Wordless Wednesday: Contact

Dressage is hard even in a fancy County saddle says Nibbles.

Dressage is hard even in a fancy (rented) County saddle says Nibbles.

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Quo Vadis: Part 3 – What Lies Ahead

Quo Vadis is Latin for “Where are you going?” (Before I decided on a business degree, I was a philosophy and classical studies major so forgive me the chance to toss in a little Latin.) In this mini-series, I’m going to articulate where I’ve been, where we are now, and finally where Nibbles and I are heading. This is a personal exercise to make me think critically about my goals but also to further introduce myself to the wonderful blogging community that has supported me so much already.

If you’re just joining us, check out Part 1: A Riding and Not Riding History and Part 2: Current State of Affairs.

A goal without a plan is just a wish.

I don’t know who said it first but I’ve found this statement to be 100% true. I tend to have a lot of ideas and ambitions but if I don’t set tangible goals along the way of a strategic plan, I don’t arrive at the destination.

I’ve seen a lot of you write goals on your blogs and I’ve always admired the practice. I took a stab at goals for Nibbles in spring of 2014 and made progress or accomplished 50% of them. Very shortly thereafter, I lessoned with a trainer who asked me what my goal was with horses. My answer: I honestly don’t know right now.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and I’ve come to two conclusions:

  1. My riding is important enough to me to deserve a strategic plan.
  2. That strategic plan, once written, can change.

I’ve hesitated over writing out goals because I didn’t think my plan could change. Silly, I know, but I had that mental hurdle. But who says your goals can’t change? Right now, I want to compete. Maybe I’ll get a few shows in and go, you know, I enjoy this a heck of a lot more at home. Or maybe I’ll say man, this is my jam, we gotta up those competitive goals. And that’s the beauty and genius of goals – they can be fluid if you let them.

And because I am that person and I love strategy and lists, I’m going to push myself to make these goals S.M.A.R.T.

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So, readers, here are my fluid but S.M.A.R.T. goals. This is where we are headed.

Short Term Riding Goals

  • Commit to bi-weekly lessons to primarily improve my in-the-saddle fitness and prepare for taking over Nibbles’ primary training by October 1, 2015.
    • The goal is not perfection. The goal is getting my mind and body saddle-fit.
  • When Nibbles arrives, commit to 4 rides per week for the first 30 days. Evaluate number of rides per week thereafter.
    • This is more about me managing my time better than a matter of what Nibbles needs so it may adjust if she mentally needs more/less.
  • Compete in one (dressage) schooling show (on Nibbles or another horse) in at least Intro C by December 31, 2015.
    • Ideally on Nibbles but since I’m a recycled-green-bean myself, I’m flexible.

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Short Term Nibbles Goals

  • Research and reserve a boarding barn in my area within a 40 minute commute and with an indoor arena by October 1, 2015.
    • This is already under way and it looks like stall board is my only option. More $$ than I hoped. No really promising leads yet however.
  • Maintain level of training at all gaits and including leg yields through May 1, 2015 (AKA when winter is finally gone from this far north). Evaluate strength for more complex work or additional training thereafter.
    • This is conservative. I want trainers’ opinions on how hard to push and what to add to her repertoire when.
  • Obtain saddle fitting and reflocking to ensure optimum comfort by December 31, 2015.

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Short Term Together Goals (after Nibbles is local to me)

  • Commit to bi-weekly lessons that advance both myself and Nibbles’ training towards Training Level through December 31, 2015.
  • Schedule trail rides at least twice monthly depending on buddy availability to continue Nibbles’ exposure to all the things through December 31, 2015.
  • Continue incorporating trot poles and cavaletti into Nibbles’ training regime. If possible, introduce cross rails for cross training, strength and confidence building by December 31, 2015.

