BC Day Adventures on horseback

So I have a friend who is big into trail riding- she has a great trail horse, and all the fun gear like a speaker that hangs on the breastplate of her saddle, and a TRAILER! I am a self confessed trail riding chicken with my own horse. Other trail horses, no prob. Trail ride on Oats? Ughhhhhh…no.

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However, since our other friend has a horse that is recovering from a torn ligament and will likely be off for a year (god, now that is another bad story entirely šŸ˜¦ ) Our trail friend had nobody to ride with, and so I gathered up my courage and said I would ride on the trails with her. And so, a plan was made!

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We went up to Glenora on Sunday, to the Cowichan Valley Trail that is basically a section of the Trans Canada Trail. There are a few trail options at the trailhead there, but we took the most basic one- straight ahead šŸ™‚ It is very horse-friendly, with lots of parking, two small paddocks, hitching posts, water and a manure pile.

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I asked my husband to come as our lead rider on his bike! We were honestly not at all sure how Oats would be on the trail, so we thought it would be safest to have a hand on the ground just in case the horses got nutty.

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They didn’t though! Good as gold! I was really impressed and surprised. Oats can get silly waiting- he tries to rear, or go in circles, but otherwise he was as cool as a cucumber. From the minute I got on, he was just chill. He is NEVER like that at home on the trails, so I was pretty surprised.

We even got to the trestle and the horses were like no big deal?? Even my dog is afraid of bridges (but she is a huge wimp, sooo…).

We chatted, rode, had snacks and water from Katie’s saddlebags and I even rode up behind Ian to grab a Clif bar out of his backpack while he was cycling. I never thought I would be able to do that?! It was so fun, and just a really chill day.

Rocky (Katie’s dog) was also really well behaved too. The trail was busy, lots of cyclists, runners, dogs, but the horses and everyone kept it together and I was appreciative of how respectful and careful the cyclists and other trail users were. Yes! Plus it was great of Ian to come and ride his bike, because then he could pick berries for us- there were thimbleberries, wild blackberries and huckleberries. Yummy!

What a great day.

Never let go: Jump lesson recap

Jump lesson recap. Maybe I am getting my personal life mojo back?

It was good too actually! I finally got the ‘win’ I’ve been searching for. I started off feeling a blah (I am having a lot of trouble with pressure in my ears, so right now when I breathe it feels like it goes straight through my freaking ears!).Ā Lovely.

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I am learning how to take screenshots! Still in the indoor though. Proof that we jump oxers, haha.

I was also feeling a bit jealous- the girls at the barn are all braver than me and jumping 2’9-3′ courses and here I am, wimping out at 2’3” oxers? Wah Wah WAH.

But that’s just me- I’m proud of where I am, and proud of how far the girls have come. I am doing the best I can šŸ™‚

I felt ready to be challenged – a bit- ha, not too much. We fumbled our way through a grid, where I learned I need to sit up or we’d eat it through the last fence, with Oats not being particularly interested in oh, ‘jumping’ through the grid. I manned up and really RODE his butt through it, but the nice hands I had been slowly developing kind of went by the wayside last night in the grid. Oh well, two steps forward, one step back type of gig. Grids have always been our nemesis…

On to the course, which I am proud to say was NOT my nemesis!

We started with the grid, and then cantered over a simple single, and then over the ‘road closed’ oxer (ooh, big scary one) ha yeah, and then over a skinny bridge in an ‘s’ turn that I kind of bungled every time, toĀ anotherĀ oxer (who is this girl?) to a skinny one-stride that rode pretty much perfectly every time. Wow!

Funny enough, we had trouble with the grid, and the other girls had trouble with the oxers, where we aced the oxers (with only one stop, I just didn’t have the right striding and Oats declined, fair enough).

It was a good ride, and the course rode great. I was tempted to do it again and Nicole was egging me on to, but I decided not to. I just couldn’t chance taking a big step back when I’m kind of feeling really fragile- two go-arounds that felt PRETTY darn good was fine for me, and a big win!

Yeeha!!

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!!

What more could a girl want?

That’s right, yesterday was my birthday! The big 3-1 for me~

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Celebrating at the barn with a big delicious cake! Thanks Sarah C, you’re the best!

In all honesty, things I have been focusing on overshadowed my b-day- my lesson with Jane Stone on Thursday that I was alternately looking forward to and worried about, my race on Saturday, Rock the Shores on Sunday, and oh, my big upcoming international trip.

So yeah, lots going on eh?

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More presents than I deserve!

But regardless, I had a GREAT birthday! (well, except for the having to be at work part. That part sucked). I hauled ass home from work, ran my dog out, threw on my riding clothes, wolfed down a Clif Bar and immediately got stuck in traffic for 45 minutes.Ā SIGH.

I asked to have our semi-private lesson in the big field when I learned that the girls had so nicely put the jumps out there. A chance to work on my weaker skills at home? Even though I had previously fallen off at the Derby jumping in the field? SURE! Let’s do it. I knew it would be a challenge for me, because of my anxieties.

