Thursday, January 28, 2016

Braiding Practice!

These last two times at the barn,  after doing my usual chores of feeding and grooming, I began learning how to braid.  I have wanted braid for a while now, and since I got a wonderful braiding kit a couple of weeks ago, I decided to watch a few videos and practice.

The amen after being pulled.  Trust me, it was much longer before.
The first day I worked on braiding Lucky.  Lucky's mane was extremely long, wild, and unruly: it went almost all the way done her neck in some places. Before braiding her, I pulled her mane, but did not shorten it nearly enough, I soon found.  Even though it is much shorter, it is still quite long.  when I braided it, the braids ended up out being about an inch long instead of the desired bauble.  Nevertheless, they turned out better than I expected.

Round one of braiding 

The second time I worked on Moxie, the big black dressage mule.  His mane is the perfect length for braiding.  My braids were much rounder this time around, although they could have been just a bit tighter.  I'm pleased with how they turned out.

Princess Lucky poses to show off her braids.
I also went for a quick ride on Lucky.  Like I had done when I first started riding with Laura, I rode a pole exercises in which I made a figure eight with the pole at the center.  My accuracy had improved since the last time I did this exercises.  I was able to keep Lucky in between my legs,  ride her to the exact center of the pole, and turn her using my legs.  Furthermore, my upward transitions were succinct and smooth.  Before making them, I asked Lucky to be round to prepare her for a smooth transition.
Round two is much improved.

Finally, I cantered on Lucky for a few minutes.  My canter transitions come much more readily now than they did in the past, because have fill confidence that they will happen, and that they will go smoothly.  Unfortunately, I have been falling forward when Lucky stops.  I really need to remember to keep my legs on, especially when riding without stirrups, so I can prevent this from happening.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Big Changes

 I've been busy and have had a lot of changes in my life.  Most importantly,  I will be moving to Stockholm, Sweden in the June–back to the country where my mom is from.  For a while, my parents have wanted to move back to Sweden, and now it will actually happen.  I will be much closer to my grandmother and my uncle.  Also, there will be many opportunities.  High schools there are more like junior colleges or trade schools, and there are several horse high schools where one can get a certificate in horse care.  As someone who wants to work with horses, this will be a great and exciting opportunity.  I will miss the friends that I have here, but I'm looking forward to this new adventure.

 I have finished the first week of 30 Day Horse Rider Workout that I mentioned earlier.  Mostly, it has included squats, crunches, and other basic exercise, increasing the repetitions as the week progressed.  Week two will include jogging. Physical fitness is challenging,  but it has been satisfying to feel the soreness in muscles every evening.
What Dean said, ha ha. I'm still motivated though.

Anyways, this is just a short little update.  Hopefully next week I can get back in the swing of things!

Friday, January 8, 2016

30 Day Rider Fitness Challenge

This year, I have decided that I really want to work on my physical fitness.  Particularly,  I want to increase my core strength, as my arms have stayed strong through all the work at I have done at the barn.   My plan has been to go running and to work on crunches, squats, push-ups, and other exercise that I have found in a Workout called the 7 Minute Workout(look it up).  While browsing the internet,  however, I found another exercise program that I want to try out.

 It is called the 30 Day Rider Fitness Challenge, and as the name suggests, is geared towards riders.  However,  a horse is not necessary for the challenge, so I will not have to be at the barn every day.   The workouts target muscles groups necessary for stability and balance in the saddle.  The goal of the challenge is to work on strengthening those muscle groups so the time spent in the saddle can be focused on working on the rider's technique, rather than simply trying to stay balanced.  No-stirrup work has certainly helped me with this, but I noticed that I lost my balance a few times during the canter.  I need to improve my core strength to help hold me in position.

The Challenge has many different kinds of exercises done each day, and it is recommended that they are down at least six days a week.  I plan to utilize this Challenge and give it a try.  Once a week, I'll post an update on how my Challenge is going, so if I do not get time in the saddle because of the weather, I'll at least have something to write about.  I'll plan on starting after the weekend.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Canter Revelations

Monday,  I kicked off the New Year with a a great first ride of the year.  I rode Lucky stirrup-less in a group listen with one other women, Loni.  This was the first time riding without stirrups outside of the round pen; I now had complete control over Lucky.  Additionally, it was the longest I had spent riding without stirrups(if you don't count a couple bareback rides in 2014).  I lunged Lucky for a few minutes before to let her buck and expend a little energy.  She actually stretched and came round for most of the time, which was unusual for her and very satisfying.

During the lesson,  Laura taught about controlling the horse's rhythm.  As riders, it is our responsibility to set the rhythm we want at all gaits, rather than letting the horse meander or rush off at the pace they desire.  Loni and I started by asking for different lengths of walk: collected, medium, extended.  The goal was to do as little as possible, and to ideally ask for the change of pace with just a change in our hips or a light touch of the calf.  Though Lucky was fresh and fairly forward,  she prefers to move in a short, slow walk.  Every time I ride her,  I usually have to remind her to pick up the pace often throughout the ride.   Furthermore,  with her there is a fine line between an lengthened walk and a trot.  I had to experiment with varying degrees of pressure.   For a while,  I worked in the walk,  shifting from collected, medium, and lengthened "gears."

My first between-the-ears shot!
I then did the same in the posting trot.  My thighs burned after a while, but I feel much stronger than I was in November, and I could hold the posting trot for much longer without getting tired than I could before.