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Long Term Together Goals (aka the scary but awesome)

  • Obtain our USDF Bronze Medal by December 31, 2020.
  • Complete a limited distance ride by December 31, 2016.
  • Break Nibbles to drive because why not whenever I can find someone with a harness and cart.
  • Take my stepdaughter to her first leadline class on Nibbles by December 31, 2017.
  • Ride bridleless. Someday.
And maybe even have a baby one of these sometime...

And maybe even have a baby one of these sometime…

New Family Member

Growing up, my family had at least one cat and one dog and usually more than that. When I moved out, I realized very quickly that a home without an animal feels very strange. I adopted a cat while I was in college and she came to live on the farm with me a few summers back. While I was in China, she got lost or ran away. Even with her microchip, we were never able to track her down or find out what happened.

Ben and I are honestly more of dog people but our lifestyle just doesn’t fit having a dog right now. I’m gone for 9 hours every day at work and he is about to be in class most days.

After almost five years waiting, we decided the time was right to adopt a cat. A 5-month old male kitten if you want to get specific. We talked about it for months and finally made the leap this weekend (right before my lesson actually!).

Meet Tucker!

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Tucker is pretty funny right now – he came home on Saturday afternoon and has been a bit skittish understandably. He was in a foster home with 30 other cats and now he’s the only animal at our place. Once you have him in your arms, he’s purring and forcing his face into your hand for scratches. But he acts like he’s a big fraidy cat if he’s on the ground. He skitters away if he decides you’re in his bubble.

I was not eating your sandal. I am good kitten.

I was not eating your sandal. I am good kitten.

He’s gotten better and is coming up to me more instead of me having to virtually corner him. Having both had several cats growing up, we know we just need to give him time to get used to his new home. We’re smitten with him – even if he has already tested climbing my curtains.

Who can resist a kitten in a basket?

Who can resist a kitten in a basket?

Frank Sinatra Gives Me a Lesson

The verdict on my first lesson in over a year can be summed up in two words: humbling and amazing. It was a balmy 90 degrees and muggy with rain storms on the way. My parents were in town and my husband came as well which meant that a) I would have media and b) everyone would see that I’m basically a beginner all over again.

Meet Frank Sinatra

Meet Frank Sinatra

My ride for the day was a 16.3 hand Hanoverian/Paint gelding named Frankie (short for Frank Sinatra). Frank is a confidence builder supreme and let me flop around while I struggled to find my balance. Being used to 15 hand Arabians, Frank was a tank to me but I really, really enjoyed him.

blue eyed boy

blue eyed boy

As soon as I mounted (using a massive mounting block I might add), my right hip started spasming. I’ve always had weak hips and it didn’t take long for my body to remind me that I’m no longer a teenager. The instructor – we’ll call her Trainer J – showed me some stretches that were challenging but really beneficial. And off we went!

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The first thing I noticed was how tight my body was and Trainer J noticed the same. My seat wanted to stretch tall and long and be supple but there was a massive amount of rust. One of the first things I appreciated about J’s teaching style was her incorporation of baby yoga stretches. Frankie was content to plod along no matter how I contorted my body.

Eventually, my hips started to swing and my leg got a little longer and draped a little better. She also had my exaggerate pulling my shoulders back. A few years behind a desk will really destroy your posture! Looking at photos and videos after makes me realize my shoulders weren’t near as far back as it felt like they were. That was eye opening!

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Trainer J encouraged me to keep the same width between my collar bones as between my shoulder blades. I think this may be a Sally Swift thing but that image really helped me. After getting my joints loosened up at the walk, we moved on to trotting. Boy, I better get used to eating humble pie.

While I can certainly post and I haven’t forgotten my diagonals, the rest of my trot work needs rebuilding. Immediately she called me out on posting much too far out of the saddle and not allowing Frankie’s motion to create the movement. I also started tilting forward and undoing my work to get my shoulders back and core engaged. Darn it!

Best husband ever took some video on his iPhone. Blogging is about the journey and being honest, right? Here you go. I wish it was longer but hubby had limited memory space.

Obviously my toe starts leaving the building but I’m ok with that because I know it’s a lack of strength. She laughed when I told her everything she was saying made sense, I just had to get my body to listen up.

