Monday, January 26, 2009

Shedding Fear = Better Riding (duh)

I've been leasing Marve for about 5 months now. I can't believe it's been that long. I still feel crappy about my riding quite a lot, and frustrated that I can't seem to get him to go well when I know he is capable of so much more, but there are a few bright spots. Cantering is going way better lately; he's more balanced, round, and on the aids. It's a huge improvement and I'm pleased. (I wish I could get him like that in the trot, too...what is wrong with me?)

I think a big part of it is that I'm not afraid of cantering him anymore. I'm only now realizing that for almost the entire time I've leased him, I've had a low-grade fear of cantering because I equate it with his bolts/spooks. But lately, whether it's just practice or time or the fact that I have ridden out multiple spooks with no major disasters in recent weeks, I haven't been afraid. I love cantering again, when two months ago I might have told you I preferred trotting, just because that didn't scare me!

But we still have a lot to work on. A lot. My riding seems so hot and cold. I feel like I know what it's like to have it together and ride well and give effective aids...but knowing and doing are in a very long-distance relationship right now. It's frustrating.

And while I really respect my instructor and think she's great, sometimes I get the feeling she thinks I'm riding poorly on purpose. I had a private lesson last weekend and a few of her comments were along the lines of, "You need to actually try when you do this..." and "You're just not doing enough when you ride him" and so on. I have plenty of flaws as a rider, but I'm nothing if not a conscientious learner. I totally try. But I listen to my instructor and try to see how her comments specifically apply to my riding and what I can do to get better. I certainly didn't whine back, "But I am trying" or offer any of the reasons I thought of for why it might appear I'm not progressing quickly enough. But I don't like excuses. Never have, never will.

I also have never liked doing anything I might perceive as quitting (which has resulted in some less-than-fabulous decisions in my life, but also contributed to my successes) and I have to say that right now, I'm happy I didn't quit the lease. Things are getting better. I am getting better, I hope. Step by step.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Dream Dream Dream

So last night I dreamt that I owned a huge, beautiful farm out in the country. (Oh, and it was summer, by the way. Glorious, glorious summer.) I had a black and white pinto draft horse, which I later learned was actually a Shire/Arab cross (wtf?) but he looked all Shire. I clearly remember every detail of pulling up a small blue mounting block and trying to get this horse to stop dancing around so I could mount him. I finally did, bareback. He was comfortable and steady and had a long, pretty mane. I rode him around for a while and met some friends who had other horses I can't remember too clearly. We rode around a big green field and then I woke up.

It made me kind of sad. I wish I really did have a big fuzzy draft to call my own, not to mention the gorgeous horse farm and the summertime temperatures.

I've been feeling burned out with my riding. Lately it's been all dressage, dressage, dressage. I like dressage, but recently I've started feeling like, Who the hells cares about being perfectly balanced and bendy and round and stretchy? I just want to, like, gallop across a field and call it a day.

But of course, I can't gallop across a field. I can't even take a trail ride to clear my head, considering 1) lease riders aren't "allowed" to ride on the trail 2) Even if I could convince them, Marve gets super nervous outside of the ring and is NOT a trail-safe horse, so I'll pass on that freakish bolting extravaganza, thank you very much 3) snow and cold and snow and cold.

The only other thing I can think of is to work on something different, like jumping. But Marve is a strong jumper and the last few times we tried I got really nervous. I do not have a stellar jump position, so when you combine that with Marve and my nerves, it's not pretty. Plus, I think we (I) need stronger skills on the flat before we're really ready to seriously work on jumping. Hence all the dressage.

Ah, well. Hopefully this feeling will pass. But I still wouldn't turn down the green field and the big draft horse if the opportunity presented itself. :)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Screaming and Horses Don't Mix. Or Do They?

Am I going to out myself as an old fuddy-duddy when I say that I prefer not to have screeching harpies descend upon the arena while I'm riding?

An instructor was giving a lesson this weekend while I was schooling Marve. (Not my instructor. My instructor is cool and knows to speak in a reasonable voice during lessons.) I was the only other rider in the ring.

The instructor was screaming her instructions in the loudest, most shrill, grating voice ever. She wasn't angry. She wasn't upset. And she was even sitting in the special instructor zone near the center of the know, the place where students are best able to hear you from anywhere in the ring, even if you are not yelling?

It was just annoying, plain and simple. I'm not really a fan of high-pitched shrieking sounds akin to nails on a chalkboard in the first place, but especially not around horses. I guess that's just me. Marve wasn't thrilled with it, either. It wasn't spook-worthy, but it was distracting and made both of us tense. Just to be clear, I wasn't worried about him spooking. I was worried about my eardrums.

There are a handful of other boarders/riders at the barn who like to yell and scream in the ring -- and it's often this terrible part baby voice, part macho yelling tone. Fortunately, it's not so common that I have to deal with it very often, but it's still a pain. And I'm not sure if there is any way to deal with it. "Excuse me, but I thought someone should tell you that you're socially inept and don't realize you are being freaking annoying with that loud screechy voice. K?"

