Friday, April 30, 2010

I'll Take a Chance on Every Breath

Well, it's definitely been a while since I've updated this thing. Bad me, bad! It isn't even as if I've got any grand excuses. Winter, really? What's going to go on in winter? Answer, being, absolutely nothing. Anyway, since the last time I posted nothing catastrophic has gone on. Winter is always a lovely season. I've always loved the snow, and-for all that the pastures are in short supply (conditions need to be ideal at my barn for the pastures to be open-most of the time, we're left with the smaller all weather lots) Eagle is surprisingly charitable towards humanity. We battled the typical rain rot (As always, MTG is the only thing that really works, much to my dismay. Listerine was tried and so was "Banixx", which was advertised particularly for rain rot. Don't waste your money on it.) and generally, just had a good time.

A dear friend of mine, Natalie, stopped by a few times over winter. Most notably, in January, we had a mini "show jumping" clinic at my barn. It was quite the experience.

Picture to the right is Eagle flatting that week. It was, I think, the first time we really had a breakthrough at "The" canter. It was amazing!
You may also note the better fitting saddle (on my part). For christmas I was gifted with an 18'' CWD jumping saddle and I have to say
, it's quite the ride. A big step up from my HDR close contact, at any rate! It's nice to be in a saddle that my leg doesn't hang off of, or my butt. Suggestion to all of you who read this, check to make sure that you have room to move in your saddle! Even if you sit in it and it "fits" at a walk or a standstill doesn't mean that you'll have a comfortable ride in it when you need a little more room for cantering, or jumping!
Unfortunately, for as nicely as he behaved on the flat jumping still was liable to fry his brain. There's a certain point with Eagle where you just have to stop. I frequently see it like when you're working on a computer-the more screens you have and the more you make it try to process, the more overheated and temperamental it gets. Same with Eagle. However, this is one of the few nice pictures of the day! It was very, very p
roductive. The course, designed by two of the instructors at the barn, was created with the notion of bending in mind. Jumping on a serpentine, odd directional changes and short, hard approaches to fences were pretty much the

flavor of the day. Even though we weren't too pretty, I really learned a lot about moving my legs to move Eagle's haunches. He's always had a propensity to drift left. I think part of it is, I'm just naturally stronger on the right side of my body so I'll try to "pull" him right with the right r
ein instead of blocking the leftward drift with my leg. That course really illustrated my weaknesses as a rider and it gave me a lot of "homework" to do!

The next momentous occasion I faced this winter was Eagle's and my two year anniversary! I was lucky enough to have him bought for me on February 7, 2008. I can't believe that so much time has passed-and how we've both developed. Let's just say, we've picked up our share of bad habits..but on the other hand, he's more mature as a horse and I'm definitely a far more confidant rider.

He's taught me so much-about riding, about him, and about myself. He's not only a 'pet', but he's a partner. Eagle is the best relationship I've ever had, and the things I've learned I'll, no doubt, carry with me through my entire life. How difficult it is to be patient with a horse that knows better, but just doesn't care and misbehaves anyway! How many times do we have to strip things down to the basics to reteach them something they've already performed wonderfully at? How many times are they going to make fools of us before they decide to show us mercy? And then, how many
times are we forced to show them compassion, when they're worried and frightened? How much confidence do they give us, because we know it's the only way they'll relax? I've learned more about myself in two years than I had in eighteen, before. Simply put, I've been blessed with an amazing gift-and for all the headaches he's given me, and the bumps and the bruises, I'll cherish every one of them-because every one of them comes with a lesson to be learned.

It astounds me to read stories, in the papers or on the websites, or even hear the gossip of what's going on with "youth", or society these days. There are people dropping out of school or getting involved in illegal activities, there are young girls with destroyed images of themselves because of peer pressure and there are boys who try so hard to be a "dude" that they forget everything a
bout themselves. And as much as I might lament at these things, I can go to the barn and see the little girls riding and know that, for as long as they choose to stick with this, they have a place that they're special. Every single time we get on a horse, the extraordinary happens-and little girls know this. As we get older, sometimes we lose sight of this, but the things that little girls could teach us are lessons, too, that we should never misplace.
I've been lucky enough to see a young girl develop as a rider over the past few years. She took lessons with my instructor and eventually ended up leasing a horse that was stabled next to Eagle for some time. This winter, she was finally given a horse. It was a long and exhausting process (I spoke frequently about her father-a regular at the barn, as his daughter can't be older than 12-about the difficulties of finding the "right" horse. She refused to settle!) but in seeing that, I was reminded of myself as a child-and maybe, a little bit, of every single little girl that ever dreamed of having a pony.

This little girl ended up with a very nice, kind thoroughbred gelding who just seems to know how precious his relationship with her is. You can see this horse being so careful as he goes, how much of an old soul he is, even though he can't be older than 8. At any rate, being able to ride with her, and watch her work on herself, has been like reliving my own progression all over again.
How many of us still have "that" little girl inside of us still?

Musings aside, Eagle has grown up. Or at least, sort of. He turned 9 on April 22, and it seems as if this is going to be a
good year for us. This winter we made huge strides in our flat work-pun not intended. There's adjustability in the gaits and the frame. The dressage instructor who drives in to teach at our barn once a week once said that "If you cannot stretch your horse down and out at any point in your ride, then you must reassess what you are doing because you are doing something wrong". I'm happy to say that, for the most part, I'm 'there' with Eagle. Most days, anyway. We still have our moments where Eagle dreams of being the next Funny Cide.
Gaits, sensitiveness to aids and the adjustable frame have come. The canter really has just developed in the past month. I truly believe what happened is that I finally was comfortable enough in my ride to soften my back and sit up. Instead of putting extra weight on his (already) overburdened shoulders-and if you look at pictures of him, you can see that he's very heavily built in front-I'm able to just soften and balance and move with him.
Needless to say, he appreciates the gesture.

