Sunday, November 24, 2013

Riding requires acceptance of the elements

Thursday, November 21, 2013
It's cold this morning.  The thermometer on my car says 23F while waiting to put Isaiah on the school bus.  The barn is down in a hollow causing the temperatures to dip 3-4 degrees. Obsessively I watch the numbers drop as I head down the driveway toward the barn.  19F. I think I can, I think I can......My first thought of an "out" was frozen footing.  I marched into the arena to test it.  Footing fine.  Looking up to the sky the clouds cleared a bit and the sun warmed my face.  Maybe it wouldn't be so bad after all!

Of course once I start to set up my equipment I begin to warm, knowing that riding will not be so bad.  The winds are low and being greeted by those heartwarming nickers of my girls I set to work.  Yesterday I made cookie dough for 6 different types of cookies.  The Christmas Boutique at the church is this weekend and for once I actually have time to contribute!    Today I will bake and Friday I will finish cookie prep to deliver Friday afternoon.

In spite of the cold temperature I had a delightful ride.  I was sure to warm up Nikki carefully on the lunge allowing her to really stretch and get her muscles moving and warm.  The sun felt warm and the breeze was light so I peeled off my coat before mounting.  I have never really been able to ride in a winter coat, plus I begin to sweat after just a few minutes in the saddle.  But that was always in an indoor school.  When I was riding with jess she always scolded me as I peeled the layers during my ride, then thrust my coat at me once I dismounted so that I would not "catch a chill".  I always marveled at her ability to ride in snow pants and parka.  For me, it is impossible to feel the horse when I am too bulked up in clothing.  But when you are JR and ride as though you are one with the horse, the feeling is evident through all of that clothing!  I do miss that part of boarding at BHF.  Most days I ride alone with only my own motivation to train well.  Riding at BHF there was almost always someone else in the arena, and on early weekend mornings it was often just me and Jess.  She did not miss a trick so I was always on top of my game, welcoming her casual tidbits of advice as we rode side by side.  Seems like a lifetime ago....  But I have always put plenty of pressure on myself to not just succeed but excel.  Now that I am riding more that feeling is returning and I love it!

During my ride the fox hunting ladies came down the driveway.  This was later than their usual preparation time to leave, and the wrong day.  My car was parked in a spot not amenable to J hitching up her trailer, but they were at the barn to trace clip their horses and pull manes (Nikki needs to have hers done again....maybe I can sneak her onto the cross ties!)  Walking into the barn I laughed....they picked the coldest morning thus far to perform their clipping!  But they were riding as guests with the Radnor Hunt on Saturday, so their boys were to be spiffy and ready!

Friday, November 22, 2013
I woke to rain hitting the skylights in my bathroom...not the start I was looking for since I wanted to ride!  Optimistically dressing to ride, I drove Isaiah to his school bus stop.  The rain stopped and started with temperatures in the low 40's which seemed somewhat chilly for Nikki to get wet.  I too, need to invest in good, full wet weather gear, since there are no dressage barns with indoors closer than 45 minutes away from my house. Arriving at the barn the rain had stopped once again, so I prepared to ride.  While tacking up Nikki it started to rain hard again, but I had already committed and figured the rain would stop, which it did.  An occasional soft drizzle did not dampen the spirits of our ride.  Nikki worked happily, but I kept making absurd accuracy errors.  Coming down the center line I thought I was turning at the normal spot, but kept narrowly missing the mounting block.  Same with when I put Nikki through the trot poles.  Very strange!

Continuing my ride I was pleased with Nikki's lightness, and did my "bow tie" exercise with some slight variations.  I honestly don't remember if I created this exercise or just modified it.  On the long side I ride straight, then perform a volte back to the track.  Going straight for 10 trot sides I do the volte back.  Sometimes instead of straight back to the track I leg yield.  Other times I ask for canter transition at the track, do another 10 meter half circle back to the track and either do a simple change, counter canter or back to trot.

Nikki finished nicely with a good stretchy trot in both directions.  Gathering my lunging equipment I noticed that the mounting block had been moved from the grassy edge of the arena to the track.  I was not crazy!  The arena had been slightly cut off, affecting my space coming down the centerline onto the track as well as my turn after trot poles.  I promptly moved it back....

Back to the cookies....successfully completed and dropped off at church social hall.

