Monday, October 16, 2017

Centered Riding Clinic Recap: Day Two

Like the first day, all of my notes are from the unmounted lecture session that we started the day off with, but in a slightly less organized fashion (I was a little sleep deprived and it was an early morning, okay? Haha). So apologies if these don’t make a ton of sense! *Repeated disclaimer: any misunderstanding of the Centered Riding principles can be blamed on me, not the clinician*
We started off talking about “comparable parts”, with a really cool diagram. Horses have corresponding bones to basically all human bones, minus the collarbone (they have a muscle sling where we have a collarbone). 

Judgemental cat is judging you.

Carol also talked a bit about how breathing affects your transitions – during upward transitions she talked about exhaling sharply with energy (like you’re blowing out a match), and then during downward transitions think about exhaling slowly through your lower back (the mental image was that you have two button holes in your lower back/sacrum area that you direct the air out of). It was really neat to practice breathing like this, and then to see it applied during the mounted sessions. I also made it a point to spend an entire ride doing this with Ruby the following week, and she responded really well!
Rode Ruby from the barn, to my house, then back again!
Carol also spoke at length about grounding – that feeling of being anchored, or connected, and how being grounded through your feet when you’re standing can translate into being grounded when you’re in the saddle. She worked with all of the riders during the mounted session to help them locate their “bubbling spring” (a tai chi concept) in the bottom of their feet, and to position their stirrup on their bubbling spring to achieve grounding in the saddle. I will admit to being marginally skeptical about this as well, especially since it seemed to move the stirrups a bit back from their usual position, but it seemed to work for all the riders, and since I wasn’t riding, I certainly can’t actually naysay it with any certainty. I didn’t try this one out on my own later though. 

All three "kids" have been sleeping in the dog house at night and it's pretty dang cute.
From there she moved into riding with clear intent and clarity of purpose. While looking where you want to go was a focal point, it also wasn’t the only way to clarify your intent. A sub-concept during this discussion was that horses don’t understand the word “don’t” – so if you’re riding along and you start thinking “don’t duck out the arena gate”, what you’re subconsciously communicating to them is “duck out the arena gate”. It can be difficult to retrain your brain to focus on what you want the horse to DO, instead of what you want them NOT to do. 

Favorite musical freestyle from IALHA Nationals last week -- how frickin' cool! (and they ended up winning, whoo hoo!)
Other miscellaneous phrases that I jotted down without any further context -- Your horse feels you think. Quiet riders move, not sit still. They allow their body to be moved by the horse, giving the illusion of stillness. Your body lies to you. IDK where I was going with that last one, I’m sure Carol had a good point but I apparently got so interested I stopped writing, and now I have no idea why I wrote it down… haha (story of my life!).

Overall it was a really interesting clinic and I had some useful takeaways. I hope all of the riders (especially the two riding my horse haha) had a good time and learned a lot. I would definitely audit another Centered Riding clinic, and I would consider signing up to ride depending on whatever my goals/current training level were with each of my horses.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Centered Riding Clinic Recap: Day One

I am late as heck with this, but oh well. That’s life! Let’s start with the details – my local GMO hosted a Centered Riding clinic with Carol O’Donnell Wilson a few weeks ago. We tried to have her out in May, but ended up having trouble filling all the slots in the original date, so we postponed it a bit, which ended up working out pretty well! I didn’t sign up to ride, mostly because of my lack of saddle time lately (also apparently money is a thing?). I did however audit, and I ended up bringing up my trusty “husband horse” Trigger for some clinic participants who lacked a horse to ride.

