My vet has relocated and in celebration of her new digs she was throwing a party. The invitation outlined the details: location (further away), food, exotic animals (cool) and…pony rides.

Ponies?!
Count me in!

Even my husband reminded me of the upcoming party.
“Hun, don’t forget there will be pony rides.”
Hee, hee, ponies.

We arrived and toured the new spacious facility. My dog, Wanda, inspected the turtle, iguana and alligator but found them all lacking. She’d much rather meet all the new dogs and vacuum crumbs from the floor. Speaking of crumbs, we were offered some delicious cucumber water and a cheese and onion sandwich. Apparently these were some of her favorite foods when she attended university in England.

Finally, it was time to check out the ponies. That’s where I found my vet. Grinning ear to ear and snapping photos of all the children. She knew I was there for the ponies. She even asked if I planned to ride. But of course.

I eyed the line. A baby, and an older child. One lap around the lot. Eh, a few minutes. I’d have to wait for the larger pony though. I moved away from my husband to join the line. Wanda protested this separation and lunged toward me. I gave her a glance and refocused my attention on the ponies. I was next. Unless that kid cut.

The larger pony had arrived! I grabbed the horn on the western saddle to mount and as I swung my leg over Wanda protested. Jumping and pulling at the leash. Apparently trying to convince my husband that I needed to be rescued. NOW!

“That your dog?” The pony guy had noticed Wanda antics.

I glanced her way. “Yes. She’s a retired guide dog.” I proudly stated while watching her whine and lunge. Very well trained by the way. Not that you’d know it watching her now.

My dismount was less than graceful as my sneaker caught in the stirrup. I know I left some skin behind on that one. Ow.

Wanda was ecstatic that I was once again Earth bound. To prove it to me she dragged my husband over and grabbed my forearm in her mouth. All while wagging and talking to me.

The pony ride was short but sweet.

Wanda considered it eternally long.

Yeah. Sigh.
That’s right. I’m a glutton for punishment.
Why? Because I chose to ride the wiggly horse.
Again.
Indoors.

What’s wrong with me!? (shaking head)
He’s afraid of his own shadow.
Oh, and beams of light.
And doors.
Most especially doors with beams of light.
Instructors too.
Especially if they’re near doors.

Okay, time to suck it up. After all I picked him.

Our entire ride consisted of refusals.
He refused to go anywhere near the far end of the indoor.
Nope. Not happening.
That’s where the scary door was waiting to trip him with it’s light beam.

Then he refused to go near the entrance.
My instructor was lurking there.
No, he’d much rather go backwards.
Preferably into the other horse.
Hmm, did I mention that the barn is through that door?
That should encourage him to go forward!
Ha! Yeah, right.

At one point my instructor most’ve moved. (Damn her.)
The horse scooted left.
I continued right.
Nearly sailing over his shoulder.
Nearly.
I was saved by my left calf.
Barely.
Charley horse!

And that’s why we have to sit up.

To prevent falling off while our horses run away screaming like little girls.

This is so embarrassing.

I jinxed myself.

My next ride on the wiggly horse wasn’t nearly as nice. He had resorted back to being a scaredy cat. It was so bad that I couldn’t get him to go past the trailers at the end of the arena. The trailers are always there. I did what I was always taught to do. I circled around, turned his head slightly away from the trailers and tried to push him past. Nope. Not happening.

I had to be rescued.
By a tow truck!

We were totally broken down.

You know what I’m talking about right? Another horse and rider had to move in front of us so that we could continue forward. Tow truck style. Apparently he spends a lot of lesson time like this. Embarrassing. (shaking my head)

Later on he must’ve spotted the trailers again – or maybe it was the cat.
Anyway, in a blink of an eye we went from canter, to a screeching halt, to sitting down like a dog.
That has never happened to me before.

I could hear the playground taunt, “scaredy cat, scaredy cat, nah-nah.” But instead of crying I laughed.

Go ahead and laugh. I did.

Amazing. I laughed after a spook while cantering. What’s gotten into me?

Uh-oh.
I swipe at a stray feather caught on my lip. (cough, cough)
What was that? A canary? Yellow? Nope. Haven’t seen it. (cough, cough)
Alright. Sigh. You’ve caught me.

I
swallowed
the
canary.

There.
Are you happy now?

Why? Why what?
Oh. Why did I swallow it?
Because it was singing. Duh.
This is my tale to tell. Not his.

——————————————-

Ahem, so let me fill you in on things.

I audited the NEDA Spring Weekend with Olympians Michael Poulin and Carol Lavell and then I had the greatest ride! Even my instructor thought so.

“I can’t believe how round he is! You definitely learned something this weekend.”

The praise is well earned but before it totally goes to my head let me explain. I was riding the wiggly horse. He’s a small Morgan that isn’t as well trained as the mare I usually ride. Uh, that means people – okay, kids – don’t usually get him pulled together. I haven’t ridden him in, um, months and I totally nailed it! He was round. And I mean round.

