This picture has nothing to do with sugar, other than the fact that this was a really fun day, and I'd like a thousand more of them.

I’m still walking around in circles and figure 8s with the injured reserve horses (and will be for the next month at least) and it gives me some time to think.  Like almost everybody, I’ve had a few times in my life when I’ve been sick and therefore kept out of the barn for a while. So today I was thinking about our health and how prevention is a pretty smart plan, not only just generally, but as horsepeople, we know we can’t take care of our horses the way we would like (or get to ride!) if we are sick.

Some sickness is out of our control, but many more factors affecting health are in our hands than we used to believe possible.

A few weeks ago I wrote about giving up Coke (the drink not the powder, I’m so not giving up the powder!  JOKE, seriously, joke. If you ever met me, Miss Drug Ignorant, you’d be laughing.)  Anyhoo, I backslid a little bit on the giving up Coke thing.  Not badly, just one 12 oz. can to get the workday started, but even that was buggin’ me for how high it ranked on the stupid human scale.

Last Friday I got the kick in the butt that the Dr. ordered.  I was cleaning stalls listening to (nerd alert) NPR’s Science Friday, when Robert Lustig, a UCSF scientist came on the show.  He was advocating that sugar be taken much more seriously as a health threat, maybe even to the point of regulation or a tax on sugar.  He presented information from studies that indicated that sugar can do all the things you already know it can do: make you fat, help you develop Type II diabetes and give you a sugar crash an hour or two after you eat a bunch of it.  Then the doctor went on to explain how eating too much sugar affects your brain.  The stall-cleaners’ version is that it clogs up your wiring and can bring on early dementia.  Full audio version on the upper left corner of this page.

The idea of being a party to clogging up my own brain wiring seriously scared me.  I don’t know about you, but I really would like to have my brain continue to work really well for a long time.

So then I wondered about how many grams of sugar is the RDA.  Turns out it is 40 grams max, which is about 10 teaspoons, which sounds like a lot, but I looked at my yogurt today and it had 22 grams.  Half a day’s RDA!  Seriously, yogurt.  If you want to freak yourself out about how much sugar is in food  in beverages, visit Sugarstacks.com

So since hearing that Science Friday segment, I have been Coke-free again.  I have replaced it with hot green tea when working at the ‘U (partly because there is a superfast, hot water-for-tea heater there;  and I’m drinking unsweet iced tea otherwise.  I happen to like tea, so I can’t even earn hero points for the sacrifice.  Rats.  Sort of.

But what I can report is that water tastes better to me now.  I always liked water, but now that my taste buds aren’t daily bathing in the rock n’ roll amplification of high-fructose soda, they can better appreciate the subtle symphony that water offers.  Pretty sweet.  (oh  very punny, I know.)

So that was all horse-related because you have to take care of you in order to take care of your horse.  Sort of new take on “Love me, love my horse,” except now it is self-love in the most altruistic sense.

Other thought for the day, I love my new nathe snaffle bit, because my horses love my new nathe snaffle bit.  It is extremely flexible (you can easily bend it in half and put the rings together.  It is gum/plastic over a wire (wire so that it can not be bitten through, which would be unusual.)

Flexible.  Thin.  Two hooves up.

I work really hard on having correct hands, using my seat first, and having elastic connection.  But I still have one horse that hangs his tongue like a hound dog and another who grinds like a grist mill.  I’m happy to report that the hound dog is noticeable less houndy (the thinner bit seems to fit his mouth better) and the grist mill now mouths the bit in a relaxed manner.  The more I ride the less I bit.

Charlie and I on a recent hunt. Yes, we're both very tall. He's 17 hands, I'm 6'3". My friend and her horse are normal-sized.

I haven’t had an unsound horse for a long time – until recently.  Now I have two on the injured reserve stall rest list.  Charlie and Sammy.  The prognosis is good for both of them.  We’ve now done the first 10 days of strict stall rest, the week of stall rest plus 10 minutes of hand-walking per day and now we are on to stall rest with 15 minutes of walking, this time mounted.  I’ll admit, I had some trepidation about getting on Charlie, a thoroughbred who, a few years ago, had a habit of bucking and now had a few weeks of stall rest under his girth.

