Reaching new heights- in dressage!

I know, it’s actually laughable given how rough our past few engagements with lateral work were in my recent few blog entries, but even after his weekend of feeling under the weather Oats was GOOD!

Each week, we start off lateral work with more than a little angst…It’s sometimes like 10 minutes of pushing and shoving and just ‘arghhhh’ and then Oats softens, and agrees, and everything is beautiful…Until we take a break and try again and then it’s like WWIII.

This week, I wasn’t expecting anything of beauty. He had a hard weekend with a reaction from a vaccine, was stiff, unbalanced and generally feeling kind of lousy. He couldn’t bend, couldn’t hold the canter, nothing. Apparently a few other horses who got the same vaccine had a similar reaction, particularly at the canter. Poor buddy!

Anyways, we went into leg yield and he was – yielding-? Soft? Only a little bit argumentative? We changed rein, we tried it at the trot and oh man, he was GETTING IT! I know I say each week ‘best leg yield yet!!’ or haunches-in or whatever- and it’s true. We are getting more of Oats’ best work yet, each week. This people, is what learning feels like. Mostly ugly and then these awesome breakthrough moments.

So, we are going to try for some more advanced movements (not perfecting them by any means), just playing around with them so nobody feels frustrated or out of their depth. He is getting more and more confirmed with the haunches-in movements, I am so happy with that!

Go Oats Go!!!

As a treat for him, after a fairly intensive walk/trot haunches in/leg yielding lesson we trotted on a loose rein and he gave me a great, big trot and then I did some loose canter with wide reins, and just encouraged him to flow freely. His gaits felt really good, he felt floaty and awesome. I like this new pony.

A not-so-progress weekend

We all have these I guess. The grey days, in a funk, blah rides. Though check out this pic- even on his most blah days, Oats is a cutie! Taken on Saturday:

Mr. Handsome- photo credit to Hannah R.

Mr. Handsome- photo credit to Hannah R.

Also, Oats got his vaccinations on Friday and he felt really ‘off’ on Saturday and Sunday. Saturday, his canter felt terrible. He was scrambling, couldn’t keep the gait, felt like he had about 10 legs going at once, and was very unbalanced. I was like WTF? After our fabulous rides this past week, I was quite disappointed to have such a lousy ride…

Then I clued in that he most likely was feeling sore and out of it. Fair enough, Oats.

I let him graze for about an hour in the outdoor arena while I worked on it, digging up grass clumps. I do think he had the better part of the deal though!

I went for a fairly good 15k run with my husband on Saturday after I finished riding and working in the outdoor. In retrospect  I was running on legs that were already feeling tired. I was complaining on Friday that I felt tired, really tired. Like, I came home and lay down- on a Friday?! I was THAT tired, I guess.

So, running on Saturday after riding and digging in the arena was probably a bit much but it felt pretty good. AND I saw a seagull fish a crab out of the ocean and start smacking it around. The poor crab didn’t stand a chance, even when the seagull dropped it a few times!

Sunday, I tried again with Oats and he still felt very ‘eh’. His canter was improved, but his trot got worse. He could.not.bend.right. for the life of him! I tried everything, and he cranked his leaning to the left.

It was frustrating…And yet again, I figured it was stiffness due to the vaccination. I guess it was just hitting him harder than usual? So, two days of me feeling like I don’t know how to ride my pony, and don’t know how to run anymore either. Positive progress? It’s a bit of a game of snakes and ladders, haha!

Oats had Monday off, and so I did I. We normally take that day off to decompress, and give he and I, a fresh start to the week. We have our dressage lesson today and after the weekend, I am not sure what I’m going to be getting from him…

Adding to the confidence bucket

Last week I mentioned that I was starting to jump a bit higher (2’3”-2’6”) and it  both scared and excited me.

From the summer- yes we can!

Every week I go through the same internal struggle. I get to my lesson and start dragging my feet about jumping. I say I don’t want to jump that high (height seems to always be determined by how high the lesson before me was jumping, ha).

And then, before I know it, we’re jumping that high and doing COMPLETELY fine!