I was really thinking (literally) about shoulder in as I was cruising around the arena. This really got him stepping up and under himself. It was amazing.

Now this got me thinking. Why was I able to get – and keep – him really round? It’s hard for me to do this consistently with the mare. Is it size? Does size really matter? (snicker) Hey! Get your mind out of the gutter.

I’m serious. The mare is pretty big and he’s more my size. Petite.
Or… am I learning a lot on the mare that translates well to other horses?
I guess the mare has a lot to teach me still.

Regardless it was a great ride. Even if the canter was a little choppy. He’s so unbalanced that cantering to the left I felt like he was splaying his legs.

Hmm, don’t tell my husband but I may have a new boyfriend.  😉

It’s all about the process.

When I attended NEDA’s Spring Weekend, with Olympians Michael Poulin and Carol Lavell, that was my biggest take away. It’s all about the process. It doesn’t matter if it’s training, mental preparation for the rider or taking control of everything – and I mean everything – before a show. If it works, stay with it.

So, if you’re super independent and like to do everything yourself – you control freak you – rest assured that your horse will know who’s boss. This will help reassure you and the horse because these things haven’t changed. Especially if you’re shipping off to a show.

Lions and tigers and bears! Oh my!

That reminds me. DO NOT look at them! Uh, the lions, tigers and bears. It’s OK to look at Michael & Carol. Unless they’re the lions, tigers and bears. In which case DO NOT look at them!

Take control of the horse with your outside rein (ha, easier said then done) and change direction or go onto a circle. Don’t leave it until you can stop, steer and stand in both directions. Then you have control of the hind legs. At least until they spot the lion hiding over there in the shadows.

The Discovery Channel

Remember that dressage is an art form. Even though there are many books and trainers telling us how to do things, we still have to discover what works best for us and our horses. We can use the books and trainers as guidelines but then I highly recommend that you grab your paints and express yourself.

They also suggested that you think of riding shoulder in on the straights. It’s a wonderful way of controlling the neck and engaging the hind. You’ll feel that inside leg stepping up and under. Believe me. This is how my trainer has me ride.

This was just a quick take away from an auditors view point. I hope you gleaned something helpful too.

Don’t miss out on these fantastic upcoming dressage clinics in Massachusetts!

Green with envy? Don’t worry. I hope to follow up by posting a “Pearls of Wisdom Notebook” review of those that I attend. (Glances into wallet.) Hmm, how far will an old receipt and some lint get me?

2012 Dates

April 14   Working through Fear, Dr. Jenny Susser, Harvard, MA   Learn more >
April 27   NEDA Spring Symposium, Olympians Carol Lavell and Michael Poulin
Apple Knoll Farm, Millis, MA   Learn more >
May 5     Conrad Schumacher, Ashby Stock Farm, Ashby, MA  Learn more >
May 6     Arthur Kottas, Bear Spot Farm, Concord, MA  Learn more >
May 17   Christoph Hess, Rosebrook Farm, Georgetown, MA  Learn more >
May 26   Mary Wanless, Larkspur Farm, Littleton, MA

Some of these events offer discounted auditing to NEDA members.

Hope to see you there!

Maybe, just maybe, you’ve noticed my absence.
Nah, probably not.

Well let me reassure you that it had nothing to do with cantering, spooks or fear. I’ve continued to ride each and every week. I’ve even cantered. <gasp!> Three times, unexpectedly in one lesson. <sigh> But what’s one to do when the wind threatens to pick you up and carry you across the ring? Or a horse eating car moves in the driveway? Yeah. <sighs deeply>

Ride it out, baby.
Ride it out.
Then realize that you can ride it out.
Even with your heart lodged in your throat. <Can’t breathe.>

Back to basics—again
So we took things down a notch. Working on my confidence and bringing my body back to vertical. All stuff you’ve read before. Boring drivel that didn’t exactly inspire me to post. Um, here that is. Uh, posting.

————- • ————-

Then it happened.
I had a riding break through!

My oh-so-clever instructor fixed my duck butt.
Not permanently. At least not yet.
A million more times and maybe, just maybe, it’ll be permanent.
But I’m able to maintain my vertical position for the majority of the time.

Wanna know how?
I just bet you do.
Well, for starters, forget about sitting up straight and tucking your butt.
Believe me. If it hasn’t worked for you yet it’s not going to. Why? Because the problem is a symptom of something else.

Instead, I want you to make the following adjustments.
• Lift your hands up. I’m talking ridiculously high. Like a T-rex. Especially if you’re petite and riding a strong horse.
• Then bring your elbows against your sides. That’ll get rid of those chicken wings.
• Lastly, look up! Way up to the sky. I’m serious. Don’t look down. Our heads weight about 10 lbs. If we look down we’ve shifted our weight forward. This encourages duck butt and our horses will fall on the forehand. Hey, I said look up!

Whew! Now you’re finally vertical.

In this position my seat felt flat. I also felt confident and secure. I actually started cantering again. Intentionally. <gasp!>

To quote Ralph Kramden of the Honeymooners.