But he was an angel.  Never set a foot wrong.  Of course, the horse that I thought would be easy peasy, Sammy, started with a humped-up back and had a few moments of corkscrew ears and some mumbling about how he could buck and he was a wild, wild horse.  Yeah.  Wild Sammy.  You can stop that now.

He didn’t buck, by the way.    Contrary to his wonted bad boy image, he’s a good man.  Sammy at an eventer derby

Anyway, now I am walking the two goofballs around the indoor for 15 minutes per horse every day.  It just so happens that these days I am also reading Charles De Kunffy’s book Training Strategies for Dressage Riders (on my rockin’ Kindle Fire, that thing is just stupid cool).  So I’ve got 30 minutes of walk to do and I start fooling around with CDK’s comments on use of the rider’s legs.  He says the inside leg is the driving leg and the outside leg is the guarding leg when asking for a bend.

So I walk and walk around the arena on a loose rein thinking about this.  Of course, the first time I put my leg on to play with it, each fresh horsie decides this is an invitation to trot.  Hmmm.  No, not the right button.  So then I make sure not to drop my leg back even an inch, but use it more straight toward the girth, leading with my ankle bone.  That got me leg yield.  Hmmmm, right idea, but not quite.  So I walked around a little more and thought about it.  Maybe if I…  What about if…

Sammy, in case you don't follow video links.

So I got to thinking about using my whole inside leg, from the hip down.  This would have to be without pinching with the knee. With my long-legged conformation it is not possible to use my lower calf/ankle, while keeping my knee against the saddle, so I keep my calf on and allow the knee to come off the saddle if necessary, but usually it is just a softening of its contact with the saddle.

After performing this thought experiment, I gave it a try.  What I noticed was that when I used my whole leg, my seat bones were more precisely placed and probably clearer to the horse.  I got really cool results.  The first night, after a few wobbles and comedies of errors, I could do a large figure 8 in my arena using only seat aids.  It was terrific!  The second night, not really believing this was possible – maybe the horses were so smart they were memorizing the pattern – I threw in a random circle.  Sure enough it worked.  Then I started playing with different-sized circles.  Some learning curve there, and after what has now been an hour of walking around, I am getting a handle on that.

But back to CDK’s idea of the inside leg being the driving aid.  Turns out that when I use that leg in a more energetic manner (still quiet and rhythmic, but a bit more emphatically) I get a tighter turn that remains in balance.  In retrospect, this makes perfect sense.  Look at the reach from the inside hind on this horse learning canter pirouette.

 

The stalling point

 

So the arena has been stalled at an unusable point for a month due to the construction crews moving to a cow/calf operation project that had to get done before calving. Um, arg.    This has effectively eliminated any chance of riding to days when the footing happens to be perfect in the pasture or on the gravel roads, which doesn’t happen with frequency in February in Iowa.  Of course, before the indoor arena project I had an outdoor arena which I could use with some regularity in winter, but the location of the indoor is where the outdoor was, so I am now effectively hamstrung for riding, until construction begins again in mid-March.

So I’ve been reading.  The latest book is “Dressage Masters, Techniques and Philosophies of Four Legendary Trainers”.  It is an interview book, simply written and it is really wonderful.  I bought it because it has my dressage hero, Klaus Balkenhol, as one of the four, but I’ve found also that the other trainers – Ernst Hoyos, Dr. Uwe Schulten-Baumer and George Theodorescu are equally admirable.  It makes me feel good every time I realize that all good trainers sound fundamentally the same.  They all have first a love of the horse.  That seems obvious, until you meet a trainer who doesn’t love horses.   I bought this book for my Kindle for like $15 or something.

 

Ellen Schulten-Baumer

The quote from it that I want to share with you was spoken by Ellen Schulten-Baumer, whose father, Dr. Uwe Schulten-Baumer, trained her.  She currently has 5 Grand Prix dressage horses in her barn that she and her dad trained from 3 year olds.  I’m just going to share this quote and get out, because I can add nothing to it.  Rock on, people.

