Thursday, May 31, 2012

It Gets Better

No doubt my last post voiced some serious frustrations. In a way, I think it helped me get it out of my system, and to figure out a plan to not just whine about my shortcomings, but rather figure out how to conquer them.

I mentioned before that I'd started playing with stirrup length, especially at the start of the ride, to help open, loosen, bump my legs along. I think this has been working.

I also invested in a back support brace. Just a cheapo Ace Bandage type thing found at the local Rite Aid for around $30. This, my friends, has been magic, above all else. It definitely helps me stabilize my core, and has given me the opportunity to loosen everything else in the process. I feel strong, held together (duh, cuz I am), and powerful. Maybe it is cheating, but I don't care. I don't walk away with severe hip pain, my horse is going much better, and I'm feeling better.

In addition to my magic bullet, I've also started to do some serious upper body stretching, especially to my left side. I've realized how crooked I sit, and I've been catching myself and correcting myself almost constantly, in addition to stretching out my arms and legs during the day. In addition, just some basic stretches has shown me how balled up my left side really is.

I do have plans to start the exercise plan in the Riders Fitness book - but I am not confident I will stick to it religiously - I am just not home enough during the week. Hmm maybe the barn needs a gym... oooo, now there's an idea.

Now for the harder part: the self- confidence. Having a trainer is like having a therapist. Yesterday during my lesson I voiced my frustration with myself and my riding. I told my trainer everything I have been feeling - like an incompetent rider, that I'm ruining my horse, making him grumpy, and the guilt I have. We were working on upward transitions and talking about energy- and the analogy she used was great. She said think about transitions like changing the channel on a television. The TV is still on, using the same energy, but you are just changing from one channel to another - there is no jolt of energy like when you turn the TV on. Holy crap, she's right. You need a quality walk to get a quality trot. So of course then I asked about my own horse, and said that I feel guilty about asking him to do all this stuff at a greater energy and on the bit because I feel like when he doesn't respond, its due to my incompetence, and so if i tap him with my whip or get after him for being lazy, I'm essentially punishing him for my own faults as a rider.

My trainer then made a great point. First of all, she said to cut the crap out and stop talking myself down, that I'm doing a great job. She also said that he's a 4 year old green horse, and even with the best of riders, he's going to test the waters, especially now as he enters his 4th year. And even if he does something that is my fault, he is still not allowed to get away with it, and still needs correction. So if I let him get lazy, quit, go above the bit and never correct it even though I know I am at fault, he'll just get worse. There is no point in not doing anything, no matter who is at fault.

Okay trainer, you win this round, but I'll be back for you next week.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Looking Down

Turns out we can't go it alone. When Ben came home, I begged my trainer to come to our barn a couple times per week to give me lessons. That was going okay, but my confidence is just not there - I feel like every time I get on this horse I'm ruining him with my crappy seat, legs, and hands. And no one is saying this to me but me.

Work got busy, and so rather than try to get to the barn after work, I had my trainer put some rides on him. He seems happier, and he's easier to ride for about 3 days after she rides him.

I'm being hard on myself, I know. But I also know how badly I suck. On a less bouncy horse, my suckage is minimized, and even hidden. But Ben is exposing every weakness I have. And its beginning to hurt again.

I'm not ready to throw in the towel. I can overcome this. I can become a good enough rider for him.

I threw in a week's vacation in there - let my body recover, rest, and soak in some rays. Turns out not riding for a week is worse than torturing my body for a week.
Okay, Plan B. Stretch, strengthen. Look the eff Up - seriously, the horse's head is not going to suddenly pop off if you aren't focusing on it.  Lots of self assessment in the saddle at the walk. My left side is crap. My neck, shoulder, torso, hip. I've always known my left hip is way too closed and too far forward - something I've always struggled with. Any attempts at forcing it back has always created tensions in other places.

But now that I've been in my dressage world, I've also noticed that carrying a long whip has also posed some problems. Why can I comfortably carry the whip in my right hand, resting on my knee - but when I carry it on the left I feel like there is no room - something is blocked. So I started raising my hand, widening my hand - anything to make it feel more like the right. Nothing was working. Until I decided to go a bit higher and see if I played with my shoulders....voila. Left shoulder collapsed forward. If I brought it back - dramatically so - my whip carrying hand suddenly feels right...and wouldn't you know my hip also gets better... and my horse much less cranky.

I've also started playing with stirrup lengths. I'm not confident enough in Ben to just let my stirrups go. He's a great guy and hardly ever spooks...but he's 4, he's 16.1, and he's bouncy...I'd have no chance of saving myself should something happen. Nevertheless, my legs could really use some no-stirrups time. So I've been sneaking in bits here and there, and in addition, doing my warm up with much longer stirrups - about 3 holes from where I can ride him with some dignity, which is really 1 hole too short.

This warm up routine has been helping- I think. Lots of walking, focusing on my position. Not having mirrors doesn't help, I'm just going by what makes Ben happier, and intuitively - what hurts, is troublesome. When I sit up, it hurts to breathe comfortably. It causes anxiety. I know I'm on the right track.

Trotting and cantering - well, if we didn't have our work cut out for us at the walk, you know we do in these gaits. And this is where my guilt comes in. My horse had a beautiful topline, he was fit. He was soft, and happy. And he's losing it at a rapid rate, despite riding him 5 days a week. All because I can't get my act together.

It does come together- but in small steps, where he was used to a proficient rider for the entire ride, every ride.

That said, yesterday we had a better than average ride, and it left me with a glimmer of hope. Wednesday is our first lesson in a few weeks. One other day this week trainer will also ride. I will keep stretching and strengthening off the horse. I will try to lift my attitude out of the gutter. Hopefully it'll be enough to keep us on do something.