Thursday, November 28, 2013

What I'm Thankful For

Since I'm not home for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner where I could bore my family by rattling off all the things I'm thankful for, time to share with the internet! Enjoy!

What I'm thankful for:

#1 - My Family

Seems like a no-brainer, but I wouldn't be where I am today without the love and support of my wonderful parents. My dad and mom worked their tushies off my entire life to make sure my sister and I were happy and educated. My mom works extra hours and weekends to help support my horse show addiction, and we would not have had a show season at all if it weren't for her bending over backwards to make my dreams a reality. My parents have also been very understanding with my transition from a student and living at home, to moving across the country to follow my dreams. Sometimes I run out of money, and while I'm waiting to be fully self-sufficient (it's very nearly on the horizon), mom and dad have helped me make my way to financial stability. They may have ulterior motives to make sure I take care of them when they're old and stinky,  but they're the best and I couldn't ask for anything more!

#2 - Nathan

In the search to find someone who I'd like to grow old with, I landed the jackpot with Nathan. He has quickly adapted to my horse-crazy lifestyle, and constantly understands my need to spend ungodly hours getting stinky and playing with ponies at random hours of the day and night. He laughs (or tolerates) all my bad jokes, and tells me every day how lucky he is to have me. To put it cornily, I've found "the one" and I'm ready for that ring any day now, no pressure!

#3 - Tristan

I got lucky with my first horse. This year I can honestly say we've done things I never imagined. To name a few: going to a show without a trainer giving us the thumbs up before each phase, winning an event on our dressage score (and 2nd on a dressage score), and making the move to Preliminary (regardless of results). Tristan gives me confidence that I never knew I had. We've been very lucky this past year to enjoy some great facilities for staying fit, opportunities to ride with great trainers, and a wonderful barn to call home. No matter the color of the ribbon when we compete, I still can't help grinning while cantering along bareback, or enjoying the quiet moments walking in the woods on the best horse I've ever met.

#4 - My Job

I was lucky to have my dream job fall into my lap just after I finished college. Working for an equine apparel company was a perfect meld of my passion for horses and my interest in business. However, life happens and sometimes the people you think you can trust have other motives. I lost that job and was worried about falling into the cynical place in my brain that likes to tell me that decent people don't exist. Lucky for me, the contrast between the liars and everyone else helped reveal true friends from the posers. I can't be more thankful for my wonderful ex-boss and now barn manager, Helen Elizabeth, for reminding me that true goodness still exists in the world and can only dream of attaining the strength of character that comes naturally to her every day.

I also learned that dreams are adaptive even if they don't always involve horses. I managed to fall into a wonderful company, located near our new home, and couldn't be happier with my new job. It's a role I never saw myself in previously, going from mucking stalls 24/7 to having a cubicle, but I'm mentally stimulated and challenged to think outside the box every single day I go into work.

#5 Greenville

 Moving across the country is a pure leap of faith. You could find yourself in a place where you feel like an outsider, or you just  might find the home you've always yearned for. Living in Chicago's shadow was never where I wanted to be. It made me hate cities and wish for the day that I could live deep in the countryside, undisturbed. Greenville is the best of both worlds; we have a thriving downtown (including multiple waterfalls within walking distance from Main Street), mountains within a five minute drive, and just a short drive to ride my horse around 40 acres of freedom.

#6 Lego

Because she's the cutest, half-nosed Schnauzer in the world!

How I spent my Thanksgiving!
Even though we've seen a lot of ups and downs this past year, these experiences have done a lot to confirm that I'm right where I'm supposed to be, as long as I can keep rolling with the punches. I'm thankful for everything that's happened, the good and the bad, because now I can only see sun on the horizon, and it's going to be a beautiful day.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

No-Stirrup November, aka I Hate Myself and Want My Legs to Fall Off

This month, I decided to opt-in for a riding challenge: No-Stirrup November. The goal is for riders to increase their physical fitness during a month typically devoid of serious work. Now that show season is at an end and the days are much shorter and colder, sometimes it's hard to find inspiration
for riding goals. My goal is obviously to kill myself, starting with my thighs.

