July 3, 2020

Physical Therapy

Two nights ago, I had my PT friend from the gym come out to the house and actually put his hands on my problems (so far we've just video chatted about my SI).

Big-ass porch couch made an excellent outdoor work surface, and we wore masks

Within minutes, he had diagnosed me as having a crooked and twisted pelvis. Specifically, and not at all to my surprise, my right hip is forward of my left hip, and my right side of my pelvis is higher than the left side.

This has the cascading effect of:
- Shortening the right side of my torso
- Causing me to stand more heavily to the right and sit more heavily to the left
- Causing my left glute to be smaller than the right
- Causing my left foot to be flatter than the right and my left kneecap to point inward
- Causing my left knee to hurt when I put it into the saddle
- Probably causing the tightness in my right knee when I run more than a couple miles
- Causing my SI pain

Baby Jen six months into starting CrossFit in December 2011, with horrible form lol

He did a couple of exercises with me, gave me "homework" exercises, and told me not to be surprised if my right hip started hurting in a very specific way as those shortened...tendons? muscles? start to stretch back to a more normal length.

Within an hour of him leaving, not only did it hurt exactly where he said it would, the motion of walking changed. I felt like suddenly my right hip bone had more range of motion through the walk step, and was able to rotate forward/down more. It was FASCINATING, and I can't wait to see what working through these issues does for me in the saddle.

July 1, 2020

Lesson Wrap-Up: Sitting Heavy

What my arms are doing is only one part of the equation in getting me to stop pulling. My weight aid and position of my pelvis in the saddle is the other big part, and last night's lesson proved that in spades.

Connor like to be heavy on the forehand and heavy in the bridle. I also think he's learned that he can pull me out of an effective position - he tugs me forward just enough that I'm no longer really sitting in the saddle a lot. I'll be good one moment and then a few minutes later I realize he's pulled me out of alignment without me noticing.

August of 2015, he has me right where he wants me

Last night my trainer started the lesson by having me focusing on sitting deeply and solidly in the saddle. For me, that means consciously eliminating the tension I like to carry in my glutes and really SITTING.

As she was explaining why we were working on this and joking that I needed to use all of my very small amount of weight to sit in on him, I wondered out loud if riding him was easier for people heavier than me (so, everyone), because both of my trainers always look so rock solid sitting on him, in a way I don't feel like I can physically achieve. She says she does think there's something to that.

I have gained 10lbs of mostly muscle since this photo was taken in December of 2011, when I weighed 105lbs:

I'm a strong 115lbs now, and I've developed an instinct to rely first on my strength in riding and second (not at all) on my weight/seat aids.

Sometimes I catch myself wishing I was still as skinny as I was in the first photo, and then I remember all the amazing things my body can do now that it couldn't back then. Like a 200lb deadlift.

A couple of interesting things happened in this lesson. Encouraging me to sit deeply and not worry about the horse at first really made me aware of the moments when he tried to pull my torso forward, and I was able to resist him. Resisting him took every bit of my newly discovered core muscles.

And thanks to I think a combination of my saddle getting reflocked last week and Pilates, I had a newfound sensation of being able to keep my lower back flat effortlessly. If you remember, my Pilates coach at first said I had one of the most inflexible lower backs she'd ever seen, and we've spent months working on loosening my lower back, getting my lower back veterbrae to articulate more, and strengthening my abs to take some of the pressure off of the back muscles surrounding those vertebrae.

Saddle is sitting so much better on his back now, and no longer pops up in the back when I girth it

I can now do movements in Pilates that were impossible for me months ago, and I have sensations in my lower back I've never felt before, but this is the first time I've seen Pilates directly pay off in the saddle. Between my new understanding of contact and being able to feel my lower back connected to the reins, Connor had more air time in the trot than ever before. I even felt him puff out against my legs just like he did at CGPs!

