Monday, August 27, 2012

Movement in Time

I am so energized by my new mare and my new riding routine. I feel like finally after all these years of longing to learn the art of dressage with a capable horse, I am there at the beginning of possibility.  I have been riding four days a week and taking lessons when I can.  Evenings after work are a little rushed, and will become more so in the winter with longer cooling-out (and I need to get a cooler for her), but afterward I just feel so inspired and happy, knowing there is nothing I would rather be doing.  Driving home from the barn I already can't wait until our next ride.  I feel so blessed to have this beautiful horse who no longer feels too tall, and a pleasant, enriching place to ride her.

The more I ride Dani  the more I realize just how amazing her movement is at the walk and trot, and how lucky I am to have her. The canter is a little messy, but the quality of her other gaits leads me to believe it will come along in time. There is so much movement in her back. Cooling her out bareback last night (yes, bareback - not even a pad!) I felt the swinging activity at the walk, and I am so in love with her trot that I could ride it all day. I am starting to try and sit it and she is being very forgiving while I learn how to melt into the rhythm. While she gets a little nervous in the lateral work, she is so athletic that sometimes she almost leaves me behind when she moves sideways. I think that if she ever decides to pull any antics I am going to have trouble staying with her. Let's hope she gives me time to secure my seat more first! 

I've been able to figure a few things out in regard to the canter, and get a few moments of ground cover, but for the most part it is very frantic, very upright, very crooked and therefore very hard to ride. Because she is so sensitive to lateral leg cues, I find that she will start to canter away from my cuing outside leg, so I've been trying to ask in different, more subtle ways. Last night I tried to do a sort of swoop with my hips and she was very responsive to that, but then when I asked for some bend around my inside leg traveling to the right we got a genuine canter leg yield - okay, cool, but not what I wanted. She's very comfortable at the trot but at the canter I feel her level of anxiety skyrocket and I think she so badly wants to do the right thing that  she gets frazzled. I know we both forget to breathe.  After a few tries she will anticipate and keep trying to pick it up like "Now? Now? Now?". She also breaks a lot which confirms my feeling that she is not balanced and isn't quite sure what to do yet. So - we definitely need some help, but I am not overly worried about it. Probably I need to be lunging her but I have always had the attitude of "Why lunge when you can ride?"

I've ridden to music the past few times, songs I picked especially for Dani on my iPhone. Stuff from the new Dead Can Dance album, stuff from the Brave soundtrack, Florence & the Machine - even the Katy Parry song "Firework" which grabbed me since I got Dani on the Fourth of July. I haven't picked a favorite yet, but it is thrilling to ride such a forward (but not rushy) horse and find a place within the music. Once we've established contact and found our groove she is happy to go all day, giving me a chance to refine my position and figure out the most effective way to help her bend, balance and lift her back. Last night I rode close to dinner time for her and she got a little excited when they started bringing horses in, but as soon as we started riding the cloverleaf pattern (4 equally sized smallish circles in the same direction) her focus came right back. She's really good at the spiral in/out exercise - I can tell the tight circles are hard for her but she keeps trying, then floats back out as soon as I ask. We even trotted one little cavaletti at the end of our ride that was set up for a jumping lesson. She likes to work and have things to think about.

I visited with the barn owner on Friday night and she told me they will be having a schooling show in October. While that sounds a little soon, I have to admit I'm tempted to give it a shot if there is an Introductory level class. Our canter is far from ready but we can rock the walk & trot, I think.

In summary: I love her and am enjoying her SO MUCH. I brought all her IALHA paperwork with me to work today so I can send off for her ownership transfer and official name change.  I hope she is as glad to mine as I am to be hers.

