Sunday, January 29, 2012

Starting to Come Out of Hibernation

If you've followed my blog for the past few years, you know that January is rarely my best month when it comes to competitive fire and self-confidence in my riding. Last year I avoided the problem altogether by being 3,000 miles away from my horses... though obviously that was a bit of a downer, too, in its own way!

This year I've been really conscious of not making these first few weeks of the new year a big deal. I've been doing a lot of chilling, a lot of hacking, a lot of thinking about position, and as little thinking as possible about competition dates and goals.

But, as the month draws to a close and Ringo and I get back into pretty much full work, I've been finding myself thinking more and more excitedly about the first time we'll go down the centerline this year. Originally I had planned to wait until Galway to debut, but I'm thinking now that I might want to get out once before then if I can, just because the CIC*** test is quite difficult and I'd like to get the rust knocked off a bit before jumping right into the deep end!

So, at the moment, my competition schedule looks like this:

19 February - IDA Show @ UC Davis (Davis, CA)

3-4 March - IDA Show @ Stanford (Stanford, CA)
1-1, 1-2

16-18 March - Golden State Dressage (Rancho Murieta, CA)
2-3, 3-1

31-1 April - Galway Downs CIC (Temecula, CA)
CIC*** Test Ride

11-13 May - Starr Vaughn (Elk Grove, CA)
Depending on how previous shows have gone, either 3rd or 4th level

17-20 May - Woodside Dressage (Woodside, CA)
Same plan as Starr Vaughn

In order to get ready to show again, I've also declared February to be NO STIRRUPS MONTH! Meaning that I'll warm up with stirrups (only fair to Ringo's back) then drop them for the actual working portion of every ride. I think I'm going to start today, as I'm legitimately excited to make my seat deeper and stronger. Should be fun!

(Ringo showing off his bomb free walk at our first show back together in over a year at GMHA last summer!)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Plugged In

So first victories first, I've managed to live without any more major injuries since my last post. Hooray!! I did smash my knee into my roommate's DVD player which resulted in (another) awesome bruise, and my hand briefly resembled "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Hand" in the range and vividness of its bruise, but everything appears to be settling down for now. Phew. I'm not sure I could handle much more.

On the riding front, things have been progressing really well. Ringo and I finally went back into the ring after two fun weeks out hacking around, and having been adding trot and canter back in slowly. Friday was the first day we cantered and Brian Sabo was there teaching (hopefully by the time he comes back we'll be ready for lessons again!) and went out of his way to comment on how nice Ringo was looking, so it seems like the vacation didn't do him too poorly =)

In fact, I must say that we're feeling better than ever, because I've had a real break through with my seat/sitting. I mentioned around New Years that I'd watched some Mary Wanless tapes, and, dangit, the more I've been practicing what I learned there, the more I'm realizing that it's been REALLY helpful for me.

My big takeaway from the tapes was an increased use of the inner thigh to stabilize and strengthen my seat, combined with a deeper set overall and seat bones that 'plug in' to the saddle. By that, I mean getting the feeling that my two seat bones are like prongs of a plug, and the horse's saddle/back are the outlet. I want my seat to be so secure and deep that it feels like my butt is literally stuck in.

Now, I've probably heard that one should ride with a nice deep and secure seat a few more than a million times, but for some reason this visual was a lot more helpful to me than previous ones. I don't think Mary Wanless even mentions it this way in the tapes, but she did explain the security of the upper thigh/seat a lot better than I had heard in the past, and then while I was practicing it the plug visual came and stuck, so I'm rolling with it.

Since I have a nice and bony butt (surprisingly, since my thighs are hardly stick-like), I can monitor pretty easily when my seat bones are securely in the saddle (almost never) and when they are not (almost always). I've also realized that I spend a lot of time sitting more on one seat bone than the other, which isn't that surprising given my crookedness but which I've noticed immediate results in Ringo's way of going when I can manage to fix it.

