Friday, January 15, 2021

Lesson Notes

I've been continuing to take weekly biomechanics lessons on a school horse, as well as a weekly session with my regular coach.  My SO asked about this (possibly trying to wrap his head around how much I'm spending on this hobby 😂) so I came up with a sports analogy to explain it.  I said my biomechanics instructor was like my QB coach, who works with me on the finer points of technique.  My regular coach is like the offensive coordinator, who looks at the big picture and how Cupid and I work together as a team.  So I guess I still have room for a head coach?!

My last biomechanics lesson focused more on the arms and upper body, since I think my lower half is starting to show some improvement! 

-"Soggy arms" is what my instructor says I have.  She says my whip is a dead giveaway, as it flops around when my arms are soggy.  So she basically grabbed my lower arm with both her hands and told me to get the feeling of lifting her off the ground (but without actually lifting my hands).  

-Opposing forces: keeping my elbows back, but get the feeling of pushing my hands forward at the same time.  Suggested imagery was thinking of pushing a wheelbarrow.

-My tendency is to make my front half longer than the back.  Need to make sure I'm not arching my lower back.  Think about pilates, pressing my lower back against the mat.

-Post through my thighs, not my feet.  To get the feeling, my instructor will put her hand under my feet (at the halt!) and tell me not to crush it!

-I tend to sit more on my right seatbone.  Especially tracking right, make sure I'm balanced on both seat bones and my chin is in line with the withers (which may mean I need to think about looking slightly outside the circle - which may explain why Cupid can overbend through his neck to the right and my lesson horse was drifting in on the circle!)

-Continued working on the "slapkick" - a quick touch with the lower leg making sure I don't turn in my heels.  Think about the stirrup touching the horse, not my heels.

Getting better!  And oh so serious 😂

My last lesson with Cupid seems oh so long ago so I'm having trouble remembering details, but I remember having a great feeling when it ended!  The primary objective is still getting Cupid rounder, as well as making sure he's in front of the leg / prompt transitions. 

Also in other news, Cupid's been a bit of a lesson horse himself, as a young lady at my barn has ridden him a few times with our mutual coach.  Her horse unfortunately had to be retired, and her new OTTB is getting some time off.  She is a very nice person and hard worker, so I am happy to help out and know Cupid will take great care of her and start showing her the ropes what she can expect with her own horse down the line!

Friday, January 8, 2021

Estate Planning for Horse Owners (under California law)

What would happen to your horse if something happens to you??  I've still been struggling with motivation to write, but I decided to put together a basic primer on estate planning for horse owners.  This is very generalized (contact an attorney for your specific situation), and based on California law, but may give you some options or at least something to think about. 

Disclaimer: this is not intended as legal advice, and does not create any attorney-client relationship.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

From the Top Down

I have been able to take a few more biomechanics lessons, and my instructor has encouraged me to write down my thoughts so I can look back.  Of course that's the primary purpose of this blog, and though I haven't felt very inspired for the past several months I'll try to follow her advice!

I've been working hard to practice correctly when I ride Cupid, and the good news is the "new" is starting to feel normal.  Or at least, when I get on I am starting to naturally just assume the correct position and hold it okay at the walk but of course it goes to #$@% as soon as I try to ask for anything other then just ambling around at a sedate walk!  

I took a before and after picture from the same angle - on the left is how I used to position my leg (!! I know right!!) and the right is the "new normal."  My instructor told me I shouldn't be looking down - but if I were to look down I want my leg to look flat (lying against the saddle) not rounded (upside down U coming off the saddle). 

Before (left) and after (right)

It's funny, I've spent so long trying to get my lower leg still and heels down.  It seems dumb now, but I didn't really focus much on my upper leg at all.  It seems obvious now that that's what I actually need to fix, and then the lower leg almost just follows.  But without the top being correct, there is almost no way the bottom can be.  And I'm sure my regular trainer has been trying to tell me that for years and I just didn't put it together. 

Now I just have to re-learn how to use my leg effectively from this position, then make some tweaks to the upper body and of course continue the struggle with bending my elbows and keeping my hands closed.  Maybe in another 25 years I'll have this riding thing figured out!


Thursday, December 10, 2020

Learning the Mary Way

 I love my trainer, but I also get a lot out of working with different people, who might focus on a different aspect of my ride or explain something in a new way.  Plus I have some extra flexibility in my schedule while unfortunately my trainer does not, so I took the opportunity to sign up for some lessons with a local biomechanics specialist.  She is a student of Mary Wanless, and for anyone reading who is better versed in MW than me (I'm brand new to it!) if anything sounds wrong it is probably my misunderstanding or doing a poor job describing it and not a fault of the trainer.  And I have to admit, I've read several other blogs where the bloggers discussed Mary's teaching and there was a lot I didn't really understand but after my first lesson is starting to make sense!

