"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Catchup Post

So. What have we been up to while it took me over a week to write about the weekend before this one?

More riding:

Stats from an interval workout in the arena.
Distracted from her post-ride snack.
We were forced to start tapering early this past weekend due to nonstop rains. With distance riding, you do a taper just like you do when running distances on your own two feet. We started dropping our weekly mileage and are now focusing on shorter, more intense workouts to get that last little bit of fitness dialed in. Since the footing outside was a mucky mess, we've been limited to arena work. Our arena is just large enough that we can get decent HIIT workouts in there, as well as our usual dressage.

We also recently tried our hand at the bitless thing. Kathy let me borrow her bitless halter bridle and I toodled with Lily in the arena with it at w/t/c. Ok, I was surprised: she was actually more responsive and lighter in the bridle with NO bit at all. Even with lateral work. My jaw may have dropped... Food for thought.

Yup, she's that good about having her feet trimmed.
Makes my life a million times easier. She came to me with this awesomeness already installed. The trainer that initially broke Lily to saddle did an amazing job with her; it's only taken me 2 years to re-set her to that initial programming...
I have Lily on a weekly trimming schedule right now. It's just so much easier to take a little bit off every week than wait a couple of weeks and end up having to take off a ton. I owe you guys a hoof post. Finally figured out that I can get a much better mustang roll, especially on her hinds, if I finish it off from underneath instead of from above.

Working out:
I confirmed Lily's fitness with Liz's visit, but also my own. After a 13 mile ride of 60% canter, 30% trot and 10% walk where I didn't feel fatigued or tired (I can post forever, but cantering has historically been the one gait that will wipe me out. Always. Since my teens), I was finally at ease with my own fitness choices. I mentioned my own fitness as one of my goals for this year, and I've been sticking to it. I've been trying to get in 2-3 days a week in the gym, with at least 1 Spinning class a week. If I'm feeling particularly fatigued from work and want to dictate my own workout, I'll do interval training on the cardio machines instead of 15 minutes cross country program on elliptical, 10-15 minutes HIIT on the treadmill (this usually involves alternating walking at 3.7 mph pace for 1 minute, sprinting at 8 mph pace for 30 seconds; time spent doing this depends on how tired or not I am from work. If very fatigued, I'll just do 30 minutes on the elliptical and the remainder on the rowing machine), then 2000 meters on the rowing machine. My 2000 meter time is coming down: from 17 minutes I'm down to 12 minutes. My strength training is not what I'd originally planned: as a former hard core fitness fanatic, I hate breezing through weight machines. If I'm going to do a strength workout, I'm going to spend at least 40 minutes doing it and do it right and thoroughly. Since I haven't had the time, I've been doing the one exercise that I know works your entire body: push-ups. Even though in my head it doesn't seem like enough, the truth of the matter is that my core, legs and upper body feel solid when it comes to spending hours in the saddle. In conclusion: I originally felt like what I wasn't doing enough up until Liz's visit. After that I'm actually really happy with where I'm at fitness-wise right now. 

Dinner: salmon with oriental glaze; quinoa with sundried tomatoes and onions; salad
All made by moi
We normally eat pretty healthy in our house. We keep low fat, nutritious food in the house and it helps that I was born without the Hispanic gene for Frying All The Things (I am inept at frying food. Except for plantains: I make some mean tostones! My mom's recipe is similar to this one, but we sub adobo for the sea salt). If we want dessert, which is my weakness, we have to go out to buy it; we just don't keep sweets in the house as a general rule. If Charles wants candy around, he hides it so I don't see it! 

I decided I wanted to clean up my act even more, especially since all of these awesome fruits and veggies are now in season again and I was tired of eating the same things all the time. Which means a lot of food preparation in advance if I want to take a decent salad to take to work as lunch during my work week. Which also means less time for blogging in my bits of spare time during the week.


My latest commissioned work. This is Paris, the sweet elderly TB from my previous barn, whom I body-clipped for his moms last summer. He is in his 30's I believe, and adored by his three owners.

One of the photos I used as a reference. It always helps when it's a horse I know in person; it's easier to capture their personalities on paper.
Portrait giveaway at 100 followers! In case anyone has forgotten. :)


I also started working with Kathy and Queenie.

Kathy is a wonderful friend and as hers and Queenie's fitness has progressed she has been interested in both fine-tuning Queenie's gaiting and her own position in the saddle. As most of you know from reading this blog, Queenie sometimes breaks into a trot when we pick up a gait faster than a walk on the trail, which is incredibly jarring for Kathy's back. She has back issues, so it's especially important that Queenie gait, and to do so as smoothly as possible. 

I was happy to be able to help her out, having owned, ridden, worked with and broken a variety of gaited horses to saddle over the course of 20 years, especially during my time in PR. I love gaited horses; they are very smart, tend to have a great work ethic, and I find that they are wired differently from w/t/c horses in a good way. 

I had hopped on Queenie in the arena once before at the beginning of winter; Kathy had wanted to see if she was capable of cantering and gaiting for more than a few strides. Queenie had confirmed that she was more than capable of both. 