My long-suffering partner, continuing to teach me things

So I've started to think that there's this multi-step cycle that's been happening in which we continually sabotage each other:

1. Connor pulled me forward into an ineffective position because my core wasn't strong enough and I don't weigh enough to resist that in a way someone heavier might naturally be able to resist it a bit more/Connor would have to work harder to dislodge them
2. Because I wasn't anchored in the saddle, my weight/seat aids were useless, and I over-used my hands.
3. Because I needed my arms to stabilize myself, I pulled
4. He pulled back
5. My inflexible and out-of-alignment lower back couldn't absorb the motion of his gaits, which meant the force of his gaits affecting my body gets transmitted straight back into his back (cue NK saying "something about the way you sit shuts this horse down")
6. Horse goes poorly, I wonder what's wrong with me
7. Cycle continues

Definitely a hashtag dressageishard moment, but also, this is why I keep on with this horse, because he IS a genuinely challenging ride, but he always immediately starts going well when I get it right. He's a good teacher even though we're bumbling our way up the levels together.

June 29, 2020

A Cautionary Tale About Truck Tires

Do you know what kind of tires are on your tow vehicle? Have you ever taken the time to read tire reviews? I have a cautionary tale of a near-mishap I had while trailering recently for you!

On my old truck, I had Michelin Defender LTX MS/2's on it, which I carefully chose after reading hundreds of reviews. They're one of the best-rated light truck tires available, and with a 70,000 mile tread warranty to boot.

Those tires were so sticky, I couldn't get that truck's backend unstuck even when I was trying to goof off in a snowy empty parking lot. It was the ultimate boring driving experience, which is what I want out of my tow vehicle.

Michelin Defender LTX MS/2 reviews on TireRack.com

My new truck came with the factory Goodyear Eagle LS-2's with only 28k miles on them and great tread depth left. Since I got it, I'd been experiencing some oversteer on fast turns on dry pavement and some skitteryness on gravel that I felt was inappropriate, but I chalked it up to me learning to drive the new truck, with its increased torque at the wheels thanks to its 8spd transmission (vs 4spd in my old truck).

They had performed great while hauling, but I hadn't yet gotten the chance to drive in heavy rain. On the last 10 minutes of my trip home from CGP's two weeks ago, a torrential rainstorm let loose. I made a slow, careful left turn at a big 4 way stop on a state highway, and felt the back end fishtail!


Luckily the trailer stayed straight while the truck shimmied, but I was so mad, especially since it let loose on such a slow, careful turn. I knew immediately it was those f****** tires. To add insult to injury, on the 55mph state highway, I couldn't go faster than 35-40 without hydroplaning, and even when the vehicle was under control my normally solid steering felt floaty and not connected to the ground.

As soon as I got home, I hopped on TireRack.com and read the reviews on the Eagles. "Plan on parking your vehicle if it rains," and "worst tires I've ever owned," and "hydroplane city" and "replaced these with only 3,000 miles on them, if that tells you how bad they are." Alrighty then, it's not just me.

Goodyear reviews - a lot less green!

I did not plan on dropping $1,000 on new tires this month, but I do NOT jack around with safety issues like that. Less than 24 hours after I fishtailed I had replaced those MF'ers with the Michelin Defender LTX MS/2's, and I have since TRIED to get skitter and oversteer out of it in the same situations, and I can't. They are just simply better tires, and the relief of knowing I can trust my tires is worth every penny.

So especially if you don't haul enough to find yourselves towing in truly adverse weather conditions often, I encourage you to read the reviews on the tires you're putting on your tow vehicle! (I highly recommend TireRack.com even if you're not buying there). It might save your life someday - this situation might have ended badly if the torrential rain had hit just a half hour earlier when I was still on the interstate.

June 23, 2020

CGP Lesson: Sunday, or Bit Trying Day

On Sunday, we picked right up with the bit following work with more emphasis on me. She wanted me to use the opening rein with my hand either at 9 or 3 on the clock face, if my body was facing 12, which put my hand at or behind my thigh.

Then she had me put my elbows just in front of my torso, saying mine always wanted to be behind or next to my torso, and if they're in front and my hands are down, I can't pull. "You've seen Charlotte Dujardin ride, right? Her elbows are so far in front of her torso. Yours are behind it."

Not me

This is when things really started to click. I finally had control of his body, AND I was very much with him and no longer pulling. In the posting trot, I felt him reach down into the contact, not in a rude, leaning way, but in a relaxed, solid, pleasant sort of way. "Did you feel that?!" GP trainer squealed, "That looks SO much better! This is what contact should feel like!"