I will say that by the end of the lesson, I felt a lot more confident and I could see a big difference in my leg. Big difference meaning instead of looking like a sack of potatoes I looked like a solid handful – but I’ll take it!

As humbling as it was to be hit in the face with yes, you are a beginner again, I haven’t been so happy since, well, the last time I was on a horse. I am completely consciously incompetent and I have never been so excited to be a novice.

My big takeaways and homework are:

  • Post from your inner thigh, not your knee. Let your leg drape and your toe come in by engaging the inner thigh and not pinching elsewhere.
  • The distance between your collar bones should be the same as the distance between your shoulder blades. Even though my shoulders felt jammed back, seeing myself proves that they definitely were not.
  • Keep a following feel in my elbows while keeping my upper arm draped loosely by my side. This is the only way that I can (eventually) establish elastic contact.
  • Let the horse’s motion create the post. I don’t need to come high out of the saddle, just barely and briefly (which if you switch to is way harder!).
  • Practice stretching my hips (she showed me a few yoga poses) as well as keeping my shoulders back and stretching them regularly at my desk.

Another thing that made me like J is that she brought up lunge lessons. I may have said “YES PLEASE” before she finished her sentence. I would love nothing more than to be put on the lunge line and have my reins and stirrups taken away. Sign me up for independent seat bootcamp!

Money is tight right now with Nibbles’ show so my next lesson won’t be until around September 1st. I’m counting it down.

Denny Emerson Knows His Stuff

I have never claimed to be an eventer but you don’t have to be to mine the gold Denny Emerson is serving up on his Facebook page, Tamarack Hill Farm. If you aren’t following it already, where have you been?

please tell me you get this

please tell me you get this

As usual, Denny hit the nail on the head regarding the whole it all comes back to hours spent in the tack thing. I can’t paraphrase it and do it justice so I’m going to post below what he shared because I think we all need to hear it.

Either you find a way or you find an excuse. As Denny so eloquently put it – don’t like it? Tough bananas.

Tough-Banana

Whenever I post something about the need for endless practice as the key to improvement, INEVITABLY I will get responses about how expensive it is, and therefore how prohibitive it is, and those responses, while TOTALLY ACCURATE, are also TOTALLY IRRELEVANT.

What do I mean by that?

Well, we all know the overused cliche, “It is what it is”, right?

And here you come cantering on your horse toward a jump. You have a crummy, non adjustable canter, but it doesn’t much matter, because you couldn’t see your distance to save your soul, anyway.

You get in to a deep spot, drop him, and jump up his neck, while looking down, as he lumbers over the fence, sending rails flying into the neighboring village.

OR—Here you come toward a jump with a canter that combines, as Le Goff used to preach, enough impulsion and balance, so that at any nanosecond you can lengthen or shorten, as your eye, which you have honed by about a zillion repititions, tells you is necessary.

As the horse lifts off, your hips go back, your lower leg stays firmly put exactly just behind the girth, your chin and eyes go up, your back stays flat, and your hands and arms soften to allow for a good bascule.

Now, children, you can whine from now til New Year that it “isn’t fair” that the reason Susie can do it and I can’t is because Susie is rich/sponsored/, and I’m not, because—–

Drum roll—–Are you ready for this???? More drum roll—-

“The horse feels what he feels.” The horse doesn’t CARE why you suck or are competent. He only responds to the ride you give him. And how you became (or failed to become, or are failING to become) the rider with those requisite skills as opposed to the rider without skills is TOTALLY IRRELEVANT to your horse.

So figure out a way to do it, or don’t. Whining about how hard/expensive/blahblahblahblah it is may make you feel better, but whining is hardly as effective a strategy as figuring out how to get more practice time.

Don’t like it? Don’t do it.

Want it? Figure out how. It is what it is, tough bananas.

