Lesson Wrap-Up: A Lesson with NK Again (Finally!)

(I'm going to break so many good blogger rules with this post, apologies in advance.  This is straight word vomit!)

One of the many reasons I moved Connor to my town is that it effectively cut my trip to see my Dressage trainer, NK, from 6 hours of roundtrip driving to 2 hours and 45 minutes of round trip driving.  I finally made it out there yesterday, and boy did she ever remind me why I like her so much.

(For a refresher, we've been working with her off and on almost since I got Connor.  She's shown Dressage through I-2, and has a teaching style I just totally click with.)

Homeslice chillin' in these weirdly outdoor crossties for this part of the country.

Going to the right at the walk, she had me look in the (SUPER HELPFUL) vertical mirrors at the end of the arena, so we could see ourselves coming down the long side.  "Look in the mirror.  Look at his left foreleg.  It's landing completely outside of his body."  If that mirror hadn't been there, and she hadn't been there, I would have told you he was straight, but my gosh was I wrong.

Going to the left, she demonstrated what was going on by standing next to the long wall facing the short side, falling against it, pushing off, falling against it, pushing off.  "You keep asking him to come through on the left side, but you never ask him to stay there with a right half halt, so you two just keep repeating the same cycle over and over without fixing it."

A weird pose.

The left continued to be a problem until she had me REALLY get after him about it.  We did "not a textbook" movement that was like extreme shoulder in.  She actually told me to think one stride of turn on the forehand as we went down the wall at a really sharp angle, in order to engage the left hind and at the same time I had to keep the right shoulder from coming out.  To accomplish this, I really had to kick him a couple of times with my left leg, something it must be obvious I don't do often.  She said, "He overreacts to your leg and whip so you try not to use them much, and he is very sensitive, but sometimes you just need to get his attention."

The amazing thing about that is, after a couple of minutes of doing this exercise and resorting to a left leg pony kick twice, he couldn't get his left hind underneath him fast enough when he so much as felt my left leg move.  NK actually laughed out loud - "Smart cookie!  He learns quick!"

Did someone say cookie?

She described him as "constantly being in a state of compressing or crunching the right side with a loose left side no matter the direction."  YES.

For me, I was interested to note that she did not get after me about the things she got after me about in my last lesson with her a year ago (chest up, pelvis position in the saddle) so I have definitely made progress on some things, but this time she got onto me about:
- Relaxing my thighs so I could allow myself to really sit on him (where have I heard that before...)
- Sitting on the left side.  Apparently I do not, and this is the reason his energy is constantly escaping out the left in both directions.  This was especially clear during some turn on the forehands.
- Giving rein aids through the elbow (the elastic joint) rather than the fingers, wrist or shoulders
- Keeping my shoulders down my back
- Moving my hip toward my elbow in downward transitions (holy mackerel did this make a difference)
- At the end, tracking right, she had me move my left rein close to his neck to get him straight.

I'm out of photos, have a bird.

HE. FELT. SO. GOOD!  I think there were moments where even she was surprised how good he was especially in the trot.  I asked her what she thought our biggest barrier to 2nd Level is and she said straightness.

It was like she took all of the things my regular trainer and I have identified but not fixed, and fixed them.  It was the best he's gone in a while after a string of consistently great rides.  If anyone can move us up the levels, it's her, and now that I only need to take a half day off work for this instead of a whole day, we're going to try to see her at least monthly.


Fatty Fat Fat

We've been at the new barn just over a month now, and somebody is...


This is his first time on pasture in almost five years, so I've been watching for it, and it's not unexpected.  As a first step, I cut his feed back as far as I can, even though I know the feed isn't what's making him fat.  He's now getting a handful of Essential K ration balancer morning and night.  The barn owners just laugh, they've never seen a horse get this little feed before.

But I know he's happy being able to graze again, I'm worried for their white vinyl fencing if they drylot him (...#ponyyoga tends to be hard on fencing when the grass is greener on the other side) and I want to let the BO's keep their normal turnout routine, so there's only one compromise:

It's the pony version of this emoji: :-|

He's worn a grazing muzzle before, briefly in September of 2012, when one person told me he was fat and I believed them despite not really believing it myself.  Trust your gut, people!

Not fat.
Fat.  But also muscles!

(But mostly fat.)
He's crafty, but he's not persistent, so while he'll try to get the muzzle off for a while, if it puts up a fight he'll (probably) leave it alone.
Also the reviews said this design could be improved by the addition of one more strap on the front, because the horse can basically pull it down and get it off otherwise, so I proactively added duct tape.  Again, he's not persistent, the grazing muzzle just needs to stand its ground for a few minutes.

My biggest concern with the grazing muzzle is the auto-waterers that are situated so that 2-3 pastures can share a single one.  The BOs swear they've had a horse with a grazing muzzle not have a problem with them, and I made sure this one fits.  Still, I'm going to leave a bucket out there for a while just in case.

(pre-duct tape, I tried a zip tie and didn't like it.)


A Big Strong Trot

During one of my rides last week, I was a little bit frustrated with both of us.  Just a smidge.  Mostly with myself, for still being crooked after all these years.  This horse doesn't WANT to pop his shoulder to the outside.  I make him do it.  Accidentally.

We had already had a long hot ride, but I was tired of picking at him and not accomplishing anything, and he probably felt the same, so I let him cruise at the trot of his choice.  He picked a big, strong, forward, consistent, metronome trot that he told me he could do all day.  The type of trot NK had us get at the beginning of our lesson with her last summer.

