Wednesday, November 21, 2012


So yesterday was a frustrating day for me. Actually, what was more frustrating was that the whole of the day wasn't that frustrating, but it ended on a frustrating note and so I'm working hard to put things into a balanced perspective. It was my lesson day with Kim and I was lucky enough to ride both Ringo and Ky, but it ended up being A LOT of info for me to process effectively by the end of the day.

In a strategy learned from my pony club days, here's an "oreo sandwich" version of my lesson (positive start, gooey troubling middle [delicious], and a crisp positive close):

The Good (Part I):

I hadn't taken a lesson with Ky in a month, and so it was great to bring him out and have Kim agree on how much progress he's made in even a pretty short time. We worked even more on getting him more consistent into the contact, and Kim gave me some great pointers: namely, to break up asking him to be 'up' and connected, which is really hard for him, with lots of breaks of stretching to keep him fresh and cooperative, instead of getting into a spiral of fighting which is normally the route we end up going down.

 (I have a lot of video but am too exhausted to upload them, so here are some crappy stills)

(Stretchy ponaaayy)

When I got him straight and stretching--WOW! His trot was killer awesome. I was able to sit it well (I looked up at myself in the mirrors and actually saw a dressage rider looking back at me instead of a floppy eventer trying to cling on desperately--THIS DOES NOT HAPPEN OFTEN AND WAS HUGE). The connection is definitely a problem that's going to take a while to solve, but if the glimmers of brilliance I got yesterday were any indication, it will be well worth the trouble to solve. This little dude's going places, man. I'm very excited.

(Ky thought the dogs playing nearby were wayyy more exciting than posing for a picture)

The Rugged:
Ringo (Canter)

I came back for my lesson with Ringo, and it felt like the wheels came off pretty startlingly quickly. I thought he warmed up really well, but when we went to work I was having a very hard keeping him straight and the exercise Kim set up to do (leg yield off the wall into a shoulder fore on the quarter line, at trot and then at canter) really highlighted my struggles. 

I got a little confused by the way Kim was explaining what she wanted, and then got progressively more and more confused and frustrated as she attempted to explain herself. It was a classic miscommunication problem that I take full responsibility for (I didn't articulate what was confusing me nearly well enough), but the end result was that we got into a long wrangle about the theory of shoulder-fore, and I came out of it feeling like an inarticulate idiot and was pretty sure that Kim was thinking the same thing. D'oh. Definitely not my intention. I tried to set it aside and keep going, but I was definitely a little mentally flustered from then on.

(Gahh the low inside hand, a perennial problem)

By that point as well, Ringo and I were just flat out tired, both mentally and physically. Kim kept pushing us (as she should! There's no way we're going to improve if we don't leave the comfort zone every now and then) but I really felt like I was lacking in both skills and horsepower to do what she was asking (really get Ringo to sit into a more collected and shorter canter). He kept breaking, and breaking, and breaking, and I felt like I was doing literally everything in my power to keep him from doing so but just couldn't make it happen. 

Then we moved onto some canter-walk transitions, which are one of Ringo's weakest movements, which we obviously bombed because at this point we were both exhausted and I was tense and completely frazzled. The canter-walk transitions are an especially sore subject for me because they are a 2nd level movement, so whenever I can't do them satisfactorily (which, by the way, is ALWAYS), I always feel like like a total sham and moron for even considering hoping to move up to 4th level next year. We did some mediocre ones that neither Kim nor I was very happy with, and then ended. Whomp whomp. It was with a pretty deflated feeling that I headed home. 

The Good (Part II):
Ringo (Trot)

In contrast, Ringo's trot seems to be going from strength to strength. I felt like I sat really well, and Kim agreed that his frame is looking stronger and better all the time. It's somewhat confusing to me, as historically his canter has always been sooooooo much stronger than his trot, and so perhaps that's why I'm having a hard time grasping the amount of homework his canter currently requires, but I'll definitely take improvement where I can get it. Good boy, Ray!

Unfortunately I now am leaving for a week-long trip to New Orleans for Thanksgiving and my friend's wedding, which means plenty of time to stew and no time in the saddle to start moving forward. I'm definitely not crushed, but to say that it wasn't a frustrating day would be a lie. Of course, failure is a key part of the road to success, so I'm more excited to look forward, learn from this disappointment, and  come out even stronger in the future.

Happy holidays, everyone! See you in a week :)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Winter Gymnastics, Round 2

Today Robin and I did our second round of winter gymnastics -- we're trying to make it a weekly routine until the start of next season, because otherwise there's a big chance that we could both get caught pretty flatfooted when we attempt to make an early spring debut next year.

This week, we set up a grid that I first encountered when riding with Gina Miles. She had a lot of great gymnastic exercises, and this was one of my favorites: canter in over a placing rail, 9' to a cross rail oxer, a short two strides to a vertical, a short two strides to another cross rail oxer, and out over another 9' placing rail. The eventual goal is to make the cross rail oxer wide and impressive enough to make the horse jump sharply and spread across it, then have to compress to get up over the vertical, and then show some scope over the oxer again. I'm not sure we ever got the jumps quite big enough to really force Kiki or Ky to stretch and compress in the way the exercise intends, but it was still a great workout for both of them.