I guess I'm old fashioned and just think, you know, that horses and screaming your head off for no good reason don't mix. Not that we need to tiptoe around and be feather quiet for our precious ponies, but still. Loud and unexpected noises can and do spook horses. And at the least, it stresses some of us out.

Anyway else have this issue? Am I alone here? Are you yourself a screamer and have an excuse?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Riding Just Isn't Enough of Workout

Now, I'm not one of those people who thinks riding entails nothing but relaxing as if on a couch and letting the horse do all the work. (Do you know how often people say stuff like that to me? "Oh, doesn't the horse do all the work? Why do you get tired?" and so on.) I think I work pretty hard when I ride Marve, and I definitely get exercise. It's a lot better than spending my evening in front of the computer or downing a half dozen cookies. Not that I ever do that, of course. *shifty eyes*

But since I have been riding so much more in the past few months, it has inevitably taken time away from my other forms of exercise -- namely, some fairly intense yoga and long bike rides -- and I am feeling it. In the fatty zones.

It's my fault, of course. There will always be an excuse to avoid exercise, and lately I have been all too creative in devising new ones to avoid the yoga mat or the bike path. Technically, I guess could squeeze in yoga even on the days I work 9-10 hours and ride at night. But then I wouldn't have time for much else, like cooking, cleaning, writing, spending time with my SO, etc. The reality is that I have a lot of interests and things going on, and my yoga/exercise routine takes the hardest hit when I get in a time crunch.

At first, I hoped the extra riding would help keep me fit and strong. But it's not. I just don't get the same workout that I do when building muscles through power yoga or even, it seems, like a hearty and fast 4-mile walk in the park, which I used to enjoy when I had more time. The result is I'm getting softer and weaker, and obviously that affects my riding.

I'm not exactly a lost cause, but I also know that I'm not in good enough shape to truly move forward with my riding. I need to be stronger, more fit, and yes, leaner, to be a better rider. It's just frustrating that all the time I spend at the barn riding and caring for Marve ends up taking some time away from my other exercise.

But I'm a firm believer in "where there's a will, there's a way." Just like I have to sacrifice some things in order to write fiction, I will have to sacrifice other things to hit the yoga mat a bit more often. I'm just starting to wonder what else is left to sacrifice. Do you think the whole virgin-in-volcano thing would work for this purpose? Yeah,'s not like I'd even know where to find a virgin, anyway. ;)

In conclusion, I am feeling weakish and flabbish. But at least my rides have been going okay lately. But some more muscles and less weight to haul around just might give me a boost. Wish me luck.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Ups and Downs of 2008

Happy New Year! I spent the holidays baking (and eating) tons of cookies, cupcakes and other goodies, drinking champagne and beer, spending blissful time off work, frantically cleaning, sleeping in, traveling to see family, and yes – riding.

So I know I’m a little late for this, but I thought I’d do the obligatory year in review for this blog.

One year ago, I wasn’t leasing a horse at all and this blog didn’t exist. I was taking weekly lessons and well on my way to becoming a full-blown re-rider after taking years off. But then spring rolled around and I started half-leasing a Quarter Horse named Mae and this blog was born. Here’s the post that started it all.

Mae and I had some good times together, but also some rough ones, like the time she bucked me off. I also had my fair share of insecurities.

I leased Mae throughout the summer while considering buying my own horse but eventually decided that I’m still not quite ready. I also entered my first schooling show as an adult, where I was heckled by a little kid for being the oldest rider in the ring.

I ended the lease with Mae at the end of the summer when her owner returned, and I switched to leasing Marve, a big gray Thoroughbred. I prepared for another schooling show with Marve, which prompted plenty of anxiety and forced me to actually learn how to braid. The show itself sounds more of a disaster than it really was; in the end, I had fun and learned a lot, so I’m glad it went down the way it did.

But then things started to get rough. I fell off Marve and started to consider quitting, followed by some crappy rides when I was terrified of falling and getting hurt. Fortunately, things have been looking up, and even one good spook helped convince me to keep going.

And in other non-riding matters, I continued the age-old struggle of getting and staying in shape, and also made a continuing effort to seriously work on my fiction, which is also important to me.

Finally, in a decision that shocked and surprised our families and friends, SO and I decided to get married. We’re not hitched yet; it will probably happen sometime in the fall.

All in all, I’d say 2008 was a good year. Sometimes I’m still frustrated with my riding and feel like I can never do anything right, but I know I’ve learned a lot. Leasing two different horses and continuing on with my lessons has been immensely helpful.

I don’t know what 2009 holds, horse-wise. Despite my previous uncertainty about my lease with Marve, I’m planning to keep it up for now. But since I’m not 100% sure where the lease is going or how long I’ll be doing it, it’s hard to set riding goals for 2009. If I continue leasing him, I’d like to have more consistent rides, instead of feeling like we’re riding like garbage one day and then so-so another day and pretty decent on yet another day. I want to improve my jump position and actually canter over jumps (I’m not an experienced jumper at all and have only trotted over small jumps or cantered over a single pole). And if I’m still leasing Marve by the summer (who knows), then I’d like to enter him in the dressage schooling show.

Either way, 2008 has been an interesting ride (hardy-har-har) and I’m looking forward to seeing what 2009 holds. Cheers!