My position has improved so much since last year! Look at my leg!

The most successful part, however, was the canter.  As I stated on my blog a while ago, I've been having difficulties riding with the motion of the canter.  However, when reading an article about the sitting trot recently,  I had a revelation.  The article said to move your hips with the motion of the horse's hips.  Previously,  I had thought that I had to move my hips forward when the horse tipped forward.  Upon reading this article, I realized that I had had it all wrong.  My hips had to move with the horse's.  Therefore,  when the horses pelvis tucked under, I and to allow my pelvis to tuck under.
Let's critique my position in these two pictures from May 2015 and January 2016, respectively.  I realize that they are in different gaits and that Lucky is facing different directions, and I appear to be on a bending line in the first, but I think that they really illustrate the improvement of my position.  In the first, my leg has crept up and is tight, there is a sway in my back(maybe it's just the angle that makes it look deep, but I still think it is due to a fault in my position),  my wrists are not straight, and my hands are all over the place(it looks like I'm steering with my hands).  In the second, my leg is supple and relaxed(but not floppy),  my ankle is stretched down, and my hands are together.  It appears as if I am leaning back ever so slightly(or maybe it's just me), but I otherwise think my position is close to correct.  I'm open to any thoughts and suggestions from readers as well! Respectful and constructive critiquing from my readers is always welcome!

Armed with this new piece of information,  I felt ready to canter without stirrups.  Loni cantered in front of me to help me to asked Lucky to canter.  At first, I overthought things,  and became tense like usual.  Then I got a few strides, but accidentally forgot to steer.  However, that sort success gave me the confidence and belief I needed to canter.  On my own, I asked for the canter, fully believing that it would happen, and Lucky bounded into canter.  Previously, I had expected cantering without stirrups to be more difficult than cantering with stirrups.  Though I didn't give it much thought during the ride,  I and imagine before that I would have to grab mane to balance myself.  I could not have been more wrong.  In fact, I found cantering without stirrups much easier than cantering without them.  The absence of stirrups seemed to place my legs in just the right position, and my hips swayed with the motion of the canter.  It was probably the nicest cantering!  I was able to go around the entire arena without straying from the path.

I did have a few slip-ups where I lost my balance, causing her to fall out of canter, but those did not mar the success of the canter.  One time, I believe I took my leg off.  Since I didn't have stirrups to hold me, I fell onto her neck when she stopped, and decided to let myself slip off and land on my feet.  It wasn't falling off–she was at a complete stand still,  and I voluntarily disembarked rather than trying to scramble up her neck.  I led her to the mounting block, remounted, and cantered one last time.  This time, I cantered once around the ring then asked her to stop.

 Afterward, I rode her around in the walk for at least 20 more minutes before putting her away.  It will be raining for the rest of the week, so I'm happy I had this one great ride this week.  I cannot wait to canter again.  The thrill of cantering correctly can become addicting!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Welcome, 2016!

Happy New Year everyone!  I hope you all had a fabulous holiday season; I had a great one and spent a lot of time playing board games with my brothers.  Now that the holidays are over and a new year has begun,  my brief hiatus from riding and blogging should be over, so I can start getting back on track.  Last year brought so many changes and new experiences, and I hope 2016 does as well!

In January of 2015,  I was offered a working student position Laura Hermanson, a professional dressage rider who specializes in riding and training mules.  She is the first person to ever ride a mule in the US Dressage Finals, which she did in 2014.  Before riding with her, I didn't know much about mules at all.
Myself and one of Laura's mules, Moxie.

I also didn't know much about riding and training.  At the beginning of last year, I was still very much a beginner.  I was still piecing together the most basic elements of riding, and my riding and handling style were uncoordinated.  I'm still not completely fluid in my aids, but training with Laura has opened a completely new dimension to riding: communication and training.  With her,  I learned how to better communicate and build a relationship with a horse, and how to better understand the nuances of a horse's behavior.  I learned that horses are aware of the subtle, almost imperceptible changes in our bodies and energy,  and was taught how to channel that energy and how to move my body in ways that influence the horses.  Furthermore, I learned how to teach and train a horse.  Before this year,  I was a rider who would simply hop on and go.  This year, I learned how to work with a horse on the ground to teach them and to set them up for success under saddle.  By lungeing a horse before riding, one can watch how the horse moves and ask them to become round.  Then, when I finally mounted, the horse would already be warmed up and would have already stretched and become round.

May 2015–I'll get another to compare later on!

In addition to learning so much, I have also experienced many new things.  In March, I rode a donkey named Buddy, which was an interesting experience.  Donkeys are kind, gentle creatures,  but they also do not like to work harder than necessary, so many do not go faster than a jog.

In April, I rode a mule in a western trail clinic(part 2).  Before then, I had only ridden western a handful of times, and riding a mule was a completely new experience.  I learned so much in that clinic.   I continued riding western over the summer.

Finally, in October I rode a mule named Ruby in western pleasure and trail at my first show.  By then, my aids were a bit more refined, and I had learned to move a horse more with my legs and less with my hands.  The show was an extraordinary experience.

This year, I hope to continue refining and honing my skills.  In the spring, I want to ride in a few hunter classes at another mule show, so I'll be working on no-stirrup work to gain a more solid position.  I hope this new year brings many more experiences and successes for myself and all my readers!