Posts tagged: so out of shape

Low Key

We had a pretty mediocre lesson after my last post. I’ve been frustrated with my riding lately, torn on what I should be doing, second-guessing, third-guessing, fourth-guessing… So I’ve used this little holiday time to try to reset, to back off him and myself. I know I’m probably not pushing hard enough, but my gut says to keep things quiet and easy and positive. I don’t think we’ll be having any big breakthroughs, and certainly not fast, but I also won’t be leaving the barn in tears.

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday I went out to see him midday. It was so fun and refreshing to be out there while it was still light out! Friday I warmed him up forward and loose, then worked on steady contact and bending. He felt great — better than the last couple weeks for sure. A few canter poles were his reward at the end of the ride — and some two-point work at the trot was mine. (Trying to keep my fitness/balance resolution!) Saturday I trace clipped him. I’ve learned from past experience that neither of us has the patience to do a ride and a clip in the same day. Definitely the right call: someone snuck him a treat while I was vacuuming him, and he was pretty incorrigible after that. He’s overall a good (and unflappable) boy and stood fairly well for the clip, but it’s really hard to do anything from the shoulder forward while he’s trying to jam his nose into the clippers, or my hands, or hair, or whatever’s in reach, and begging from passersby… Sunday we had another ride focusing on simple contact and bending, with some trot poles thrown in. Another woman at my barn has a horse built just like Poe (chestnut too — we always joke about doing a pas de duex), so every time we put the trot poles further apart to try to make them stretch we were laughing about how easily and ho-hum they trotted through. We ended with the poles 5 feet apart, which didn’t feel like much work for either of them. Good ponies!

Here are Poe and his pasture buddy coming to look for treats. I love that he comes to me — it’s going to be so nice once the snow’s flying!

More 2011 Wrap-Up

Obviously I’ve fallen way behind again. Let’s pretend I wrote about all kinds of things promptly:

The eye recheck: The vet came out the day after my last post; he stained Poe’s eye again, and found the ulcer totally healed, yay! There was a small cloudy spot left, so we moved on to a round of steroids to take care of any of it that was inflammation-related vs scar tissue. Poe will probably always have a small scar there, but it’s just behind and above his pupil, so the vet said it shouldn’t impair his vision whatsoever, and cleared him fully for jumping. Big relief!

Foxhunting: I played hooky from work on a Wednesday morning, and we spent the whole hunt in first field. I was pretty honored (and, I’ll admit, a little freaked out) to be invited there immediately, sitting on my still-pretty-green five-year-old who’s only hunted once before, a whole year ago. When I was introduced, the Hunt Master lavished me with some pretty high praise about my previous horse (who I sold 2 years ago to one of the hunt members). He is a pretty awesome little dude and it makes me unbelievably happy to see him doing so well with his new owner. Anyway, I was a little worried being in first field the entire hunt would be too much mentally for Poe-face, and that our brakes would fail or he would just come apart at the seams — but he was a rockstar. He didn’t stand at checks and the brakes could use work, but I was super proud of him. He was enthusiastic and brave, quick on his feet, and kept his attention glued on the hounds — he figured out fast where all the action was! By the time we got back to the stable he was like a toddler high on sugar and several hours past naptime. Definitely made me grateful that I don’t have to deal with toddlers all the time, and that most of them aren’t 1200 pounds.

The Hunter Pace: We hunted on a Wednesday and the Pace was the following Sunday. I turned him out in the arena once in between to see how he was feeling after hunting (answer: great!), but otherwise left him alone to be a horsey and process all the excitement. When he saw the trailer outside on Sunday, he literally started shaking he was so excited. Lovely. We wound up having quite the adventure getting there. The gathering place for the event is a beautiful private farm in Medina; a front turn-out field serves as trailer parking. Unfortunately, there is a pretty significant swale/dip between the road and the main part of the field. While driving through the gate, over this swale, the trailer (a bumper pull) bounced off the hitch. Just popped straight off. Terrifying! Luckily we were going quite slowly, and surrounded by handy horse people. We unloaded the ponies; we tied Rascal to the fence (such a good boy) and I walked Poe up and down the patch of grass between the fence and the road. He walked and ate and walked and and stared all around while Lennie and a couple other people got the trailer jacked up and put back on the hitch. Thankfully nothing was damaged! A bit shaken, we finally got parked, signed in, and got our ponies ready.

