Sunday, August 29, 2010

Riding Free

I'd been given a new challenge.  Riding without stirrups.  The first few times my trainer, Rachel, suggested it she got a firm "No!" from me.  But this week as I got more adjusted to riding Poco in Champ's saddle, got those muscles in my seat back, got my "groove" going, she suggested it again and I decided to give it a try.

I started with taking my feet out of the stirrups at a walk.  My legs went behind me and I tilted forward.  It wasn't pretty.

Then I recalled all those years as a kid when we never had time to saddle our horses.  We were always in a hurry to ride and rode bareback.  In the summer we'd take our horses swimming.

As a child and teenager I had the most wonderful exposure to water and horses.  During warm weather my friend and I would take the horses down onto the Browns Point beach in Northeast Tacoma, WA.  We'd usually ride the beach for miles, strolling along talking about whatever entered our minds.

On our return we'd take a dip in Puget Sound.  The salt water always smelled so good.  From the initial shock of getting my legs wet and then up to my waist (and above), the water initially shocked me but felt so refreshing.

My horse and I would go out deep.  We'd be floating, his nose and upper neck the only things visible besides the upper part of me, reminding me of a little tug boat.  It was true teamwork as I gave him his head, put a hand on his mane, floated over his back and let him swim unhampered from my guidance.   I always felt that when I was out in the deep water swimming on horseback it was as close as one could come to flying with their horse.

We'd come back up onto the beach, both of us refreshed.  I'd laugh while he shook.  At this point there would usually be some coltish antics he'd put on, a sure sign that he was feeling good at the ripe age of 20+.  I'd be wet, glued onto this back and never have an issue staying on while he went thru his 6 second routine.  I always laughed at his little bucks, bareback in cutoffs and a halter top, no helmet, no fear, no worries.  Falling was the furthest thing from my mind.  I was young and free.

So when I pulled my feet out of those stirrups this week the above memories came back to me.  Yes, I stumbled at first, but then my legs went forward and my heels naturally went down.  For a brief moment I was again fifteen, back on that beach.  I was riding my good old friend, Rusty, next to my best friend, Jayne, on her horse Northern Fly.

Rachel's amazed look and exclamation of "Wow!  Good Job!", brought me back to the reality of being 50+, on my horse Poco, helmet intact, riding in an indoor arena in safe surroundings, no water in sight. 

As I trotted around without stirrups I looked down at Rachel and grinned.  I knew then that I'd never forgotten.  I still remembered how to ride free. 

Friday, August 27, 2010

Summer's End

From May to the end of August, our house buzzes with activity when our daughter is home from college for summer break.

It's an adjustment for my husband and I to have our only child back home as much as I'm sure it's an adjustment for her to be home.  Music, laughter and activity fill our home.  The door swings with friends coming and going and I never know how many mouths I'll be feeding for dinner. 

My husband and I've been used to the silence and serenity of our home and we've all become used to coming and going as we please.  The initial days of summer break can be a bit trying for all of us.

This year my husband and I have seen our daughter grow into an adult.  We like what we see.  She has spent hours this summer talking with us about anything and everything.  She seems to have realized that Mom and Dad are actually interesting to spend time with.  My husband refers to it as breaking thru to the other side.  It's a very cool thing and a true sign that she is growing up.

Three years ago an unsure Freshman burst into tears as she said goodbye to her home, horse and dog.  This year an assured Junior had already networked with her college bound pals weeks before she left.   Her enthusiasm about returning to school and living in her first apartment with a roommate were catching as I scoured my home for items to send along with her.

Five days before her departure she was  90% packed.  For the first time in what seems forever, she kept her room tidy this summer yet this week it has been in shambles as she prepared to leave. 

Our dog and kitten were perplexed about the changes in the past week.  They seemed to know that she was leaving.  And indeed this morning she left us for another year of school and the discoveries it brings. 

Initially my husband and I will find the silence deafening.  The pets will be out of sorts and we will all be very kind and gentle to each other as we adapt to the change in rhythm. 

But in a few days we will all rediscover the liberation of going where we please, when we please.  Soon it will be our norm, only to change for all of us when she returns from school for the holiday break.

But between now and those next few days, there's a feeling of loss and sadness in both my husband and I as we miss the daughter who brought warmth, smiles, engaging conversation and laughter to us this past summer.  Her leaving is a sure sign of summer's end.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Difference in a Saddle

Last year about this time I'd been taking lessons every week for about six months, learning how to ride 'correctly'.  I used the saddle and pad our daughter had always used on Champ. 

At first I didn't have any issues but as I progressed in my lessons, using my legs more and more, I found the saddle I was using wasn't fitting either of us.

