Progress, like life, is not linear

Had an interesting equine counseling session last night. We focus on a few aspects of my life during each session. I usually bring up what I want to focus on or what I am struggling with (my parents, riding, performance anxiety, race performance). We are focusing on my race performance right now, and I have been struggling mightily at races. Mad, disappointed, angry at my body for letting me down, bummed about my slower times, expecting better…You name it, I am feeling it!

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Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.

My last race was good, but the time was not good. It was good because I ran within my ability and I could breathe the whole race. I was quite pleased with that, and I didn’t burn my lungs out like I have been doing.

What’s the difference? For a long time, I have been relying on the cheap fast energy of adrenaline during races. I don’t have a lot of long-term power to back that up, at all. And it burns out too fast, leaving me gasping, heaving, ready to puke, with legs that burn with lactic acid and feel weak within 1km.

This worked really well for me last year. This year, not so much.

My training has been going great, but like last year, it’s pretty much the same (though my long runs are LONGER now, ha). If I keep doing what I’m doing, my body gets used to it, and I adapt very quickly. Problem is…That doesn’t get me faster or more powerful. It gets me very complacent.

So to get better results, and power that I can rely on more, I have to change my training (and my mindset, which is making me slower this season, ha).

This means getting into the uncomfortable zone. Aka faster.

Funny enough, my equine counselor brought up a comment I got from a dressage judge years ago about Oats. “His trot looks very comfortable and easy. I bet you could trot like that all day. It’s not work though, and it’s not the power you need.” She was right! I could cruise on Oats alllllllll day with that lovely, easy trot of his. Problem is, when I wanted ‘more’ trot or collected trot, things fell apart.

She pointed out that my running is remarkably similar. My long runs? Could cruise alllllll day at my little jog-trot. Want more ‘go’ and more power? Falls apart.  Ha, I am Oats. Weird eh?

Life mirrors us in more ways than we think. And for me? I am experimenting with more power moves. 500 metre pick-ups in pace during my long runs, which are killer and I hate them, but I have to do them. Oh and running hills after my rides on Sunday. We’ll see!

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Scary but good?

After coming home yesterday, freezing my butt off and roosting on the couch after a mini-intense junk food binge (seriously, I am good like 85% of the time and then eat chocolate/chips/whatever I can grab my hands on like an insane madwoman…) I did NOT want to go to my dressage lesson.

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Oats working on his buddy Rylin’s nose.

Ian reminded me how I didn’t want to lesson last week either, but when I went I was happy I had gone. I still didn’t want to go.

It was dark, I was cold, stuffed to the gills on cheap chocolate and food shame.

I grudgingly dragged myself off the couch, discarded the blanket I was huddled under, and began the arduous task of piling on the layers to go to my lesson. I resented every step of the way, from boiling water to drink tea during my lesson, to putting on my shabby, falling apart UGG boots to go to the barn. Traffic was bad, and it made me even grouchier.

I got to the barn and it was freezing. All the cross-ties were taken up, which is fine, but it’s so DARK in the stalls if I have to tack up there, so I was crabby about that too. Can’t you play ponies after school or something? Not during a time I have to tack up at night, in the freezing cold, in a big rush because I am SUPER LATE from horrendous traffic? SHEESUSH.

[I am now combining sheesh with jeezus]

Oh well, we tacked up, and my trainer was super late too, hahah.

It seemed breathtakingly cold to me- my eyes were watering, my nose running, my face freezing. My lesson-mate was riding in a vest and a t-shirt? She is totally insane!?

Oats warmed up really well actually. Moving out a lot better than I thought he would, even with the bitter cold. Hm…Our trainer recommended a lot of walk work for our lesson, to avoid stressing the horses in the cold and reducing our cool-out time. We didn’t want the horses getting too worked up and sweaty. Lateral work it is! YAy….

Oh wait, last time I did that it sucked.

Except yesterday’s lesson was different. We were very proactive, and Oats was totally on-board, despite my grouchy and miserable nature. He was super with me, and focused. We worked on developing a forward walk, to ‘quick steps’ to keeping their heads high and ‘engaged’. We then worked on haunches-in at the walk, to straighten them up, to walk-canter transitions. We took that ‘up’ canter to a haunches-in at the canter on the longside. The canter felt WEIRD?! So ..up? And leapy? Oats was all confuzzled for awhile, not sure what I wanted- lead changes?

And the leaping and confusion scared the bejesus out of both of us. We are not used to animation in the canter, and all of a sudden we had so much power we didn’t know what to do with it. Funny eh?

Oats slowly started figuring out what I wanted, and wonder of wonders, we did even end up getting some haunches-in at the canter, it was easier to the left, and not quite there on the right. But hey, it was a really neat feeling and left me wanting more more more! Good pony.

Ian was right- I did have a good ride and it was super cool to experience.

Every sport involves packaging energy

I weirdly came to this realization yesterday, when I was riding Oats. We were just hacking around, my trainer was riding her horse. I was tired, not feeling super energized and just kind of ‘blahh’ but my ride was quite lovely- Oats is a fun ride no matter how I am feeling!

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Working on energy!

We hopped over some x-rails and then I did some more work over the 1 pole- packaging his canter so it is ‘tight’ and ‘bouncy’ so I can control the take-off spot to the pole. I started noticing that with this ‘bouncy’ canter, his take off for the pole was far more ‘up’ and explosive than his usual blahhhhhh canter, where he launches from a long spot, very flat and strung out.