“BANG, ZOOM! Straight to the moon!”

You’ve been ill for months and even though we knew the day was coming, it doesn’t ease the pain of parting. However, let’s not dwell on your final days. I’d rather remember your zest for life.

You were a boundless ball of energy that just never slowed down. I often thought I had adopted a Greyhound, instead of a Chocolate Labrador, as I watched you zip around the yard from one end to the other. Each time praying that you wouldn’t jump the fence.

You amazed us all by stuffing your mouth with not one, not two…but three tennis balls. You delighted the neighborhood children when you played frisbee, football, basketball, golf, wiffle ball and monkey in the middle—tirelessly. In an attempt to exhaust you, at least mentally, I taught you to shake, other paw, roll over, high five, ten and crawl. You also knew how to sit, lay down and stay but you were so bone headed that you usually decided not to.

Everyday you waited at the gate for Brett to return home from school. Your soft, brown nose stuck underneath so you could watch for him. Softly, you’d call, “woo, woo” as the children walked by. It soon became known as your pathetic puppy routine. If that didn’t work you’d stand on your hind legs and hang over the fence. No one could resist your smile and lolling tongue. Not even me.

Your love of other dogs and children was endearing. You wanted to be everyone’s friend. That’s why I didn’t hesitate to adopt Wanda. You accepted her right away as a big sister. She wasn’t enough for you though, as you’d often “woo, woo” at other dogs—even those on TV. Together we taught many children how to properly approach a strange dog. When they were past their fear you’d cover them in kisses.

That reminds me of the baby squirrels. Do you remember that day? A nor’easter was blowing through and had knocked their nest out of the tree and onto our driveway. I looked outside just in time to see you gently place a baby onto the grass and nudge it with your nose. I’ve never seen squirrels so young but they all survived. Once again, you exhibited amazing gentleness and intelligence.

You may be gone but you’ll never be forgotten.

I sighed.

In the dim light of early evening I look around the indoor. The flutter of butterflies increases as I ride toward the door. The scene of fleeting spooks, barely there and then gone. Nothing serious but still my heart knocks a little stronger each time I approach it. I no longer want to canter. Fear is starting to take up residence.

Yes, that’s right.

Fear.

It’s our natural mental response to a real threat and an important element of self preservation. Riding is a life threatening sport. One that many of us do on a daily basis. If you perceive that your life’s in danger and you’re not afraid you’re a moron. Sorry, but it’s true.

Fear is annoying.

It’s time to move on.

In order to do so, however, I have to look directly into the face of fear. Why? Because fear is one of the key ingredients to courage and it’s time to open up.

I’m afraid of falling off and getting hurt. There. I did it. But that’s not all. I’m also afraid of my vulnerability, being judged, failure, and the unknown. A lot of which has nothing to do with riding and a lot to do with the last few months. They’ve been turbulent. I’m dealing with the loss of my job and a niece that’s been hospitalized several times this month.

“Do you want to canter tonight?”

Huh?! I have a choice? Do I? Flutter, flutter. “No.” Dang it, I’m still not ready to canter. “Can we work on improving my seat and position at a trot?”

“Sure.”

Cop-out? Not really. I’ve taken a slight step backwards in order to build on the basics. If I can improve upon my current body faults at a walk or trot it will carry over into the canter. In the meantime, I’m building my confidence. My heart doesn’t knock as loudly as I ride pass the door without incident. My position is improving and I’m thinking about cantering.

I just need a little more time.

Old MacDonald had a farm,
Ee i ee i oh!

And on that farm he had some horses,
Ee i ee i oh!
With a spook, spook here,
And a spook, spook there

Here a spook, there a spook,
Everywhere a spook, spook
Ee i ee i oh!

 

Sound familiar? <Sigh> Because if I didn’t know better I’d think it was Halloween around here. Why? Because the spooks have come out to play. Mwahaha!

Seriously, since the temperatures have dropped, er, become more seasonal, I’ve been taught a lesson or two about spooking.

Lesson number 1
Do not grip with your lower leg as this encourages the spooking horse to go FASTER!

Lesson number 2
Resist the urge to scream, yelp or in any other way vocalize your shock at the sudden change in direction. Terrifying though it is <gulp> the horse will be even more terrified to discover the spook (uh, that’s you) is now on it’s back.

Lesson number 3
Use your thighs. Yep. Strong thighs will keep you on that horse. Kneel into those thighs! You’ll feel it afterwards but like any workout sore muscles are a good thing. Ow, ow, ow. With any luck you may even collect your horse.

Lesson number 4
Sit up! Keep your center of gravity over the horse’s. That means sit up!

Lesson number 5
Doors are scary monsters to be avoided at all costs! Even if the horse sees that door every day of it’s life.

Lesson number 6
Expect the unexpected. If the horse always spooks approaching the door from the right, eventually she’ll spook approaching from the left. Believe me <sigh>. That time I didn’t think I’d be able to stop her.

Contact Me

leecullen@comcast.net

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