One of the riders was local, so he had a chance to come out and “test ride” Trigger a few times prior to the clinic to make sure they got along okay. The other was from a few hours away, so her options were pretty much to just show up at the clinic and ride, and trust that things would work out! Luckily Trigger is basically the most laid-back soul on the face of the planet, so it was fine. Well, fine-ish. He did test both of them by pretending he didn’t know how to steer, but since both of their lessons were both conducted in the walk, the worst he could do was walk a direction they didn’t want. And by the end of the clinic, both of them had him going quite nicely. 
But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s go back to the beginning – both days of the clinic started with an unmounted discussion/lecture session (I say discussion because there was definitely some back and forth between Carol and the participants, so we were listening and participating in an engaged fashion!). She started out with some information about what Centered Riding is, and how it can be a multi-disciplinary tool to assist riders in all walks of life (we had participants ranging in age from 16-79 with backgrounds including saddle seat, western, dressage, and jumping riding Saddlebreds, stock horses, warmbloods, and ponies). *disclaimer: any misunderstanding of Centered Riding concepts can be blamed solely on me* She summed up Centered Riding in a single statement: Centered Riding is becoming aware of what’s in your mind, how that affects your body, and how your body affects your horse

Unmounted session one morning.
She spoke a little bit about Sally Swift and the two books she’s published on Centered Riding (I’m actually like 90% sure I own one, so I need to dig around haha), and then we moved into talking about “the critic”. You know “the critic” – we all have one. It’s that little voice in our head saying we look dumb or don’t know how to ride or are screwing up our horses. As someone who struggles with being a little Type A (or a lot Type A, shut up, okay?), it was a really fascinating topic for me. Carol told us to send our critic on vacation (preferably somewhere nice, so they’d never want to come back), and work on changing our mental approach. I think one of the most important takeaways I got from auditing the clinic was that when your critic is present, it gets in the way of your learning. If you’re spending all your mental energy beating yourself up for not being good enough, that doesn’t leave much room to focus on learning how to get better – and isn’t that the point? Always striving to learn and improve?
Trigger definitely sent his critic on vacation for the weekend.
From there we moved into the basic principles of Centered Riding (in no specific order):
Breathing (I have a lot of notes scribbled next to this but none of them are making sense two weeks later, oops? Except maybe one that says “exhale! Audibly”)
Building Blocks: Carol passed around a really neat illustrated diagram breaking the parts of the body down into blocks and showing how stacking them “correctly” put the rider in balance.
Soft Eyes: literally the hardest concept (but most useful!) for me ever. I am a confirmed “hard eyes” starer when I get focused on something, so working on softening my gaze is actually something I’ve done every ride since this clinic!
Centering: this is where she lost me a little bit. This is a big part of Centered Riding and it involves visualizing a little spinning ball in your lower torso and focusing the energy there.
Ruby's eyes get soft when there are cookies involved ;)
Another mental image that was useful for me was to treat your pelvis like it was a bowl full of water – if you tipped too forward or too far back, the water would spill. Focusing on keeping the “bowl” of your pelvis level made me think a lot harder about how I was sitting. I also practiced this one on Ruby the next few times I rode. 
She cares less about my water-filled bowl pelvis, just more cookies.
Other little notes that I probably can’t flesh out into an entire paragraph, but that I found interesting enough to jot down: A relaxed horse is a thinking horse (LOVED this). Ride your bones, not your muscles, and “allow” your body to work. Sometimes it’s beneficial to try what doesn’t work (hard eyes) and gradually segue into what does work to see how the horse reacts (this was really interesting to watch during the mounted portion of the clinic). Riding is a feeling sport. She also touched on the Alexander Technique and how first you had to have an awareness of a habit, pause, and then you could make a change. 
Cici would recommend pausing, and petting her.
 I didn’t take many notes during the mounted sessions because I was snapping some photos, but it was really fun to watch the changes from the beginning to the end of each session. And most of the riders came back for day two, which was even more informative! I was going to do both recaps at once but this was only one page of notes, and day two was another page, so I figured I would break this up so I don’t bore you to death haha. Stay tuned for my takeaways from day two!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Columbus Day Ride: Rudolf Bennitt

