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

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Jump School!

Today Lily and I were going to do a dressage school. I was going to play with her mullen-mouth baby pelham and double reins...except when I got down to the arena, the jump field next door looked so much more appealing. And then I got exasperated with the double reins and tossed the "snaffle" reins to the side and kept the "curb" ones...and Lily was still giving me a lovely warm-up either way. She was happy, forward and relaxed. I was riding in the Alta because I had not felt like switching the stirrups back to my dressage Wintec (this involves dealing with sheepskin stirrup leather covers. I was not in the mood.)

The jumps in the little grass jump field were set in such an awesome way...two singles, two bounces, and a set of 3 cavalletti set for trot strides right across the center of the arena, placed in a diagonal. The grass there had been mowed recently so the jumps had all been set in a way that could be strung together into a little course. I kept eyeballing them and I finally said to hell with dressage, we're jumping.

Lily picked up a wonderful, wonderful collected yet elastic canter from where I could extend or collect her stride even further. We circled around the arena and the jumps so she could see their elongated shadows in the late afternoon sunlight and confirm that they weren't holes in the ground (she is towards the end of her heat cycle, which means she is lookier than she would normally be). I then had her trot over the cavalletti going both uphill and downhill (the jump field is on a very subtle incline) and she put her head down to look at them but went on, figuring out the striding while I stayed in a quiet half seat as she went over them. I didn't throw the reins away but just kept a light contact on the bit and this seemed to give her confidence. We then picked up that awesome collected canter again and I pointed her at the single vertical at the far end of the arena. It was two Blocks set on their sides with a wooden pole over them, maybe 2' high tops. We cantered up to it. Lily was a bit dodgy on the approach; I think she wasn't sure about what I was going to ask her to do. She took a half step to the right but I closed my right leg on her and she straightened out. One more stride and we were over the tiny jump, cantering away. Praise!

We did this three more times, always going uphill. On each approach she was still a bit timid, but she responded every time I closed my left leg to keep her going forward and straight. She received a big "Good girl!" after each jump.

I then dismounted, set up my phone on the fence with the flexible tripod (thank you Liz!!!) and jacked up the other single, which was nearest the fence where I had just placed the phone. The jump had originally been set to maybe 12"; I hiked it up to somewhere between 2'3" and 2'6". I also raised my stirrups a hole. The Alta isn't exactly conducive to jumping with its high pommel but having dressage-length stirrups wasn't going to help anyone either!

We trotted around, then picked up the canter and circled before going into the approach to the single. With the phone set to record on the tripod, the music I constantly have going when riding (a variety of trance, dubstep, reggaeton, reggae and 90's rock & alternative) was off, and I swear not having it playing rattled Lily. She felt a bit "up" and insecure as we cantered around the small field. I put my leg on and let my weight sink deep into my heels, and sat up as we approached this bigger fence. Remember now: this is my second jump school EVARRR on this mare! This mare that used to be terrified of ground poles, even! I haven't jumped consistently in at least 6 years myself. But all of my rider fitness came into play now: I felt tight in the saddle, my heels down, abs strong, as I reminded myself to look UP beyond the jump and NOT down at it, and also to NOT kick Lily into the long spot.

Unedited video of our three goes over this vertical. Pardon the lags!

She did that tiny half step to the right. "Nah-ah!" I said, closing my leg. She jumped, timidly, but with enough impulsion to nearly pop me out of the tack in the process! I sat up and collected her again, continuing the canter as we circled around the arena. The second approach was better, though still timid and she overjumped. "Whoot!" I exclaimed in surprise. You can hear it in the video!

Automatic release ftw!
I was really happy with our third approach to the vertical. Much more confident mare, though I felt my heart pumping hard in my chest as I locked onto the fence. I forced myself to sit back, look up beyond the fence at my turn, and exhale as we cantered up to the jump. Lily only paid attention to my breathing, and chose a beautiful spot.

Mareface can really pick up her knees when she wants to.

