Sunday, December 8, 2019

Lesson again

Cortney and Robin were off in Arizona this weekend so I didn't think I'd have a lesson with Jim. However, he texted me and said if I could be ready at Bridle Trails by 1pm again I could get a group rate since he'd have other people there at 11 and 12. I was down for this plan. I 'earned' my time off by tidying up the backyard. Due to how much travel is involved in me getting to lessons it ends up being a nearly all day affair especially because I end up including general housekeeping chores while I'm out at the barn like tack cleaning.

 It was a fairly temperate winter day with temps in the upper 40s and low 50s F and no rain while riding!

I have a couple big takeaways that I wanted to get written down so I don't forget them and so I can implement at home.

First: That gosh darned inside leg to outside rein is magical when it happens. Use the inside leg to ask for bend and push her into my right hand but DON'T LOSE CONTACT WITH HER MOUTH.  Keeping that coordinated results in a horse that will stretch down into contact.  Make more moments and get them consistently occurring.
 Second: Keep communication with Gwyn always varied, even if it's feather light changes so she keeps her attention on me.

Third: When asking for rein back, Gwyn WILL respond to a feather light touch of my calf and when I use that rather than blaring at her with my heels (and spurs now) I get a very calm, slow rein back with a low head. I just need to keep better contact with her mouth with higher hands than I think I need.
 Fourth: She is getting stronger in canter. We are now actually getting canter strides when I ask her. If I'm practicing, ask for the trot after the first three canter strides. The first three strides are going to be the best quality and everything will degrade (for now) until she's stronger. When cueing for canter in the corner, counter-bend her to the outside to encourage her to pick up the correct lead.
 Conclusions I have drawn on my own:
Continue to work on strengthening her hind end with turns on the forehand. Canter departs will also help. Research other exercises to do. Enjoy trails with LOTS of hills :D
 It was chilly enough and she was damp enough that I tossed a wool cooler on her for the ride home. Then she got to make kissy faces with one of the thoroughbreds while cleaned my tack, some of which was starting to mildew. I need to remember to bring out a new damp-rid for my trailer tack room.

It was a good lesson. I felt like a much more effective rider than I have lately and she was being really responsive to my seat and leg aids, which is DEFINITELY something that we didn't have at the start of summer.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Lessons Update

Lessons have been more sporadic lately, though I did get a lesson in the Sunday after Thanksgiving at Bridle Trails. Traveling all the way up to me for Monday evening has been wearing on Jim and Cortney and I think we'll be rearranging lesson day to be daylight hours. As much as having them come to me was nice, I totally get that it's a rough drive to do weekly, at rush hour. Traffic is horrendous out here.

Combining the sporadic lessons with the holiday and then some mystery gastric thing I had, I haven't ridden much, and the last time I rode Gwyn I felt like a stiff board getting on and boy was that discouraging and I didn't make it out more. The Sunday lesson was early afternoon and a new friend, Robin, joined us. She's also an endurance rider that Cortney met and I definitely like her, she's a great person to hang out with. She came to Thanksgiving too!

Her gelding has been cleared for light riding after an injury, so she joined us at Bridle Trails. We planned on a 1pm meet time that of course I ended up biffing when I found my truck tire was low on air AND there was a line at the gas station for using the air pump.

Because I'd been so stiff last time I rode I made sure I stretched my hip flexors before getting on. Note to self, do that before putting on spurs. Lesson learned.
Gwyn recognizes the sound of Cortney's truck, LOL
 Gwyn was a bit sassy to start off so I made sure to lunge (see aforementioned over a week off and nice cool weather). Lunging I found she's able to maintain a balanced canter for a lot longer, which is really encouraging. It doesn't even get strung out and flat. I'm really excited for when that translates under saddle. Her brain seemed relatively well screwed in so I hopped on.
 Jim's lessons involve theory as well as practical application. So we have occasional huddles to talk about why movements are useful and how different aids work. Gwyn and I even did some canter under saddle and her good direction was really good!

He and I discussed her weakness in the canter is because we need to strengthen the hind leg that pushes off into the canter. Her weak direction is to the left/counter clockwise, so that's her right hind that needs strengthening work.

Turns on the forehand work on strength in that same leg as you ask them to step under themselves. This is reflected in how her better turns are when we turn counter clockwise because it's the left hind stepping under itself.

Additionally, I need to think of exercises like turn on the forehand as a weight lifting exercise. I shouldn't be schooling it endlessly because like with weightlifting, eventually you hit exhaustion where the muscles just can't perform anymore. I need to come into it with a sets and reps mindset.  So do a quarter to half turn, then move forward to reward, relax and encourage the downward stretch. Then repeat a little bit later.
 We also practiced our square halts and feeling where the horse is standing without looking and once identified, fixing the halt stance. If I focus on it, I correctly identify her stance 9 out of 10 times. I found that since we were in a dressage arena, if I practiced my halts as though I were in a dressage test by going down the center line, it gave me a target point to halt at and my preparation for halts were much smoother. We ended with a really good, square halt and I was really proud.
 After our lesson we hit the trails together. It had been raining through the lesson but the trails are amazingly well groomed and had minimal mud. We kept it to a walk and did between 3 and 4 miles in about an hour.
She had the biggest, swingiest walk as soon as she realized we weren't done and were walking trailward.

