Big things

Oats and I went to a clinic this weekend–we went alone, and I can’t even say how big this is for us- it went FINE.

More older Oats pix from Avalon: photo courtesy of Jodie Wright.

More older Oats pix from Avalon: photo courtesy of Jodie Wright. This was from our disaster clinic- happy to say things got much better!

We’ve had a very rocky road when it comes to clinics- stemming from a 2-day intro to eventing clinic that we attended a few years ago (that’s right, it took me literally YEARS to get over it) that blasted our confidence into powder, and caused a several-months setback that even turned into years later with regards to training with other instructors.

My goal for the clinic this weekend was simple: Walk Oats to the neighbouring barn. Warm him up. Ride in the clinic with as little drama as possible. Walk him home safely.

The instructor- Norah Ross- was one I had heard good things about, and I reviewed with her and the host of the clinic that I wanted this to be technical, and not to be challenged with regards to boundary-pushing. I’m not at the stage yet where that won’t cause a meltdown for me (we are WAY better at horse shows, ha).

Older Oats pix from Avalon

Older Oats pix from Avalon: photo courtesy of Jodie Wright.

And I was assured that this was not the plan for the clinic, and she was right!

We did a LOT of flatwork, haha. Drop outside stirrup, no-stirrups, bending, circling, change directions, a lot. I was sweaty! Oats was a very good sport. A couple things Norah had me pegged for: Bad elbows, ie- chicken wing. Hands too far apart and too low. She really got on me about them, hahahah.

Also she dropped my stirrups 1 hole, and wow it felt weird! But good?

We moved on to jumping, and the wheels fell of briefly. We warmed up great over some x-rails, and then approaching a vertical on the diagonal, he threw one buck and I got immediately derailed…I ‘saw’ a bad distance, and tossed my upper body at him. He stopped. UGH!

Norah had me pegged straight away. She said my anxiety is causing that, and that my ride on the flat was great, so why is it falling apart jumping? Why so different? It’s like I am ‘abandoning’ my horse when things change so drastically from a calm, competent ride on the flat to somewhat panic-stricken over fences. The jumping ahead is something I had conquered, until it came creeping back when I was feeling a bit anxious…SIGH.

She asked us to change a few things- sit to the fences, no two-point. Counting- 1-2-1-2…all the way. And stay in the MOMENT! Breathe! Stay. This worked out really well, and I was very pleased with Oats’ effort when I made these changes. Clearly…I have some deep-seated issues, ughh.

Oats jumped around lovely. It was all very ‘baby steps’ and easy, but as we clearly demonstrated, we needed the baby steps…

We learned a lot, worked hard and walked home successfully without any drama. A good clinic and a big step forward for us. I even had some hot chocolate, and was able to visit with some old barn friends at the host stable too! Yeah!!

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Before the wind took my words

Had a fairly quiet weekend, rode Fri-Sat-Sun, and also did another equine wellness session on Saturday as well.

Friday night was super windy, but hot. The horses were up and spooky- Oats had one BIG spook at the ‘scary corner’ in the outdoor and I lost a stirrup, but I stayed on and recovered fine. I did feel a bit anxious about it, but then kind of forgot when we went up to canter- highlight of the night- a GREAT canter. Ah….So lovely.

Saturday, I went for a run with my husband and our friend. When will my legs feel better? (probably when I stop exercising every day)…they were tired, aching and felt quite draggy. Come to think of it, they still feel like it and now it’s Monday! Ooops.

Rode Oats later in the day, before our session. It was actually a pretty fun ride, set up a bending line x-rail to a tiny- 1ft vertical. We bungled through it a few times, Oats got distracted by something in the field, or wanted to spook, or flat-out decided to trot over it instead of jumping – we ended up moving up to canter to make him ‘jump’ the tiny exercise. Overall a nice, positive ride.

In my wellness session (that does feel a lot like counselling!) we discussed zones of comfort/toleration, and a breathing exercise. The neat part about the breathing exercise, alternate-nostril breathing, was that Oats responded very well to it when we practiced it near him. He came over, and yawned and was super relaxed. It was a neat effect, and made me realize that by being on-edge and anxious a lot of the time I’m near him really does affect how he sees me. We also discussed taking time off jumping but I am undecided about that- I did sign up for a jumper show, and I actually do feel quite resistant to taking time off jumping! I think that’s the stubborn part of me talking.

Well, one day and one step at a time. I will do the show and use it as a barometer, to measure how I’m feeling about jumping and showing- if anything, I’ll learn something from it.