The ride was a blast. Each team (usually a pair, though some teams are bigger) is sent out with a map, and is supposed to ride the marked course as close to the optimum hunting time as possible. This optimum time is a secret until everyone is done — the course is ridden before the event by one of the hunt members to set the pace, and the team closest to that time wins. Last year we took home the trophy, and the year before were in 2nd place by mere moments. This year they added some new jumps and ran the course back to front. Poe was awesome! He was very happy to be out, and we even took the lead over some nice-sized brush fences when his fearless leader Rascal balked at them (he was raring to go, Rascal be damned!). That was probably my favorite part of the day: once we got over the third fence, I felt him totally get it; he hunted for the next fence and dragged me there. Awesomest feeling! We clocked along and came in about the same time as we had last year, even though the course was a little longer. When we went to check our time, however, I got a bit of a disapproving look and a warning that they had slowed things down quite a bit this year. Needless to say we went home empty-handed! I thought it a bit strange that they wouldn’t have told people about slowing things down before sending them out on course — but, honestly, we had such a blast I don’t think we would have gone slower if we had known!

Since then: Poe got a little well-deserved time off, then we returned to lessons and dressage work. I had some really nice rides on him, and my trainer had an awesome school with him, but he was feeling just a little funky to me — stiffer than usual. Then I had a ride where felt downright weird, and I panicked a little and made Lennie come out to give her expert opinion. She felt he wasn’t lame, but a bit sore in the hind end, so I hunted up a masseuse for him. She found some really tight areas, but told me to absolutely continue his current level of work, and that the massage should help him loosen up. AND (best part) she said he had one of the best backs of any horse she works on — not sore at all! Since then I’ve had a handful of rides. He definitely feels better, though he’s still taking a while to warm up and start really bending. Last night’s ride was a total disaster — the arena footing is in the middle of an overhaul, so it was really uneven and strange, and he was distracted and belligerent the whole ride, and I was all frustrated, and it was just a horrible combination. I have a lesson tonight that I’m hoping will be MUCH better!

Goals: One awesome take-away from last night came from eavesdropping on another woman’s lesson. At the end her instructor had her drop her stirrups and practice posting. We all had a chat about the importance of stirrupless work, and I have known forever that I would benefit a lot from it. So, I’m going to really make it happen this winter. I want my head back in the game for the 2012 season, and that starts with getting my body in the game. No excuses!

Derek McConnell Clinic

So, I just realized that I never circled back to do a post about the Derek McConnell clinic we did at the end of March. (I mentioned it briefly in a previous post and then apparently put it right out of my head. Which also reminds me, in a follow-up to that post: Poe started eating his grain again quite happily when I left his supplements out of it. I’ve ordered a fresh batch from SmartPak and hopefully we are good to go. Also had his teeth checked — he is scheduled to have them done, but he’s still been eating fine since I chucked the supplements.)

The clinic went well! It was pretty tough and to be totally honest I felt a little demoralized afterward. I just think Poe is such a fantastic boy and I am definitely not the caliber of rider he deserves. But, you know, he’s my guy, and I don’t think he’s sitting out in the field wishing it were Oliver Townend moseying out to get him. (Though who knows, maybe he is! If Ollie came up to me, with or without a pocket full of candy, I would happily go with him…)

We spent the first day really focusing on flatwork. We did quite a bit of warm-up work, with lots of transitions and Derek repeating his downward-transition mantra over and over: sit back, say whoa, and move the bit gently around the horse’s mouth with your fingers. Also lots of dressage-type talk about the proper positioning of your legs to ask the horse to bend. I think his over-arching message was about focus: have a plan for every ride, and make each minute of that ride count; be consistent. Train, train, train. He is obviously a man who is not afraid of hard work and who believes in the big Sustained Effort.

He had us do a little “course” over canter poles. When I rode it, I felt like Poe was blasting through it, just really running. He’d been pretty strong in the warm-up, really blowing off all my half-halts — he was definitely my away-from-home horse. When I watched the video back, I couldn’t believe it. You can see for yourself about a minute in. He’s just cantering along, la la la. He felt like a freight train but looked absolutely fine. That was my biggest take-away from the weekend: What feels way too fast is probably almost fast enough. (Apart from the time when he really is too quick and isn’t listening and leaps both the trot pole and cross-rail in one go. That is the difficulty with babies: it’s so so hard to know when and how much to push, because it changes by the second. You can watch that lovely moment at 2:18 — though, like everything else, I think it felt a lot worse than it looks.)

On the second day we repeated the previous day’s warm-up: lots of transitions and reminders about down transitions and changing the bend via our leg position. Poe was blowing off my half-halts worse than the previous day; he was by far the biggest-strided horse there, so we had some issues with running up on other people. I ran into some of the same difficulty the first day too — in the canter warm-up I was paired with a woman whose horse refused to canter at all, and all the fences created an obstacle course that made it pretty much impossible to maneuver around with our current level of steering. When sitting back, saying woah, and moving the bit gently around Poe’s mouth didn’t work, Derek had me do a sort of slow see-saw thing — I hate to call it that, but it’s the best I can think of to explain. He had me put slack in one rein and pull the other slowly but strongly, then switch. Poe was not thrilled about it but with Derek’s coaching it did prove effective. I wish now I’d asked him about graduating from that — it’s a bit too crude to keep around in our dressage work, but something for the toolbox anyhow.