He still felt pretty balanced, but I guarantee my JLC-following trainer might have raised her eyebrows if she was there.  We did 20m circles and changes of rein across the diagonal in an extremely consistent strong trot, with long-ish reins and his throatlatch open, for probably 15-20 minutes.

I sat that big strong trot.  And in order to sit it, I had to engage my core.  And I noticed my reins were wide and long enough that my shoulders were open and down, so I rolled with that.  Because I wasn't doing any complicated exercises, I was able to focus on keeping my right side tall, my hands forward, and my thighs off him.

And...it was the best he was all ride.  Once I got him forward and pushing, I could supple him and put that forward to work.  And I was sitting more straight and balanced than usual after focusing on just that for 20 minutes.

At my next flat ride, my lesson with my trainer, I warmed up like that: a few quick transitions, then put him straight to work developing that same trot before I asked for anything else.  We got it, and we ended up having an awesome lesson.  It goes against what we've been doing for a while - slowing it down so he's not rushing over his chest - this may have been the wrong answer six months ago, but it feels like the right answer now.  And my trainer agrees.


Food Poisoning and a Horse Show

As Karen alluded to in her post, I came down with what I'm pretty sure was salmonella at 11pm Thursday night, when I had to be up at 4:00am for my flight home.  I was up every 20 minutes throwing up, and I couldn't even keep water down - which became a problem when I came very close to fainting getting on my connecting flight around 10am (dehydration?).

I had to go down to my hands and knees in the aisle to keep from passing out, then a flight attendant walked me all the way down the plane with my hands in her hands to put me next to the bathroom.  People thought I was afraid to fly - how embarrassing.  It was one of the worst trips home ever, for sure.

I used my helmet as a purse on the way home rather than check it. #onepersonalitem

I had my husband take a taxi the 52 miles to the airport because I wasn't sure I could drive myself home, and then I asked Karen - best blogger friend ever - if she would be willing to drive me and Connor to the horse park (thank goodness he only lives 20 minutes from the HHP now).  Yeah, I had a horse show, and yes, I seriously thought I would recover from food poisoning in 36 hours and be able to show on Saturday.

Nope.  Let's scratch Saturday.

Thanks Karen for this photo I didn't even know you took!  This is how we spent Saturday: sit in a chair for a while.  Do one thing.  Sit in a chair for a while.  Do another thing.

If I hadn't been sick, I would have had a schooling ride Friday and a test Saturday before my test on Sunday.  As it was, Sunday was my first ride in over a week.  In retrospect, I really should have scratched, but I was feeling better and it's really hard to kiss $300 goodbye and not have a single thing to show for it.

I was really hoping we could repeat our amazing 1-3 from the schooling show in May, but we did not. I was super not present in the ride, and was basically hanging on for dear life riding whatever horse I had...which was not my best horse.  Turns out just because we're progressing doesn't mean he'll go well if I don't ride at all.  Push button, this horse is not.

It wasn't all bad though.  This wasn't a judge I had ridden for before, and she gave us a lot of constructive comments.  We ended up scoring a 58% on a day when the highest tests were only in the mid 60's, and we deserved every bit of it.  Our comments were "lacking lateral suppleness and push".  Noted.

At the end of the day, I shrugged my shoulders and chalked it up as an expensive life lesson.  And immediately texted NK to start taking lessons again.


California Trip

I haven't blogged in so long, it's crazy.  It's been a long two weeks, with a trip to California, epic food poisoning, a horse show, and work work work.

Let's start with California!

I booked my flight for very early on Sunday - like had to wake up at 3:30am my time early - so I could get out there to meet some bloggers!  Olivia of DIY Horseownership was SO wonderful to put together a pretty big meetup of Bay Area bloggers.  Last year for this conference I met some bloggers and missed others, so it was awesome to meet so many at once.

Do I look sleepy?  Holy hell I was sleepy.

My ride was Pixie, a draft cross with a heart of gold.  I specifically requested something that wouldn't challenge me, going on 3 hours of sleep, and Pixie totally delivered.  It was like riding a big comfy couch.

(Emphasis on big - my hip flexors hurt for two days after this!)

I know ya'll have read recaps on this ride on several blogs by now so I'll keep it short, but the whole thing was amazing.  There is a winery with a hitching post (and trees) for horses 1.5 miles from Olivia's barn, and the trail goes through dense California forest and winds along serious hillsides with steep drops by the side of the trail!

Olivia even gave out party favors: bags of her famous homemade horse treats.
Between the wine, the friends, the amazing spread of food that magically appeared (through some amazing pre-planning by Olivia and her husband) and the horses, it was an amazing afternoon.  I felt so bad though, because I felt like I was in a lack of sleep induced fog.

I turned down rides on the other horses when we got back because last year during this conference, I had two free nights to play with ponies, and figured I could come back out and ride after I had gotten some sleep.

Unfortunately I didn't consider the fact that I actually made some connections with the guys at this conference last year and this year I got many dinner and drink invitations I couldn't turn down.  (People that could give me jobs later, industry chatter, etc) Needless to say I lived to regret the decision to turn down the mule and mustang rides, and didn't get to go back.  Thankfully, with the job I have, this is not my last trip out to Silicon Valley, and you can bet I'll make a stop there next time I'm out there.

Olivia, thank you so much for putting this together, it was amazing and an unforgettable experience.  And Nicole, Michelle, Fig, Kate, and Megan, it was AWESOME to meet all of you!  Let's do it again sometime!


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