Last Friday, before all the rain rolled in, I was able to work with Queenie again. Kathy's riding is somewhat limited now due to personal reasons and I offered to continue working with Queenie to maintain her current fitness level. This would also allow to fine tune the gaiting for Kathy, with the hope of getting the little red mare to gait off of voice commands. 

I hopped on and Queenie immediately offered to gait. I had to laugh because she was so willing. We worked on picking up the gait when I said, "Gait" and shortened the reins, and walking on a loose rein with her neck stretched out. Queenie wanted to gait gait gait all over the place so I also had the opportunity to work on speeds within the gait: she can pace, rack and do a sort of running walk and I wanted to focus on the running walk as much as possible as it is her smoothest gait. By the end of the 30 minute session, Queenie was starting to figure out that "Easy" meant "Slow down but don't walk".

I discovered that she is indeed a very sensitive mare. I could do minor adjustments to her carriage, gait and speed with the slightest squeeze of the reins, tightening my core or shifting my weight a fraction of an inch. This is what I love about gaited horses: they are born this way.

After about 15 minutes working in the arena in straight lines, focusing on staying on the rail and on varying gait speeds, I decided to take Queenie for a solo ride up and down the driveway.

Kathy has done competitive trail with her, which involves navigating a course with trail obstacles. One of the obstacles is a gate. So I decided I'd open the arena gate without dismounting. The double end snap and chain that are used to keep it closed were level with my foot in the stirrup. I parked Queenie next to the gate, bent down and undid the snap. She didn't move a muscle. I then maneuvered her so I could push the gate open, also from her back.

We rode up the driveway, taking the pea gravel portion that runs in front of the mare field. As we came to the section where the pea gravel becomes pavement, Queenie automatically tried to turn back towards home. I turned her back in the opposite direction and she balked. She took one step backwards but I knew what was coming: she was going to try her backing-up-to-infinity stunt that she'll sometimes try with Kathy. I laughed at her, gave her a light tap with my heels and she moved on, gaiting, going up the driveway away from home.

At the end of the road, we turned around and headed back towards home, still gaiting. Queenie's blond-streaked mane swung back to the rhythm of her movement, and the sound of her hooves on the pavement took me back to long Sundays in the saddle riding Lucero around our hometown.

Lucero and me.
This was the last time I rode him. He died in 2012.
We went back into the arena, where we worked for the final 15 minutes on maintaining the gait while doing serpentines and circles. It was a lovely ride. Every time Queenie did anything I asked, I stroked her neck and told her what a good girl she was. She seemed to enjoy all the praise. I was so excited to give Kathy the full report!

In conclusion: I already knew she is a good horse, but Queenie is especially exceptional because she is one of those rare horses that is almost instantly able to recognize a rider's skill level from the second they mount up, and offer a ride to match that rider's skill level. With a less experienced rider, she will try to get away with minor things like plodding along at the walk or refusing to stay at the rail. Or backing up when she doesn't want to do something. The rider has to prove that she wants what she is telling Queenie to do. She has to be 100% confident. Otherwise Queenie will assume the leading role. The special thing about this mare is that she still takes care of the rider when she does this.

Queenie reminded me a lot of Guarani, the old Paso Fino mare that I learned to ride on. She too, was a chestnut with a blaze. She was the first horse I ever took lessons on. I would learn years later on down the line that my instructor at the time was teaching me the basics of French classical dressage, on Paso Finos. One of the first things she taught me that drove me absolutely crazy was that I had to WANT the mare to do the paso. The day that I WANTED her to do it, she would, with no additional request from me. She would know the instant I sat in the saddle. I was a 10 year old child and this was incredibly hard for me to grasp. I'd sit on Guarani's broad back and scrunch up my face, willing her to gait. Guarani would flick an ear and plod on, "You have no idea what you want. I'm just going to keep on walking here." Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat.

I think I got her to gait maybe one time that summer. I was never sure what exactly I did to get her to do it, but the second I thought about it, she resumed the walk. Arrrggghh..

The next summer I learned to ride walk/trot/canter on a bunch of crazy Thoroughbreds at summer riding camp. (They were crazy...I don't know who in their right mind would use babies straight off the track to teach kids to ride, but that's what they did at that barn...) I impressed my family so much with my determination to ride that they scrounged up the money to put me in regular lessons. I returned to the Paso Fino trainer and again I was put on Guarani.

I sat up straight in the saddle, confident in my ability to ride after surviving that summer on those other horses. The second I thought, "Ok, I'm ready," Guarani said, "Ok." And without any other cue, she moved off in a perfect paso corto.

Seriously: I was beaming. "Oh! THAT'S what the trainer meant!" I thought. It's not necessarily your desire for the horse to move, it's your confidence in yourself and your trust in that horse that will get the horse to move.

I told Kathy all of this and she was very excited to hear that Queenie had all of this in her, and I was excited to go over everything with Kathy while she rode her mare.