As it turns out, all my worries and fears were…for naught! Poof!

Jane was very understanding about what I have going on, and we worked it, man! I was really enjoying the lesson, we tried jumping a cavaletti to warm up, normal at first, and then some terrain-work, and then set to land flat and head slightly downhill. Success!

And then we started working on a small course, and it went super fantastic. Oats was so keen, I was loving it. We had a few bobbles- getting straight to a fence and him getting disunited, but it was fine and we worked with it.

I got a lot of confidence out of the lesson and felt so positive about it. Go us! Jane was very complimentary about our horses (who were perfect) and my position~ yay!!

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My second birthday cake- made by my husband! Menagerie on top provided by my sister.

And the cherry on top? A birthday cake at the barn accompanied by good friends and a Palm Bay. Yum!!! I even had more cake at home baked by my husband, who make an amazing cake that I immediately wanted to eat more of, even though I knew it would make me sick….

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It was a good night.

Yep I had cake and more cake with wine instead of dinner last night. So sue me, it’s my birthday!!! šŸ™‚

You can’t lie to yourself

Dressage lesson semi-private last night, and we had a long chat about courage and progress. I have done a lot – a LOT – of work on this particular subject matter this past year, to manage my anxiety. So, I had some things to say on this matter for sure!

 

I still have trouble managing my anxiety on occasion- and when this happens, I have to breathe, accept and recognize how I’m feeling, acknowledge it, and let myself ‘feel’ that discomfort. The more I do this, the better I get at it. It’s a journey, for sure, and we live a long life!

In our lesson, we worked on haunches-in against the wall, quickening to trot steps, then back to walk, all in the haunches-in. We struggled a bit with maintaining the angle of the haunches-in during the transition, and actually during the trot as well, but when we changed reins and tried it again on the other rein, and then went back to the original side, things actually improved!

Oats did give one sassy buck/kick out in protest, but in the general scheme of things, he was very good and getting WAY better at lateral work without big hissyfits. Ha, never thought I’d see the day when Oats isn’t the lesson’s problem child!

Instead, my lesson partner had to manage some issues with her horse that cropped up during the canter. Her horse is very good at lateral work, better than Oats, but is managing some behavioural issues right now…

And one thing struck me- you can say ‘I’m fine’ or ‘I would definitely canter, it’s just that my back hurts’ or whatever, but in the end, you areĀ lying to yourself and your horse. It’s ok to be afraid. Hell, I spent a good, long while being afraid of various canter transitions with Oats because I got turfed off him more than once–more than I can recall actually!

When you say ”I’m fine” ”I can do this” and etc., but you ARE AFRAID you are doing yourself, and your horse a real disservice. Be honest. Accept it. Live it! Just don’t try to bluff or bravado your way through it. I can see you are afraid. When you canter, you hunch into a fetal position and your stirrups are literally rattling around instead of firmly planted under your feet! This is not the position of a confident and forward-thinking rider! How do youĀ FEEL?

Very telling, and interestingly, our trainer asked my lesson partner how she felt when she was longing her horse, and the horse was starting to ‘come down’ from being a total jerk. The answer? ”Oh she’s starting to be submissive to me,” and my trainer said yes, that’s good–but how do you feel? That’s not a feeling! There is a mind/body connect that is clearly missing.

Don’t say ”oh that was great” when you are really, truly, genuinely afraid. Your riding gives it away BIGTIME. Horses don’t do well with this type of cognitive dissonance.

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Yes.

How did I get over my fear? Well here’s a big one–I still feel it. I now acknowledge it, and I understand how I am feeling on any given day, and it gives me the tools to manage it, and ride well with it. I don’t push it away, shove it under, or gloss over it. It exists.

The motivation has to come from inside. I don’t think my lesson partner gets it, at all right now.

It has taken me a long time to get it. Sometimes, I don’t have it even! That’s fine, it is a part of the journey and a good part of that is recognizing how far we have come even now.

It only ‘matters’ if it ‘matters’ to you

Stole this one off Tamarack Hill Farms FB page today (actually it was just a headline that caught my eye).

From last year- I like to think there is improvement?

From last year- I like to think there is improvement?

Horses are funny that way- in a nutshell,Ā everything matters.

In the grand scheme- nothing matters.

Weird eh?

A nice day.

A nice day.

I took Wednesday off to give Oats a day to recover from our strenuous dressage lesson (ok, maybe it was just me who needed that day!) and I went for a jog with my dog instead. That equally sucked haha.

Thursday, I was curiously not as hyped up about my jump lesson as I thought I’d be. It’s been a good two weeks since I had a jump lesson (had to cancel 1 lesson due to dinner plans, and then was away in Calgary last week), but I was feeling like…ok.

I still greatly struggle with this feeling of dread/anticipation when I am physically warming up, but I’d seen the course set on Tuesday and you know what? It kind of looked like FUN?! Who is this person, who doesn’t get scared about jumping 10 fences in a course, and who thinks the jumps don’t look ‘that bad’?