The saddle pitched me forward leaving me feeling I was going to end up on Champ's neck.  My "50+ rear end spread" was a bit too generous for the seat.  :0  When I started learning to use my legs, I found my range of motion constrained.  I was uncomfortable and that led me to being unsure of my abilities.

Champ didn't seem to care for the saddle either.  He'd pin his ears back and sometimes even try to strike me with his left front leg when I went to put it on him.  But then, Champ was always a bit opinionated!

We are fortunate to have a western tack shop near our place.  Mike knows saddles.  He repairs tack and builds saddles.  His side of the store is a dream come true for a rider, his workshop like that of a scientist.  And if you haul your horse in, he'll take the time to fit the right saddle to your horse.  Mike knows his stuff.

Cindy, his wife, on the other side of the store, knows apparel.  The right jeans, hats and boots are waiting for the rider along with cool purses, belts, etc.  Cindy knows what fits and makes you look your best.  Such an eye!  When you buy from Cindy, you know you're going to come out of that shop looking incredible!

With my saddle becoming an issue, we hauled Champ into Mike's one summer evening, about this time last year for a saddle fitting.  I brought along all of the saddles we had at home, all sitting in the tack room because they didn't seem to fit any horse we owned.  Nice saddles ordered via the internet or picked up here and there.  Some hardly ridden in.

Mike first tried out our saddles.  He then hauled out saddles from his shop and eventually he hauled out saddle trees.  Champ was a hard fit, looking like he had narrow withers when in fact he had wide ones.  But Mike found the perfect fit for him.

I was able to trade in some of our unused saddles for a brand new one.  Having short legs, I'd had issues getting the stirrups short enough to fit correctly.  Mike had helped me in the past add additional notches on the fenders so the stirrups would fit me.  With this new saddle he recommended "youth" fenders so I'd get the range of motion I needed.

A few weeks later my new saddle arrived.  I picked it up along with a new pad and promptly went out and rode Champ.  What a difference for both of us!  A little more room for my 50+ spread, fenders that allowed me to move my legs, it was a dream to ride in.

Champ also seemed to like this saddle.  After a couple of rides, the pinned ears and flying front left leg stopped when he realized it wasn't going to hurt him.

The more I used it the better it got.  Suddenly I was doing rollbacks and loping off, etc.  I discovered a new found confidence that accompanied the ground work I'd been doing with Champ.  I found my balance and seat.  I felt secure.

Champ's sudden loss in June shook me and my family to our core.  I recall the day I brought all of Champ's tack home.  I balled my head off as I retired his bridle and my new saddle, knowing they were part of him and would never be used on him again.

I'd had Poco for two weeks when I lost Champ.  I'd been using that old saddle of Champ's on Poco.  Seemed to fit him ok and I thought it would work fine for the horse that was supposed to be my "live at home trail horse/safe for friends to ride" mount.

With Poco now as my only saddle horse, his destination and use changed.  Instead of going home, he remained at the barn to become my main riding horse.  I continued with my lessons.  For the first four weeks I think I was numb.  I didn't feel, I wasn't able to communicate with Poco and bless him, he tried so hard.

My inability made me frustrated.  I missed the team that my former horse and I had become.  My new horse and I weren't in synch.  I blamed it on my loss of Champ and that made me upset to think I wasn't Cowgirling up and dealing with it.

But, there was something familiar about my discomfort, something I'd felt before.  It took me almost five weeks of beating myself up to realize I'd pitched forward in this saddle before, felt that old burn in my knee as well as that feeling of being squeezed into the saddle.  I'd been here before but I couldn't place where.

The more I rode in that saddle the more uncomfortable I got until a few weeks ago I found myself frustrated at trying to sit back and being pushed forward to the point that I stopped riding and got off.  I hated myself when I told my pals at Ladies Night, "Ugh, this saddle just isn't working!"  I felt accountable for my actions and ashamed that I was blaming my lack of abilities on a stupid saddle.

It hit me then that the symptoms I was encountering were the same I'd had when I first started riding Champ.  The issue - the saddle.

Yet, there was a saddle that fit me well and I missed it as much as that big red paint horse.  At home I pulled that saddle out of our tack room, becoming misty eyed at the smell of Champ on it and the memories that came back as I hefted it up into my car.  Up at the barn I asked my trainer to spot me while I put it up on Poco.  We found it sat him well.  So up I went to take a spin.