Time in the woods, even if a bit wet and cloudy, was so good. And it was in the best company. Cortney told me she had friends waiting for me, and she was right, hahah. 

This park is surrounded by encroaching city. It is a gem.

I didn't get home until after sunset (4pm this time of year, lol) Then I just hung out at the barn chatting with folks. I like having this social aspect again. That was definitely something I didn't realize I'd miss as much when we got our own place in Michigan.

Blogger Gift Exchange!

 Of all things I got an email through my company's website, which I wasn't expecting telling me to expect a delivery. It really threw me for a loop, so Katherine of Virtual Brush Box, I'd like to apologize for that! I had totally forgotten about the exchange, especially since I was one of the few people who somehow got their match lost in transit and was still waiting to hear from Tracy!

I had this book on my wish list and it's definitely got things in it that I should be working on, I'm already half way through reading it and no surprise, many of the exercises that Jim has me working on are some of the basics that the book talks about. Gosh, Amy, listen to your trainer...

Anyway, thank you thank you! I really do love it and they break down the exercises in a really well thought out way for my learning style. The pictures and diagrams are fantastic!
Oh it's describing Gwyn.... "bad steering, fussy contact, high head, lack of progress over time..."

Getting stronger though!

A huddle to discuss the difference between strengthening and flexibility and what exercises do what when we're riding

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Pilchuck Tree Farm

The fir tree is pollening all over my truck lately and it's GROSS
 Cortney asked me to accompany her to Pilchuck Tree Farm on Sunday so she wouldn't be riding completely solo with a lady who was trying out her Pandora saddle.  I gladly agreed. I never made it to ride there when we lived here last and I always was jealous of the pictures I saw of folks who did ride there.
 My day started fairly early, though due to the time change it wasn't that bad. I made a run to the trash and recycling transfer station to unload my truck and was off to the barn to hitch and load. I ended up running SUPER early, which is unheard of for me. I ended up being incredibly glad I was early/on time though!

I got to the meet point parking lot (there are three places where horse trailers can park to access the trails) and horse trailers started arriving in quick succession after me. There were two there, I was the third, a local rider next to me and Cortney came after. Then a couple strangers. The lot was FULL.

 I was pleasantly surprised that the rider who parked next to me was a face I recognized as I follow her on blogger as well! Aarene of Haiku Farm is a pretty well known voice in the PNW endurance community and the standardbred endurance community as she rides a giant standardbred mare named Fiddle, aka The Dragon. I started following her blog shortly after moving to Michigan so I could live vicariously through her awesome posts (And I do recommend subscribing to her posts or adding them to your feed if you want more of witty, intelligent horse women). She frequents these trails and I've seen many pictures of them through the seasons.
Many thanks to Aarene for taking this photo for me!
This was the last day the single track trails would be open on this side of the tree farm. After Nov 4, the trails would close for the season to preserve the trail integrity but the logging roads would still be available.

 We kept mostly to a walk, as the lady who was purchasing doesn't do much more than and wanted to test ride Cortney's saddle for a ride she would normally do. There was some shuffling of trail order after the lead horses, two geldings started getting upset at continuing on the trail and hadn't  quite settled down to behave yet. Splendid and Gwyn were more than happy to eventually strike out in front which helped pull the boys along and gave them a chance to absorb the chill energy from Gwyn and Splendid, who were both just pleased to be out on the trail.
 Gwyn quickly figured out that we were not racing and while she really just wanted to hug Splendid's butt, she was content to maintain a forward walk.

 The sun was out and while it wasn't particularly warm, especially in the denser forest canopy, it was at least dry and pleasant.

I wish this wasn't so blurry. The ground just dropped away

Looking out toward Lake McMurray to the east

Cortney snapped this picture just a bit further down the trail, again by a steep drop off so I wasn't willing to try. Lake McMurray and looking east toward the Cascades

Magic Forest Trail
 We came out to a familiar sight of the monument. I've seen this a lot on Haiku Farm's blog and also on another blog from someone who has also moved away from the PNW. It was awesome to see the sculpture/monument in person. I didn't realize the thing was hollow and happily, neither Gwyn nor Splendid seemed to care about the sound when we idly knocked in.

The best grass was right at the base.

I did test out the scoot boots again and one foot was good, the other twisted around ridiculously. I ended up taking it off completely. Thankfully the footing wasn't that bad except for some parts of the logging roads where the giant rocks were placed over new culverts. I'm still troubleshooting, though I'm pleased with the change to the EVA foam instead of the Easyboot gaiters for rubbing prevention. Gwyn had NO rubs this ride. Nearly 10 miles.
Gwyn was nice and sweaty by the end and got to snuggle in her cooler. Cortney and I are already planning return trips through the winter. Both here and Taylor mountain should be fairly good through winter, even if some trails are off limits and I want to develop my own sense of direction for the trail network at both places. That's likely going to require some solo wanderings on my part though.