Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Heart of a Champion

WHAT a good day I had today.  The inspiration I gain from being a part of the development of my students and my horses are just a pure shot of awesomeness, straight into my veins.

It's not even New Years yet but I have already made one resolution, for me to get lessons next year, starting in January, once a month.  For years I just keep telling myself that I need to get back into competition or do something with my horses outside of just schooling them in the arena, but since I never have an actual event that I work towards, I just never really get around to actually competing because I'm never "ready" in my mind.  So I figured I'd call my own bluff and make myself go out there and get a lesson, work on those things for the month and then actually make progress.  I have so, so, so much talent in my barn and I am such a fool if I let it go to waste while I wait for that "someday" crap.  So, I contacted Karen Sykes who is the girls' IEA coach, who is an Olympic Event rider and I'm going to take my first lesson with Sammy and work on developing my areas of weakness and discovering what I'm SURE has been in his heart to do since the day he was born.  More about him later. 

It's in the little things.  They make all the difference!  Magdalene has been riding Raz once a week on a day when Eryn doesn't come out, because he's the bomb when it comes to being able to ride a very correct horse while you work on you.  The stuff that the youngs or the greens struggle with or don't recognize, he can literally do in his sleep (and he doesn't mind letting you know that, either, haha).  Last week we did a little exercise where you ride a square, at a canter, and in the corners we collected the canter, rode a 90-degree corner and then rode out back to a working canter and then collected for the next 90*.  It takes an enormous amount of ability to coordinate all the aids and to juggle the transitions smoothly while processing a substantial amount of information along the way.  Your aids have to be available for use whether or not they are on the forefront of your mind and the other aids have to be working in the background.

Magdalene rides so much of her time in the saddle as a Hunter-style rider, so her idea of sitting up straight or riding with a deep seat is still more forwards and lighter than Raz would require of her in order to get his 90-degree corners accomplished.  So when I say for her to sit up more, you can see that she's like, "I AM!" and yet her back is not vertical.  Also when she got ready to collect the canter and ride the corner, she would sort of lean forwards in the anticipation of the corner, her shoulders would come forwards and her heels would draw up as she closed her legs on him, at which point he would promptly drop out of the collected canter because he couldn't maintain the drive-from-behind with his rider getting in front of him. 

And when I say that her shoulders came forwards or her legs drew up, I mean barely.  I can give you the names of 10 other random equestrians who would kill to have her "faults", haha.  (Which is how I feel of all my kids, although this particular story is about M, I watch ALL my kids show and ride and then I watch the other kids next to them ride and I just thank the good Lord above that my kids have their basics-and then some-DOWN!)

Eryn and Raz, accomplished pair!

Magdalene and Gallery, rocking the Hunters

Ansley and Starbucks, Pleasure!

But Raz knows these things and he can feel exactly when the rider's shoulders collapsed in, he feels like the rider is too forward on his neck and he won't do what is being asked of him until the rider gets themselves RIGHT, which is one of those things you just don't get from any other inexperienced horse.  He is SUCH a school master.  

So each time he collapsed down into the walk we'd go back through the list, shoulders back, stay behind him, keep him active, don't let your legs draw up which will then tilt you forwards.  Collected work has a center of balance that can be very finicky to find and it requires you to be behind, creating the energy into UP and while remaining active. 

So on that blessed moment where all her aids came together at the right time and he completed a beautiful 90* corner, or more loosely a quarter pirouette, and she felt where it was at, she GOT it.  And this week we went back and did more 90's and then one successful 180 or half pirouette.  It's the little things! 

I worked Drama today mainly on the counterbend canter circle, about 30-40 meters.  And when warming up and then cooling off we focused on keeping the walk active, because oh does he love to do the "bom-buh-de-dum" meaaaaaaaandering... even I know and fully realize that walk work can be quite boring and frustrating because it is so hard to get impulsion at the walk, but geeze, he just would looove to fall asleep.

Big Bird was a total ham tonight and gosh he was good.  I did a few rides a couple of weeks ago about the overbending to the inside and when I added my inside leg waiting for his ear to come back in recognition and for him to have bend through his barrel... tonight, he was all over it. He was so full of energy (as always) but I could really relax and I did not have to work hard to communicate to him, he knew exactly what I was asking for and he was totally eager to receive and execute my requests.  He demonstrated enormous self-restraint too yet never hiding his silly humor... I get so encouraged when I see that at least something I do every once and a while is right!  When a horse is able to be fully free to be themselves at the same time enjoying the harmony in relationship to the rider, this is exactly my goal with training, as well as in parenting, based off of why I adore Jesus so much, because of how perfectly he allows me to be who he made ME while I live in understanding with who he is. 