 (The grid from the way in -- we probably could have done a littttle better job at making it straight!)

 (Pa walks the distance in the grid - we made it a very short 2 stride at 30')

(The last oxer was not insubstantial!)

I was really thrilled with Ky: last week he felt a little flat and underwhelming going into the grid, so that I felt like I really had to egg him along every time to get him through. When I jumped bareback on Wednesday, we had sort of a light bulb moment together where I felt like, for the first time, I could really rev his engine while keeping him in a really upright balance. Today, I was able to recreate that energized canter, and he really carried me through the grid with a great sense of power. He jumped neat as a pin and made the exercise feel easy from start to finish, even when we had it at its maximum dimensions (3'3" vertical and roughly 3'3" oxers). What a champ!

Kiki found the exercise a little difficult to start, as it really tested her to be clever with her front end and adjustable in her canter -- two things that she's not a massive natural fan of! It was cool to watch her improve from start to finish. For example, in some of her early attempts at the biggest setting, she jumped in VERY boldy, and then got a bit over her shoulder at the vertical and on the way out. By the end, though, she had sharpened up impressively:

What an improvement! Robin jumped a few single fences at the end, and Kiki jumped absolutely beautifully; a great sign that the gymnastics are doing what they're supposed to be doing!

Next week both Robin and I will be away, but as of the first week of December all systems are go for Winter Gymnastics, Round 3. The first show of 2013 feels pretty far away still, but at this rate it's going to be here before we know it!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Ky and I jumped 3'6" today...

...bareback! Definitely the biggest I've ever jumped bareback, on the most diminutive steed. This pony, man. This pony.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Lesson with Kim - Position Revisited (Again.)

So if you've been worrying that the blog has been a little light on Ringo action of late, never fear! The Prowler has been alive and well, and got some well-deserved limelight today in my lesson with Kim. I admit that I've been having a few struggles with him recently, as the weather change has made him EXTREMELY VOLATILE and even spookier than normal, so I've been spending a lot more time trying to complete a sane circuit of the arena than I have actually working. Despite this somewhat remedial route that we've been on, he came out with his best hoof forward for his lesson and was a total star, even when Kim really pressed both of us to the edge of our comfort zones.

After warming up, we set to work on the canter, and especially strengthening the canter through the addition of some lateral work. Here was the process of straightening the canter to the left using a spiral in/spiral out and then a leg yield:

I'm not very happy with my hands in this video (or any of the video my dad got - ugh!!), but other than that was very pleased. As you can see, Ringo came out a little stuck in his canter and wringing his tail, which Kim believes might be linked to some arthritis in his hocks. He's currently not on any supplements whatsoever, so perhaps some Adequan is in his future.

After getting the canter established, we moved on to one of the more difficult exercises I've done with Kim: starting in counter canter, we began by leg yielding away from the wall, developing a shoulder fore feeling on the quarter line, and then half-passing back to the wall. It required a lot of fast thinking and management on my part! But Ringo was a star:

It was great to feel like, by the end of the exercise, I really had control of both sides of Ringo's body--something I normally struggle with. And the flying change at the end was one of our better efforts as a result - excellent!

After a break, we returned to the trot. I'm (as always) pretty unhappy with my sitting trot, so we started out with doing some forward/back within the gait while sitting to try to get me feeling a little more solid with my position:

Despite my stiff and whacky hands, I actually thought I did pretty well. My main weaknesses in my sitting trot are my wobbly core and my flopping ankles. Kim really got after me to try to keep as solid as possible, and while it's not totally visible, I do think I did better as a whole on that front. The road to a Charlotte Dujardin-style sitting trot is still a looooooong one from here, though (perhaps infinitely so! But I'm staying positive, haha)

After that we worked on some shoulder in before moving on to half pass at the trot. I typically struggle with this movement with my own body, especially to the left, but tonight felt pretty positive with how we did:

The right half pass felt even better. By the end, I was MASSIVELY tired. I think I need a fitness regimen!! But I was super proud of how Ringo had performed, and thankful as always for Kim's guidance. I have some good homework (position, position, position! Will I ever leave a dressage lesson without positional homework? Doubtful.) and I'm excited to keep working before my next lesson... If I can keep my spooky steed firmly within the arena!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

It's Not Called 'Gym-nice-tics'

Any Stick It! fans here? No? One of my good friends in college loved both Stick It! and Bring it On, meaning that I got to watch both films a lotttt over the past few years. I wouldn't call them my favorite movies, but the title of this post has to be one of my favorite quotes.

I digress.

(Ky looking even littler than usual with me up on the mounting block, sassing with Robin, per usual)

Today, Robin (Kiki's lessor) and I decided to do some 'gym-nice-tics' outside while we can still enjoy some decent weather and sunshine before being driven into the indoor for the next five months. I love gymnastics; they are a pretty crucial step in building my confidence, as I like being able to jump a little bigger in a controlled gymnastic environment before I have to go out and do it in a course. When I was getting ready to move up to Intermediate (many years ago, now!), I did gymnastics religiously every single week to try to push my eye up to the next level, and I'm absolutely certain that I wouldn't have had the guts to make the move if it hadn't been for all those trips through the grids.

