Sunday, March 1, 2015

So You Think You Can . . .


As I have pictures of me in the saddle in front of my uncle before I could barely hold up my head let alone walk and have been on a horse pretty much for the duration ever since, I sure thought I could.

Fast forward all those years as a crazy kid flying bareback full speed down rocky creek beds and up piney dales, through the years of horse training, horse trading and all of that, and we now find me, almost 55 years young, struggling my butt off to two point at the walk in my new to me dressage saddle.

Don’t get me wrong. I can do it in my comfortable forgiving western roper. It’s when you take the supporting fenders away and I have to do it with proper leg position, balance and muscles from the core of me that things get dicey.

Mid 2000’s I was taking my first dressage lessons up in Sioux City with Missy Fladland when she came to visit. I shudder to think what she had to work with. I learned some excellent things, applied them to my colt starting with happy results.  My position was terrible and I remember us discussing various things to try but then life came up and I was doing different things and putting out other fires.

Rehoming to Nebraska in 2010 I am working part time at my beloved Shady Lanes Ranch for Charlie and Karen. Karen Nielsen is long known in our part of the country for selling nice warmbloods and hunter jumpers. She brought in a pro, and I had the pleasure of riding with Jose for the summer he rolled across our Midwestern scene.

To Jose, western riding meant sloppy. Colleen and I explained to him that was not the case as it was intended but definitely the case as it was often performed. He told me more than once if I were ever going to be a truly good jump rider and he thought I could, I needed to put away my western saddle and ride solely English to get away from my poor habits.

Turns out, Jose, I can have poor habits in an English saddle as well. They are glaring and I am far more aware of them and I guess that was his point all along.

Taking the American Association of Horsemanship Safety course, I was in it for the ability to call myself a certified riding instructor. What I found in that grueling 5 day course was that my leg, long braced forward in a cowboy style defensive riding posture was creating a lot of the brace and stiffness in myself and my horses that I was seeking to avoid. Being stiff on a colt is one of the fastest ways to get in trouble that I  know of.

I know people who think riding horseback is not good exercise. I have ridden plenty in ways that were not terribly challenging to my body, legs hanging loosely at my sides, weight in my butt, toddling along. I can do that for miles and miles and barely feel any pain the next day whatsoever.

Put me back where we came in at, attempting to two point the walk, much less the trot in an English saddle for an hour’s dressage lesson and my inner thighs scream for days. My core would scream except it’s busy weeping. What there is of it.

Looks like there is riding and then there is . . . riding. My friend, Rachael put it like this. “The dressage lessons will help you better articulate your horsemanship to your horse.” That’s been my goal my entire life. Building partnership with my equine buddies.

Peter Campbell has filled in more blanks for me than any other teacher or teaching method I have studied and where horses are concerned I am a lifelong professional student. He will tell you himself when it’s your riding that is getting in the way to go take riding lessons to get better there. He teaches horsemanship.

I am taking the riding lessons and when I see him again in May (all goes well and the creek does not get much higher) I am hoping to be better able to transmit to my horse what he is saying by having my stiff awkward body at least as close to being as supple and fit as I want my horse to be. Does seem the one thing should go hand in hand with the other, doesn’t it.

Along this path are the floating moments I have found when Royal and I sync up. My leg, my body no longer in the forefront of my conscious mind, I am where I am supposed to be supporting him to be the same. There’s partnership.

By the way, gentle readers, I am practicing my two point homework on a horse I am trusting to stand in the stirrups of a saddle that still feels barely there. We are riding deep into corners that once held werewolves.  Royal has seen  horses enter the arena and then leave again without him or his bidding. It was once worth a fairly good sized fit, but now goes completely without notice by my handsome spotted fellow. I am curious to see if any of this will translate to the issues we have faced on trail rides when the tail end of the horse in front of him disappears around a bend and he loses his mind.

I have no idea but I do know I trust my horse far more coming out of the winter than I did going into it. We are building and it’s so cool I can’t see the shape and breadth of it yet. We have short terms goals of riding Trail Challenges, a Shaggy Horse dressage show, a couple of CTR’s this year and as many horse camping trips with my friends as time and budget allows. If I were to state our long term goals I would short sell us both.

Looking to the horizon for our growing, wherever it leads. Mentally, physically and emotionally I would not be where I am if it were not for the spotted Arabian. He’s the one that’s made me kick it into gear on all the levels. He’s who opened my mind and my ears to my teachers. I am a better wife, family member, coworker and friend as there is just no way to be one thing at the barn and another anywhere else. Happy to report it’s worth every ounce of pain of body and pride to find out I can ride just not near as well as I am going to be.

Happy trails all!


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