Big Bird on the longe this past weekend

Because after two rides my legs are fairly toast anyhow, but that coupled with having ran for the first time last night in about a month and a half, three horses just wasn't going to happen today.  So I went out to longe Sammy, and since he is excellent on the longe and I have nothing to do besides stand there and watch him do his thing, I had time to reflect on him.  He moves with such inexplicable power, yet he glides across the ground in absolute effortlessness.  I thought about the circumstances with which he came to me and how he never had been meant to actually be my horse, it was more like one of those things that I just happened to be that person there at that moment and at that time... and now here we were.  I haven't always liked him; he's not the type of horse that immediately grew on me and he certainly wasn't in love with me either, me forever erring on the "type-A" dominating personality-style and him being of the more delicate and sensitive nature, who, when pushed or bullied or emotionally terrorized, uses all his power against you.  Unstoppable force meets immovable object, type of thing. 

Even though I have this personality type and I am not embarrassed or ashamed of it in any way, and I love God's passion for individuality and rejoice in my strengths, I still also recognize that for every strength there still are plenty of weaknesses, and Sammy definitely needed me to address my areas of weakness of listening to him, empathizing with him and learning how to live with his personality, strengths and weakness. 

In all fairness to him, I realize I have spent the last few years, regardless of how well-intentioned it was, trying to conform him in various ways to my idea of excellence instead of asking him what he thought about it.  Sounds about like a marriage, huh?

So here he is, going around and around me tonight while I mull all this over in my mind, and even though over the years I have learned bits and pieces of this, it sort of became more of a solid conglomeration to me tonight, as far as a plan of action goes.  This links back to my resolution for lessons, having someone who understands horses like him so much better than I do, working on addressing my areas of weakness so that I can be better able to help him achieve what has been in his heart to do all along.  I know very little about eventing but the more I see in Sammy and the more I put it all together, I really think this horse was simply born to excel at doing this and he has been dying for someone to help him achieve his potential.  If I can see anything but him absolutely killing it out there... I don't know what I'm talking about.  :) 

Sammy on a hunter pace, anticipation and excitement!

He's something around 16 years old next year.  This whole time he's been putting up with me and arena work and whatever else we've concocted for him to do... generously serving, while inside having the heart of a champion, patiently waiting for someone to help him reach his potential. 

Ashlee and Sammy, who believe in each other!

I pray we all will have a person in our lives who will help us reach our individual potential despite the odds AND that someday we will be a person who helps another reach thiers, too.  

Can't wait.  This next year is gonna be GREAT!!

"Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ's return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless." Phil. 2:16

Gallery and Drama, full speed ahead!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Published Author Status!

I sent copies of my article on horse slaughter to two major national magazines, and just days ago I received an email from one of them, Horse Illustrated, asking permission to use my submission for an article they wanted to do on the subject.  And they paid me for it too!  So I will soon be able to say that I am a published writer/author!  One more step in the right direction towards getting my book about Blazer on track, and a definite boost in the arm. 

James and I have been working evenings, after he gets home and after my stuff in the barn is done, up in the shop on some woodworking projects.  I really do like working on projects and it has been a good feeling to see some "to do" items being scratched off the list. 

As far as my horses are going, after having finally, mostly, gotten rid of this bug I've been plagued with, I've been able to squeeze in a few rides.  The cool front we had this week definitely spiced things up with BB, because he certainly felt the need to be self-expressive as he responded to the temperature drop.  I have found that literally counting to myself, "One... two... one... two... one... two..." in my head or slightly whispering it, has helped steady my body rhythm and has definitely influenced him to respond with stability in his own rhythm.  Which in turn helps him to relax.  I also find that my aids will seem clearer and my brain is more organized as I school him. 