The end result? Sitting the trot is suddenly really hard work! But in the best possible way: I've never found sitting trot that strenuous in the abs/core, which I've always known has meant that I wasn't doing it right (because, who are we kidding, I may have a pretty strong core but it's not THAT strong). Now, I'm definitely 'feeling the burn,' and am being rewarded with a trot and canter from Ringo that feels like the best he's ever gone. Yay!! I can't wait until we both get stronger and can maintain the good stuff for longer than the maybe 20 meter circle that we're currently rocking.

Though, I might be killed before then, because Ringo has been stuck inside for the past two days due to rain and I've had nowhere to ride him because the only arena at Stanford was taken over by the high school hunt seat show we hosted. I think I might break out my neck strap for my ride tomorrow...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Calamity Master

So the last few days have been... 'eventful' I guess would be a good term.

First, I got bucked off last week, marking my first fall in 2 years. It was a stupid situation where I knew I probably was going to get thrown, kept going anyway, and paid the price. Oh well! Fortunately I landed very softly and managed to hold onto the reins, which then made so that I got pulled instantly back onto my feet as the horse backed away (which normally I would feel bad about forcing my horse into a 'pull back' situation... but in this case, the f***er deserved it). So, it didn't end up hurting at all, though my always troublesome right shoulder did tweak a little. No big deal, right?

Then, over the long weekend, I decided it would be SUPER COOL KID BEHAVIOR to try to balance on one foot on the foam roller I use for working out the kinks in my back (it's a probably 6" diameter tube of hard slippery white foam, and it's AWESOME). Needless to say, it went well for about 4 seconds... and then the foam slipped on the carpet I was practicing on. And I ate it. Hard. This hurt considerably more than getting bucked off, and my ankle is still sprained/sore feeling. And the only person I can blame is myself. Well played, Erickson. Well. Played.

THEN, yesterday I crashed my bike. For the first time, ever. I learned how to ride a bike at Stanford, and have had an incredible three and a half year hot streak of safe and tumble-free riding. I've also gotten pretty ballsy recently, and notably rode over a half mile (around curves, through bollards, and across the busiest plaza on campus) without hands just this past Sunday. So obviously, I wiped out while making the totally innocuous turn from the feed barn to the parking lot. That's how it works, right? It also happened right in front of my coach, who I'm pretty sure I gave a small heart attack. At least it's better than the time I fell off the golf cart she was driving (how this happens, I cannot tell you) and got a concussion. Like I said earlier: cool kid behavior.

I was pretty sure at first that I'd broken my thumb in this little escapade, as it was totally paralyzed (zero range of motion) and radiating pain. Being who I am, I decided to ride and see if it got better. Shockingly, it did not, so I had to put my big girl panties on and go to my least favorite place: the doctor. Fortunately, a few Advils and X-rays later and all is well: no break, just some crazy swelling and bruising. I've never had a bruise on the palm of my hand before, and find it rather amusing now that I have full use of all my digits again. Here's to hoping it will turn some awesome colors over the next few days!

But basically, I think I've had my fill of personal disaster for a while. Hopefully this means I've gotten my 2012 injury quota out of the way early (and more importantly, covered the injuries for both me and the horses, right???), and now can just enjoy the rest of the year in style. We'll see...

Also, the blog reached 150 followers today! Thank you so much for reading =)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

First Horsey Photo Shoot of the New Year!

Yesterday the equestrian team had a 'faux-show' to get some pressure-style practice in and to let some people who might not get to show in regular intercollegiate competitions a chance to have a competitive outing this year. It was just for the IHSA (hunt seat) riders, so I got a chance to take some photos instead. It was so fun! I've missed being out shooting so much. I love my film photography work that I do in school, but it's sure hard to beat the subject matter when I get to turn my attention to horses =)

Here are some highlights of what I got:

(Maddy and Ronnie looking sly waiting for the show to start)

(Dreamer, one of our school horses famous for making somewhat cranky faces while being ridden, actually looking as sweet as she really is)

(Emily and Armani caught in the afternoon half light)

(Alex and Consens warming up)

(RONNIE - soooo handsome)

(Emily and Armani warming up over the fan)

(Maddy and Ronnie looking fly!)