ME!

Well sort of. I still went in on Thurs hesitating, complaining that the jumps looked high (so some of them were oxers, sue me!). Nicole didn’t buy into my bs, and was like these are small fences, when we get going you won’t even notice them!

And…I grumbled that I would, but funny enough…When we did get rolling after trotting and cantering a warm-up x-rail, IĀ didn’t notice them! At all?

They were tiny actually haha, maybe all at 2ft, but after a few weeks off my wimp muscles grow stronger and my courage muscles grow weaker. But anyways, she was actually right. When we worked through some elements of the course, I felt like this is NBD. And I continued to feel that way…no biggie.

Oh except when we broke the course down and practiced some individual elements, my brain went on vacation and I managed to squeeze Oats AT THE CANTER between two jumps to get to another jump! There was not a lot of room, whooops! HAHAH. Brain=took a vacation too.

But then we did the course, and it went really well, surprisingly well, until my big fumble at the end…My brain just didn’t connect that I needed to turn much later for the three-jump combination, so we kind of bungled our way through it (kept the jumps up, just awkward and clumsy and a BIG chip at the end fence, eek!).

So, some successes early on? I’ve actually been feeling like my jumping has been pretty consistent this summer, if I still do struggle with wimping out.

Some times I think I need to work on a bit right now: More two-point at the trot and canter, focusing on pushing my feet out in front of me (waterskiing) because they tend to slip behind my body.

Hands down and in. Elbows in!

Legs on, and if leg isn’t working, get more used to a sharp smack with the crop!

Overall-quite pleased. šŸ™‚

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’mĀ notĀ 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!

Is this love? Or the love of the chase

Funny, two songs I’ve been hearing lately have this refrain in them:

“You never loved me, you love the chase.” From ‘The Stars’ newest album, ‘No one is lost’

-and-

“Is this love? Or the love of the chase…” From ‘Future Islands’ newest album as well.

So, there is obviously a theme. Why are they resonating with me so strongly?

I’ve been struggling with connections lately. Last year’s showing season with Oats had a lot of ups and downs (I fell off almost every show! what the heck!) and I couldn’t figure out why this was happening. I know how to ride, Oats knows how to jump so…???

I have been making progress on this by committing to dressage lessons and that has been good but tough. I want to make even more progress, want to go into jump lessons and horse shows ‘eager’ not backpedalling and wanting to get off, or freezing when we step foot in the show ring.

I even decided not to show at the Appy club shows this year becauseĀ I wasn’t looking forward to it! Ā Showing costs way too much $$$ to not have fun with it. At all.

So, my trainer Karen set me up with an equine wellness facilitator, to figure out what is going on in my head. And as it turns out, a lot of anxiety.

Anxiety

Anxiety- So, this seems appropriate.

The rushing, too-fast, speedy feeling I have all the time is my brain not connecting well with my body. I tend to have ‘out of body’ feelings when I step into the show ring, and I feel like I am ‘watching myself’ instead of doing it- riding, experiencing, anything. I don’t hear my trainer when I am like this, I hold my breath and end up gasping, and I rush rush rush through a course- my brain is moving too fast for me to keep up!

It’s funny- the facilitatorĀ ran me through a meditation exercise, and all I could think was how much I wanted it to speed up!!? That’s NOT the point, silly me!

Taking the time to align my poor brain with my body is a process. I am going to try and see how it goes. I’m trying to manage my anxiety, something I most likely have been cultivating forĀ years through work, family issues, horse issues, etc.

And I felt like, last year at this time, I was ready to try dressage lessons. Oats and I could take that next step.

Oats at Sooke Saddle Club dressage: Photo courtesy of Eila

Oats at Sooke Saddle Club dressage: Photo courtesy of Eila

This year, I am ready to manage my anxiety, and work to strengthenĀ my relationship with Oats.

So, this is a positive progression (even if the other side of my brain is like horses aren’t rocket science, why are you so worried? Anxious? What are you so afraid of?). I guess I’m not always sure- I’m afraid of getting hurt (see- the recent accident with my mom), and I’m afraid of looking stupid and screwing up my horse.

I’m not sure how I got to this point, but I do feel like it is manageable, and the next logical step I can take to have a more positive relationship with my horse, and my trainers (maybe my husband, family, and my work? Better not get too greeeeedy)…

Runing wild

Run wild

I am still doing positive jump course visualizations every day while I walk to work- I pick my most recent jumping lesson and try to ‘see’ how I rode it. I think it is helping as well.

My rides on Oats this weekend were fine, Saturday was better than Sunday (was a bit distracted Sunday, had friends visiting so was chatting instead of paying attention! bad me!).

Other than that, this week started with a real BANG of bad vibes. Sick bunny (he is doing better already, pheww) Work flying off the handle……eeeek!

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 timeĀ acknowledgingĀ 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.