Today as I rode, I began to overbend him to the inside as I added my inside leg, and I waited until he brought his nose/face to the inside (since he will try to turn his nose to the outside so as to avoid relaxation or vulnerability) and for his inside ear to come back as recognition of the aid.  I rode him like this both directions and at the walk and trot.  After about 20 minutes, with which he at first (typical) tried avoidance tactics and tossing out behavioral bombs as a distraction, he actually began to focus and respond, and when his neck finally over-bent to the inside, his nose came in and his ear came back, he softened, and his strides became softer instead of the jerking/jolting/pounding ones he always starts with. The counting thing kept me more rhythmic despite his attempts to throw me off rhythm in the beginning and then later he was just responsive to the consistency.  And then I noticed that as he began to get "up" or tight or to go back to his ADD-tactics, I just added my inside leg and overbent him to the inside and he settled right back down and went back to more elastic rhythm.  It was really a great ride.  The only major behavioral I got was during one of our trot circles; Rhonda, who was sitting beside the arena, went to crumple up her Chick-Fil-A bag and I made the mistake of looking over at her as we rode by.  He knows just when I take my focus elsewhere besides him, and had I not looked, and thereby suggested to him that it was something he should focus on too, he probably wouldn't have responded to it.  But because I did he went ahead and did a quick bolt for about two strides, and then it took about a half circle to re-settle him, and then a couple more circles to get him to pass that area again without any physical response to the frightening bag. 

He keeps me on my toes, this one. 

Drama also did well.  I did bend/counterbend circles at the walk and then the trot, and lastly the canter.  They helped really loosen him and helped to drop him more reliably on the bit. 

I spent yesterday trimming most of the horses, I still have Sammy and BB to finish and I did not get to them today. 

James got another job offer AND a "raise" (because a few weeks ago he had declined the offer on the account of not enough pay) but even after looking into it again, we figure that we'll be just scraping by because this new company doesn't offer health insurance at this time, and from what we've found with purchasing private insurance... it will nearly be rape.  Perhaps if I got a job at say, Starbucks, I could get the health insurance and he could work for the company because of it being a good career move and better hourly pay.  We don't know for sure what we are going to do.  I have thought about getting a PT job in the evenings long before this, because of how badly we are doing in the income department and how seriously stressed out we are because of it.  I just wish it wasn't like comparing apples to oranges and not being very clear-cut as a *definite* improvement of our financial situation.  So we mull it over and ask God lots of questions, add in a few whinings about why does life have to consist of such greyish matter instead of black and white lines and clear signs, and wait and see.  Actively wait, that is. 

Now this, this is something that makes me go crazy.   

This I would give just about anything to be able to go see, since so many of them are my absolute idols in the Dressage world.  But alas, tickets are $250 and that is a significant deposit into my boot fund, which I also absolutely need for next season.  Sigh. Because these are what I'm saving up for:  Sergio Grasso, the Imperia.  Custom-made that will last me for, probably, the rest of my life.  $800-900.  (*cough*)


While I agree with you that that is just way too much for boots, I have to also clue you in, that non-custom but decently-made boots that will *only* last 2-3 years tops if they are not worked in, but just for show, are around $500.  So it doesn't seem like that much when considered that they will fit like a glove, last for work and hold up for 20 or more years.  

I have a long list of things I would like, and they are all grossly expensive, which is also why I would be considering the PT job.  :)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

After my post on the issue of horse slaughter here in the states, I've had 128 views and multiple re-posts from horse professionals I am friends of.  Feeling a little bolstered by some late-afternoon coffee and adrenaline from a subject that I'm very passionate about, I took the blog post and re-worked it and submitted it to two national equestrian publications.  I would really like to get a regular job as a writer or get paid to write or blog somehow in areas of my expertise and passion.  So I figured, let's start somewhere.  :)

I've had very little energy lately during the recuperation phase after being sick, so even the little things are exhausting to me.  I did spend time in the barn this afternoon getting some horses clipped.  While clipping Sammy one could almost sing, "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!" for the sheer amount of white hair that the clippers were slicing away from the backs of his legs, fetlocks, and from under his chin.  Winter hair is a beast and I do not enjoy any part of it.

On the other end of the spectrum, Drama and BB who grow virtually no winter coat at all just needed some touching-up.  BB and I are still working through the clipping issues, and he's coming along marvelously.  

After my lessons with Eryn, Magdalene and Ansley I longed BB out in the arena and then the girls offered to help ride Drama and Sammy because my stamina was shot for the day.  Rhonda was out in the barn all day putting up a beautiful Christmas tree in the tack room and hanging lights and other decorations.  I'm not in any way a fan of the holiday festivities and decor, but as long as someone else is doing it, it's okay.  My one favorite Christmas t-shirt says, "Bah-hum-bug" on it.  :)