Home Again

Thursday was my first chance to get out to the barn, and I had thought I would definitely ride that day - first day seeing my horse in almost two weeks.

BUT.

I'm not usually one to take photos from the air, but this thunderstorm/heavy rainstorm was super cool.
I was more jet lagged than I've ever been in my life.  I've done US to Europe and back a couple times, and I've done short trips to California before, but I've never gotten fully acclimated to Pacific time and then came back East.  Woof.  I actually took a nap over my lunch break because I felt like I couldn't go on #perksofworkingfromhome

This dog was pretty stoked about a midday nap.

So instead of trying to ride in that state, I went out to feed Connor cookies and got a bunch of stuff sorted at the barn that needed doing: cleaned out my tack locker, gave the horse a bath, brought out his SmartPaks, re-filled his fly spray, and performed some surgery on his grazing muzzle halter (more on that later).

Not the most flattering angle, but man he looks good right now.
It's good to be back!

Rocky agrees

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All Kinds of Blogger Fun in California

Hello from California!  I'm on day 7 of a 10 day work trip that had me staying this past weekend in Palo Alto with nothing to do, so I reached out to see what the Bay Area bloggers were up to and was not disappointed!

On Saturday, Kate picked me up from my hotel at 7am so we could drive to meet Megan and Nicole at a rated Dressage show a couple of hours away.

There was a PSG Haffie!

Watching Dressage is, of course, watching Dressage, but I had so much fun chatting with those three, meeting one of Megan and Kate's trainers, and marveling over how EVERYONE knows EVERYONE in California Dressage.  And I did genuinely enjoy watching the tests.  Not to knock the successes any of us have back home, but California Dressage is a whole other level of competition from what I'm used to.

Murieta Ranch snack bar wins for weirdest spelling of my name with "Jeniffet"

Kate and I left the show later than we intended, and she apologized as she asked me if I'd mind accompanying her to teach two lessons so she could make it on time.  I loved her hillside (mountainside?) barn and her lesson kids last time I saw them two years ago, and that sounded like way more fun than going back to the hotel to watch HGTV anyway, so I cheerfully tagged along.

Her new arena that was in the process of being built last time I was here!  The views are incredible when they're not socked in with fog/mist/rain, you'll just have to trust me on that.

It was sunny and hot at the Dressage show, so it was a total shock that it was 52, misty/rainy and windy at the barn.  Her kids were troopers though and no one complained.  It was especially cool to see how much three of them have grown as riders since the last lesson I saw Kate teach those three two years ago last month.  Kate's an incredible instructor and is quietly building a program that turns out kids with great fundamentals, instincts and work ethics.


After that, Kate and I went out for dinner and drinks and as she dropped me off at my hotel after 8pm, I realized we'd spent 13 hours together talking almost non-stop about tons of things, not just horses, and I think we both could have kept going.  It was so much fun, I can't even tell you.

I genuinely needed alcohol to warm up after getting chilled to the bone at the barn!

The next morning I headed out to a combined test that Kate's lesson students and David and Olivia would be competing in.  I won't spoil how they did, but it was awesome to see David and Olivia again, and it was especially cool to see how much progress Eugene and Levi have made in the year since I last saw them.
Pretty nice facility, located just a couple of miles from my company's HQ.

I knew Eugene was now a jumping machine, so that was very cool to see him eating up those Novice fences in person, but even Olivia's blog didn't prepare me for how much progress Levi has made. Last time I saw him at the winery trail ride last year, he was still trying to figure out contact and cantering.  He's made so much progress since then, and they looked great together.  Plus, he's still just so freakin' beautiful, I mean, come on, look at him:

Pictures do not do that amazing color justice, but I tried! #eyecandy
Over dinner last night, my orientation classmates were asking each other what we did all weekend - "Napa", "Half Moon Bay", "Golfing", "Beach".  Then they got to me.  "What'd you do Saturday?"  "Went to a horse show."  "How about Sunday?"  "...went to another horse show."  "Again?!"

Tough to explain to non-horse people, but I can't imagine a more perfect California weekend than the one I just had!  Thanks again for the amazing time, California bloggers!

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Four Things

I can sum up my rides right now with four things:

1. Hands forward
2. Breastbone forward
3. Slow the forelegs down, bring the hind legs toward the forelegs
4. Transitions


It's working.


We had an amazing ride in the outdoor last night - got some of our highest elevation scores ever at both the trot and canter.  It's really, really hard for me to slow the front down while I'm still breaking the pulling habit.  I'm doing a lot of self-checking by releasing often.

I'm even starting to feel it at the canter, and the net result is that his neck is much more in front of me, he's not diving down on my hands, and he's doing a whole lot less "dolphining".


After feeling stuck for a long long time, it's good to feel some changes.

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Soul Searching

One of the things CJF said to me was, basically, you're pulling a lot less but you're still pulling.  And because of both of your combined conformation, you're both pulling and you're bracing against him especially into things like transitions.

So like...it's not like I haven't heard that before.  But given that I've felt especially stuck for a long while now (THANKS SECOND LEVEL), I did some soul searching and deep thinking.


I AM pulling less.  A lot less.  There's a lot less weight in the reins now than a year ago and a year before that.  If you look at me riding, it doesn't look like I'm pulling back, because it's pretty subtle, but it's still there.  Just because I'm pulling less doesn't mean I'm still not pulling.

My torso position also continues to not help that.  I can sit upright, but I still struggle to push my breastbone forward, which leads to flagging backwards especially during downward transitions, and that plus pulling = bracing against him.  That's not helping my horse engage his hind end and elevate his front end.

Me and my sucked back torso, September 2017.  PC: Paul Wood Photography

For my first ride on my own after the CJF lesson, I focused on nothing but my position and transitions.  On the rail.  No lateral work.  Don't care where his head is or what he looks like.  It was practically a self-lunge lesson.

It took a long time, maybe 20 minutes, but then I finally felt him raise his back under me into an upward transition.  And then keep it there in a downward.  And then again.  And even though he started seeking the bit, he did not lean on me and I did not pull on him.  It was just a nice, even, elastic contact.

When I felt that, I finally realized that although EVERYONE has been telling me to do a lot of transitions with him right now, but all the transitions in the world won't help if he's not also responsible for carrying his own head. 

This is literally going backwards to go forwards, but I'm still enjoying the process.

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Lesson Wrap-Up: A Ride with CJF

I haven't posted a lot lately, partially because life's been crazy but also because I'm just getting hit over the head with second level lately.

That's a true first world problem - woe is me, riding horses is hard - so I'm not going to dwell on it, but it's definitely coloring my world right now.  I'm struggling to even put into words WHAT is so hard, because I've never been up the levels before.  But, the decision not to show this summer was a good one.  There's nothing to be gained by going out there and getting poor scores right now.

The decision to go watch Nicole compete in CrossFit Regionals last weekend, though, was a good one.

Last night I rode with CJF for the first time in maybe four years, and she gave me some really clear takeaways:
- Forward, but not too forward for his balance
- Transitions, lots of them, between gaits and in gaits*
- My position is much improved but our collective conformation (his long neck and my small person) really works against us, because the easiest thing to do is to lean back against him and pull against each other.  Same general posture, but think breastbone and hands forward.

* - She said I'm going to have to sacrifice some roundness while I develop the engine through transitions, because right now he's using his roundness against me.  He can either be round or he can sit, but he can't both be round and sit right now. 

So, we'll do that.  And we'll keep on going, and we'll see what happens.

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