(Nikki and Ronnie, who was decidedly not playing anymore by this point in the afternoon)

(Morgan and a very cute Consens)

(Nikki and Nike covering a mega long spot in style)

(Consens throwing a helluva jump at the 'hand gallop' fence in the work off)

(though Nike was not to be left behind!)

(CHILI - my secret lover; I looove him)

(Sasha and Lando looking very serious in the evening dust)

(Macy and Chocky!)

I don't know how much equine journalism stuff I'll be able to do this year, but we'll see. Someday I'd love to go to Rolex, but that probably won't happen in 2012. Maybe Galway in the spring =)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Ode to a Straight Line

The first week of winter term is over, and my life has begun to settle back into the busy little routine I love. I'm taking a very heavy course load this term (though hopefully, if I get some paperwork submitted properly in the next week, I can drop one class that I absolutely despise but currently must take), and without Kiki my time at the barn feels very light, but I'm still enjoying myself. I get to the barn every morning at around 7, feed Rachel's horses, ride Ringo, and then head back to my room to read until class starts. It's not the most exciting life, but I'm not complaining =)

With Ringo, I'v been taking my time bringing him back from his vacation. I'm not planning on showing until later in the spring, so I don't see the rush in bringing him back to full work, especially when this is such a good chance to reestablish a great base and go back to basics for a while.

(ahh the best view in the house - I've missed that two-tone mane!)

So, we've been walking, on a straight line, for progressively longer every day (this week we went from 20 up to 40, adding 5 minutes a day). And, surprisingly, I've found it really clarifying. Ringo is not the straightest horse, and I am definitely not the straightest rider, so the two of us tend to get pretty radically twisted off to one side or another without really realizing it. By sticking to long straight lines I have to think solely about sitting squarely in the saddle and having his body stacked up squarely beneath me, which is something that I find easy to cheat on when we're doing lots of curves and figures.

I've also been experimenting with playing with Ringo's outline a lot more. I was rereading the blogs the Chronicle puts up on their website (which I am addicted to), and one of the dressage writers, either Lauren Sprieser or Catherine Haddad, was talking about how your horse has an infinite range of outlines, and you should be able to access any one of them at any given moment to best address what you're trying to achieve. A very collected competition frame, for example, is not as useful in warming up or suppling. A very long and low frame is not as useful for canter pirouettes.

This is pretty obvious, I guess, but the idea of range really struck home with me. I think I generally ride with two frames: stretchy, and 'up,' with very little range between. I think part of the reason I've had such a hard time building Ringo's (to my credit, naturally predisposed to be miserable) topline is because, in order to really work that base of the neck muscle, I've needed to find a middle frame where his neck is long but carried more outwards rather then up, but his balance is more cadenced and rocked back then in my stretchy work (obviously, when done correctly, the more 'up' frame will use those base of neck muscles too, but Ringo and I have had a tendency to cheat there in the past). This was a big revelation I had in one of my lessons this fall, and I think accounts for why his topline suddenly got much better very quickly at the end of the year.

So, on my straight line walks, I've been trying to widen the range of frames and outlines in Ringo's and my vocabulary: super collected to the point almost of half steps, big free and swinging with as much overstride as possible, neck up, neck out, neck down, nose on the vertical, nose in front of the vertical (no behind the vertical - that's a bad habit that needs no reinforcing!), super slow and cadenced, super jaunty and brisk, and on and on. I've been finding it very fun, and so despite the rather boring look of my rides of the past week on the surface, the time has been flying. Of course, any time spent with Ringo is the best part of the day, so I guess it's not much of a surprise =)

We'll keep walking until we've gone a week at 60 minutes, then start to add trotting, cantering, and other fun stuff back in. Our first 'competition' of the year will be doing the CIC*** test ride at Galway at the end of March (which I'm so excited to do! Shadbelly, baby!!), which will be a good low pressure marking point to see how our homework is coming along for 3rd Level, as the three star test is, I think, a hair more difficult than the third level tests. But until then, it's back for a little more straight line love.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Kiki's Ears are Famous!

