May 20, 2019


Well I did it - I finally signed up for LASIK! 

Not the worst prescription, but not the best

I'm doing it Friday which means I'm going to blow up my three day weekend, but it also means I get an extra day to recover before I have to stare at a computer screen at work.  Having LASIK is going to require an extended period of time away from the barn and CrossFit, sigh.  If I had planned better I would've done it over the winter, but hey, here we are.

I've stocked up on special sweatbands that divert sweat away from your eyes, goggles that keep dust out, sun hats (no sunscreen on my face for a while which is terrifying to me since I wear it year round!) and sun glasses.  I'm going to take it easy and follow orders to a T, but I'm also going to do whatever it takes and buy whatever it takes and look as ridiculous as necessary to get back out there as soon as possible.

(Related: does anyone know what the definition of 'light exercise' is because running and CrossFit have totally blown up my level of effort calibration...)

So knowing I'm going to be out of commission next weekend, I used this past weekend to get stuff done around the house and horse:

Breaking sod to create this:

which got mulched the next day
Mulching.  So much mulching.  Also some new plantings ($1 clearance section hostas FTW) and some transplanting stuff that wasn't thriving.

Things that are totally thriving: $5 clearance section roses from three years ago

I also gave Connor a bath after a great ride on Sunday.  I've been giving him one weekly bath with soap so far this year and I'm so happy with his coat condition.  I've always been a soap minimalist, but I found one that's not super harsh, and weekly baths are really helping keep his mane/tail/feathers staining at bay:

Not super thrilled about it, but not enough of a bad boy to make his feelings known

And finally, I scraped the paint off five out of six transom windows this weekend too.  That concludes a project four years in the making that took several weekends in the end, but I couldn't be happier with the results.  #6 is intentionally not getting scraped yet pending a couple of other projects.

Gorgeous wavy leaded glass with seed-like imperfections. No one has seen them in decades before now. <3

Anyone else have a productive weekend?  Anyone have any thoughts on LASIK and horses and/or exercise?

May 9, 2019

Day 1 Mary Clinic: Firehose

[I am really struggling with how to write up this much information, so apologies if this is a little more literal and less organized than my usual writeups]

Within seconds of seeing me walk and trot Connor in my warmup, Mary called me over.

"We're going to shorten your stirrups, probably a couple of holes."

Turns out having your leg this straight:

is not productive.  She shortened them by two holes on Friday, and actually shortened them one more hole on Sunday, but we'll get to that later. 

After doing that, she said that my thigh blocks are now a problem, and I agree.  This saddle has to go - but I had been feeling that way for a while now, so no big deal.

Thigh blocks very much in my way

After she shortened my stirrups, we spent the next 20 minutes at the mounting block.  She diagnosed that I like to be tall in the saddle - too tall - and I press down into my feet, which is pushing my body up and away from him.  She helped me get into the right position, slowly.

First, she had me put my thighs over my thigh blocks, and used her hands to manipulate my torso into the right position and to help me identify and activate the right core muscles...which is not at all where I usually sit or the muscles I usually use.

I am not kidding when I say the position in the photo above feels like the fetal position to me.  It feels like my nose is in his mane and my shoulders are rounded and I'm leaning forward.  I knew when I watched the video that it would not look like that, but I was honestly shocked just how badly my brain is tricking me into thinking I'm vertical when I'm really typically behind it.

Getting me into position - "resist my push"
Next, she worked on the concept of internal pressure with me, something we had explored in the off the horse workshop a few hours before with the help of, yes, blowing up balloons.  This is something I have literally never done on a horse before.  Even when I think I'm using my core muscles, I don't have any internal pressure. 

The only time I typically have any internal pressure is when I'm weightlifting and wearing my belt, because that's exactly what the belt is there to remind you to do.  Turns out, your default state while riding should be a state of high internal pressure.  This is what a lot of trainers refer to as "use your core" but that's a lot less descriptive than a short British lady actually touching the muscles you should be activating and telling you to say "psh psh psh" while you're riding around to find the right muscles.

"Pull your tummy in to make a wall and push your guts against the wall"
After an eternity, we were finally cleared to walk in a 20m circle, where I tried to maintain the position I had at the mounting block while in motion.  She started to talk about how 80% of my leg pressure should be in my thighs and 20% should be in my feet.  I'm often the exact opposite of that, pressing hard into my feet, partially because I did have a bad "clamping with my thighs" problem at one point.   This was extremely hard for me to remember to do.

"Put more wrinkles in the front of your breeches"
She diagnosed my pulling hands - no surprise there.  She did an exercise with me where I push into her hands, but the real changes to my hands didn't come until Day 2.  But we'll get there.