 

“I learned something very important from my father.  When a horse doesn’t perform a lesson as expected, I first have to ask myself whether the horse is capable.  If the answer is yes, then I must think about how I apply my aids.  I must use them better so the horse understands exactly what I want.  This may involve riding more preparatory exercises.  If I can’t get it right fairly quickly, then I go to something else.  It is unfair and unproductive to drill a horse; this causes too much physical and mental stress.  I tell my students this also.  If they just can’t get it right, they can think about their aids overnight and try again tomorrow.  Then the horse and rider get a fresh star together.”

The Newf, playing the role of recently awakened grizzly bear

Our Newf Peppa has to take a few pills per day.  I’ve been spooning out about a tablespoon of peanut butter, hiding the pills in it, rolling it up and giving the resulting peanut butter ball of goodness to the Newf, who eats them down like a champ.  This plan was all good until I started to get slightly annoyed with the reality of having peanut butter combined with dog goo on my fingers every day.  I love peanut butter, and without the dog goo, I would just like it off my fingers like anybody would.  But the dog goo makes it a no deal.  So I rinse it off with water, but, I’ve found I need to use very hot water, because peanut butter plus cold water simply equals stickier peanut butter.  Paper towels work too, but the process is still unsatisfying.

Peppa the Newf in delighted phase

Then one day, I took a spoon straight from the dishwasher, freshly cycled.  It was a little bit damp as I used it to scoop my peanut butter.  And voi la!  The peanut butter didn’t stick!  It was easy to make it into a little ball that the Newf ate right up and I was left with clean hands.  Amazing!  The Newf and I were delighted.  Little discoveries like this can make all the difference.

That is how it was last week.  A student was going to be a bit late for her lesson, so I decided to tack up her horse and warm him up for her.  I had about 35 minutes, so I was able to have a nice long walk warmup, and then did some brief trotting and cantering.  Charlie did very well, moving forward in a relaxed and polite manner.  I was just finishing up when my student arrived.

Charlie, Camie and The Newf observe the work on the indoor arena. Must have bought the cheap seats to be by the muck pile...

This was to be a lesson on riding out of the arena, so I mounted up on Elliot and she got on Charlie and out we went.  Now Elliot is a beautiful animal who, a little unfortunately, has about the most earthbound walk possible. He’s not about to set any land speed records.  I gave my student the mission of keeping Charlie’s ears even with Elliot’s, which I guessed would be an easy goal, with Charlie’s long tb legs and his good warmup.

But there was trouble in paradise.  She was having a devil of a time getting Charlie to swing along, as I know he is capable of doing, and as he had done just a few minutes before.  So I reminded her of all the things riding instructors say.  Make sure you are following the stretch of his neck in walk, with your hands in an elastic connection.  Keep your legs on in a rhythmic fashion to support the walk.  And she was doing these things, I could see.

Still he walked slowly along, a wobbly beast that belied the completely enjoyable horse I had just been riding.  Against my better judgement I told her to give him a good nudge, aka a kick.  We got one quick step from that, and then a return to the slogging blobfest he was doing before.  As I comparatively glided along on Elliot and watched her work so hard for the same walk on her horse, I wondered very quietly and very seriously why it was so hard to get Charlie to walk with intention.

Charlie and I hunting

I decided to intently observe what she was doing.  After a few minutes it was clear to me that it wasn’t what she was doing, it was what she wasn’t doing.  Though her hands followed, and her legs rhythmically supported, her hips and back were stiffly resisting the forward motion.  There was go in her calves and hands, and there was stop everywhere else.  I had a postulate that Charlie’s resistance wasn’t his own.  He was simply reflecting what his rider was telling him to do.

I explained this to my student and then showed her what I was doing in my hips and back and how she could do the same thing to harmonize her aids and give Charlie clear direction.  Less than a minute later, because she’s a very talented learner, Charlie was swinging along in a confident, sweeping walk.  Horses are perfect mirrors of the energy of their riders.  Riders only need to make their energy unified and clear.

It was pretty cool.  Hope it helps you.

 

 

It is good to have some appreciable level of fitness when your horse does something extravagant and unexpected like this bit of air time... (Luke Klemm, Camie up. Jay with the video camera.)

It is that time of year when lots of people either a) put on the holiday 7 pounds and just learn to love their new shape or b) put on the holiday 7 pounds and go all manic with the workout resolutions, in this year’s case on January 3rd (Too hung over and/or tired on New Year’s Day and this year January 2nd falls on a Sunday, the resolution killer.  Who can start a serious workout program with that much lounging to be done?)

