Thursday, August 19, 2010

Watch and Learn

Today I audited the Jimmy Wofford gymnastic clinic at An Otherwise Perfect Farm. I have never audited a clinic although I've wanted to on several occasions; the great Mr. Wofford has held a few clinics in the area earlier this summer, but I was unfortunately unable to make those. I would have loved to stay the whole day (especially since Cherie was to ride in the Training/Prelim class later in the day!), but I could only sneak in a couple of hours. I left the house with time to spare, and I was feeling pretty good about my promptness until 2 miles from the farm I encountered this:

Yep, that's a massive tow truck attempting to haul a huge rig that is loaded with a bulldozer (the bobcat that was pulling it had obviously gone kerplunk). I arrived just as the tow truck and county police arrived and subsequently blocked my left turn (the only way I knew to access the farm). ARG! ARG! ARG! I was the first car in what ended up being a line of 20 or more cars. And I was so hopeful they would let me, maybe just me, make that left turn. Finally after 45 minutes and after a third attempt to hook up the rig failed, they moved the police car and opened the road to traffic. FINALLY!

Don't you hate it when that sort of thing happens? I was all ready to give myself props for being early. Nope :)

Alas, I was still able to spend almost two hours watching Jimmy execute the beginner novice level session of the clinic. The majority of the participating pairs where experienced riders on green (often very green) horses. Therefore it was amazing to see the progress that the riders were able to make with their horses under Jimmy's instruction. Just as I had heard, he is full of ah-ha phrases (training mantras that make you say "Ah-ha, that makes so much sense sense!"), and I am ever in need of more ah-ha phrases. I scribbled furiously in my journal to record some of his conversations word for word; at times, it was like he was talking to me, as if my green-rider habitats were written on the brim of hat. In the middle of the clinic, Jimmy's jump crew of 1 had to leave to tack up her horse for the next session. I quickly stepped forward to offer my help, and I am glad I did. Remember I said these were green horses; that meant that on average every other horse took down poles and/or a few standards as he careened through the exercises. So as we reassembled the jumps, Jimmy shared some wise tid-bits. What a great opportunity! I left with 6 pages of notes, and an even greater respect for Mr. Wofford. I really hope to have the opportunity to ride with him in a clinic in the future, but in the meantime, I am have plenty to work on from what I saw today!

In other horsey news, my good friend Abby (who is a fantastic writer and rider:) has a great new blog called Historical Horse; readers submit photos from their personal history with horses, and Abby posts their memories along with her own absorbing commentary. It's such a fabulous idea that has clearly struck a chord with many of her readers (some of whom have submitted multiple photos/stories). I love that I have this new blog to read daily, and I am excited to see where Abby takes it! Check it out!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Humble pie and my new haircut

Caesar and I did our first 2'6" stadium course at a little local show on Saturday. While I can't say that it was a complete success or that I left unscathed, I can say that all is well that ends well. And the show ended well enough for us, it was the middle that was a bit hairy. (I am posting videos not because I feel like they are evidence of my best riding; however embarrassing they might be, I include them to keep myself humble. I am only going to get better if I face the facts and sometimes facing them out loud helps :)

Caesar was anything but his forward, eager-to-leap self on Saturday; he was drowsy and disinterested, and I felt like I was riding a hunter horse in our 2'3" class. Other than the lack of impulsion (and my aversion to put my leg on and ask for more go), the class was fine. That same lack of go prevailed in our 2'6" class, and at fence three Caesar stopped, and I toppled off. Yep. Right onto the rails. It was actually a pretty casual tumble as you will see below. I hopped back up and proceeded to put up the rails I knocked down, all three of them! Then I asked, loudly, "Can I go again?" Ha! I remember thinking, well, that wasn't so bad. Eesh.

Make sure you watch the entire clip, even after Mike drops the camera; it's pretty funny! I give you permission to laugh :)

I was indeed able to give the course a second try, and it went much more smoothly. Caesar was still a little stuck, but I put my leg on better and thought "jump it!" rather than "are you going to jump it?" Of course the stop at the end makes it clear that I wasn't riding my entire course with assertiveness. I think my mind was already out of the ring. BOO, Shane, BOO!

I've analyzed it and talked with Becky, Cherie, and my trainer, and the consensus is that I wasn't riding assertively; I didn't put my leg on and when Caesar acted sluggish, I didn't use a crack of my whip to remind him to go forward. Bad Shane. This is nothing new; I chided myself for this same lack of assertiveness back in June. This time I think I was more aware of his sluggishness and even of what I needed to do, but I just didn't make a definite decision to take control. I was worried about why he wasn't forward instead of asking him to go forward; I came to the big realization that I worry about the distances in between the fences and leave Caesar to handle the actual fences. It's almost like I stop thinking before the jump! Perhaps I somehow associate thinking about the jump with worrying about it?

For a bit of redemption, I jumped Caesar on Sunday at home. I first got him connected and listening to my aides (thank you, Cherie!) and then I went over a small vertical before proceeding to a short course. When I caught myself zoning out or mentally asking Caesar if he would jump, I thought, and said, JUMP! Oh, and I put my leg on! My how that worked!