Who knew that calf-skin could be more painful than a medieval torture device?
I remember being a little kid, with endless amounts of energy, posting without stirrups until I was blue in the face. In fact, the riding camp where I spent most of my summers, required riders to be able to post without stirrups several times around the huge arena before we were allowed to canter. No way was I going to miss out on that! Thus, little-kid-me had awesome strength and stamina. Current-me, however, seems to have lost some of that vitality even though I now prep for competitions every year. Time to go back to the basics.

Since I'm too lazy to get my watch out of my trailer, I've been marking my progress in laps. Every day I ride, I've added an additional lap of no-stirrup posting. On day one, I thought I was going to have a heart attack (or massive charlie horse in my thighs, whichever came first) after one lap. Day two was excruciating, but I added another lap all the same. Day four, I didn't feel like putting Tristan's saddle on, so we did four laps of bareback posting. Yes, you read that correctly, four laps, bareback.

With lots of days off for rest and sore muscles, I've now progressed to day six. We start the ride with six laps of no-stirrup posting with Tristan stretching into a low head frame and swinging over his back. Then, once I'm sweaty and tired, we go back to sitting trot to work on lateral movements and more connection. I've also been schooling lots of transitions, trying to conquer our issues at the trot-canter or walk-canter transition with definite progress. Hopefully next year's dressage tests will show some improvement.

After exhausting myself from posting, I'm finally in a state of mind to work on a concept that Eric introduced to me in one of my last lessons: lighter leg-aids. He wants the horse to move off pressure the rider applies to the hair of the horse, less always being more. I worked on this at the walk, and later at the trot and canter, simply keeping a lighter lower leg and expecting a result immediately when any pressure is applied. I was really able to pinpoint weaknesses that Tristan has at the canter, with light lower legs from me he almost can't hold the gait at all, so that gives us some homework to practice. I'd like to get Tristan in some more self-carriage and impulsion by the time December rolls around.

The best part about my ride yesterday? Even after 6 laps of no-stirrup posting, I still managed to post a long-and-low trot at the end with minor muscle soreness. Ripped legs, here I come!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Perfect Practice Produces Perfect Performance

Tristan and I have been very fortunate over the past years to have access to some amazing trainers. One trainer I have mind-melded with to an almost eerie level has been the amazing, incredible Eric Dierks. I studied with him in 2012 for seven months at Renovatio Farms, the gorgeous facility he calls home with his equally gorgeous and talented wife, Trayce. Under Eric's tutelage, we transformed my cute, spunky pony cross into a lean, mean, eventing machine. This October, the Super-pony got to stretch his cross country legs at the incredible Gibbe's Farm in St. Matthews, SC. All I can say is that I thought I had died and gone to some cross country heaven, filled with great schooling questions and challenging fences alike. A clinic with Eric, and a trip to "Eventing Candyland" was exactly what the doctor ordered for the end of this show season!

Day One - 

Sometimes Eric gets very animated while explaining and it leads to awesome hand gestures/facial expressions!

We started the Prelim/Training group with a solid focus on galloping position. Eric said many of the problems that occur out on course stem from a lack of stability in the gallop. The rider should be up over the hands, almost balanced on the balls of the feet, and ready for action. Then, when you go into the preparation phase before the jump, all you need to do is lift up through your collar bone, draw your elbows to your sides, and support with your legs to the fence. When our group all started out, we all had gallop positions too behind the motion, trying to dictate our horse's balance, instead of letting them find their own. Once we adjusted our positions over our hands and with the motion of the gallop, all of our horses started to find their own rhythms and become accountable for their own balance, allowing the riders to focus on more important things like track and engine.

We started off schooling a small oxer, working to establish our "stamp" over fences. Eric's goal at the beginning of a clinic is to examine the individual rider's perfect jump, and have them strive to repeat it over every fence. That "stamp" is different with each horse and rider combination, but it's great to start out with a base level of excellence to strive for.