Packaging his canter= gathering up energy. Who would have thought?

Ha, it’s so obvious to everyone BUT me! The work I did with him over raised poles last week has cemented in my brain that Oats needs more than one type of canter. I never knew how to achieve that, or capture that feeling, until we did that exercise and now…Now I know what I am going for.

I am planning on working up to that tight ‘packaged’ canter to fences. It is hard work for Oats, so I don’t want to burn him out on it. That’s why when I have been playing around with the exercise, we do a few jumps at a regular ‘easy’ canter, and then collect it for the pole, then let it out again.

And I was talking about this with my husband, who was saying that essentially every sport involves directing energy- and the way you do this is through becoming more efficient, technically and mechanically. Without technique, you can’t just raw-power through it. This reminds me of when I am asking Oats to go forward, he just gets flat and strung out- and we get poles down- when I package the canter, we get a much more powerful ‘up’ jump.

Hmm…

A good horse is hard to find

Had another two very successful riding lessons- my semi-private dressage lesson on Tuesday with Karen Brain, and my private jump lesson with Nicole on Wednesday.

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Last year, ha no -hands! 

The lesson on Tuesday was all about improving the quality of the canter, via the trot. It was a lot of work, not gonna lie. Oats and I were covered in sweat, I was coughing my lungs out (for some reason, ughhh) and it was definitely a tough lesson focused on power. The good news is that Oats is developing a GREAT big lofty trot, with suspension?! Oats?!! The bad news is that I do not have enough feel to know how/when to ask for a smaller trot that is keeping the level of engagement.

Oh well, something to work on, and in the canter too.

Wednesday was my jump lesson, and we started off pretty easy- trot-through an x-rail, loop back around to a canter x-rail, back to the trot x-rail. We then moved it to a trot-through 1-stride gymnastic, and then a canter- through one stride, then a course! Oats was super, I bobbled once on course when I stared down at the one-stride from the opposite direction and Oats politely said ‘no thanks’ but went for it when I remembered to sit up and not look down. Sorry Oats! That was on me, ha.

He was a bit distracted when another horse was going up the hill in the pitch black, but he is an honest pony so he kept jumping– I could just tell that he was looking outside the ring and not at the jump!

His nicest jump? The small x-rail oxer on course. I’m beginning to really love the efforts he is giving me over those, and I think we should incorporate more of them. He was also very honest through the one-stride, though sucking back when we began, he clued in and rode it very nice through the opposite direction.

Go Oats!

We are both having today off, I am going to the opera! Whoop! And tomorrow off too, because I have plans after work as well. Busy busy.

An addiction to power?

Had another equine counseling session last night (and moved my jump lesson to Saturday, as Oats was feeling tired during my friend’s lesson on him on Wed. – probably due to the strenuous dressage lesson we had on Tues).

And, it came out that maybe I ride because I like being powerful, having power, and being able to exercise that power.

And I say- yes that is definitely something that resonates strongly with me.

It is addictive to feel like you can control a 1,000 lb animal- and I get really wrapped up in trying to ‘muscle’ Oats sometimes, which by the way, I NEVER win, hello he weighs like 900 lbs~

I reiterated that I feel like maybe I’m not making progress, but apparently my jumping lessons are saying otherwise. Can progress feel faked or false? Maybe. I still go into my lessons amped up and anxious, but I am noticing that I can bring it down much faster, and the jumps themselves…Well, they are all a learning process. Some ugly, some ‘meh’ and some great, and some good. It all comes out in the wash. Just because they aren’t 100% perfect or flawless rounds doesn’t mean the entire session was a bust!

So, watching my friend ride gave me some of that perspective- her ride was good, but that doesn’t mean it was perfect. Sure they kind of took down some fences in the gymnastic, but you know what it showed me? That other people can have that type of ride on Oats, it’s not all my fault, and they survive and go on to have great jumps too! It’s not a disaster like I always think.

They did have some ugly fences, and they also had really good ones. The last course was lovely! I was very pleased to see him work in a ‘grown up’ mind frame, and his attitude towards other riders and actually working is sooooooo much better now.

So, I hope to go into my next jump lesson with more of an open mind, and not let my brain/anxiety get ahead of me and start anticipating bad things happening- and also not tell my coach immediately that I only want to jump small jumps, hah.

We’ll see!

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.

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Trouble Will Find Me

Trouble Will Find Me

Rode Oats yesterday, and we had some mixed results- I worked over a pole-five strides-skinny box, and he kept ducking out of the skinny box. Trotted up to it and he was sooo discombobulated, he stopped!

So, I had the teens at the barn set up wings for the skinny (it kept feeling like he couldn’t ‘see’ the jump very well?) And he was fine! Hmmm.

Worked on some canter-trot transitions on a circle again, and it was good. But…I wanted to capture that ‘power’ feeling I had the other day…That feeling that I was in control of his canter, that I could PLACE him at a jump any stride I felt like…I could see and feel when we were going to take off, and I could control it.

Sadly, that seems to be something that is quite elusive to me, but at least I was lucky enough to ‘feel’ it once so far! Maybe it’s a work in progress.

So, his canter work felt good, but I didn’t feel like I had nearly the same control, power and feel that I had on the weekend.

Oh and I am entered in two dressage shows, but last night I had a stress dream about showing over fences again? I LOVE jumping. Why I do I fear it?

Ha.