The good news is that it was an educational fall and that the fact that I was jumping 2'6" actually never caused me much worry. The challenge now is not to just keep working hard but to work definitively. Ride like I mean it!

This post is already too long (as I promised my blogger self that I would post less...maybe I should write in code?), but I must report on my haircut! I got a whopping 10 inches of my hair lopped off! I was very anxious as I have always been a long-hair gal, but I am really liking it. So much easier!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Short posts are impossible...

(disclaimer: I promise I tried to make this post brief; it's just so hard!)

That last week and half has been busy and fun—a trip up to NY and RI, and excellent lessons in dressage and quilting. Mike and I had a grand time at our friend’s wedding followed by a relaxing (but equally active) jaunt on quaint Block Island. I will write another post on the trip with photos soon. For now I’ll give a update of the past few days, which have been busy and rewarding.

Saturday was part two of my school’s big move; 20 or so volunteers showed up to lend their backs and patience as we moved the remaining 4 classrooms from our old building to our new home. We are only moving about 100 feet to another building on our school’s shared campus, but it turns out a move within close proximity is just as taxing as one across town, if only because you assume it will be easier! The new building is still undergoing renovations, but it looks amazing. A former convent, the building has spectacular floor to ceiling windows and lovely stained glass remnants. My shared kitchen/art room has a whopping 8 windows and is painted a delectable apple red (in hopes to stimulate appetites). Despite the burdens of moving and resettling, I think our homey, hippy-dippy school will be much more suited to the old convent, a space that feels like a great big hug :)

Yesterday, I met Nina, Abby, Jen, and Jen’s hubby, Brian, for brunch at one of our fave restaurants—Woodberry Kitchen. WK did not disappoint as we enjoyed both sweet and savory delights (beignets and blackberries, spelt crepes, basil-lime lattes…oh my). As this blog is an indication, I am ever trying to improve my riding, especially my dressage. I have come a long way in two years, but I am only beginning to understand the basics of this most admirable (and mysterious!) sport. It seems to me that much of dressage is the learning and relearning of a few basics tenants; you have to know the basics to practice dressage but you have to practice the basics in order to know them. A bit of a conundrum. I’m developing a far better seat and leg through specific exercises and concentrated time spent riding sans stirrups, but my hands are still a bit messy. I am happy to say that Cherie of Golightly Sporthorses imparted some essential wisdom yesterday that really helped me grasp the concept of connection through the reins. I have had several folks model connection by the basic trick of grabbing the reins and mimicking the horses’s mouth, allowing me to feel the “feel” that I should achieve. But each time I am left a bit dumbfounded as I grasp the theory but I can’t apply the action. When Cherie first began to use the metaphor I thought, “oh, no, I never get this!”, but she did something no one else has done. She showed me what the reins should and should not look like when that connection is achieved, i.e. no loosening and snapping of the reins repeatedly to achieve connection but rather a constant (and taxing) following of the reins with the horse’s mouth. Again, I know my trainer refers to this constantly, and I thought I got it. Clearly, I was missing a big piece. For the next hour I worked on just following Caesar’s mouth and maintaining that contact no matter what. In a short time, he was in a nice frame and I understood what that “feel” should feel like (reins in my palms, please!). Another big breakthrough came in achieving straightness through forwardness (again, duh). I often struggle with Caesar banking in or falling out as we track around the ring. I get frustrated and try to fix the straightness without thinking about the forward motion. Eventually we are stuck at standstill with his head in the air and my hands at my chest. Cherie shared the analogy of a bicycle: when you are traveling very slowly on a bike it will start to wobble, and if you try to fix that wobbling with your hands, you end up wobbling more. Instead if you push forward and get going, the straightness fixes itself for the most part! Alas, it worked with Caesar too! I love moments like this, when something that was fuzzy (though you might not have realized it was fuzzy) suddenly becomes a little more clear. I know there is far more clarity to achieve, but I feel I am off to a good start with a better understand of connection. Now the trick is just employing these basic breakthroughs every time I ride (which I did a decent job of today)!

So, thanks, Cherie! Can’t wait to ride with you again!

Today was my final quilting lesson of the summer, and boy, did we get a lot completed! I finished putting together three more squares and then stitched all the squares together. I was feeling quite accomplished until I realized the actual quilting was yet to begin (what I had been working on is only considered the piecing)! The hard part is actually attaching the now finished front to the batting and backing through either hand sewing or machine sewing. This next step is my homework for the next two weeks. Pam supplied me with a cool how-to book to help with the binding. It was such a treat to work in her studio and learn the basics. I am now even more in awe of what she and other quilters do. I ordered some fun fabrics from etsy, and I am already planning my next piece (perhaps I will just become a piece-quilter and pay someone else to do the quilting and binding ;)

All three of my jewelry pieces were accepted into the exhibit of continuing studies’ student work at MICA. Yea! Here’s a photo of the display:

Tomorrow I am taking the leap and getting my hair lopped off! I’ll be donating it so even if I don’t like the short do, I can know I did it for a good cause! Photos are sure to come!