Fast forward to Tuesday: I went out to the barn before work with no plans other than wanting to work Lily in the bitless bridle. I was hoping Kathy would be around to see if she wanted to ride in the arena with me, and was happy to realize that she must've read my mind: Queenie was in her stall waiting. Kathy had been thinking along the same lines as me.

We tacked up and hopped on. Initially Queenie wanted to follow Lily around the arena. I gave minor directions to Kathy and waited to see if they'd get sorted out. It wasn't long before Kathy had Queenie walking on the rail. I'd correct a thing here and another thing there, and it would work for them. As everything started falling into place, Kathy became more confident. Queenie had initially been protesting Kathy's cues, but as Kathy's confidence grew, Queenie became more and more responsive with less and less complaining. By this point I standing in the center of the arena on Lily while Kathy worked Queenie on the rail at a consistent running walk. The pointers had pretty much turned into a full-blown 30 minute lesson.

Kathy and Queenie did SO WELL!!

What changed? At Wye Island, Liz had suggested that Kathy shorten her stirrups a hole and this helped give her leg more stability. In the arena we worked on getting her heels down a bit more, as this transfers the shock absorption from Queenie's movement from Kathy's seat to her heels, protecting her back. We worked on her shifting her shoulders back and bending her elbows more, which would allow her hands to be quieter when Queenie started gaiting, and on anticipating the moments when Queenie would try to break to a walk. It was a huge success.

I got on Queenie for a few minutes so Kathy could see everything I'd been explaining to her in action and how it affected her mare's movement and willingness.

Kathy was thrilled, and I'm very excited to see how her and Queenie continue to progress!


  1. Sounds like Queenie is a very nice horse. Isn't it interesting that you have a ton of experience with gaited horses and just happen to have a friend with one you can help her with? I would be lost. There were not a lot of gaited horses where I grew up and zero Pasos.

    In a future post, it would be wonderful if you would explain (for us dummies) the names of the gaits in Pasos, and what they mean. This is not the first blog that has talked about Paso Finos (Madcap Escapades comes to mind) but the assumption is made that the reader knows what you are talking about. (And yes, I could google it, but I would much rather you explain it in the context of your riding experience.)

    The drawing is incredible. You continue to amaze me with your talent.

    Good luck to you and Lily on your first endurance race.

    1. Haha yes, I can definitely do a post on all of the gaits! Great idea actually. I know exactly what videos and photos to use for it too, so you can see them in movement and at a standstill. :) I'll work on that this week.

      And thank you! :D

  2. Busy!!
    I keep telling myself, a few more weeks til graduation and more time and I plan on working on my fitness.
    I want to try a bitless on Shy, as I have found she seems more comfortable and responsive when I just tool around on her with her halter on.

    1. I hear ya: I dropped 10 lbs when I finished tech school because I finally had time to properly exercise and actually cook! It can be so hard to get in the time while studying.

      I was shocked by how well Lily responded to the bitless bridle. I wouldn't be surprised if Shy was great in one too, given how relaxed she's been with you riding her in the halter.

  3. Well ya, you have to fry plantains.

  4. Came over here to make sure that yes I am a follower!!!!! Would love to be the lucky person that wins the drawing. :)

    LOVE fried plantains - my mom made them a few times growing up and they facinated me. I think I've only had them 1 or 2 times as an adult.

    Glad to here you are making your fitness goals. Sometimes I want to give myself an out saying that I have an active lifestyle and thus don't necessarily need to work out (there's been jobs that have been more or less active) but every single time I've been reminded that just becuase i'm generally active (and thus reasonably "fit") does NOT mean that I am necessarily fit enough for some of the endurnce sports we do.

    i feel sort of like you do about the weight training. If I don't have the time to do it PROPERLY I have a hard time just doing a little bit. But like you ive seen HUGE gains by just making time to do pushups (and to a lesser degree one legged squats).

    Someday the canter will make me feel alive and fit but it sill makes me feel crampy and breathless. LOL. I keep thinking when I get a smoother horse......

    1. Lol No worries - I noticed the day you signed up as a follower! ;)

      Fried plantains are da bomb. If you come visit the East coast we'll make sure you have them for the 3rd time as an adult! Liz has my recipe too. :)

      Having an active job for me often means not having the energy left over to go and work out, but joining the gym has helped give me options that don't require me to further fatigue my legs on a machine while doing cardio (rowing!) In terms of my fitness goals, I credit you for most of it! The milestones you've achieved fitness-wise while in vet school AND training for endurance are a source of endless inspiration for me. That post you wrote on starting running and how to properly do HIIT is one that I go back to often as a reference. It was what made me feel ok about not doing PROPER strength training, and what made me start focusing more on really high intensity interval training when I do have time to work out. I have always been a fan of interval training but after reading that post I realized I could improve so much more on my technique to get more out of those workouts. I get more bang for my buck. And wow has it made a difference!

      Thank you for writing about your fitness goals and what you do to achieve them. It really helped me see that there is another way!

      I'm glad I'm not the only one who usually feels crampy and breathless while cantering! I always thought I was a freak of nature for preferring to trot! Lol :D