I left it at that for the videoing and dismounted to turn off the phone's camera so we could have music again while riding. While I was at it, I also converted the vertical into a large cross rail (sides set at 2'9"). My reason? I wanted to boost her confidence since she still felt timid on her approach. It wasn't fair to her to be aiming her at a vertical when she's only really schooled over cross rails with me on her back.

We did both singles at the canter, then strung it all together into a figure 8 by trotting the diagonal cavalletti in-between: canter one vertical, canter away, down transition to trot, cavalletti, up transition to canter, second vertical.

During our second go of this pattern, Lily started locking onto the jumps herself. She lifted her withers on the approach, giving me that lovely uphill canter that good jumpers are known for. For our third go, she took the long spot...and despite realizing what she was doing, I let her, because I realized I was encouraging it with my position + the uphill: I was stringing the jumps together in this figure 8 pattern so that we were always taking them uphill. Neither Mareface nor I are mentally prepared yet to canter downhill fences together. (I'm used to jumping on true flats. I've only ever really jumped downhill ONCE in my entire life! And with my trainer at the time to instruct me!)

As we started our fourth go of the pattern, Lily took a HUGE long spot towards the Blocks single, jumping flat and low and almost landing on top of the fence: that's how far away she leaped from! I threw the reins away so as to not grab her in the mouth. She cantered calmly on away from the jump as I apologized to her and gathered her up again. We maintained the canter and circled around to return to the Blocks single.

"Wait, wait," I said out loud on our approach, both for hers and my benefit, as I sat back and asked for that extra stride in front of the jump. She had no problem at all adjusting and I had no problem at all following. It was beautiful. We did this three more times, cantering around in a circle to return to the Blocks single, and then changed directions and did the same going to my big cross rails single. Lily was so very adjustable, trusting and confident. She gave me one last gorgeous jump, where I followed her perfectly, and afterwards I immediately asked for a walk, dropped the reins to pat her neck with both hands, and called it a day. We had jumped for all of 35 minutes but I had just found the perfect note to end on for both of us. Short and sweet! She was sweating because it was hot, but she wasn't even out of breath!

We then walked back to the barn on a loose rein.

This was easily my smoothest and most beautiful jump school of the last 10 years. Without a trainer to watch us, on my mare that is still insecure over jumps (and understandably so, from lack of experience with them!) and in a saddle that isn't designed for jumping. I was very proud of both of us: of Lily for trusting me, and of myself for trusting her and keeping calm and cool.

I was originally going to ride Gracie afterwards but decided to call it a day altogether: I was on such a high note that it was going to be tough to beat with anything else, and I wanted to keep it that way! :)

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Catching Up

I have had a post in the works for the last couple of weeks now, about crewing for Liz's first 100 mile ride at the Old Dominion in Virginia. If you haven't read her story, I suggest you do so: it is not often that I cry reading a blog post and despite having been there to witness all of it, I still cried reading her story! It is beautiful and magical, and that's exactly what it was like in real life. It was a truly special thing to be there for her and I have had a hard time putting it into words...hence my delay in posting.

In the meantime, life over on this side of the computer monitor has been quite busy. Summer didn't really arrive to our region until the first week of June, when temps suddenly skyrocketed from upper 60s to the 90s, but is now in full swing. I have been riding every spare minute I get after work, and sometimes before work too (the perks of having two horses...) The weekends get split between the gym, riding time, Carlos time and being on call for work. Work itself has been quite busy and every week my schedule is modified to accommodate it: on some days I'm going in at 8:00 am because a coworker is on vacation and we are slammed for the day, or I'm needed later in the day so I don't go in until 9:00 am. My lunch breaks are rarely more than 10 minutes in length and I often end up working a 12-hour shift instead of 10. This is to say: my time for writing on the computer, whether blogging, commenting, reading or otherwise, is very minimal.I have kept up with a lot of my usual blogs but it is very, very hard to keep up on commenting. So if I used to comment on your blog and I haven't in a while, don't be offended please: I'm still reading!