Yesterday, we even worked over the dreaded gymnastics, x-rail bounce to a one-stride big x-rail, and he was perfect! I HATE gymnastics- normally! Ha, and even the last one-stride x-rail was on the larger side, I didn’t even really notice. It’s funny, as soon as it’s an x-rail, the height doesn’t matter to me. It’s *just* an x-rail, blahhhh, nothing exciting happening here. Turn it into a vertical and oh boy, heart attack time! Even if they are the same height! I am a strange jumper sometimes, I’m sure Oats feels that way.

Not jumping ahead: Exhibit B. Photo courtesy of Christi.

Not jumping ahead: Exhibit B. Photo courtesy of Christi.

So, I proclaimed my desire to only jump small fences, and slowly they crept up, and…Nothing happened. He was perfect, the course rode well, the gymnastics remained standing and we aced all of it.

Do I think every lesson will go this smoothly? Nope! But we’re starting to really get somewhere I think. I am feeling a bit ‘bored’ even by smaller fences (which is a great thing, I’d rather be a bit bored than feel like my heart is in my throat), and I’m really enjoying this feeling of ‘I’ve got this’ rather than a worry/panic sensation heading to my first fence.

Despite the fact that every week is a struggle, mentally, to ‘want’ to jump- when I do get out there, it’s not a big deal. In fact, I didn’t even really have a big adrenaline rush yesterday. I felt good, but not like …OHMIGOSH I survived! It just felt good, competent, smooth.

(though I do sometimes miss that adrenaline rush, I think that’s why I could never hang up my boots for jumping altogether. Dressage just isn’t the same. I need/crave/desire that rush).

I’m very pleased with Oats’ and his pleasant, ‘can-do’ attitude these days. Maybe one day I’ll even get it together enough to oh, actually ride him through a flying lead change instead of getting drawn to his neck? Hmm….I’m trying!

With great challenge comes great rewards

That’s what I am telling myself when I practice lateral work with Mr. Oats these days…

A few weeks ago we had a tough lateral work session that I blogged about- he was extremely resistant, difficult and rude going to the left (the rein we started out on) and softened and was as beautiful as a fairy pony on the right! Floaty, soft, just overall lovely.

So yesterday I told Karen that I remembered what rein we started out on, and we went forward to our experiment. Was it the rein that mattered, or just the order of what side we start on?

And I learned what it really was pretty much instantly.

It doesn’t matter what rein. It is the beginning of the lateral work that is the issue.

We started off on the right, doing a sort of leg-yield off a circle and MAN it was ROUGH ROUGH ROUGH. Oats was in fine jackass form, pushing, shoving, throwing his head up, resistant, rude, pushy, ohhhh man it was ugly. 

I was panting and basically cursing and was like WTF? Pony?! Can’t we be friends here?? He was in rare form, his eyes were rolling, his ears were pinned, he was primed for a fight and pissed off!! We grudgingly worked through it, lots of stops and starts, moving sideways, backwards, into the wall, into the corner, backwards again…

And I had to have it out with him. And boy, did I.

Until…He started softening, we moved on the other rein, and he was so much better! He had a walk break that he really appreciated, and we moved it up to the trot. I did not expect much at the trot, and he surprised me- he was even trying some steps at the trot! Even after his little temper tantrum at the walk.

After all that ‘sturm und drang’ he was getting it. We moved up to a bit of canter (no lateral work, just canter) and it was pretty good!

It was a ‘two beer’ night, as Karen said. Hahah and man, was it ever!

It can be very difficult to measure progress, but with each lesson (and struggle) we’re getting some of the best steps we’ve ever gotten- and this is EACH lesson. So, while it feels horrendously ugly and a battle in the beginning, we are really starting to break through his mental resistance and get somewhere.

Good Oats. He is not an easy pony to ride, but with great challenge comes great reward.

Race Recap: Sooke River 10k- and series finale!