I spent all day Saturday at a clinic in Falcon. It was a fantastic experience. The wind was absolutely roaring during the morning, but thankfully we were set up indoors doing unmounted, yoga-like body work. Just relaxing, small movements that focused on kinetic awareness. The first few groups of riders still had to battle the wind somewhat, but by the afternoon it was very pleasant. It was wonderful to sit and visit with fellow horse people as we watched the rides. I was scheduled in the last session of the day with one of my trainers and her young Andalusian cross mare. One of the other riders was sweet enough to lend me her horse, a lovely 12 year old gray TB/Connemara mare. I was able to see them go before lunch, and could tell I had nothing to worry about. We took turns getting feedback from the clinician and then working individually with the changes. Each time we would go in to the middle, the clinician would take our legs or arms or press in little areas of our backs - different for each person - and while it was very soft and subtle, each time she would finish with one side the major difference I could feel was a longer leg - I kept having to lengthen my stirrups!  Probably the biggest light-bulb moment for me was when the clinician had a hold of my calf and caused me to move my hip joint in small circles. It may sound silly but I was just astounded at the range of motion you should still have while sitting in the saddle. I concentrate so much on jamming my heels down and keeping my thighs in the right place that I end up locking my hips and what I thought was a "following seat" was a sort of jilted back-and-forth when really it should be this dynamic rolling motion. I felt like I understood the following seat for the first time in all these years, and I could tell both my borrowed mare and later Dani appreciated this revelation.

Notchee and Coro are going to be moving to their new home in a few weeks: a large shared pasture with free choice access to separate stalls and runs on the plains of Colorado.  I will be losing my beautiful canyon trails, but we will have miles and miles of quiet country roads opening into fields to ride in, and a little outdoor sand arena for schooling.  I look forward to watching them graze together.  When I got Dani I sure didn't think I would be keeping three horses at two separate locations but I believe these changes will all be for the best.  I spent the hours before sunset with them last night, fluffing up their new shavings, grooming them and just hanging out with my old friends. 

What a wonderful weekend, and a wonderful time of year.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Ride Thirteen

That tall bay mare of mine? I am loving her more each day. I feel like these past few rides (and really, the time before and after the ride most of all) we are really starting to click. We are becoming one another's. We are creating routine and building trust. She looks up from her hay and comes to greet me when I whistle. I trace the little white swoosh on her forehead and briefly wonder why I didn't just change her name to Nike. I curry away any mud and Banjo drool as she works on her dinner (beautiful, fragrant, soft grass hay). I pick the shavings out of her mane. I run my hand down her legs, knowing now how they feel - warm, firm, the little jagged bumps of two old splints on her front legs. The little gray scrape on the outside of her right hind, all that remains of her injury. I fasten the white boots around her front legs, saddle and bridle her, sweeping her frizzy forelock over the brow band. I know which hole each buckle goes to, the comforting ritual of black leather and silver fittings. I back her away from her hay, assuring her that it will be there when she gets back, a satisfying snack after a workout. I don my helmet and gloves, call "Door!" as I pick up a dressage whip, lead her out in to the arena, tighten her girth.

Last night was our lucky thirteenth ride. I'm keeping track on my phone - there's an app for that! She positions herself politely next to the mounting block. We walk the perimeter of the whole arena for a while, she frequently checks herself out in the mirrors and I say "Who's that pretty girl?" every time, then decide I will add Madonna's "Who's That Girl" to Dani's playlist. We do some walk/halt transitions and she responds to breath alone.  I establish more connection, pick up my hands, stretch my legs down and we begin our trot work, staying at the end of the arena with the dressage letters. We do some small circles and figure 8's, she reaches for contact and there are moments I feel like I am riding the outside of the horse like I'm supposed to. I decide we are not going to do any canter work because we've been struggling with it and I want to reward her work ethic and not overface her. I know that she gets stressed out with the canter and we might as well revel in the gorgeous rhythmic trot that she has and establish more strength and balance there. From time to time the mare gives me a glimpse of self-carriage. She actively seeks direction and remains beautifully forward despite the wrinkle of concentration above her eye, the flared nostril, the deep huffing breaths as she tries so hard. In the mirror I catch her profile looking indisputably Andalusian.