Quo Vadis: Part 2 – Current State of Affairs

Quo Vadis is Latin for “Where are you going?” (Before I decided on a business degree, I was a philosophy and classical studies major so forgive me the chance to toss in a little Latin.) In this mini-series, I’m going to articulate where I’ve been, where we are now, and finally where Nibbles and I are heading. This is a personal exercise to make me think critically about my goals but also to further introduce myself to the wonderful blogging community that has supported me so much already.

Last time, I covered where we’ve been.

This time, I’m going to try to objectively talk about where we are now. To help organize my thoughts and not drag you all through a giant narrative, I’ll break this up into my non-horse life, my riding life (or lack thereof) and Nibbles’ life.

My Non-Horse Life Status

Woo, actual headers to break up my ramblings! I think it’s important to reflect on where I’m at now in my life outside of horses because we all know it has a big impact on what we can realistically commit to horses and riding. In the past 3 months, I’ve experienced a massive amount of change. I got married (in June) and we moved for my husband’s two-year MBA program. That means I left my old job (working in the marketing world with many equine clients) and started a new job (that I really enjoy but has nothing to do with horses). Don’t they say the most stressful things in life are starting a new job and getting married? If not for my husband’s amazing support, I couldn’t have accomplished both at the same time. Throw in a European honeymoon and we’ve been, literally, all over the place!

Photo by Jamie Abitz Photography

Photo by Jamie Abitz Photography

As stressful as that sounds – and it was – things are better than they have been for me probably ever. I have an amazing support system, steady employment, and I know I’ll be in this location until at least May 2017 (MBA and all).

What does that mean for what you care about, the horse part of my life? It means I can finally look at a budget I know isn’t changing anytime soon, look at my other commitments requiring a lot of my time, and carve out what can be “spent” on horses and riding.

It’s taken a long, long time to get here. I know it won’t always be smooth sailing. Exhibit A: Surprise, we have to buy husband a new laptop for grad school. But it feels good to finally be mostly stable.

 

My Horse Life Status

The last time I rode was visiting Nibbles July 13th and before that was in April. But I’ve taken the first step to change that:

I scheduled a lesson with a local trainer. I am beyond excited. My last lesson was last May and, while I was annoyed with what I couldn’t make my body do, I had a blast. This Saturday can hurry up and get here as far as I’m concerned. I’ll be riding one of the trainer’s school horses since Nibbles is still 4 hours away and will be until at least after her first show on September 20th.

Ok so those half chaps ARE pretty fugly...

Ok so those half chaps ARE pretty fugly…

Additionally, I’m trying to sell my trailer. It needs some work so I’m not asking much and hoping that will lead to a relatively quick sale. In fact, I’m working with a local dealership to trade it in for a flatbed trailer that I can then sell (I hope) much easier.

As far as tack goes, I really don’t need anything right now. I have everything I need to ride. Given, I still have my ugly helmet that does need replacing but that will come after I’ve committed to regular lessons (as a little incentive, ya know?). Given that we now live pretty far north (think Chicago-ish), I have a feeling I’ll be investing in some winter riding pants and boots. But for now, I’m going to delude myself into thinking I can survive with what I have and pat my wallet.

Hoping this is not in my future with Nibbles

Hoping this is not in my future with Nibbles

Nibbles’ Little Life Update

Nibbles is broke. I love writing that sentence! That was the whole point of sending her for training and it’s definitely been accomplished. She’s green but she is most definitely broke.

August 11 - photo by Trainer E

August 11 – photo by Trainer E

I’ve committed to sending her to her first dressage show on September 20th. I’ll be heading up there as groom, cheerleader and photographer. After that, it seems likely that she will be making her appearance in my neck of the woods which means I am fervently looking for the right boarding situation (hopefully even at the barn of whomever I decide to lesson with). She’s green and I’m out of riding shape so I want to be as close to a support system as I can be.

Next up: the good stuff – where we are going in the future.

 

The Spanish Riding School

Visiting the Spanish Riding School has been on my bucket list since I learned what it was as a kid. My husband made that dream come true by buying us tickets to see a performance there on our Honeymoon this past June. To make it completely surreal, Trainer E surprised us with a private tour of the stables from her trainer, Herbert, who is one of the riders there!