Jumping has been hit and miss, up until frequently. There were good days and there were bad days. Quite frankly, there
might be three or four good fences in a lesson and that was Eagle's quota. As a rider, I don't think I was strong enough-or relaxed enough-to give him the sense of "chill" that he needed. He leaves from the base of a fence very aggressively-even if he has a good distance, he really powers off. When this happens, inevitably, he lands long and hard on the other side and it takes a few strides for him to rebalance himself. If I just sit and relax on the backside and don't fuss with his face and give him leg to guide him, he's fine. However, if I get tight and unbalanced, he's never quite able to recover and that's where our disastrous backsides of fences come from.
At least, that's my speculation on it.

Oversized photo aside, I felt as if it were an appropriate moment to drop that in! The third week of April we went cross country schooling. Our first show is in the third week of May, so it was about time we got "out" there. Suffice to say, I was more than a little nervous. Eagle? Field? Fences? This can go nowhere but downhill, I've been taught.
It's also entirely possible that I'm not all there in the head because I keep going back for more? That aside, with how good he had been on the flat (the canter had been "discovered" in the week before this schooling.) I felt as if I were obligated to at least try. Sort of. Maybe?

As all things with my horse goes, what you expect isn't what you get. What you get always surprises you-either for the better or for the worst. It's definitely a marriagesque quality, there. ("Till death do us part" isn't worth speculating on though.)

I go Cross Country Schooling with the main eventing instructor, a lovely woman who shows prelim, named Brigitte. My general instructor is Diane-timing has never worked out for her to come out with us and take me along, so I'm a bit of the ugly duckling in the group of girls. Brigitte has seen us at our worst though (last year, probably..) so it was gratifying to have her see us as something other than a complete wreck.
My horse..we had the straight! Straight lines to fences, manageable gaits, and overall good temper. He was quick on the back side of fences, but he wasn't ignoring me as he did so, and he wasn't running away with me. It was just a longer canter. More importantly, I seem to have discovered some semblance of form over fences! I'm not (completely) on his neck and my hands aren't glued to my saddle!

Releases have always been a bone of contention between Eagle and I. He would love a nice long rein release. If I would just slip a little more of the rein through my fingers? Yes? (No, says I.) What we've (Brigitte, Diane and I) have developed with him as we jump is that I never truly let go of his face over a fence. I should never block, but I will always be in contact with where his mouth is-following, but never throwing away. To some degree, it seems as if I'm getting there.

Hell. I'm just happy I don't look like a sack of potatoes, to be honest.

Oddly, for he and I, one of the hardest things for us still, is to just get a calm canter in a field. We can canter between fences, to fences, away from fences-we can have fantastic trot work, but for some reason, the canter is always going to be the gait that gives us trouble. Part of it is, no doubt, that he is extremely active in the gait and I've never been very good at moving with him.

Today (4/30) I had a lesson out in the Cross Country Field. First time Diane and I have done a lesson outside (well..beyond the Sand Arena. We ride out there frequently.) and I mentioned something to a friend of mine about it the night before. I told him that, no doubt, since it was likely to be hot (82) and windy, I'd have my lesson in a field somewhere. (And naturally, my horse would be a moron for it.)

Well. Let me count the ways how Eagle surprised me. We walked all the way down the driveway (about a third of a mile) to the cross country field without any unnecessary stupidity. I allow him some fast walking, but jigging, walking sideways, trotting and headtossing are all "stupid" in my book. We managed to trot and canter without too much fuss. We did not have a cow over other horses running in pastures alongside where we were working!
We...actually, didn't do half bad.
Let me tell you what I'm not surprised at.

In 45 minutes, I was sunburned. It only took a warm April and my "rider" tan lines are back in full force. Glove tan? Check. Farmer's tan? Check. Super burned nose? Yep, I have that, too.
Go me.

Today was really just a good day to work on fences, though. Our Cross Country Field is very uneven-we've got a hell of a hill going on, and so there's a lot of opportunity for jumping up and down hills, which is something that I've never been particularly fond of. Actually, jumping uphill is fine. Having to sit quiet in the back seat and let Eagle jump away from me going downhill though, is not on my list of fun times.
(Really, it's counter intuitive to every single survival instinct I have.)

All in all, we were good. Eagle got fast to the base of some of the fences, but I didn't pick that fight. I know by now what he's going to give me and so long as I ride whatever that is, well, we can manage cleanly enough. Form over fences is coming, too. SOFT ELBOWS are something I need to work on. When I get frustrated, or tight, or tense--it all shows up in the arm around the elbow, which is not good for any form of following his face over a fence-or even releasing.
The other thing I seemed to get "down" today was halfhalting to my hip! When we turned away from the barn, we certainly had a few moments of "Welllll I'd rather go that way" and trotting (or cantering) sideways commenced.
Instead of trying to haul his face around or change directions, my rein created a wall-his nose to my hip, and then the leg came back and bumped him a little bit behind my saddle pad (Long legs. I can reach back that far) to establish a line of "You will not cross this". It took a little while but actually, we figured it out pretty well.

Jumped downhill (a coop) to another coop (jumping away from the barn) to a brush/log fence combo thing (uphill to the barn) to stumps (downhill landing, towards the barn). My horse..well, he was pretty damn good.
And so was I, if I don't say so myself.

And so, that's it.
Let's hear it-to hopes, progress, happiness..and horses.

For as difficult as it can be, and as much of a headache as they are, and how much we hurt for what we's what we love.
And I'll take a chance on it every single day.
Because, really--if not this, then what?
I can think of no other place-no other people, and no other partner I would rather be at and with.