Chelsea over a nice wide oxer establishing her "stamp."
Once our "stamps" were established, we traveled out into the main field to start with some of the jumps I had been drooling over since pulling into the facility; steeplechase fences. The steeplechase jumps were laid out in a big ring around the field and meant to be ridden at speed, something with which Tristan and I are only recently getting comfortable. We went from steeplechasing to up and downhill fences in small courses. One of the comments Eric made about uphill jumps really resonated with me. Eric said "9 out of 10 times, the horse will add a stride before an uphill fence." When I rode my uphill line, I kept that nugget in mind. While not necessarily planning for the add, I wasn't shocked when the add came and was able to ride positively from it instead of being taken by surprise.

Katellyn and Manderlay over a steeplechase fence

Superpony steeplechasing!

Katellyn and Manderlay


Eric on Manderlay

Oh yeah, and I jumped a duck. No big deal.

Day Two -

Since we had established the gallop the day before, Eric had us focus on letting our horses "play" over some smaller courses. We started out in a more forested area of the farm, playing pole bending with the trees and getting the horses to think on their feet, or as Eric put it, "cat-like." From there, we started a really fun exercise: using the smaller beginner novice/novice jumps, we created our own courses at the trot while jumping a fence at least every 15 seconds. This made all of us think on our feet about where our tracks went between the trees and which fences would be next, all while maintaining a comfortable pace at the trot. I, for one, loathe trotting jumps, but it is a vital skill to have when you find yourself in a sticky situation, like jumping up a bank to a skinny.

After we played over the jumps for a bit, Eric had us each create a 6 fence course, with only about 10 seconds between each fence. We could use any of the jumps we wanted, and were to make the course as winding as possible. I chose to create a course with lots of tight turns, highlighting Tristan's short-coupling allowing him to spin on dimes, including a rollback turn to the same fence within three strides, and finished with a sharp angle over a pipe. Tristan likes to put on a show, but was rather unimpressed by the baby jumps.

After playing with some more courses over larger fences, we moved back to the main infield to work on the coffin. Tristan is generally good over ditches, but due to the deep nature of this question, he took a hard look during the first attempt. We then circled to do a half coffin, ditch to roll-top, and circled again to do a full coffin. Whether it was the wind in my ears or I just felt extra gung-ho from all the great jumps before, I decided to interpret the "bending line" to the coffin as a straight line, angling the ditch to a much taller skinny. We jumped through it well, but it just wasn't what Eric had asked for. Oops.

During our first tour of the property, I had noticed a great big mound question with a log on top. I've jumped questions like that before and know they slightly terrify me. Unfortunately for me, I made the mistake to mention this fact to my boyfriend, who mentioned it to Eric, who then sent me over the jump. Oh, dear. First attempt resulted in a stop, not because Tristan didn't want to jump it, but he could feel that I really didn't want to jump it. Second attempt also had a stop. I still didn't want to jump it and my body language had convinced Tristan that there were indeed monsters hiding in the tiny log. Third try, Eric gave me a blow by blow approach. We started with a more collected gallop, and once we were about two strides away from the base of the mound, he had me wrap my legs around Tristan and kick it into full throttle. Since the hill was so steep, we needed the extra impulsion on the incline to allow enough power to actually jump the jump once we got there! This time we had success, and I really got to feel my position shift from a jumping 2-point, to a backseat drop. Not so scary after all!

Going down!
The last part of our schooling took place in the water. I generally have a fear of dropping in to water, after a previously soggy schooling, but this past show season has helped Tristan and I grow lots of confidence over drops. Before, I would ride in going, "I sure hope this works out!" Now, I say instead, "OK, we've done this before." We put together a small course jumping in and out of the water complex, ending with a large drop with a scary pipe! Tristan jumped like the champion that he is, and made me a sincerely proud momma!

It would probably help if I could keep my eyes up.
I am so glad I went to this clinic. Lessons with Eric help me take an honest look at my riding, and keep me from being too hard on myself. Our last show this season didn't go as planned, as falling in stadium rarely does, but from looking honestly at that attempt, and saying, "It's not that we don't have the capability to show at that level, only that weekend wasn't 'it' for us." Tristan still clearly loves his job, and I can't help but be filled with joy when working with such an incredible partner. Adding Eric's expertise to our chemistry gives us great long-term goals and keeps me looking forwards for the future. With hard work and dedication, we will be successful at Prelim!