This one came hot off the heels of the Merville 15k that I wrote about last week, so I spent a lot of the past week cooling off and not really training. I was hoping to save my poor legs and my wonky knee and just see how Sooke went. We aren’t used to running back-to-backs so I wasn’t sure how things were going to go…

Series finale Sooke 10k

Series finale Sooke 10k

I bought new run shorts (Underarmour) and a summer shirt to race in and boy I am glad I did…it was HOT! A side note about shorts here: I hate them. Hate them! Even when I asked for the best shorts that DO NOT ride up, I ended up getting some crotch chafing that made riding Oats later in the day a mildly unpleasant experience..gRRRRRR…back to the drawing board of maybe running in basketball shorts again!

Friends run together!

Friends run together!

We got to park close to the venue, which is awesome and I really liked. The start was good, and the turnout a bit smaller, as it turns out the Vancouver Sun Run was the same day, so a lot of the better runners were trying their luck out there. I parked myself close to the start because I was darned if I was going to get beat by 1 second bib timing AGAIN!  There is a method to my madness…I wouldn’t have done that if I didn’t have a good feeling about the race…

It was NOT an easy run.

I started out fast. I usually start pretty slowly, and to me it felt like I was tearing it up! At a dead run! (not really, but you know, fast). I kept it up and had the dawning realization that to get the time I wanted- the vaunted, unheard of speedy time of oh, 47:50 or so, I was going to have to run gasping for breath pretty much the whole time. That pace leaves you breathless, basically. It was an uncomfortable realization.

So, I ran and ran, feeling like I was out of breath the entire time. I coughed up pghlegm most horribly, and coughed it out on my arm, that ended up smeared across my dratted shorts.

My friend and I ran together, and he was running even faster than me! It was crazy. We got to the turnaround point (it was an out-and-back course) and he was ahead of me by a bit.

On the way back, all I could think about was the hills. Oh, the mild (when you’re not dying and gasping for breath) hills…That looked so innocent from the way down them, suddenly felt like I was crawling up Mt. Everest. My pace died down, I was still gasping and muttering and cursing. My friend opted to walk the hills due to a nagging injury (wise move).

The group that I was catching up with started rapidly being in the distance. They were way outpacing me and I could not keep up. I was all alone, all of a sudden. I was waving at spectators in hopes they would cheer me on a bit more (I needed the encouragement!!!). It was hot, I wanted to stop for water but instead gunned myself on a bit more. Every step felt like I was pulling myself along. All I could think about was stopping. Maybe walking. Maybe never having to run a 10k ever again even??

Finally, after a feeble wave at some spectators who dutifully cheered me on (god, I must have looked like I needed it), the course volunteers were waving me on to the final turn where I ran blindly looking for that 100-m sprint lined with flags. FINALLY!!!

A photo where it actually looks like I'm running.

A photo where it actually looks like I’m running.

I think the spectators really got me going at this point. Some guy who looked like a coach was shouting at me ‘Go girl, get it!!!’ So I (feebly again) cranked it up and went for it!! I saw Ian on the sidelines and gave him a panicked, worried look, haha. I sprint-crawled through the finish line and saw the finish time- 46:52– ME? I got that time? Wha?

My previous best time for the 10k was also this year- at the Cobble Hill race. I was gunning for a sub-50 minute 10k and I got it (49:something) and was totally overjoyed!! And now I was beating my previous PR time out of the water???

After I caught my breath, basically reeling around thinking about grabbing onto a tree or maybe a fence to stop myself from falling over, I was SO GLAD. I really pushed myself, harder than I ever had- and I did it! I was exhausted, my lungs hurt and I was covered, head to toe, in sweat.

Age group winners!

Age group winners!

Great work VIRA- You run good races, fabulous volunteers and the best part? The food! The sandwiches at Sooke were so awesome, and they had my favourite protein drinks, cookies and yogurts. I’m glad to be taking a break for a bit, but I know I’m going to really  miss that rush of racing.

Sixth place! Yeah!

Sixth place! Yeah!