Just outside the doors of the SRS - strange, right?

Just outside the doors of the SRS – strange, right?

The Spanish Riding School is located in what we Americans might consider “downtown” Vienna. To be sure, it seems a strange place to have a stable full of horses. The architecture is absolutely beautiful.

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We arrived a little early because obviously I was excited. We headed over to the courtyard where we were supposed to meet Herbert. We waited outside of the courtyard gates and he met us right on time (although try waiting outside the gates where you can see the aisle leading into stalls and tell me you aren’t dying).

Looking in from the gate

Looking in from the gate

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Herbert let us in and I don’t think I could feel my hands. I was so excited and desperately trying to take it all in. The amount of history and tradition in that place is something to behold and, frankly, pictures will do it better justice than words.

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The SRS always keeps at least one bay Lipizzaner stallion for good luck; they are trained but not used in performances or for breeding.

The SRS always keeps at least one bay Lipizzaner stallion for good luck; they are trained but not used in performances or for breeding.

Cue melting down. So. Gorgeous.

Cue melting down. So. Gorgeous.

Herbert told us there were about 75 horses there and proceeded to show us around the “barn” which isn’t a grand enough word for what it really was. He took us to one of his stallions first, one he would be riding in the performance shortly thereafter. I sheepishly asked if I could pet him and he said of course with a grin.

Bringing his charge over to meet us

Bringing his charge over to meet us

Herbert gave me sugar. Clearly the stallions here aren't sweet at all.

Herbert gave me sugar. Clearly the stallions here aren’t sweet at all.

If you are accepted as a student – an Eleves at the lowest level – at the SRS, you are assigned a four year old stallion that you are responsible for the training of for the rest of his life. The horse above was Herbert’s first stallion, now age 19 but still used in performances. Definite proof that dressage done right can do wonders for a horse’s body.

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He offered to show us any stallions we wanted. All of the horses at the SRS are stallions – they never have any geldings or mares. The mares, of course, would distract the stallions in such small quarters (no turnout in the middle of metropolitan Vienna).

A four year old stallion who was in the young horse performance seciton

A four year old stallion who was in the young horse performance section

Preparing one of the stallions who was in the airs above the grounds section

Preparing one of the stallions who was in the airs above the grounds section

After I’d contented myself with petting as many muzzles as I could, we made it to the tack room. Massive, massive amounts of coveting. See for yourself…

Can you see my open jaw?

Can you see my open jaw?

Schooling bridles

Schooling bridles

The schooling saddles are black leather and the performance saddles are the white deerskin.

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The schooling saddles are black leather and the performance saddles are the white deerskin.

After spying the brands below, I asked Herbert if any of the bloodlines tended to specialize in one part of the performance. For instance, was one bloodline usually hotter and therefore used in the airs above the ground? Herbert said that no, the bloodlines are pretty widespread in that regard. He did point out the the super talented stallions, the ones with potential for the haute ecole, definitely tended to be more sensitive and complex individuals.

A cool piece of leather showing all the Lipizzaner brands represented at the SRS

A cool piece of leather showing all the Lipizzaner sirelines represented at the SRS

Myself, Herbert and my Husband

Myself, Herbert and my Husband

At this point, it was nearly time for the performance. Herbert was so humble and friendly. I was definitely sad I couldn’t be greedy and pick his brain some more. He walked us to our seats inside the winter riding school. It felt special to have a rider who was clearly dressed for the performance take us to our seats. Ben spoiled me and got us ground seats in the third row.

Unfortunately, during the performance, there is no photography allowed but you can check YouTube for videos of what they do if you haven’t seen it before.

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Best. Husband. Ever

Best. Husband. Ever

All in all, it met every expectation and then some. If you’re ever in Vienna, I highly recommend making a trip and spending the money on a performance. It was an experience I’ll never forget.