Last winter produced record snow for our part of the world and what started out as character-building in January, turned in to absolute will-shattering, never-ending tedium by mid-February.  It was absolutely impossible to ride with no indoor.  The horses had confined themselves to the 10′ feet around the barn because that was the only snow they could keep trampled down enough to walk around on.  I had to do something, so after I cleaned every closet and rearranged every room in the house out of sheer desperation for activity, Jay and I decided to join the local rec center which has some treadmills and a track, raquetball and basketball courts.  It was pretty easy to work out every day.  It was a big stress reliever and our bodies actually started to take on a some form of a shape, other than “roundish”.

As spring and summer came, we were plenty active around our place so we dropped our membership and picked it up again a week before Thanksgiving this year when the days started getting pretty short.  I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to go inside a building and work out when it is light and pretty outside, but when it turns dark early outside, I am attracted to a bright building with people who are actively not hibernating, like a moth to a deck light.

So I started working out and it bummed hard.  Of course I was comparing the fitness I had worked into last winter with where I was starting in the fall. I know better than to do that, but I went all momentarily stupid and did it anyway.  Active as we were over the summer, apparently the cardiovascular part of the equation is not challenged by mowing pastures and riding horses.  Who knew?  Jay joined in about a week after I started and hit the same wall.  By that time, I was pretty much back on track and, ok, I’m a naughty-bad wifey sometimes, so I’ll own that it was kind of fun to see him struggle as I had that first week.  Heh, heh.  For better or for worse for sure, honey, but if you are sucking wind and sweating because you procrastinated and I am fairly whizzing along with a light step and glow, I will not stop myself from smiling and cheerfully asking how your workout is going.  It’s in the fine print honey, really it is.

And there are days where working out still is a slog for me.  Such as, I can definitely feel a drag on my workout if I had more than one beer the day before.  Rats!  Or too much soda.  Double rats!  And some days it is hard to get started.  “My Ipod is out of charge.” “That dog walk I did today should cover it.” “My socks are downstairs in the dryer.”  The answers are “Your Ipod is optional.” “That dog walk was way too easy to be considered exercise.” and “Go downstairs and get them.”  Go.  Go.  Go.  Workout.  So I do.  We try to go every day, but it turns into 5 days a week.  Sometimes my teaching gets in the way, sometimes Jay’s work does.

I had no idea, though, that today was going to be a real payoff.  Today I got on a client’s horse to help square him up for an exercise they were having a challenge with.  I have really long legs and I didn’t feel like messing with her stirrup length, so I just flipped the stirrups over the horse’s withers and rode stirrupless.  I did a lot of canter depart work and lots of cantering for about 20 minutes.  It never occurred to me while I was riding that I really haven’t ridden much lately because of the footing and the arena project and I am therefore seriously out of riding shape.  As I rode, I was so focused on the horse that I didn’t think about that.  Then, at the end of the ride,  I was sliding off and I thought, “Ho, Nelly, that wasn’t smart, I am going to be really sore.  This might even hurt when my feet hit the ground.”  And when that is going through your head, it is a long, anxious way down from a 17h thoroughbred.

And nothing.  I felt great.  Not a twinge anywhere many hours later.  And no, I’m not 18 anymore.  All that stuff they say is true.  Just do it.  Or my personal favorite, “Excuses don’t lift up your butt.”  You don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to train for a marathon, and it doesn’t have to take over your life.  My walking program is 33 minutes long.  I crank the heck out of the elevation on the treadmill for two minutes, then go back to a level that is easy for me for two minutes.  I do a little interval training repertoire that I made up.  I keep changing it as my body acclimates.  It is totally Camie’s made up fitness plan.

Effective, not terribly pretty... Camie on Derith Vogt's lovely mare, Carolyn

So, if you’ve been thinking about getting in a workout program, go on, do it.  Do whatever works for you.  Go all crazy fancy, swim on Tuesdays, join a spin class, get all yoga-ed or keep it simple.  Like cross country riding, a workout program doesn’t have to always be pretty to be effective.