My mount was a cute little quarter horse. I got on him and the first thing my instructor did was shorten my stirrups, to a length that is actually comfortable for me but shorter than what I think of as traditional dressage length.  Then she watched me walk as I normally would for a minute or two before having me stop for my first adjustment.  Now I've heard before that you need to rotate your leg in from the hip, and I thought I had been doing that, but it turns out I wasn't!  After the adjustment I saw the difference in how my upper leg was lying on the saddle, especially looking down comparing the two legs after only one had been adjusted.  I could also see my toes were pointed more forward.  And then the next step was she put her hand kind of behind my heel and told me to push against it, and keep that feeling.  

She also put her hands under my feet and told me not to crush them, and that is how much weight I should have in my stirrups.  I worry about losing my stirrups, so often jam my feet way in and try to keep really heavy.  My instructor said with keeping my legs more still, and letting the light friction between the stirrup pad and soles of my boots, I won't need to worry about losing my stirrups even though I have less weight in them.

We talked about how I need to carry more weight on my seat and upper legs.  One thing she said that particularly resonated with me was that the stirrups are very unstable, they can swing or bend.  On the other hand the torso / girth band area of the horse is one of the most stable parts of his body, so I that is where I want to put myself.  

I walked some more trying to get used to the new feeling, and it definitely felt different.  For the next adjustment, my instructor put her hand in front of my knee and told me resist against it and keep that feeling.  It should feel almost as if though I were kneeling on the ground.

Resistance points (imposed on old position!)
Then after another brief period walking my next adjustment was to resist against her hand with the back of my ankle, without taking my entire leg off the horse.  My toes were already more forward but this corrected it further, and hopefully will help with my "nagging" legs.  By which I mean my lower legs tend to swing and bounce a bit, when I ride Cupid it often looks like I'm nagging him to go when really I'm not trying to do anything at all.

Next we moved up to the torso, and my instructor reminded me to engage my core.  She asked me what other sports I do, and when I said kickbox she said basically to ride like I'm about to take a punch to the stomach.  So that is the "bear down" I've heard other bloggers refer to, lol.  

Finally, she told me to keep my elbows bent but have the feeling like I'm resisting against something in front of my hands.  

The lesson ended we me trying to do all of this at the trot.  It did feel weird and different, and also just weird and different since I don't ride new horses very often.  But in the two rides I've had on Cupid since, I think my leg has felt steadier so I'm hopeful!


Friday, December 4, 2020

Fleece Blinkers for the Spooky Horse

Cupid is generally a fairly straightforward horse, but one of his biggest quirks is his spookiness in our outdoor arena.  He's lived at the same barn for all 6.5 years that I've owned him, and has been in this arena hundreds of times but as I've mentioned probably many times before, he is often spooky and distracted in there.  Some times he's totally fine, but the past few weeks he's almost always been spooky, by the corner where the gate is.  (I would have expected him to like the gate corner and try to move towards it not away!)  There are some props on the ground, but nothing unusual and they've been the same.  He does it both directions.  Luckily he doesn't do anything terrible, he just scoots away and gets tight.  So not dangerous, but very frustrating!

In the past I've tried, to little avail:

- ignoring the behavior aside from a little half halt, and try to keep him straight and moving on as best we can, and just doing the most important work in other parts of the arena;

- turning circles as soon as I feel his attention drift;

- walking up to the sides where he gets distracted (he doesn't seem scared, and will walk right up to and put his nose on each of the various things lying there); and

-working hard away from the spooky area and resting there.

Also I didn't notice any difference when he was on magnesium or ulcergard for unrelated reasons - still about the same number of days he was totally fine versus spooky.

My latest idea was to try fleece blinkers.  I got these kavalkade pads, which have velcro and were very easy to attach to the bridle: https://www.ridingwarehouse.com/Kavalkade_Pure_Lambswool_Crown_Poll_Nose_Chin_Padding/descpage-KPLP.html

Kavalkade Pure Lambswool Padding
Cupid didn't mind the blinkers and didn't have any sort of reaction to having them on.  He raced with french cup blinkers, but luckily this didn't bring back any memories for him!  I rode him as normal around the property to warm up.  (He is totally fine everywhere else, there's just something about that arena.  And not always the same spot in there either, recently it was more halfway up the long side.)

The current spooky area

The blinkers did seem to help somewhat, but not as much as I hoped.  He was still squirelly but it did seem easier to refocus him.  But that may be in some or large part because by putting the blinkers on I kind of made this ride about working on this issue so I think I rode him even more proactively then usual.  

So back to the drawing board, but thought I'd share this experience in case anyone else has thought about trying it!