Saturday, November 23, 2013
A chilly start with winds expected to pick up by late morning.  But Sunday would bring 35 mile an hour winds and a high of 25F, so that was the day slated for no riding!  I like to ride Nikki 3-4 days in a row hen give her a day off.  That seems to keep her happy and in good work.  Today is day 4, so the timing is right!
Another lovely ride.  Nikki was light in the bridle and worked nicely through lateral work.  The mornings are so peaceful, so I am able to focus.  Today Nikki's canter work felt rushed to me so I asked for transitions on the 20m circle to adjust balance.  The arena had been dragged so the entire space was empty, enabling me to work through a variety of figures.

Checking my time (Isaiah's riding lesson at 10) I decided to work with Suki in hand behind the barn so that I would have time to do a full moisturizing session. That is especially crucial  in the cold weather, most importantly her neck and face.  Heavy blankets keep the skin on her back moist.  I think she really needed a lunging session, because she seemed a little stiff to me.  Moving on to stretches instead, I could see her loosen up a bit.

Isaiah is progressing nicely in his lessons and has now moved from 30 to 45 minute lesson.  The wind had picked up a bit for his ride, so we need to make some clothing adjustments for next week!

I went back to Suki and Nikki around 4 PM to add a layer for the cold night ahead and a Sunday of fierce wind and low day time temperatures.  The fox hunting ladies returned from their day with the Radnor Hunt, having been gone since 7:30 in the morning.  I give them credit!  J is in her 70's, and Reggie a bit younger.  But they go twice a week, enjoying every moment.  Sometimes it is a bit of a comedy routine to watch them hitch up the gooseneck, or back it in, but I mean that with full respect....

Sunday, November 24, 2013
As I write this morning it is 6 AM.  The wind is whipping around the corners of the house as I sit in the family room by the fire.  Quiet and peaceful.  No riding this morning so I will pick up my knitting to work on the scarves that I will give to Isaiah's teachers as Christmas gifts.  How I cherish the early morning hours and the silence.  Alone with my thoughts.  Well, Ripley has gone back up to join my husband in bed and the cats have settled in spots near the fire......

My only plan for going to the barn today was to check the girls to be sure they were warm enough and give them kisses and treats.

Peacefully they grazed, having finished the big piles of hay placed in their field this morning.  It was almost 3:00 but I decided not to bring them in.  A quick check to make sure they were warm enough, plus some hugs and treats!  They are both wearing Rambo heavy blankets with a medium sheet on top!
My beautiful girls......

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Snowy, blowy ride

There was a time when I would ride in whatever weather condition presented itself providing there was no danger, of course.  Two to three hour "road hacks" were not uncommon when I was a working student for Carol Blackman, a British event rider who competed for Bermuda, but trained in New Jersey.  In early spring as the winter temperatures warmed the air it also softened the ground rendering the paths around the fields of the surrounding farms off limits.  This left the rural roads of the Amwell Valley as our conditioning grounds for the event horses.  My first experience with one of Carl's hacks came on Day 3 of my time with her.  She told me to tack up Clay and we would go for a hack.  My vision of a hack was that of a casual ride through the countryside with some lovely trots and canters up and down the hills.  Aaah, but I was mistaken....after a warm up at the walk, off we went!  Trotting and cantering intervals until my legs throbbed with fatigue.  At one point carol started a conversation as we were trotting along and I thought "Good Lord, she wants me to talk too?" The next morning I was say the least!  But as time moved on we rode in whatever the weather presented to us.  It was a grand time and Carol was a phenomenal mentor and trainer.

So today, Tuesday, November 12 as the snow swirled and the wind blew, I knew that I needed to put on my big girl panties and ride.   After all, I just KNEW that Louise would not let a little snow get in her way!  (WHAT is it about those British women??) By the way, she and her student watched a DVD instead of riding during the yucky weather......just saying!  There is a Christmas book about The Little Engine that could, called "The Snowy, Blowy Christmas".  I think I can, I think I can....
Cecil knows how to spend a cold morning!

Nikki was a little nervous...or maybe it was me and she sensed it.  The wind blew and it was damp and cold.  I did 10 meter figure eights to get her focused, and we both relaxed.  We did a bit of leg yield, some shoulder in and I finished with a stretchy trot.  Proud of our ride Nikki and I walked into the barn feeling pretty good about the day!