Long-legged turtle-necked horses of the arctic

Winter is a great time for a lot of things but, quite disappointingly, naked pagan dancing is not one of them.  Cold weather and Seinfeldian shrinkage notwithstanding, tonight is the best opportunity for naked pagan dancing in winter in 372 years.  Why? Because tonight, starting at 00:33 CST a lunar eclipse will occur on a solstice.  That hasn’t happened since 1638 – pretty cool. NASA’s page about it is excellent.  My goodness, Dr. Tony Phillips is a scientist who can write concisely and understandably, and apparently he knows some good graphic artists.

So what do I plan to do with this information?  Well, I’ve been watching the visible satellite at intervals today to see if there is even a chance at a clear sky tonight. Visible satellite images are for total weather geeks, as we know that the usual satellite images that you see on television are infrared (IR) satellite images, which are really an indication of the temperature of cloud tops, which are then represented by differing shades of white.  Pooh pooh, IR is not real data.  Visible satellite imaging is ground truth.  Ok, cloud truth.  However, weather geek strategy falls to dust when the sun goes down, since visible satellite is just that, a visible picture of clouds taken from a geosynchronous satellite 36k km above the earth.  When the sun goes down, the clouds are not visible.  Wah.  But I digress.

Anyway, there appears to be a break, or at least a thinning of the clouds that may pass over our house in central Iowa just around the right time.  So, here’s my plan.  Set the alarm for 00:25, put on boots and a big coat over my jammies and go out on the deck and watch the earth’s shadow take the first small bite out of the bright white disk of the moon.  Then I’ll probably watch that for a bit.  Snap a few pictures.  Then I’ll get sleepy and go lie on the couch for a few hours.  Then the alarm goes off again at 0300, when I will get up and put on really warm clothes and take a few pictures of what should be a blood red moon.  I’ll go out and see what the horses are doing.  I love any excuse to walk out to the pasture  in the quiet of night and be with the boys.  Maybe they’ll be in the barn, where they can come and go at will.  I love that they’ll probably be awake as day, the same way they are dozey as night at 10 a.m. everyday.  Their sleep cycles aren’t like ours.  They don’t stay up 16 hours straight and sleep 8.  They like it best to stay awake 3 hours and sleep 30 minutes or something.  I once had an off track thoroughbred who laid down in his stall and fell into a deep doze between dressage and xc at his first show.  He popped awake for xc and galloped like a metronome around the course.  King of the catnap.  Crazy.

With all the puttering around tonight, maybe I’ll be a little tired tomorrow.  Maybe I’ll have to sneak off for a catnap.  I guess I’ll be sleeping like a horse.  Enjoy.

One of the tricks to being the Horsitivity Girl and keeping a positive attitude, is dealing as well as I can with days that are not so terrific.  Today is not a bad day at all, Jay and I are well, all the horses are well, so the basics are covered.  But I am annoyed with the mud that is part and parcel of the arena construction project.  This can really drag on a person as my paddock boots are always dirty and heavy with mud.  My barn is full of mud.  The footing is terrible everywhere, so I am limiting my riding to only the absolutely necessary rides, which bums me out.  It is overcast today and there is a long winter ahead.  All these add up to a slight melancholy for me.  But it is ridiculous for a person as fortunate as me to whine, so for days like this I always keep something easy and fun to do that cheers me up.

My cheerup for the moment is the helmet cam video of Peter Atkins riding Henry Jo Hampton around the WEG xc course.  Peter has a fun accent, he talks to his horse like he loves him, and watching the video generally reminds me of all that is effortless and fun and why horses and the people who love them are great.  The sort of growling you hear is him saying “Henny!”, the horse’s name.  He also takes out the flag at the third to the last obstacle and doesn’t miss a beat, just lands it and takes the option.  Love it.  Enjoy.

Tomorrow is supposed to be very windy, with rain.  So today we are getting as much done as we can outside – riding as many horses, raking leaves, and it turns out, late night dog walking in the pasture.

Even though the moon is nearly full, it is dark outside tonight.  The cloud cover has overpowered the luminosity of the moon and a southeast breeze blows forebodingly. But it is still mild enough out for a walk and we take the three dogs out.