We've been managing to put in a long ride (10+ miles in length) about every other week when we are both simultaneously off of work and can haul out with the girls. I've been posting a LOT of pics on my Instagram, which you can click to on the upper right-hand corner of the blog (if viewing from a computer). That's another place to keep up with our adventures at the moment, if you want to know what we're up to. :)

Barn Trails
Have some pics from some of our more recent rides:

Taken after a post-work ride. She looked so gorgeous in this light!
Hot days = playing in the river.
I love that both Carlos and Gracie are grinning in this photo, in their own way. :)
Water! Always water.

Solo ride on Gracie.

Hill sprints.

From a post-work ride on Gracie.

 Gracie tackles a steep section of the river bank.

Lily gives me annoyed mare ears about having to follow G-Mare.

This seemed like a good idea at the time: since the beach is not in our plans for the near future and it has been as hot as blue blazes, I rode on the trails in my tights and sports bra one afternoon. It was a buggy day and we weren't really moving out because it was hot and I ended up with this very, very itchy rash on my back. I'm still not sure what caused it. But I have no intention of repeating this anytime soon! I do love this photo though. Taken by Carlos, of course. :)
This is a favorite section of trail that I wish went on for miles and miles.
Sun dapples are beautiful.

I FINALLY had the billets on the Ortho Flex repaired (this has been pending since last year!

...so the Ortho Flex, when paired with Gracie's TSF girth, now allows full elbow clearance aka no galling. The Alta Escuela fits her well, but due her conformation and the saddle's billet position, all girths would ride up behind her elbows and chafe no matter what we did.
These two rocking out a pretty fast rack.
In case you're wondering: that train was moving. This is not Photoshopped. They are stills from a video.
Another still from the same video. See below.
Train chasing video! Remember that this was filmed from a galloping Gracie's back!
Note: the barn trails criss-cross over these train tracks; the horses can both see and hear the train from their field so they are very familiar with it. Over the course of the last year, we have been progressively riding closer and closer to the train whenever we encounter it while out on trail, in an attempt to completely desensitize the girls to it. I'd say we can officially declare it a huge success!

Sunset from Gracie's back.
Gallop up Suicide Hill, one of my faves for hill sprints.
Gallop around one of the hay fields.
The photo above is a still from this video. Again, filmed from a galloping Gracie's back!

And another gallop up the opposite side of Suicide Hill...

From another post-work ride on Gracie. Since we're still building up her baseline fitness, if I want to ride during the week I'm usually choosing her over Lily.
Inspired by Andrea and Karen, we did a one-handed dressage session the other day. I like to play around with this periodically: Lily is almost more willing to go into the contact when riding one-handed and it keeps her sensitive in the bridle. She neck reins, but I also use my fingers on the reins for more direct reining when asking for more refined stuff like bend and lateral work. As you can see, we were both quite rusty. Not sure what I was doing that I was so hunched over. We were spiraling in and out at the canter, hence my staring down at the spot on the ground that was the "center" of our spiral.
Nice forward trot in the field.

Hauling Out
We've headed to Little Bennett for rides and recently visited Black Hills Regional Park for the first time. Black Hills supposedly has 10 miles of horse trails but we never could find the other half (we should probably be more diligent about actually looking at maps...) so we basically did one 5-mile loop backwards and forwards to get our 10 miles in. We were all really lazy on this day: the horses and us. The 10 miles took us nearly 3 hours because we were just focusing on taking it easy and enjoying ourselves. There are days when I'm tired of going out with a set pace and distance that we have to complete.