We do some leg yields, learning the vocabulary of our new language and striving for the marriage of forward and sideways. I sit the trot, allow her to feel more of my leg. Once to the left, from the quarter line to the wall, we get it. I see the correct bend and the correct trajectory in the mirror. I praise her and toss the reins to the buckle. She is done. We cool out for a few passes around the arena, then I dismount, remove her saddle, unbuckle the flash and let her follow me to pick up her piles. She noses the mounting block endearingly, as if she's wondering if I'm going to get on bareback like I did the second time I rode her. I'd have no reservations doing so, but I like this quiet time on the ground. She stands patiently while I maneuver the fork, and we make several trips to the muck bucket, her walking behind me with her head down obligingly.  I can circle her with a point of my finger, a lean of my shoulder. We go back to her stall, and I am able to turn her around and park her next to her water buckets with body language alone. She waits for my release despite the remains of her dinner in the corner. I remove her bridle. Her eye is soft. She munches on her hay while I rub her down, brush away the sweat marks. I close my lockers after getting her peppermint treats - always two, four if she's extra good. Tonight she gets four. She sucks my fingertips into her mouth with the treats - she does this every time - it's funny and they go nowhere near her teeth. I tell her goodnight. I smile as I cross the sand on my own two feet with so much less grace than on borrowed hooves.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A New Chapter

Last night I rode my new horse again at my new barn (her old barn).

There was one person riding a paint while I was tacking up but we ended up with the arena to ourselves.

My first unsupervised ride on her since before her injury. She was relaxed and listening.

We trotted! That active, rhythmic trot which won me over.  I called her Dandywine and Leonine and I swear she was admiring herself in the mirrors...maybe we both were a little.  She even offered to canter, but not yet. Though she is sound, that leg is still tender.  My confidence is still tender.  We are in no hurry.

We did transitions with breath alone, as my trainer recently taught me.  Breathe in: trot.  Breathe out: walk. Exhale again: halt.  She responds beautifully to this. It is amazing. 

She looks so enormous when I'm standing next to her, but mounted she feels right

Afterward she followed me while I picked up the mess she had made (mare's metabolism works wonderfully) and I soaked in the clean, organized atmosphere and routine of the place.  My name on her stall card.  Her turnout companion waiting for her when she got back to her stall so he can continue his adoring uninterrupted gaze through the stall divider.  A little hay left in her corner feeder. 

As I was untacking her I realized...

This all happened so quickly and not the way anyone would have hoped, but there I was...riding my big bay dressage prospect in a dressage barn. Putting all my things in their place and currying the sweat from a tall mare's back. My tall mare.

The recent chaos has kind of overshadowed the glimmer of a dream coming true. It's all still rather unreal.

I gave her two little peppermint treats and closed her outer stall door.  She lives at "E" along the indoor arena.  The sun set a gentle pink as I  walked to my car.  It was a good night.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


I've been quiet here because there has been too much to say...the paradox of blogging.

I have had my new mare for a month now, and unfortunately not a lot of good came out of that month.  She got injured, I got scared.  The happy ending, or happy beginning,  is that I have moved her back to her old barn and last night, I rode her for the first time since July 6th.

I should have kept her there all along, but don't we all wish we could turn back time and make better choices, choices that can only be clear in hindsight?

More changes are on the horizon, and it's this wish for x-ray vision into the future and the shadow of the unknown that is making me hesitant to commit to any one thing.

But amid the spin of all the options and the circumstances that I ride the wave of, some pieces seem to be settling into pattern like multicolor shards in a kaleidoscope.  The simple heart of the matter is:

Last night I pushed back all the reasons not to, and got back on my new horse.  

We only walked.  We're still figuring each other out.  We are finding our way back to the place we started, where we didn't have a good history or a bad history, but no history.  We will walk as slowly as we need to onto a clean page.

After I took her saddle off I stood facing her and wrapped my arms over the top of her neck. She lowered her head and pressed her forehead into my chest. We both sighed.  We both promised to try.