Dory the wonder pup

Dory, who is 3 months old now, is a new addition to our family.  She was mostly ignored the first 8 weeks of her life, so she arrived fairly skittish.  Peppa, the Newfoundland, immediately understood the situation and took Dory under her wing, showing her all the good hangouts at our place, where varmints live or even momentarily passed by in the last 6 years, and that life is good here.  Now we are doing our part to show Dory that people are good too, thus the late-night pasture walks, clicker training at the Animal Rescue League and patience when she occasionally gets scared of something and runs from us.  That part makes us both very sad.  It is hard to not take it personally when a puppy runs away when all you want to do is comfort her.  She is getting much better at coming to us when loud noises and scary things, which are many to her, happen.  She is starting to see us as protectors and we are delighted.

Thus the pasture walk in the dark tonight.  Another opportunity to bond, to show Dory that we are fun to be around.  About 400 yards into the pasture, after we had joked that if we didn’t walk into a jump it would be a miracle with our lack of visibility, a silent horse form appeared, white stockings announcing the presence of Elliot.  He stood quietly as we walked up and we petted him while he lowered his head  and accepted our affection.  I moved back along his neck and over his shoulders, petting his developing winter coat  in long strokes.  I was amazed with how smooth and silky it was.  Soft and springy as spring grass, and nearly as sweet smelling.  He turned and looked at me with his big soft eyes as if to say, “Did you forget how sweet we are?”  I had.  These cooler days I have been wearing gloves most of the time, and in a little bit of a hurry here or there, so I hadn’t petted a horse barehanded and really paid attention to the luxuriousness of a horse’s coat in, well,  a while.  I just hung out a few minutes and really felt his coat while the breeze blew and the dogs and Jay played.

I had intended to do something nice for one animal, to spend some time with Dory, and I was thereby blessed with a reminder of the magnificence of experiencing something so familiar, but altogether new.  Glad I got off the couch.

Lots of things going on today.   First I rode Bino for his daily Cowboy Song walk hack around our little valley.  The song that popped into my head today is, “I know where love lives.”  I don’t know where these songs come from, but I go with it.  If you’ve been reading, you know that he has navicular and we are taking it very easy with him and enjoying what we can do together.  Taking him on these hacks has a whole other dimension of enjoyment that I’d forgotten about–riding just to ride.  Since I train horses, I had gotten into the habit of correcting any behaviour that could potentially get the horse in trouble with me or his owner in the future.  Bino is in a different situation, though, so I get to let the little things slide.  When I brought him to the mounting block today and swung a leg over, he didn’t wait until I’d entirely picked up my outside stirrup before he walked off.  Usually I would correct this.  Today, I just let it slide.  When we were walking through some tall grass on the ride, he grabbed a mouthful on the way by.  So what?  No worries.  I let him munch away.  This must be what it is like when a mom realizes her kid is an adult, that she doesn’t have to, nay, shouldn’t, correct every last faux pas, but rather let the child live his life as he would like.  Some moms never get to that point, to the constant annoyance of their adult children.  Today I got to be the mature parent with the grown child.  I got to enjoy his personality, strengths and faults, with no judgement, and totally enjoyable for both of us.  I didn’t see that coming.  Sometimes, on these beautiful autumn days, in the soft footing of the soybean fields, I think, “oh, he’s alright, maybe we are making the wrong decision.”  But then, almost immediately when I think that, he trips as he often does.  Since his feet hurt, he doesn’t pick them up very high, and therefore often trips.  I also think of the radiographs and the coming frozen ground and the painful prognosis.  I pull my mind away from that and I let him munch grass, and pat his thick black neck.

Then it was on for a ride on Elliot.  You may recall a few weeks ago, that I found my sitting trot after it had left me for a short hiatus.  (Ok, 6 weeks doesn’t seem short at the time…)  Well, it turns out I didn’t really have it back yet.  I had it back for working trot, and I had it back for Eddie’s trot, but I didn’t have it back for Elliot’s extravagant warmblood trot.  I could only sit that well for about 5 strides, after which I would be left unceremoniously behind like some turnip off the wagon, and I would have to resort to posting to not be too much of an annoyance to Mr. Floaty Trot!  But there is no crying in baseball or dressage (ok, there probably has been plenty of crying in dressage, but a lot of it is hidden behind post-ride wine and cheese clutches) so I had to figure out what the real problem was.

So I pulled out pictures of my riding to see what was going on.