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Dressage Boots for Short People - Cavallo Stanford

I've been riding in my trusty Ariat field boots for the past several years, and they are very comfortable and totally fine for what I do.  However, with my trainer's encouragement I've been contemplating getting real dressage boots for a while.  Who knows, maybe they'll even help with my bad habit of bracing on the stirrup and shortening my leg!

Unfortunately I don't have the nice long legs desirable for dressage riders.  I measured my height from the ground to the back of my knees at about 17" or 43 cm, and my calves at the widest part, with breeches, at about 13" or 33 cm.  I usually wear a 7.5 shoe, sometimes 7.  My Ariats are a 7.5 short height, regular calf.  They are a bit big all around, but I love the footbed enough I would have bought a dressage boot the same size if they had them - unfortunately they don't seem to have any dressage models at present.  Since I've never worn stiff boots I didn't really want to splurge on my first pair and find out it's not for me - I was hoping to spend around $500 (black Friday deals preferred!)

I previously bought Tredstep dress boots, and just didn't love them so I wasn't interested in that brand.  I've heard some people really like Mountain Horse, and others say they don't last long, but since their Serenade dressage boot doesn't seem to come in a short height it's a moot point.  That left me with several European brands and the ones I looked into were DeNiro, which I've heard are pretty comfortable, and Petrie.  Well Petrie was out immediately because they don't seem to come in short at all.  And DeNiro only had regular dress boots in short at my pricepoint.

Then I landed on something on Dover's website I wasn't familiar with, the Cavallo Stanford.  It only had one review, but at least it was 5 stars.  I couldn't find much more information or reviews on it.  But they have a size 7/7.5, 45 cm height (XX short, lol!), 33 cm (X slim, which is not something I ever would have called my calves), at $399 and with Dover's free returns I figured it was definitely worth a try.  

I receive them a few days later, and was very excited to try them on!  I was wearing workout capris and ankle socks, and the boots felt a bit big in the feet (probably not ideal for someone who is a true 7), and zipped up easily.  I was worried they might rub the ankles a bit, but overall they seemed to fit pretty well.  They zip on the inside, and don't have elastic.  They are stiff on the outside, but soft on the inside.


Because I'm impatient, and/or a masochist, I only wore them around the house for about 3 minutes before my first ride.  At my friend's suggestion I wore tall socks and thick winter breeches under them, so they were definitely more snug!  I rode for about 20 minutes before taking a walk break with my feet out of the stirrups when I started to worry I might go numb, then finished up with about 15 more minutes work.  

I used my Soloshot, and even though my feet still alternate between heels up and down I think overall I did have them level more of the time than usual.  


So far I'm quite happy with my purchase and first stiff boot experience!


Sunday, November 1, 2020

Happy Halloween!

We had a dressage judge come to our barn on Halloween to practice ride dressage tests.  Cupid was a unicorn, and I was a butterfly.   

My unicorn!
Warming up

We did Training test 2 as a warm up. It was going well until almost the end, when just as we picked up our right lead canter Cupid spooked coming out of the corner.  Mind you, he had been perfect the whole time with my wings flapping (we had a dress rehearsal a few days ago, and even hopped some jumps with the wings on!) but he spooked at seemingly nothing, go figure.  

The judge spoke to everyone after their ride with some additional comments.  She said the best part of my test was actually the right lead canter departure, which she said was very balanced and uphill, right before the spook.  And she said something to work on was our stretchy trot, and to think about a bit of shoulder fore feeling in the corner before it to get him lifting his withers.  She said since he does a nice job stretching at the walk she thinks we can get it in the trot too.

Then for our final test of the year I finally got to ride First level test 1!  I know we're not quite show ready with it yet, but I thought it would be a good opportunity to practice.  The test started out okay with the trot 10m half circles.  Our stretchy circle was a bit better than the first test, and the walk as usual was fine.  For our canter to the left it went okay, though we need to show a bit more in the lengthening.  But then the test ends almost the same, with picking up canter at C (instead of between C and M as in Training 2) and down the long side, and Cupid spooked again in the same spot, worst this time.  And then went into the wrong lead, so instead of lengthening we were trying to fix the lead.  So the end was a bit of a mess.  

The judge said the best part of our test was our second 10m half circle, to the right.  Obviously the canter was the worst.  She said I need to be a lot quicker about fixing an incorrect lead if it happens, which is true.  She also said we need to be just a bit more consistent in our connection, but I told her my goal was to show it early next year and she said we can definitely get there.  She suggested a lot of circles and serpentines, and also leg yields.  Big leg yields as well as just a hoof's width over then straight again.  The feedback was helpful and encouraging, even though it was frustrating having Cupid spook in both tests, at our home barn!

We went first in the day, before most people got there and a few people asked to see my costume.  So after everyone was done we got dressed up again and did a little loop around with some of the other people who had costumes.