Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Money, Fame and Fortune could never compete

So it's on the eve of thanksgiving. I know, I know. Just another holiday that involves way too much food (blasphemy!), too much family and too much liquor. Okay, x-nay on the last bit. The only time you can drink too much is when you're thinking about it the morning after. Really, I understand. I wrote an entire essay on "How to Survive Thanksgiving Dinner with Family". (I kid you not.)

Anyway. If your family is like mine, some obnoxious soul will stand up and clank on his glass (so cliche) and demand you take a second to think about what you're thankful for. If your company resembles anything like the Kids Table (To which I have been long since banished to, being one of the youngest three or four in my family) you (and company) will roll your eyes, fall silent, staring gluttenously at the food placed in front of you that you really want to eat, but are not yet permitted to. It's kind of like having a sugar cube in front of your horse, but popping them in the nose every time they go for it.
So the point is, you probably may give a passing thought to things you're 'thankful' for, but you probably give the half-assed answers that everyone has. Family. Health. Friends. That you still have a job/home. If you're reading this you are probably one of the few people who follow this, to which I'll invite you to take a moment to really think. What are you thankful for? What in the past year has happened that has enlightened you, taught you and pushed you to grow?

I'll let you know what I'm thankful for.
I'm thankful to be in a barn where I have a fabulous instructor on hand who is accessible to help me whenever and if ever I need it. If she's not there, there's other people who are always so willing to give me a hand.
I am thankful that I'm at a barn where I can take it 'at my own pace'. It isn't about making the cut, the ribbon or the grade. I am not expected to be able to do certain things that may be within my capacity, but am not quite prepared for them yet.
I am so very, incredibly greatful for my overall wellness. This year has been up and down-I fell off on a rear that, had it gone differently, might have ended with a horse on top of me. My back relapsed and for a while there it looked really bad with the prognosis. However, PT and time has improved that. I can still ride, and I can get on a horse without being in pain.
More than that, I am thankful that I have been blessed to be around horses. So many people never have the opportunity to interact with them, wish they could but don't have the means or the opportunity. Not only can I, but I have been gifted with the ability to call one of these incredible creatures my own. I've been taught to value not only patience, but have been given lessons every single time I'm out there on compassion, understanding, tolerance, keeping my temper and how much the simple things really do matter.

So this thanksgiving, I am thankful for so many things-but more than anything, I am thankful for all of the things that I have learned this past year. That I can do what I set my mind to, that there are people behind me-no matter what my decisions are. The only person keeping me from doing what I'd like, is me. And that it's not all about what other people think-it's about seeing where you've come from, and realizing where you stand now.
(Feel free to post what you feel thankful for, what your horses have taught you or revelations you've had in the past year!)

Anyway, sappy mentality aside, the horse was good for our lesson today. I had last week off (lesson wise) as Diane was sick. It was a nice break, but I definitely feel it now! The horse was very, very good.
Perhaps the oddest thing about my riding experience to date (the past week or so) is that I have been having to use my leg. I know, it's a normal, average little thing. Leg to sustain a gait? Open it up? Yeah, typical. For so long to transition up with Eagle I just had to give him an opening to go. If I wanted a 'bigger' gait I just had to open up a little bit (ease up on contact, seat saying "Whoa") and we were there.

However, as I said, this new experience has been showing up since about a week ago. Diane and I have really been working on getting him to support himself, particularly at the canter. With the aid of ~10/12m canter circles he's having to carry himself-I'm not hauling his face and neck around anymore! We're almost at the point where touching his face at the canter is a no-no. He's so responsive to turning off the leg that I can effectively drop his face and say "Take care of yourself, sucker".
With the help of circles (Randomly thrown in at the canter-anywhere and everywhere) he's actually really reaching under with his inside hind. I guess his canter before was so likely to get quick because for much of the time, I was holding onto his face to hold up his head and neck and shoulders. Hanging onto him that way, he never could really use himself fully to balance himself. Now that he's balanced, he doesn't need to go fasterandfasterandfaster to avoid falling on his face.

It's the catch-22. When a horse goes fast, you want to take their face and say "Whoa". On the other hand, the more you try to get their face the more quick they're likely to go because they can't use themselves correctly to regain their balance. That is still my biggest problem with Eagle behind fences. When he gets quick I want to start 'water skiing'. My leg comes infront of me and I lean back, holding on his face. I don't keep 'dancing' with him.

So with Eagle finding his balance, I'm actually having to ride with more leg that I'm really used to. It's slightly surreal when I have to leg him up at the canter to get him to open up. (Sanity? DO I FEEL IT COMING ON?) A slightly surreal moment, to say in the least. Today we had some beautiful flat work, though there were no particularly 'eureka' exercises or moments. It was just solid and consistent, which has been a first.

Also a first today was cantering fences. I do not canter fences. If they're in a line, I'll do so but for the most part Eagle will get so excited and 'whee!' that we focus on trying to solidify him (and me) trotting to the base of a fence and then bring him back right after. He was good enough today that we ended up cantering to fences, and cantering related distances.
Started out really nice, but a fudge with arena traffic really wound him up. I also have discovered I am not at all forceful on a 'whoa' on the backside of a fence. I'm so aware of touching his face (I used to be horrible about catching him in the face) that I do not want to be firm about it.

I forsee a new exercise. Canter, trot. Canter, trot. Repeat. Incessantly. He does have a very nice transition, but most of the time it's once we've cantered for a bit and have it settled in. The backside of a fence is not so 'settled in', which means he's much more interested in "More? We'll do more. Thanks." We started out on a figure eight-trot to canter out, trot, and then trot to the second fence. Once we had done that a few times, trot in, canter out-if you're on the right lead, continue on to the other fence. He'd consistently land on the left lead, but did not want to land on the right lead. So we kept having to "Whoa" and then pick it up. Blech.
Not so fun.

All in all, it was not a particularly stellar lesson-things kept interrupting us, between another person jumping the fences that I was starting to work over on a green horse (I ended up walking the horse for about 15 minutes-dropped the reins and worked on steering with legs) and then the arena traffic got the horse jazzed up. However, I do not dare say that it was a bad lesson! We've come so far. Even a month ago I would have called someone crazy if they said consistently cantering to fences would be possible. We're not quite on the level to really do a solid course, but we're getting there.
Isn't that the story of life, though? We're always getting somewhere!

Happy thanksgiving, everyone.

"Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out."
-Robert Collier

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