I have no ego about my riding.  I am only as good as my horses say I am, and they are pretty clear communicators.  I’m not trying to be better than anybody and I know I am not as good as some.  So, when I look at pictures of my riding, I am pretty ruthless, and it doesn’t bother me in the least because my heart is in the right place.  Intent is everything.  I had to explain that because when I look at this picture I think, “Overall, not a bad pictures, but 1) more inside leg, less inside hand, and 2) let go in your back, let your pelvis come forward and everything would straighten out, silly.  ;-)

Ok, so the first comment is fairly self-evident.  If you’ve ridden with a dressage instructor and not heard “Let go of the inside rein!” either you are a riding savant or your instructor is busy texting in an Ebay bid on Totalis tail hair during your lesson.

The second comment is more subtle.  “let go in your back, let your pelvis come forward and everything would straighten out.”  When we ride, we should sit on the tripod of our two seat bones and our pubic bone.  In the picture above, I am sitting almost solely on my seat bones, because my back is slightly braced.  If I would let go on my back, which is to allow the lower back to come forward (and the belly button to come forward), the pubic bone would come down to support my weight, much like the front wheels of a landing airplane come down after the back wheels touch down.  When all three sets of wheels are on the ground, things are very stable (and the passengers are much happier!).  When the rider is properly balanced on the tripod everything else “straightens out”.  By that I mean that the legs and the upper body may become correct.

Landing gear down. Why George William is my riding hero.

Here is a picture of George Williams who always has the landing gear down.  You might remember that I ran into him at the WEG.  He’s a very kind person too.   Most excellent.  In this picture and a million others, he has beautiful position in his upper and lower body because the center is correct.  Now, I am not saying I am a bad rider, but I’m saying George is a great rider.  If you compare my photo with Geo.’s, you’ll see that he is better able to stretch down in his leg and his upper body is much more solid than mine in that picture above.  Because I am not elastically  following the motion of the horse’s back in my lower back above, I am forced to bring my upper body forward to compensate.  Because Geo. has allowed the natural curve of his lower back to act like a natural spring to keep him wholly connected in his seat to the horse, his upper body stays nicely aligned over his pelvis.  My leg isn’t bad, but it appears jammed up into my hip socket.  My stirrups aren’t too short, my pelvis is at the wrong angle.  Geo’s leg seems to have an elastic connection to his hip.  All these differences are pelvis angle.  Front landing gear up vs. front landing gear down.

So I was playing around with that the last few weeks trying to regain the ability to sit Elliot’s fancy lengthened trot.  When I focus on relaxing (this is an oxymoron.  One can no more focus on relaxing than one can turn their head to test their peripheral vision.) my pelvis and to let my lower back move with the horse rather than sitting against it, I can fairly easily sit his lengthened trot for long periods of time.  The trick is in not resisting — in reminding myself to flow with the horse in my lower back.  So I channel George a lot.

Piaffe

When Jay and I were watching dressage at the WEG, we were using the headsets in which a commentator was, well, commentating.  I don’t know if this happens to you, but sometimes a particular turn of phrase will have such an undeniable “truthiness” (oh how I love that word) to it that I find myself putting everything else immediately aside to think about it.  The commentator was acknowledging a particularly beautiful piaffe in an afternoon of piaffing excellence.  She said,

“When you train a horse you have to do two things:  You have to teach him the mechanics of what you wish him to do, and then you have to teach him that he is good at it.”

Upon hearing that, I didn’t really see the rest of the test, though I was looking.  It was like a lightning bolt hit me, and I sat there, stunned.  That one sentence encapsulated all that I do with horses.  A trainer has to know the correct mechanics of any skill she is trying to teach (what are the footfalls of canter?  How does half pass start?  How does a horse arrange his legs in all stages of a jump?).  The trainer also has to know when the work is correct, or even close while they are learning, and communicate that to the horse.  Congratulate him, even.  When the horse gets his paycheck in praise for doing a thing as we wish, pretty soon he likes to do that thing.  When he likes to do that thing, he performs it with increasing confidence, which, if nurtured, becomes brilliance.

So the horse piaffing with joyful brilliance in front of us that day had mastered the mechanics of the movement, and he clearly knew he was good at it.  It was a joy to see.  Now that’s training.

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