Sunday- I felt strange going out to the barn. I felt edgy and kind of bummed out. The weather was grey and chilly, and I had been hoping all week to get to the beach to enjoy the sun. I was also thinking a lot about my dad, and how my upcoming trip to the Stampede was something I always did with him, and now we’re planning and going w/o him. It feels strange- I even told my husband it felt like he was dead or something (he’s not! but it still seems like I am mourning something here…a loss?). Riding was ok, Oats was a bit spooky about the ‘scary corner’ and we weren’t connecting as well as we were on Saturday. I do chalk that up to my changed moods, markedly from Saturday to Sunday.

Too bad I’m not being consistent…

I did ride him under the tent though, just because it made me laugh (and because we could! haha). I banged my helmet on the roof though, so I don’t recommend anyone with a taller pony try it, ha!

No one is lost: Progress is a ever-changing target?

So I had my jumping lesson last night and I’m not going to lie. I was worried! I’ve been struggling with feelings of guilt, of fear and having this need to ‘prove something’ to myself. Newsflash: Proving something to yourself usually goes very poorly!

Yes, we even jumped this one without a second look!

Yes, we even jumped this one without a second look!

I even had the opportunity to back out…My friends were visiting from Vancouver and asked if I wanted to go out for dinner last-minute, and my trainer texted asking if this week was the week I had to take off? Argh! The struggle! I was *this close* to having a legitimate reason to wimp out…

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But I manned up, swallowed my fear and texted my friends back that I had a jumping lesson, and texted my coach that it was next week I had to take off.

There. One small step.

The next step was actually getting there, warming up on my own for 15 minutes in the outdoor full of -gulp- scary jumps and dealing with whatever happened.

And you know what? Oats was golden! He didn’t put a hoof wrong. I still felt wimpy, weak and lacking enthusiasm when Nicole came out for the lesson. I wanted to wimp out, I wanted to wallow in my feelings of inadequacy…Of fear.

But, Oats was too good to let me do that, and so was Nicole haha. We started slow- trot poles to a tiny gymnastic grid. We even had to put the last fence up to a vertical because Oats wasn’t really jumping them, he was kind of just flopping over them. That was ok.

Then, we moved on to a course and I started holding my breath…

But the jumps were small, I was actually RIDING Oats and things were just clicking nicely along! I didn’t have time to back off. My brain even kind of started drifting after the 8th fence and I kind of biffed the 9th (across the diagonal) but Oats is a forgiving pony and just kept trucking.

We did the course twice (11 jumps X 2!) 22 whole fences! And it was very good. We were not perfect, but like the scales of justice that tip one way or the other, my confidence scales are slowly tipping the other way- back to being in balance.

I have a hard time acknowledging that last week I was rocking a bigger course with the dreaded gymnastics up to 2’6” and this week am feeling faint over x-rails, but you know, who carresssss. Only me! Not Oats! Hahah. He was great, and I need more “great times” to build up my happy memory bank again.

Accidents, like what happened with my mom, deplete the happy memories in your memory bank, and confidence bank. Only good experiences (pretty much double the good to bad) can work to rebuild those banks.

Throwback Thursday: Sage advice

From the expert himself, and famed curmudgeon: George Morris.

In his article from 2006, he discusses a lack of horsemanship in today’s riders. The article really resonated with me, because, chiefly, I am guilty of these things! I love showing, love winning ribbons, and wish I had more ‘guts’ as a rider.

Focused

Focused

I still do things like gallop my pony in the field, jump ditches, go up and down hills, ride in the outdoor arena when other riders refuse to (I do put front shoes on my pony when we transition to the outdoor because he is tenderfooted) and I take risks.

BUT

Not that many. I hate trail riding in our area because it scares the bejeezus out of me. I’m afraid of getting hit by a bus or motorcycle, of which there are tons and tons. The roads are too busy and too frightening.

Yesterday, I went to the outdoor and messed around with the little teeny tiny baby fences set up. We cantered them, trotted them, angled them, cut in and out of lines and generally did…Whatever we pleased!

A few years ago- playing over a liverpool

A few years ago- playing over a liverpool

I had a BLAST! I felt so free! Even though the fences were beyond small, it was just the most engaging feeling to do whatever I wanted. I do the ‘discipline’ work of dressage on Tuesdays, but i also feel like the ‘me time’ of weekend rides and Wednesday rides are necessary. It’s not a ridiculous free for all, trust me, but we just kind of messed around and I didn’t feel worried, or anxious, or anything.

It’s a nice feeling, ahhh…

It’s not perfect- the issues with his right lead (collapsing, falling in and struggling to maintain it) reared their ugly heads AGAIN telling me he is having a hard time with the footing and needs his shoes on- stat.

