. I am nervous, I am excited, all the crazy noise in my head about my weight is out of control, but as far as my riding I am ready. I am so grateful to Etta, she has put a lot of time into me these last few weeks, but I do feel like I have come to a different place and I am ready to make this journey. The weird part is I am not sure that different place has anything to do with horses, or if it is all in my mind. As I mentioned above, I am at a different place mentally. I don't feel I have to be perfect right now, that it is ok to admit I am a student because I don't get it all, that it is ok to ask for help. I think this amount of time in lessons each week has helped a ton with seeing that, I think admitting I need to go to this clinic to get help with my body has allowed me to not feel I have to hide my physical limitations, I think being on all these other horses has opened up chances to talk about where I am struggling. I think it has brought me to where I needed to be to get the most out of this experience. That I am comfortable going saying "I am not getting this, please teach me" instead of fearing that will make me look like a failure! Finding comfort finally in saying that with Etta has made me ready go say that to Wendy.

It is amazing how the lesson I thought I needed to solve on a horse, had nothing to do with the horse!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Double Equindultry....

There are a lot of times it still stops me in my tracks when I think about how different my life is now from just under 2 years ago. Two years ago had someone told me nothing would make me happier than spending 7 hours at the barn (and nearly 5 of it on horses) I would have told them they were certifiably insane, now I wish every day could go that way. And Friday did!

The afternoon started out with Joker. I missed him a lot the 4 days I had been gone, and it felt good to be back. I took my time grooming and tacking (and giving candy canes of course) and then we had a good ride. I really tried to work on my hands, my seat and my feet. We mostly walked and trotted, but that was by design, to allow me to concentrate on my issues. I am coming to value something Etta has been trying to teach me for a while, that a ride doesn't have to be big and dramatic to be beneficial. I have been doing a lot more walk/trot rides in hopes if I get it right there it will carry over to the lope. I was very happy with our ride Friday and how much I was able to get him to do without huge hand movements (he knows this stuff, it is my body and cues we are working on).

After Joker I had my private lesson on a new horse. This week was Dodger. Dodger is a buckskin dun, one of the WL schoolies. I LOVED riding Dodger. He is to me what a schoolie should be. He is calm, even keeled, agreeable and yet he expects his riders to do their part, he is picky about your hand position and that was great for me because it is something I need a lot of work on (I tend to pull back to my body, something I finally realized is mechanically hindering my horse - Etta made the why on this click Monday finally - but am not sure how to break my habit of). Riding him accomplished exactly what Etta told me her goal choosing him was, he let me work on ME and my seat and tested me just enough. This is exactly the kind of horse I would love to be on at the clinic in a few weeks, think anyone would notice if he was missing from Woodloch???? He was such a fun horse to ride that I stayed on him long after my lesson and rode while the next lesson was going on. He is a horse I would jump on again in a heart beat to try to work on some of my body issues.

I had a short break after Dodger and then it was time for my group lesson, and my "second date" with Nash. I have to admit I wanted to do this about as much as I would like to bungee off the Empire State building. And fate almost let me get out of it (he was being used in the other barn) but Etta pushed to make it happen and afterwards I was very grateful she did.

The ride was actually pretty fun. He is still not overly interested in working harder than he has to, but being in the arena with a bunch of the other schoolies he was much more agreeable than he had been in my private lesson. He would maintain his trot and was willing to do what he was asked. His steering was still pretty sticky but it wasn't belligerent like it had been on the previous ride. He actually has a nice trot, and good brakes.

The big lesson from re-riding Nash was how incredibly different the same horse can be from one situation to the next. Had Etta told me this was a different horse I would have believed it. I also know though I cant put it all on him, I was a much different rider than I was in my private the week before also. I was much more centered, patient, determined and brought much better horsemanship to him.

Oh and my day of three rides also taught me one more lesson. I am really old!!!!!!! I was beyond hurting by the time I went back to say good night to Joker and hug on him (and yeah bring him a horsie muffin or two). In some ways how sore I am the last few weeks is frustrating, but more so it tells me I am changing how I use my body, and that is a good thing! I am engaging some muscles better and pushing myself. Riding was physically easier when I was doing to wrong, but this is something else I just need to work through.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


This weeks new horse was Nash, another sorrel schoolie. This was a weird lesson, or maybe what they are supposed to be, I don't know, I am still processing this one (so this post will probably ramble a bit).

Easy part first, Nash is a pretty laid back horse. He was snoozing in the snow when we went out to get him and he was in no hurry to get up and come in for a lesson. I wish I had brought the camera out with me, he looked so majestic laying there. I don't know what it is being around a horse laying down, but they seem even more beautiful to me that way. These huge animals in such a vulnerable position, all curled up. I am always in awe of them watching them. They truly have no sense of their size or their strength, they are just innocent looking and sweet. I always feel humbled that they have enough trust to remain like that and let us approach.

Once we got him inside and I got to ride I liked the motion of  Nash's walk and trot. A world away from 50 last week. I really didn't get to feel much of his lope to compare it. But the few strides I got out of him were pretty smooth, to the point I was having a hard time deciphering if he was trotting or had actually started cantering.

My big frustration was Nash was his lack of desire to do much of anything. He was very distracted when he was alone in the arena, when other horses were being brought through he wanted to follow them. I am learning this is the definition of horse! But what was weird was that I am used to how Joker manages his anxiety being alone, he gets more "up" when he is distracted, his motions get bigger, he has more energy than when he is focused on me. Nash was just the opposite, the more distracted he was the harder it was to keep him moving forward.

And here in lies where I think the lesson was more about ME than him. I didn't handle his lack of work ethic very well at all. It drove my frustration level through the roof. I felt lost and unsure what to do with it, and the longer it went on the more out of sorts I got. I have learned, to a point, how to regain the focus of a horse who is more geared up and unfocused, but with this horse that just could have cared less I felt very ineffective and ineffectiveness for me is a frustrator I don't handle well. Part of the lesson yesterday was I need to learn to not fall apart in a situation like this. I got to the point that I was growling at Etta and was fighting tears because I didn't know what else to do with him. I felt out of tools and that is a really hard place for me. I know it came across in the lesson as I was getting angry at the horse or my instructor but the reality was I was the only one I was upset with.  I actually think this is a horse I would have enjoyed working with had I kept myself more in check and had a few extra tools in my toolbox to pull from.

Yesterday was a realization for me on this whole other horse journey. It is not turning out the way I had thought it would, or I guess more so what my original intention was. My fear was that I wouldn't know how to handle horses that were MORE horse than Joker (faster, less polite, bigger in movement, hotter, more up) and that that was where I needed to focus. But now having ridden 3 horses who are more broke than Joker, I am realizing I am deficient in both directions.

In ways the experience so far has been comforting, I haven't fallen off, I haven't been unable to mount, I haven't felt physically at risk. Which were most of the things I feared that lead me to this journey. But in other ways it has been a reinforcement of what I feared about my riding ability being less when I am not on the horse I am used to.

I definitely don't think Nash got a fair shake yesterday from me, so I will be revisiting riding him this Friday in my group riding lesson. Hopefully I bring him a better rider this time!!!

Oh I did forget to say, Nash decided to make me feel right at home and not miss Joker too much and throw in a bunch of whinneying for his friends as we rode. It honestly just made me laugh because things were going sooooo wrong overall.