And to cap it all off- I was 6th out of 25 in my age group, Ian was 3 out of 10 and Jared was 8th. A lovely way to finish, AND I won the draw prize for a free entry to the Oceanside Mother’s Day 10k in May. Which I have already registered for! (I guess that promise to myself of never running another 10k was kind of a lie to keep myself going…!).

Resistance only recognizes power: Jump update!

I found this quote, from the War of Art, and found it very interesting, profound and quite applicable to basically anyone’s life.

Most of us have two lives, the lives we live and the unlived lives within us. What stands between the two is Resistance. Resistance is invisible. Resistance is from within. Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from your work. Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.  Resistance is not out to get you personally no more than the weather. The more Resistance we feel towards something, the more important it is that we do it. Resistance doesn’t go away. Resistance only obstructs from a lower path to a higher path. Procrastination is the most common way Resistance manifests. This second, we can sit down and do our work. Creating drama is a symptom of Resistance. Resistance feels like unhappiness. A low-grade misery pervades everything. We’re bored, we’re restless. Resistance only recognizes power.

Mine in part too. Why do I want to do something, and am very good at self-motivating, and so bad at doing other things? To take that a bit further- I have goals in my recreational life (horses/running) that require MORE of me. Why am I reluctant to give that?

Mr. Oats is sadly not an Antares halter model...yet!

Mr. Oats is sadly not an Antares halter model…yet!

I had a good jump lesson last night that took me a bit further, and yes my heart was kind of in my throat. I had dry mouth, and felt anxious. But this was what I wanted, more than anything! So why do I try anything in my power to avoid it, at the same time?

We worked over a small cross-rail, to another cross-rail. We built that up to a 3-stride line made up of a cross-rail to a small oxer. Then, a course! Then…The course got built up, and in my brain, that’s where the wheels start falling off.

The first course? No sweat! The second course? *gulp* Start chipping!!! Don’t release as well as you were! Second guess yourself!!

But you know what? Oats remained steadfast throughout. I was very impressed at his ability to keep going, and ignoring whatever was going on in my brain. Yes, this was the first solid 2’3”-2’6” course we’ve done in, oh, forever, but it doesn’t have to be dramatic!

We finished on a very good approach to the 2’6” jump, and jumped it perfectly. To me, that was the biggest success of all- I managed to hold it together, and we did it! It sure wasn’t pretty, or very nice at times, and I did get flustered, and for some reason had a hard time sitting up around the corners (I swear to god, it felt like my upper body was being magnetically drawn to Oat’s neck?!!) and we kind of went off course a few times due to my flustered behaviour, but it was a good. solid.learning.experience. And I’ll take it!

And if I have to circle, or gallop the long side to re-approach a fence I kind of blew at, that’s ok too. Horses are forgiving, and Oats is more talented than I give him credit for.

Marking progress: Not good, but better than I used to be?

The stumbler doesn’t build her life by being better than others, but by being better than she used to be.

I skipped my riding lesson yesterday because I had a private last week, and wanted to save my poor legs for another race coming up this weekend. Oats and I just hacked, and you know what? I was inspired to do more in my hack than I normally do, just because I was listening to my lesson partner get her lesson in too!

So, Oats and I got a pretty fair workout just by being in proximity. Normally I slack off…If I don’t have someone getting on my case and yelling at me to do stuff, I kind of just do whatever. I know this isn’t good, but in my defense, it is hard to stay super focused all the time, particularly while riding MY horse. Oats is a prime-time ignorer, and can basically trot alllllllll day…

We had one or two instances of struggle. I remember from months ago, early winter/fall, we were having a lot of trouble with him hollowing out and ‘hopping’ and kind of threatening me to avoid contact, and the leg. He pulled a bit of this on a circle to the right (I was asking for contact, and a BIG TROT!). He responded by ‘how about I pop up and throw my head up, while also stalling out?’

I wasn’t perfect (dear god no) but I stayed consistent and was like oh ok, well more outside rein and more inside leg. And kept at it. And he kept at it too! But we got over it. I did let him go into a *nice* canter when he came into it gentlemanly, instead of hollowing and getting balky.