Pushing on Mary's hands
After that, we went into posting trot mechanics, where she said I wasn't completing the top of my post - wasn't doing a full wipe of my windshield wiper, as she put it.  This is something Megan saw too in my lesson with her.  Just to give you an idea of how much touching is involved in a Mary clinic, this is Mary working with me on that:

After the change, my crotch was over my pommel with each rise, which is a dramatic change from where my post ended previously, but it made me feel like I was more in sync with him than normal:

Literally before - before my lesson started, before my rise changed, before she shortened my stirrups, before anything Mary

Day 2 preview - big changes in internal pressure, posting mechanic and obviously stirrup length.  Still haven't really paid attention to Connor at this point.

At the end of Day 1, I got some time in the hotel room to review my footage, where I was absolutely floored at how not-in-the-fetal-position she had me.  I also digested the internal pressure thing more, which really helped me on Day 2...

May 8, 2019

Mary Clinic: Overview

Last weekend Connor and I rode with Mary Wanless over in Ohio.  On the third day Mary walked over to Connor and said, "I'm sorry little Welshman, this is the first day of the rest of your life."

"Wait, what now?"
At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, she's not wrong: I can't overstate how helpful this clinic was.  The way I ride changed so drastically over the course of three days, even just sitting in the saddle feels different.  If you get the chance to ride with her, TAKE IT.  Yes it's a lot of money, but more than any clinician I've rode with before, she's worth every dollar.

I need to blog about these rides for the same reason I blog about all of my lessons and rides, it helps me process, but I'm struggling to do it because you just get SO much information from her!  Strangely, I'm not having any trouble running through a list of "Mary sound bites" in my head during my rides on my own, but sitting down to sift through all the info and coherently blog about it is a monumental task - all the more reason I need to do it though.

Also: there was JAN and there was HORSE WINE!
So cute, I die <3

Look for some recaps to start coming out soon!  But don't expect them quickly - they are SERIOUSLY hard to write!

May 3, 2019

Happy Birthday, Connor!

Today my little buddy is 13 years old!  I can't believe he's a teenager.  (That also means it's been 13 years this month since I graduated high school but we won't talk about that...)  We're celebrating by shipping over to the Mary Wanless clinic where we're going to hang out with Jan all weekend!

Here's one picture from every year of the little guy's life except his third year because I don't have anything from then.  Happy birthday, Con!

6 months






Five days before his thirteenth birthday

May 2, 2019

Stirrup Bar Placement, Who Knew?

My best friend Mary was a CWD saddle fitter for a few years after college - got flown to France to spend a month learning about saddle craft and fit and taking a practical test on it at the end, the whole nine yards. And she was GOOD at it too, just an amazing eye for both horse and rider movement.

All pictures are from that ride, but before she made any changes.  PC all photos in this post: my mom <3

On the way home from Land Rover, she came out to the barn with me to play with Connor.  I told her I had been fighting with my Dressage saddle for a few months, and had recently been riding without stirrups a lot because it felt better to me that way, but I couldn't articulate why.

After I warmed up she put me on a 20m circle and had me do a few laps each direction with and without my stirrups at the trot and canter.  She asked me if my trainers are constantly telling me to pull my foot back, and I said yes, all of them do (even Kate!)

"Okay, stop.  We're going to shim you."

Side note, how bout that square halt.  Also Mary is so good at wrapping polos, she makes me want to not even try it myself.

She put a fleece half pad with rear shims on him and had me get back on and do the 20m circles again.  I could not keep myself from exclaiming "HOLY COW.  It feels like the seat is an inch bigger and my stirrups are a hole longer!  What did you do?!"

I mean I knew what she did, but I wanted to know why. 

"Your saddle fits both of you great, honestly.  But the stirrup bar placement is an issue for you.  Because your thighs are so short, the stirrup bar is going to be set too far forward for you on most saddles, which is going to pull your foot forward.  I put the rear shims in to lift the back a bit which puts your leg in the right place, which is where it hangs when you ride without stirrups too."

Now, this is the same fit issue the saddle fitter identified in July, and we widened the tree to improve the situation, but clearly we didn't go far enough.

Yesterday I had my weekly lesson, and the change was incredible.  I felt like I was balanced over his back and like the saddle wasn't in my way.  I got the same feeling riding with stirrups as riding without.  My trainer said it was some of the best rhythm and relaxation she had seen out of us.

I bought a shimmable half pad of my own, a Prolite tri-pad, and I'm looking forward to playing with it tonight.

Underside shown

It's a great feeling to head into a biomechanics clinic this weekend knowing my saddle isn't in my way anymore!