After warming up we moved on to course work. Poe was wonderful, I am pathetic: story of my riding life. Again, the lesson is MORE FORWARD. I also need to get in the habit of (and in shape for) putting on a stronger leg at the base of the fence. He needs that support and encouragement, even when he feels totally committed — he can still stall at the last second.

(For those using a feed reader, the videos may not be displaying — you’ll have to click through to the site to see them, or directly to YouTube: Day 1 and Day 2.)

Lesson: April 21

I was off gallivanting around London April 9 – 16, so His Poeness had almost a week and a half off. I got back on him Monday the 18th, and he was awesome. After the usual initial struggle to get his attention, he (more or less) got down to work; he was as solid in the connection as he’s ever been, and trying really hard. Even though we were riding outside (YAY) he listened pretty well, and after some nice trot work, some leg yields, and a little canter, I hopped off him. I put him away feeling really happy that I’d asked my instructor to ride him during my usual Thursday lesson spot while I was out of town — she’s a really nice dressage rider and can always get much better work out of him than I do.

I had roughly the same ride Tuesday. Wednesday he was distracted and I was impatient (worst emotion for riding, I know!), so after a bit of a struggle and some half-hearted work, I put my stirrups up and slipped the reins and asked him to just canter around the rail. He was much happier about that than more boring circles and leg yields, and would quite enthusiastically lengthen down the long side for me. We careened a bit around the short sides and we had to have a serious discussion about one of the corners he insisted on cutting, but it was definitely the right call to give up on strict dressage practice for the day. After we were done cantering I had him trot around on a loopy rein while I worked on my half seat, which is in woefully disrepair. I am definitely out of shape.

So we roll around to Thursday — and I find out that my instructor didn’t ride him while I was gone after all, since we hadn’t touched base about it again before I left. Ha! I guess he just responded really well to his mini vacation. We were outside again, which I am still just ecstatic over — I think the advent of spring makes all Minnesotans a little nuts, as we trip over ourselves at the slightest excuse to get out in any weather above freezing. Spring apparently makes the barn cat nuts as well. Poe and I were warming up along the rail at a nice walk; I was asking him to come into the connection and he was listening quite nicely, and I was feeling quite optimistic about our lesson — and then we were abruptly cantering the other direction. I brought him around quickly, and he stopped like a good boy — and there was the cat, leaping maybe eight or nine feet to cling to the side of a tree, then scurrying down and tearing off. I was just happy that I’d stayed securely in the saddle for the whole thing. (Though I should probably be happy that my horse decided to take me with him when he tried to exit the scene; all things considered it was not hard to sit at all.)

Other than the cat incident, Poe was fabulous for our lesson. We worked on leg yields (still not beautiful but they’re coming along!), then the dreaded canter — except his canter was awesome. The transition into it is still a work in progress; we did a trot spiral in then back out on a circle, and then I concentrated (or tried to) on holding my outside rein while asking him to step into the canter. I think I’ve mentioned, probably a hundred times, my bad habit of chucking him the reins for that transition. The best one we got happened when I consciously held that rein longer than I wanted — he took a couple extra trot steps, but I waited, and then: gorgeous.

The canter itself was gorgeous too — by far the best he’s given me. He was soft and round and really trying. He’s still pretty heavy on his forehand in it, but with time and conditioning he WILL start carrying himself more from behind, and then he will be faaancy. He’s such a good boy! AND all this was in the misting rain. It felt so nice to be riding outside, and it was such a light, fine drizzle that we just stayed there. Happily my instructor’s also an eventer, and we lot aren’t afraid of a little weather.

After our canter work I would’ve happily gotten off him and convinced him he was the cleverest pony in the world, but my instructor is a slave-driver (or at least a lot less lazy than I am), so we went inside to do a bit of jumping. She set a single fence on the short side. It was just a tiny cross-rail at first, which he trotted over, like a cavaletti (cavaletto? whatever the singular of that is). After a couple times around I asked what we were supposed to be doing exactly, and she mentioned he was a bit clumsy/ho-hum about the whole thing, and I said Yeah, he’s not going to jump something that small. So she put it up to a vertical — which he also trotted over. I explained that I do start him over small stuff, part of his baby education and all, but that he just doesn’t use himself and he does look quite lazy and unspectacular. I don’t know how high she ended up raising it, but once it went up a bit he started jumping and things were much prettier from there.

And since then he’s been sitting on his pampered red hiney again; I’ve been busy with life (very important dancing to do, and cleaning, and Easter, and tonight a concert, and there may have been some recuperating-from-dancing somewhere in there too), so it’s back to work tomorrow. At this rate we’re never going to be ready to do anything this summer.

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