Now that I'm getting back into jumping, I'm feeling the importance of gymnastics all over again. Whereas before I was jumping 4'3" to try to make 3'9" look smaller, now I'm jumping 3' to to 3'3" to try to make... anything seem smaller! haha.

We set up a pretty simple gymnastic today to get us into the groove of what will hopefully be a regular tradition over the winter. Today it was a trot in bounce, one stride to a vertical, one stride to an oxer. It was interesting to do the exercise with Kiki and Ky, who could not be more different in terms of jumping style.

(Good boy!! Ky doesn't care about grids)

Kiki has gotten wayyyy better at gymnastics over the years (and Robin has improved her miles beyond what I could ever do), but is still prone to getting EXTREMELY ENTHUSIASTIC on the way in, which mostly manifested itself in attempting to canter/leap the trot poles. Robin did a good job settling her, though, and she largely jumped very well.

(Kiki being very clever)

Ky, on the other hand, suffered from a very different problem. In the past few weeks I feel like his flatwork has improved in leaps and bounds in terms of a solid connection to the bridle and strength in his canter. The downside of this, however, has been that being connected in his body has required a lot more strength in the trot than just bouncing around did, meaning that now he feels a lot more conservative and sort of leaden in his trot. I am quite certain that this will get better as he gains strength, but he's in an awkward saddle point in his flatwork progress right now.

(But as you can see, he jumped out like a champ)

This weakness came strongly into play in the trot in bounce, as I felt like I had very little pushing power in the trot coming into the grid. The result was that the first two fences almost always felt like an 'oooph' level of effort. Once he got his momentum, however, he could cruise out of the line easily. I'm pretty sure the gymnastics were a great exercise for him to keep strengthening his hind end... but it didn't always feel pretty today!

(I like this pony. Just a little bit ;D)

Position-wise, I felt pretty good, though I feel I could still be deeper in my heel and flatter in my back. My release felt good, though, and I thought I did a good job staying in the middle of him. Baby steps.

Hopefully we will get a chance to ride with Kim this coming Tuesday. For one reason or another I haven't had a lesson with her at all in 3 weeks, and she hasn't seen Ky in a month, so I'm excited to show her the progress we've made!

(Wylie was a good ring crew. Thanks, Ma, for the awesome photos!)

Monday, November 5, 2012

And Then They Were Wed

About two years ago, my brother left his erstwhile home in Brooklyn, where he had been working as a gaffer and cinematographer since his graduation from film school some years previously, to move home to the farm with his girlfriend in order to try their hand at organic farming and animal husbandry. At the time, I must admit that I found the move utterly mystifying: my brother had always been the ultimate city mouse to my country mouse, and had never, as far as I could tell, given a lick of interest about the goings on at the farm. However, he and his girlfriend took to their task with hard work, dedication, and love, and have led a happy life here.

This past weekend, they celebrated their second harvest (and for the moment, their last, as they have decided to move back to the city in the new year) in grand style: by getting married on the farm in a massive ceremony that made the most of the wonderful organic produce and land that they've spent the last two years of their lives cultivating.

I was very honored to be a bridesmaid, which was very fun for me as I don't think I'd normally be cool enough to be allowed within a hundred yards of my brother and his fiancee's friends! It was a pretty unbelievable display of well-dressed and handsome hipsters; I just tried to hang on for the ride.

(One of the horse pastures was converted to the reception area)

 (We converted the round pen to a "beach" area, complete with inflatable palm trees and iced Coronas)

 (Me and the other bridesmaids and bride (and our intrepid flower girl), waiting in the warmth of the greenhouse for the outdoor ceremony to begin)

 (Me and my brother, all cleaned up and de-farmified)

 (My brother and his new wife sharing their first dance)

My major duty, besides providing hours and hours of grunt labor in the days leading up to the festivities, was to bake the wedding cake. When I'd agreed to do this several months ago, I hadn't given it much of a thought. When I assembled the ingredients, however, the gravity of attempting to bake enough cake to feed 200 people suddenly became quite clear:


Fortunately I found a very easy recipe for a pumpkin spice cake (bride's choice) with maple cinnamon frosting, and though it took me a solid hours on the day before the wedding to make it happen, I did it! And I even got word back that it didn't suck (I was too nervous to eat it myself, though now in the 48 hours since I have eaten a LARGE quantity of the leftovers and can, in fact, confirm that it was much to my taste)

 (Three hours in, deep in the trenches)

 (Frosting station)

(The finished products! Note the adorable sheep toppers)

It's a little strange now to have the wedding behind us. For the past month it has been a daily, even hourly topic of conversation. It was the best party I've ever gone to and I'm so, so happy for my brother. I'm quite certain my wedding, when and if it ever occurs, could never live up to it. But for now, it's back to normal, and back to doing some serious riding and thinking towards next season. I may have had to break out the quarter sheet for the first time this season, but I'm still very excited for the months ahead!

(There were also roman candles at 1am and a midnight food truck. It was a Brooklyn-comes-to-the-country wedding done right)
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