Hot, tired pony

It was about that moment I felt him sigh and fill up underneath me, blowing out so hard he pressed my legs out. He did that one more time a few seconds later, and as he did it I looked in the mirror. He looked so free, swingy, soft and happy. A huge lightbulb clicked for me in this moment, and it was the first time in three lessons I didn't hear "You're pulling" every so often.

At this point we were still in the Universal, and CGP brought out a pile of legal bits with similar mouthpieces to try. We tried several - Herm Springer KK Ultra French Link Loose Ring, Neue Schule Turtle Top Loose Ring, NS Tranz-Angled Lozenge Loose Ring French Link, and finally the NS Turtle Tactio.

Connor's CLEAR favorite

In the rest of the loose rings, it was like I had to shout a little louder to get my point across, but in the Turtle Tactio, he felt incredibly soft and pliable. I still liked his balance with the loose lever action of the Universal better, and I asked CGP if she thought that would be a good thing, if it would help us both break the cycle of pulling, or if there was a risk I would go home and start pulling against it. She said she'd keep us in that bit for now if she saw us every day, but since she didn't, she recommended the loose ring.

And side note, on my first ride on my own last night, I started out in my old Herm Sprenger KK Loose Ring French Link and he was AWFUL awful awful. And then a barnmate just happened to have the NS Turtle Tactio in Connor's size, so I put him in that, and it was an IMMEDIATE and big improvement. So, nice to have confirmation that that purchase is a good one!

#dressagebarnthings 😂

June 22, 2020

CGP Bootcamp: Coming to Jesus

My lesson two weekends ago reframed my pulling problem in my mind and left me wanting more - so we scheduled more, immediately, for this past weekend, only this time I made it a two day/two lesson affair.

No friends = no media this time, womp womp

Where do I start? I rode a piaffe for the first time - "a real one and a good one" according to CGP, which if I didn't believe her (I do), we thankfully did it right in front of the mirror where I could see it. (She was holding the reins and the whip and I was really just along for the ride, but it was still cool to feel).

Check it out, I get to create the "piaffe" tag in Blogger for the first time

But even cooler - I finally learned what the connection SHOULD feel like. I learned what happens when the rider really isn't pulling and the horse is really reaching for the contact without being a rhombus. I have had some great rides and made a lot of progress in connection, but I've never understood it that clearly before.

I looked in the mirror when we finally got it on Sunday and joked, "We're finally a First Level pair," but it really wasn't a joke. Yes, I have my Bronze Scores at First, but we were just faking it til we made it when we earned those. What I saw in the mirror this weekend was a true First Level pair.

May 2017, faking it til we made it, PC: Paul Wood Photography

But let's start at the beginning. Saturday's lesson was one long coming-to-Jesus moment, an hour and fifteen minute long battle of wills that I was not going to lose. We weren't unfair or mean to him, but it was still a chess match I was determined to win, with CGP backing me up every step of the way.

Saturday was Connor waving our signed pact in the air - "But you promised to always hold me and I promised to always pull and then I never had to do anything hard! Why are you being like this!" - and me saying "Sorry, I tore that contract up and we have to write a new one. When I move my hand, the bit follows, and your jaw follows that, because the bit is mine to decide what to do with."

Post-Coming to Jesus lesson

We started by asking him to turn his head and follow the bit when I used an opening rein, without me dropping the contact and without him throwing his head up. First at the halt - slowly shortening one rein to ask him to bring his nose around without throwing his head up in the area while slowly lengthening/allowing with the other. Then we did that at the walk. Then when that was good, the trot.

She helped me explore the relationship between him wanting to throw his head up and me pulling, and this was also when we tried a new bit. She said since she rode him the weekend before she couldn't get past how dead his mouth felt in the straight bar Bombers (which is less a reflection of that bit than it is my hands), and she felt like he needed to change it up. Enter the Neue Schule Tutle Tactio Universal:

The little bit of (not Dressage legal) leverage got his attention. Between that and between me not letting him get away with ignoring the bit anymore, he got a little "emotional", CGP called it, "It's always the ponies that get emotional." But by the end, he was soft, pliable, and his neck was really coming up and out of his chest, with the base of it soft. When I move my hand, the bit follows, because the bit is mine and not yours.

We ended in a REALLY good place on Saturday. To be continued!