I did, during my ride, manage to bang my freaking foot against the wall a LOT, and we had some bulging issues and almost ran into a few jump standards more than once…That was when I figured out that I was going to have to work on some counter-bend and THEN ask for the inside bend, otherwise= my foot was going to be the victim…

So, we were both quite sweaty at the end, and while there were definitely issues, I was a bit proud that I felt confident enough to push the issue with him a bit more than I normally do, even though it felt rough sometimes. I rode through it, he was good eventually, and we are both figuring it out! What’s not to like, even if I didn’t have a lesson? I still ‘took away’ a lesson in my brain, all on my own!

Merville 15k race recap!

Yup, time for another race recap. We haven’t raced since our run in Comox at the half-marathon, so I was curious about how this one would feel. I’ve never raced a 15k before, in fact, only trained to run 15k once! (While we were building up our mileage for the half-marathon, actually). So…I went into this one cautiously optimistic, but still wanting to be realistic.

15k and done!!

15k and done!!

You may be asking, where is Merville? Good question! Merville is a tiny collection of houses and farms (TONS of horse farms, to my delight!) about 15 minutes north of Courtenay/Comox. It is also sort of the same area as my favourite berry winery, Coastal Black, in the Black Creek area. It is approximately 3.5 hours from Victoria, so it was a bit of a trek for us, and included an overnight stay at my in-laws farm, which they have been very gracious about.

It's true

It’s true

We met at the Merville community centre, which is tiny! The race itself started down the road a ways, which kind of meant we had a mandatory warm up, and at the end of the race, cool-down, to get back to the community centre (food!!).

The course was good: Flat, the road wasn’t too slanted, which is what gave us trouble during the half-marathon, and we managed to get out ahead of the slow crowd fairly quickly. I felt good, strong and fairly ‘floaty’ for 5km, and then between 5-9 still felt fairly good…But at around 10-11km, my left knee started twinging VERY unpleasantly. I have a super-wiggly kneecap, and when my legs get tired, they stop supporting it and let it fly off to the left- and yes, it is as painful as it sounds!

My legs were getting tired, the pavement felt like it was starting to drag down my feet (running in quicksand??) and bam! My knee was starting to let me know it was not ok.

From 11km-15, I was cursing and sort of starting to limp and just hoping hoping hoping I could finish. I was so close, I could almost taste it! This is also when the course started devolving into an open road, and the traffic situation was getting a little…hairy!

I somehow (on a prayer basically) managed to make it to the 100m sprint lined by a alleyway of flags!! It felt very special haha. I was gasping and heaving by the end, it was not a pretty sight. They had port-a-potties at the end (thank GOD! I had to pee the entire race gahhh!) and water, oranges, bananas and gummi bears. I grabbed a bunch, and we made our way back to the community centre for a delicious lunch.

The soup they offered was sooo good- I had beef/barley, and Ian had butternut squash. Yum! We ended up leaving shortly afterward to hit up the Cumberland Brewery for a post-race beer (and they were so awesome, I highly recommend visiting that brewery if you’re up-island. Good beer, great folks, nice place!!).

Post-run beer at Cumberland Brewery

Post-run beer at Cumberland Brewery

And the best news? This was not quite as competitive a race (fewer runners) so I placed 10th out of 21 with my time of 1:17:34 (chip, not bib time) and Ian placed 5th out of 7 but his sprint was 8th overall- out of like 275 runners! Crazy eh!!? The biggest zinger for me was that I got beat by the 9th place runner by 1 second?!! Oooooh!

You wear where you’re from like a second skin

Oats update~ Did a jumping lesson yesterday and it was a short one (did a warm up on my own and we went straight into jumping) and miracle of miracles, we had some of the best gridwork to date!



It was funny, because I was NOT expecting greatness. I was complaining to one of the lesson kids about how I hate gymnastics, the trot-in part is so awkward, and Oats tends to die out really easily…It’s just so blah.

But yesterday it wasn’t!

We did a small x-rail one-stride to a large x-rail as the gymnastic part, and then a vertical on the diagonal, to a two-stride, to a small oxer on the rail, back to the vertical on  the diagonal.