But, I didn’t let that derail our ride, we just moved on and I didn’t make a big deal of it. We enjoyed our small fences and i focused on finding my distances, and pace and sort of straightness.

It was nice to experiment a bit, without fear.

Best (dressage) canter yet for Mr. Oats!

Let’s say that I normally don’t go into my dressage lessons expecting brilliance…I go in expecting a few tantrums, some hissy-fits and then maybe cooperation. Let’s face it- I spent most of the winter complaining that we weren’t making any progress!

Go dressage Oats

Go dressage Oats

BUT

We are. Had another private lessons and begged for leniency- my knees still feel like I am close to 100 years old and man they are aching! We continued on what we worked on last week, the canter circle, keeping a strong outside contact as a sort of ‘safety blanket’ to give my hands something to do, and wouldn’t you know…It went even better this week~

Not without some damage to my legs, that were aching sooooooo much afterwards!

Oats is still ‘hopping’ or popping, threatening to canter when I am actually asking for a bigger trot, but his evasions are getting much better. I got kind of annoyed and was like, oh well you want to canter? That’s fine, we can canter. But now you have to STAY in the canter! HAHA! And you have to canter the way I want you to canter~

He was rethinking that decisions shortly, but cooperated!

And I was feeling braver about kicking him on, to go forward. We’re not quite up to using the crop to get him moving at the canter (scary!) but small steps, small steps. I was really pleased with how he was moving, good pony.

And I am taking today off, hoping to heal my legs up this week in a hurry.

Oh and one bad thing for Mr. Oats- apparently he knocked down boards in his pen that were kind of falling apart already, snuck under the fence, and went gallivanting through a neighbours backyard?!~~ BAD pony!!!!!

Cathartic

I’m not sure if it’s SAD or what (Seasonal Affective Disorder) but I sometimes feel like I was riding a real summer ‘high’ and now I’m falling into a fall ‘low’…

I’m riding through the tough stuff, but I find myself over sensitive to even the most basic things- small corrections at work? Stew and steam for awhile, longer than you should even be thinking about it… Had a shitty ride? Obsess over it. Plot, plan, scheme, whatever. I don’t think I should be necessarily feeling this way, but I am.

SAD-lights necessary? Quite possibly!

I had a good lesson yesterday actually. I was feeling a bit crabby (see above unreasonable responses to normal work situations) but I felt so hyper-focused in my lesson that it all kind of just…melted away… That’s not to say it was easy- it wasn’t- Oats tried to intimidate me out of asking what I was asking, but I didn’t let him, and we achieved some mini-breakthroughs. Phew!

I found this on the Chronicle of the Horse web forum, and it really resonated with me. I love jumping, riding, showing, etc. but it really takes it out of me. Sometimes it’s all I can do to show up! And this is something I LOVE!

A lot of amateurs spend a great deal of their riding time pushed to their limits. It is a great privilege and stroke of luck (which could be taken away by a bad fall) if you are able to canter around serenely well within your own comfort zone. Many more people spend a lot of time persevering and continuing to show up to the barn despite the fact that, a lot of time when they are on a horse, they are afraid. Sure, I get to come to the barn and not spend 90% of my lessons battling fear or anxiety, but this is not true for everyone. They are scared but they are DOING IT ANYWAY.

Half the time they would NEVER be doing what you are asking them to do of their own accord or without you there, but because they want to learn to ride worse than they are afraid they put essentially blind faith in you, rustle their brass ones together, and still try to do everything their brain is screaming at them to for the love of God not do. I feel the same way when one of my trainers put the jumps up two more and wider for the nth time, but because he is expert at pushing people to the limit but never over, the scope of my limits expand in his presence.

(Meanwhile, I feel the same way rarely, when the jumps have exceeded a certain size, and those moments serve to really reinforce my respect for people who feel that way most of the time, about stuff like ‘cantering’, and still want to ride worse than they are afraid. That takes BALLS and tremendous determination, and I am not sure I would continue with the sport if I had to always ride at my limit. So I really respect those who do. You cannot be brave if you are not afraid in the first place.)

It’s crazy. So why do we do it in the first place? Because when I’m feeling blah, having a blah day, feeling crabby and out of sorts…Going to the barn and having a super-focused ride that leaves me feeling cathartic is what I need the most. Even if I am on the edge of comfort (and over that edge) for most of it. I deal with fear a lot, and extreme performance anxiety- to the point where I let it take over for me and I’m drifting around on-course, or tuning out in a dressage ride.

I hope to be ‘more present’ jumping and riding. That’s all I can hope for sometimes!