I'm a bit late noticing this as I just sat down to my computer for the first time since starting my road trip on Monday (and I'm now back safe at Stanny! Lordy it feels good), but a photo I submitted to Eventing Nation got posted yesterday! Kiki's ears are now famous =D

I didn't really talk about my trip to the beach when I put the pictures up, but it was AWESOME. I went with my mom, and it was her first trip to the beach EVER on her awesome Halfie. We walked and trotted almost the entire length of the beach (3 miles) down and back together, and it was so much fun.

It was also the best weather I think I've ever had at this particular beach; usually when we go it's icy cold and blowing up a gale, which is fun its own way because it makes the experience that much more intense, but this time it was warmer, overcast, and remarkably still. We went early in the morning and the light was absolutely unbelievable (the pictures do it no justice at all).

After Ma and I got back to where we'd started, I turned back again so I could get a little galloping in. We cantered a ways down, and it was one of the most lovely, flowing, and balanced canters I've ever gotten out of Kiki: it felt like we were gliding along completely at our ease. After about a half mile we turned back and I let her open up. It was an unbelievable feeling. She opened up, found a new gear, opened up again, and then found a new gear on top of that and opened up even further. I think it was the fastest I've ever gone on a horse, ever. Kiki can really move! I couldn't get the smile off my face for days afterwards =)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year, New Resolve

Happy New Year!! Thank you so much to everyone who commented on my last post. Your words of support really helped cement the gut feeling I've been having of the past few weeks, which is to take a step back, chill out, and take some time to gather a little strength and confidence again.

Pursuant to that, I've decided to give Kiki a vacation instead of sending her into training again. I'm really not sure I want to sell her anymore, and if I did I would want to feel like I played more of a role than this situation would allow - I feel like it's an important part of my learning curve as a horseman to see my relationship with this horse through to completion, instead of just washing my hands of her and leaving her with someone else (not that I wouldn't ask for help! I just want to continue to be part of her journey =)).

I have a close friend (who actually bought Sam, my old horse, and evented him at Prelim for a few seasons) who has agreed to ride her a few times a week. It's a situation I feel great about, and I'm very happy.

So now that I'm feeling a little settled, I've got some New Years Resolutions!

2012 Goals
-Get my Bronze Medal with Ringo-
-Start working towards my Silver Medal with Ringo-

-Graduate from Stanford-
-Get a job!!-
-One word: RESOLVE.
I want to find myself the first day of 2013 a more confident, tough, and happy person.-

-Get Kiki back into shape-
-Return to eventing, positively-
-Find an instructor that I feel really positively about to improve Kiki's jumping technique (I think I have this instructor in Molly, so it will be about me keeping positive and staying with it)-

Today was both the first ride of the year, and my last ride on Kiki for a long time. The weather decided to REALLY cooperate, and we had the most beautiful New Years Day I can ever remember, EVER. It was mid 40s and sunny with giant cottonball clouds. To celebrate, Pa, Ma and I (and all of the dogs!) headed out to the arena for a ride together. I'm just so happy that my mom is riding again and enjoying her awesome Halfie, and that Pa and Dually are slowly but surely getting back into action.

Pa and Dually are only walking for 10 minutes right now, so after they finished Pa was kind enough to get some video of me and Kiki. Hopefully a year from now I can look back on this and see some progress!

First, some sitting trot work after we had warmed up and cantered:

Obviously I want my sitting trot to improve (the perennial refrain!): shoulders back, legs under me, hands quieter!

Then we did some lengthenings/shortenings:

These could be smoother and more extravagant, but I'm still pleased with her. Good girl! Still, shoulders back, Erickson.

Finally, we closed with a little more sitting trot (from verrrrry far away, as Dually had now decided to graze significantly further up the field than in the first video):

Not bad! I find sitting trot on Kiki hard so I do think I've improved (even over this break alone, thanks to watching some awesome Mary Wanless tapes), but there's still a long way to go. I think her trot also looked miles more steady and relaxed in the back than it was earlier in the fall. Good girl lady! Just in time to go on vacay =)

Starting tomorrow I'm off on the long trip back to Stanny - my first cross country trip without the horses, and more importantly without my Pa. I'm a little worried, but very excited because I'm going to stop in some places that I've never had time for before with the horses in tow - namely, the Grand Canyon!! America, here I come!
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