I was feeling pretty good with myself and Oats when we started the gymnastic- so smooth, and my position felt great! I felt like a hunter princess, hahah. We then worked over the raised x-rail and for some funny reason, even though it got bigger and bigger, it just never looked, ‘that impressive’ you know? It just felt like, eh, another x-rail- even though the middle of it was probably the same height as an oxer combination that was like giving me heart palpitations a few weeks ago!?

Go pony!

Go pony!

We kind of bungled the two-stride (ran out of impulsion, a chip) still like, made the strides but it wasn’t as pretty- but all the other jumps were NICE! And then we gathered up some steam and WENT at the two-stride and that one went fantastic!

It’s lessons like this that make me feel like Oats and I are working together as a team- yeehaw!!!

Plus- for some reason I just didn’t get as jazzed as I normally do. I felt very like, ho hum, about the size/level/complexity of the jumps and course. For me, that is a big accomplishment. Typically, I am a ball of anxiety about the jumps and raising them and oh, everything! This time, I was very zen about it, and just felt like, oh sure, yep can do.

like that feeling. I want more of it! Go pony!

When horses aren’t ‘generous’

I had an accidental private dressage lesson on Tuesday (my riding partner was not feeling well) and had an opportunity to try out more lateral work with my trainer, Karen.

Because I have no recent photos- my newest ribbon frame!  A good way to display all those ribbons cluttering up my bedroom.

Because I have no recent photos- my newest ribbon frame! A good way to display all those ribbons cluttering up my bedroom.

I said I really hate practicing it on my own because it feels so miserable and I can’t get the ‘feel’ right (much like jumping gymnastics. SO. AWKWARD!). So, she said we’ll work on that today. Ha, and I said lateral work makes me feel crazy.

We set off on head-to-the-wall leg yields first off the left rein and man, it was so ugly. Oats was resistant, chomping on the bit, head up, then pulling, then trying to barge past my legs, and my hands. It was very uncomfortable and awkward feeling. I felt like I was trying to parallel park a dump truck! Forward…back up…halt..sideways! Halt…forward..back up..stop suddenly…toss head around…sideways!


It was very frustrating, and I was like, no wonder lateral work makes me feel so nuts! We then changed reins and worked on it on the right rein, and it was like I was riding an entirely different pony. A fairy pony! Light as a feather! Moved sideways like a dream! Oats moved over so quickly, he needed only the softest of corrections, he kept his head in the right place, he felt so soft, so light, and so good! It was like riding a hummingbird, haha.

I was like, mouth agape…This feels wayyy different.

So that begs the question- why the two-sided argument? Why was the first side (on the left rein) so miserable, and then the right, so good and effortless? We have a few theories, and want to test them out next lesson:

1. He had to learn what was being asked, and had it figured out by the change of rein.

2. He is naturally moving softer on the right rein, and being asked to move off my left leg is easier.

Or both?

He is a fairly clever pony, who figures out what you’re asking, and then immediately learns out to, as Karen put it, ‘economize’ on your demands…Meaning, he is smart, gets it, and then figures out a way to evade the activity.

So, lots to think about anyways. We then worked on canter, sitting the canter, getting the outside rein in on the action and ‘softening’ on the inside rein. Easier said than done, but it is making my life a lot easier when I don’t feel anxious and grabby with the inside rein–I now have the outside rein to grab with impunity! I can let the inside relax more!

I also got the BEST big trot with Oats, so big that I was having trouble posting to it! The best trot I have ever gotten with him- I am loving his new ‘go-getter’ attitude. That brings me to my title- some horses are naturally more ‘generous’ with your demands, they will acquiesce a little more naturally, and forgive your mistakes.

Oats, on the other hand, is not quite so forgiving when it comes to stuff like lateral work, or me freezing up in the show ring. He does ‘tune me out’ well when I screw up, but he’s not particularly generous when I’m not asking things correctly (see all my lateral work, ugh).

The good news, is that the better I ride, the better he gets! Our partnership is slowly growing, bit by grudging bit…