Although the new “kids” have greatly decreased my riding productivity (I mean seriously, how can I drag myself away from the cuteness???), I have been making a concerted effort to fit in more horse time this month. 
This is slightly more attainable since DH has started working some overtime each week – when he isn’t home in the evenings, I can usually sneak down to the barn for a bit (it’s been a rather rainy month so far so every time it dries out enough to drag the arena at home, it pours again, so Cinna has been more or less off the hook). Of course, when he’s not home in the evenings that also means I am responsible for 100% of the chores, as opposed to about 70% on the nights he’s home, leaving me less time to write (which is why things are quieter than usual here lately!).
Ruby has actually worn tack and worked more than once this in the last 10 days, and I also had time to give her a very involved spa day (mostly because she was incredibly disgusting and grimy) – Equifuse FTW cause she looked AMAZING afterwards. Of course, this was also in the “pouring down rain” time period, so she didn’t stay quite that shiny for long, but I digress, haha.
Dat Equifuse shine <3

Monday was Columbus Day, which is one of the many state holidays I get to enjoy away from my job. Monday holidays are my favorites, because DH is off on Mondays, and so is my mom, so if the weather is nice I always try to cajole them into going trail riding with me. Monday was supposed to be 80 and muggy, the last nice day before a cold snap (and by cold snap, I mean normal October weather?). We had some errands to run in town (DH needed to drop off his car for new tires), so we decided to pick a trail that let us drop off the car on the way there and pick it up on the way back. This meant we were headed off to Rudolf Bennitt! Each time previously we’ve parked at the same lot and ridden the same small section of trails, but I knew there was way more to the park, so I was determined to do more exploring this time. I particularly wanted to find the lake!
My mom wanted to bring her horse Mo, so I opted to take Ruby (if I took Cinna, that would leave Jack home alone, which tends to stress him out -- it would have been fine, but since it was just as easy to take Ruby, I decided to do that). We had a relatively uneventful time getting up there (although everything seemed to take about 2x as long as I scheduled it to take), so by the time we made it to the park it was already 1 pm. We half followed GPS/half winged it, but parked in a new location, next to another horse trailer (although spoiler alert, we saw NOBODY on the trails).
We got tacked up, and struck out on one of the trails. We covered totally new ground, with a lot more trails in the woods and terrain changes – great for conditioning Ruby, less great for the geriatrics (although they did quite fine, we just took the hills pretty slow). About halfway through, DH started getting grumbly about the trails not being as well marked (not that you couldn’t follow them, just that there were no labels so it wasn’t always easy to figure out where you came from/where you were going/how the trails intersected – even with the trail map.
Using my Text-N-Ride! haha
While I am content to trail ride for hours with no absolute destination in mind, his attention span is a bit shorter. So we consulted the map, and my GPS of the ride, and tried to sort out the best way back to where we started. Mercifully, it took us by the lake! And then like five seconds later, we were at the trailer – so if I’d started out the other way, we would have hit the lake first… haha. Oops?
Weird tree.

At any rate, it was a fun ride. Well, fun for me anyway, I don’t think DH enjoyed himself as much as he does at Indian Camp Creek, so duly noted. I will save Rudolf Bennit for my friends like me who can trail ride for hours with no set destination, and take him other places. We got home in time to hose off all the ponies and cook a delicious dinner, then Tuesday it was back to the grind for me!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Taciturn Thursdays

Welp things are getting more manic, and not less manic. The good? Sam is still alive, and seems to be gaining strength by the day -- although he is still skeletal in terms of weight, he is back to screaming at me every time I feed him. More good -- I have been on my horse (with TACK even) this week. It's also raining (which is only good because it was sooooooo dry here). That's really all the update I have time for at the moment, but still working on my notes from the Centered Riding clinic!
Trigger checking himself out at the clinic last weekend -- so cute!
With one of his riders....
With the other rider.
Cici was mad about me being gone all weekend.
"Insert cookiez plz hooman"
Rocking her new sheet purchased from Niamh.
Motivation ya'll -- I'm lacking it. No promises, but I'll try to get my shit together in the second half of this week/weekend. Still enjoying keeping up with all of your adventures!
Enjoy some cute bebe goat shenanigans in the meantime.