By the time we finished I felt as though Suki would benefit from a brief lunge.  She too was a bit up so the work was simply transitions to maintain focus.  The wind had picked up even more, but held it together....sort of.  When I turned them out they galloped away, ready for their day.  I can't wait to sit on Suki again. I know that there will will be tears as  swing my leg over her back, but they will be tears of joy.   I can almost feel her floaty trot when I close my eyes....

Thursday, November 14, 2013
Okay, I admit it....I love the cold weather.  Now that I am riding outside all the time I feel so invigorated!  My husband reminds me that when the temperature is 15F I may not be so cheery....(pessimist!)
Such a lovely ride today!  The fox hunting ladies were a day late because of the weather but it is fun to have company early in the morning.  Today my right shoulder in and leg yield off right leg were better than the left?  Hmmm.  I don't know why. Nikki was delightful and had lovely lift over the trot poles!

Today I went into my local wine store and a woman looked at me in my riding clothes and smiled, then cast her eyes down.  "I'm sorry", she said.  "I just had to have my horse put down yesterday."  She had seen my riding clothes and all of the memories came flooding back.  Suddenly I realized that she looked familiar, so I asked her if she had boarded at Pink Star/Passport.  Indeed she had.  I told her that I was Suki's mom.  She had been boarding her horse Jazzy at Pink Star at the time of the fire, but she had been outside at the time of the fire.  We talked about how it was probably fate that we saw one another that day.  Kim needed to talk to someone who understood exactly what she was feeling....the loss of a long time friend.  Jazzy was 32 and Kim had had the mare since she was 11.  The human horse bond is something that is difficult to explain to those outside the fold.  It is a love like no other.  Yes, we eventually stop crying for our loss, but that emptiness never really goes away completely.  Last weekend when I uncovered a blanket of Jenny's that was covered in her gray hair, I clutched it to my face and unabashedly shed tears just thinking about her.  Our equine companions are so much more than riding partners.  Kim saw a sign in her mare that it was time...just as I saw that sign in Suki that said she wanted to live.  We know our horses.  Our hearts beat together.  It is an unbreakable bond, even when it is time to let them go.  Thank you, Kim for reminding me once again how precious our time with our horses is.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Suki and Nikki working well, and a visit from the dentist

The weather has been crazy in Berks County.  One minute temperatures are a balmy 70F, followed by a plummeting to the 20's F at night.  All of this, of course brings on what I refer to as the "blanket dance" requiring my presence at the barn both morning and evening at times.  As I write this I am sitting in my favorite big chair in my library looking out at the mountains from my hillside perch.  The mountains almost seem brooding, black against a graying sky, yellow-leafed trees splashed in front.  I have taken up residence in this chair for an hour, a peaceful time for me before I have to go down to the bus stop to meet Isaiah.

Friday we had a brief monsoon so all I did was groom the girls.  As I ran from my car to the barn in the rain and wind the memory of Radnor, "the year of the monsoon" came rushing back.  I was wearing the anorak that I had purchased at the event to protect me from the driving rain  and wind.  Inside the horses were cozy, munching on hay and listening to the sound of the rain on the roof.

Saturday, November 2, 2013
Wow.  It is so hard to believe that it is already November.  Halloween is behind us and we look forward to Thanksgiving in the US.  I ignore the Christmas decorations in the stores as I remove my Halloween decorations but keep pumpkins and leaves as a nod to autumn.  Added to this are Thanksgiving decorations....a few turkeys here and there.

Nikki is definitely showing signs that her teeth need to be done so the dentist is coming on Tuesday.  It's funny she does this twisty thing with her head on the lunge and when you lead her with the bridle, almost like she is putting her back teeth on the bit.  It affects her riding only in that she starts off a bit fussy in the bridle, and I don't push the issue when I suspect it is her teeth.  Suki will be checked also, as we are at the six month mark.  The last time Sean did their teeth Suki was really good and Nikki was really bad, trying to sit down in her stall.  That caught me off guard because I really expected Suki to be the nervous one.

In spite of that we did have a very nice ride, but I kept it simple and did not do any collection work.  Instead we did large figures at the rising trot, just letting her stretch over her back and respond to my leg as we moved laterally.  Time constraints due to Isaiah's riding lesson kept me from working Suki so she had a thorough grooming/spa day and some stretching exercises.  Isaiah did his first leg yield today!