Gravel trail at Little Bennett.
We actually found a new trail section at this park, after regularly going there for so long!
That looked like a giant sea urchin. Lily didn't even glance at it.
This and the following photos are from Black Hills.
"Bridge? What bridge?' They had never seen it before. NBD.
"I don't like those logs there. I just know they eat horses!"
Sure Lily. Trains are fine but motionless inanimate objects are not. Horses!
We took a turn leading. The change in ear expression from following to leading in both mares always cracks me up.
There are no photos of them, but we came across a really cool group of mountain bikers. It must've been a clinic of some sort because the leaders called back to the group, "HORSES!" while bringing their bikes to a stop, and each consecutive rider called to the one behind them. Except the leaders said, "No, really: there are HORSES on trail!" They were very courteous, moving their bikes to the side to give us right of way, and we walked the girls past them nonchalantly, thanking all of them. They all looked at the horses admiringly.  Lily and Gracie are more than used to bikes on trail by this point, so we don't care about stopping for cyclists to go past us, which they are always so thankful for (horses always, always have the right of way on multi-use trails but we like to be the best ambassadors possible for trail riders, and so we let others have the right of way if we can because our horses don't mind). And so we always return the favor when we encounter cyclists that let us pass first: we thank them profusely, because they usually are trying to get down the trail at x pace just like we are!
The trails were gorgeous. Hotter in the shade than outside of it because the winds blocked the breeze but everyone was tolerating the heat well.
Horses couldn't go beyond this point so we let the girls take a break in the creek.
...and took a bunch of pictures.

The perfect bike path here. It was a remote section of the park though: we didn't come across anyone.
The trail took us through deep little crevice in the earth and down into another creek. Normally both horses would have freaked out over the narrowness and depth of the path, but not this time!
This section among the ferns was beautiful.
Bridge again!
Back towards the trailer parking lot.
Gracie always pouts when she's following!

Other Adventures
Pics of some of the other stuff we've been up to. I think this year we've had a pretty good barn: life balance so far: we try to go out every weekend we're off work together in addition to riding.

I haven't posted about this little dude in forever. He is a spoiled little brat and of course we adore him. For newer readers: yup, he's missing a leg. His name is Zombie, because he died during the amputation of his rotten left hind leg and then came back to life. You can read his story here. It's a good one!

I really shouldn't call him "little"...he's 11 solid lbs of brick-like muscle!
Aengus is adorable.
This guy is adorable too.

And Astarte likes using his butt as a pillow.

This town. Oh my GOD. I love it so much.
I've never met a cat that loved to be loved as much as this one. I guess I shouldn't be surprised..."Aengus" is the name of the Celtic god of love, after whom he is named.
I almost would tattoo this on my arm...
Summer in the Northeast is my favorite season. Who am I kidding? Every season is my favorite season! But for the first time in my life, I truly appreciate summer: the absence of heat and green makes you appreciate them that much more. 
Two Puerto Ricans walk into an Irish bar...
...and lo and behold, the TV switches from hockey to a surf competition! Now we're talking. ;)
"HI GUYS!" - Zombie
"This guy is mine, mmkay?" - Zombie
He loves Carlos. LOVES. Also not surprising because Carlos loves all things zombie: it was the winning argument for adopting the tuxedo kitty. I'm pretty sure Zombie knows.
Dancing at a work party. I love his expression here. <3
Work hard...
...so we can eat and drink whatever we want on our days off. We were hanging out on the deck of a new favorite restaurant in town that specializes in local Maryland fare and craft beers.
Do you see the rainbow? :)
Epic thunderstorm clouds rolling in across the barn's hay fields.
There was lightning flashing but I was not able to get a photo of it!
Aengus could be a kitty male supermodel.
These cloud formations were beautiful too.
Late afternoon in downtown Frederick.

More dancing.
Two ducks sleeping on lily pads, over sky-reflecting waters.
Damsel, not in distress. Carlos's idea when he saw the chalk writing on the floor!
Blazing sunset on the way home.
I love this town. I swear every time we're out and about, I discover something new. Like these leaf tiles.
"You cleaned all this laundry just so I could cover it in fur, yes?" - Aengus
Carlos in the grass. Also taken in downtown.
I wish this led into forever.
A secret garden.
See the speck in front of the bench? Not the big light, but the small speck of light directly in front of that bench?
That was a lightning bug. They're back! My favorite part of summer in this region! :)
I caught a star! ;)
Carlos's idea.
Early morning downtown Frederick. The city was just starting to wake up.
So there's a pictorial summary for y'all. :) I feel like I do this every summer, now that I'm thinking about it...