When I sat down on Poco in that saddle it was like hearing a choir.  I literally cried out, "Ahhhh!"  It felt wonderful, it felt like I'd come home.  As I worked Poco I discovered something I'd been missing - my seat and balance!  I didn't realize how much I'd been using them, had missed those darned things and like old friends, was happy to find them again.  I sat back and I sat up tall, my legs felt great and my confidence rushed back to me like a wave on the beach.

I'm so pleased to have my balance and confidence back and Poco seems happier too.  I now know how important a good saddle is to the horse and rider. 

To be sure the saddle fits Poco correctly, I'll be hauling him down to visit Mike in the near future to have Mike put his two cents in on ensuring this is a good fit for Poco. there's this really bling headstall and reins that match my saddle on Mike's side of the store and an awesome pair of boots I've been keeping an eye on forever on Cindy's side...oh...and then there's this really cool buffalo hair purse I've wanted forever, just too cool, hope it's still there...and I could really use a new pair of jeans...  :)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Riding Goals for the Remainder of 2010

I've been having a lot of fun getting to know Poco.  His easy going nature has yet to disappoint me.  As I discover his talents I've been thinking about goals I want to set to utilize them and places I'd like to go.

1.  Sorting.  One goal I had for 2010 was sorting.  There's a facility down the road from us that hosts sorting events every other Thursday.  I had gone once with Champ but after his loss I haven't been back. 

This week I discovered that Poco does roll-backs and haunch turns, and he does them well!  A definite plus for sorting.  So one of my goals will be to join my pals at the barn and "go sorting".  The facility is also hosting clinics this winter so I plan on joining my pals in attending some of them.

2.  Horse Show.  Another goal I have is to take Poco to a Schooling Show.  I attended my first show last October (see post October 2009, First Horse Show) and had a blast.  It was fun to see old friends and be out in the arena with my horse.  I came home with a higher level of confidence, a better bond with my horse and a big grin on my face.  And isn't that what riding is all about?  Yes, I also came home with assorted colored ribbons and that was very nice.  However, they took a back seat to everything else.

My goal will be to return to the Schooling Show in October and ride in the western classes, walk/jog for sure but also with a goal to ride in some of the Novice walk/jog/lope classes.

3.  The Lope.  When I talk to fellow riders facing confidence challenges, this is the gait that saps their confidence.  And I'm no different. 

I initially loped Poco before I bought him but when I suddenly lost Champ I also lost the wind in my sails.  Took awhile to get it back (true that time does help you heal).  Poco has a nice lope but I've had a hard time getting us to move into it. 

He must sense some of my issues.  I've come to find the saddle I'm using doesn't fit me correctly.  It pushes me way forward and for the life of me I can't sit back, which is where I depend on my seat to help me with my balance.

Right now I'm very uncomfortable at the lope, feeling like I'm going to spill over Poco's neck.  I'll be replacing my current saddle for one that fits me correctly and that should resolve my sitting issue and get me back on track.  I guess the best way to describe my feelings about the lope is that I'm not really afraid, I'm uncomfortable.

4.  Transitions.  There is also a challenge of getting Poco to transition from a SLOW jog to the lope.  We really need to work on transitions, walk to jog, jog to lope and back down the other way.  I need to put many miles in on slowing him down at the jog.  Which is what I'm currently doing as I struggle with my saddle issue.

5.  Dressage.  And lastly, much of my training to ride this last year centered around Dressage.  I find Dressage one of the most beautiful disciplines of riding.  As the cold weather comes in, I'll trade in my Wranglers and boots for English apparel and fleece and with a good, used Dressage saddle, I'll give this a try as the rain pounds against the walls of the barn and the wind blows.

I look forward to sharing my experiences with you as I set out down this road.  Stay tuned as this 50+ rider sets out to accomplish five goals between now and the first of next year!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Day With Poco

Today I rode Poco and our daughter, Colleen came with me and took pictures. 

I bought Poco about six weeks ago.  He was supposed to be my "at home horse" to replace Cisco, who I lost to Colic in January.  I had plans for Poco.  My family/friends would ride him while I rode Champ.  I could see us riding out under the sunset.

But four weeks ago we suddenly lost Champ.  Poco is now my main guy.  I call him my "Glass Horse" because he is the only horse I now have to ride.

Poco has yet to surprise me.  He's well behaved, yet I can still see small positive changes in his behavior each time I go through my ground work exercises with him and establish myself as the leader.

Finishing up ground work:

We move to the indoor arena where my friend Haley is riding.  It's also cooler in here:

Hailey and I (Western and Dressage)!

Good Friends.

I tell Poco (Poke) that there's a secret waiting for him in his stall.

And give him a big hug for such a great ride!

Good Boy, Poco!  Ok, let's go get those carrots!!!!