Sunday, November 3, 2013
If I could describe the perfect autumn day, then today would fit the bill.  The clocks were turned back so I arrived at the barn at 7 AM.  The fall colors are at their best right now against a clear blue sky with a crisp breeze (okay, wind).  While I had some misgivings about the increasingly strong wind and the occasional 40 mph wind gusts I decided to embrace the beautiful day and ride.  I envied the fox hunting ladies for their perfect day traversing the hills of Chester County.  With the earlier sunrise I was at the barn by 7:15.  Getting out of my carI lifted my head and closed my eyes.  What a glorious day!  Many times I feel that we overlook the beautiful gifts that we experience daily.  The fox hunting ladies were already there preparing for there daybut I was still greeted by the welcoming nickering of my horses.  Warms the heart doesn't it?

Nikki marched out to the arena beside me, ears pricked as the wind howled around us.  She started to call to Suki once but I growled to her and she re-focused.  Honestly, I expected an explosive pre-ride lunge.  While she was energetic and nicely forward all, Nikki was listening to me at all times with an ear cocked in my direction.  My ride was just lovely.  I kept it short because of my concern about her teeth.  She was happy and forward super responsive off my leg and eager to please.  This time I took advantage of the eagerness and asked for lengthenings at the trot and canter.  I felt a lift in Nikki's gaits that felt as though we were floating.  The cold air on my face and whistling in my ears, with leaves falling around us.....PERFECT!

Now, I know better than to take Suki out into THAT scenario.  Instead I worked her in hand in the paddock behind the barn.  I probably should have put the surcingle and bridle on as part of a consistent training uniform, but simply didn't think of it at the time.  There were plenty of distractions out there....the horses from the other pastures came to the gates to watch!  This was good for Suki though and while I had some difficulty getting her to piaffe she did perform some passage for me.  There may have been some stiffness which is why I like to lunge her forward prior to the more collected work.  But in spite of the distractions I was pleased with the work.  Suki, naturally tapped my pocket for her sugar.  Nikki does it as soon as I dismount and am running up the stirrups!

After a grooming and moisturizing both girls were ready to go out, galloping away with delight!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Dentist day!  When Sean McCarthy, equine dentist, worked on Suki and Nikki in April I had been more concerned that Suki would freak out, because Nikki just takes all of those experiences in stride.    Suki was nervous but well behaved on that visit while Nikki tried to sit down and leap forward at varying intervals.  I knew that Nikki needed to have work done because of the way she was grinding on the bit in the back of her mouth.  Suki likely did not have to be done but it had been six months so she was to be checked anyway.

Suki was to go first because once she gets wind of anything suspicious she becomes impossible to catch in her stall!  I'm sure she was already suspicious having been brought in from the pasture only a couple of hours after going out!  Once again she was a little nervous but Sean is extremely patient and kind, taking his time and making the horses comfortable.  Suki did not need to have any work done but it was a great experience for her.

On to Nikki!  She was very nervous, but behaved much better this time.  The front of her mouth was fine but the back had sharp edges as I had thought.  Sean would slip the tools in her mouth (he uses a speculum but does not sedate) and let it sit there until Nikki relaxed, then proceed.  He agreed she is definitely an every six month girl!  He recommended that I see how she is on Wednesday before proceeding to ride, just in case she had any soreness.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013
I tacked up Nikki to lunge but used the saddle instead of the surcingle.  Leading her out to the arena she stretched her neck preparing to press the bit on the back of her mouth.  Then she stopped an looked at me like "hmm.  it doesn't feel so bad!"  We continued our walk to the arena happily.  Nikki appeared to be fine on the lunge so I hopped on for a couple of minutes to see how she felt in my hands.  Her response was soft and she seemed very comfortable in her mouth.  After one trot on a 20m circle I dismounted, relieved that she was a happy girl.

Suki tried to jig on the way out to the arena, but I put a firm stop to that.  She was ready to work!  I love the way she seems to be marching confidently toward the arena, obviously enjoying the work and focus.  Nicely forward in all the gates I was most pleased with her ground covering, sweeping walk with her neck stretched.  This is what had coined her the nickname "super model" years ago.  I smiled as I watched her and it seemed as though she was smiling too.