Stay Flexible

Thursday, January 7, 2016

I’ve often told my students that learning the violin is like trying to carry too many marbles at one time. You carry as many as you can then you drop a few, pick them back up… carry them a little farther, drop others, pick them up… you do what you can.

Lately I’ve been getting in more riding than normal for this time of year. First it’s a lull in the teaching schedule through the holidays (and my college teaching comes back later than the young kids- so I ease back into the Winter/Spring schedule gently). Second we’ve had forgiving weather and decent trails for better than average riding lately. Last I’ve been blessed with lovely folks who are willing to come RIDE with me.

This confluence of favorable circumstances is not likely to last long so I’ve been trying to take advantage of it as much as possible and not to feel guilty for the nice days of riding they’ve brought.

IMG_5341I’ve also enjoyed sharing my love of horses and relationships with friends. When someone comes to ride I walk them through leading well, grooming of course, but also working from the horse’s point of view and making sure you are the lead partner in the dance. It’s not about fighting or control as much as it is learning how to work together and being clear (and sometimes creative) in answering their questions.

When Faygo gets hot on her way home Ann began to zig-zag her through some trees to bring her mind back and remind her who controls her feet when we’re in the saddle. When Bo started to get too much built up energy Madge could work on asking a circle from him to release the energy without pushing forward past everyone else on the trail. When we need to wait a minute for a horse to drink or a saddle adjustment Susan might work on asking for Faygo’s front or back legs to move around either on the haunch or the fore as a pivot.

Also- all the horses need to learn to stand to be mounted quietly and where you ask them to. Khaleesi is really getting this down, Faygo is pretty good, and now the barn horses are starting to learn as well. They are good horses with the least amount of trail hours on them as they aren’t usually ridden all year, so they don’t exactly know what is being asked of them, but they are getting it. Even if in the end someone has to hold them still for mounting- we begin by asking them to stand at the stool and every time we get a little better.

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Vaden asks Jackson to come to her at the stool.
Things will change. It will get cold. Seriously cold. The kind of cold that makes a two hour ride about all you can bear without losing that little toe forever. The trails will get icy and slick and the snow might even get deep enough to make it tough to navigate for a while. (But looking on the bright side… no flies!)
I will have to work more hours very soon- and grant season is upon us- so I’ll be putting in late nights at the computer trying to sort out the details of my strings project for others to consider supporting it. My concert repertoire will be chosen and I’ll be practicing at every crack that opens up in my day.

My friends that are so willing to ride will have commitments that draw them away from riding- considering they know better than to invest in horses of their own– they are allowed that luxury. I will have some lonelier barn days (that’s ok… it’s never truly lonely at the barn).

For now though I’m in a hurricane of people and horses on the trail; am enjoying the unexpected flurry of riding- and trying to stay in balance.  I believe flexibility and realizing what you can do with what’s in front of you. Try to carry the marbles along as best you can because nothing is ever truly perfect.

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I expect a call any day now to tell me my new saddle has shipped. I am still riding in my good friend’s Freeform treeless, and there have been weeks I’ve cursed the saddle under my breath (while thanking at the same time the fortune I’ve had to borrow it for the time I have no other option).

I am not in love with the saddle- and I still see some dry spots that I don’t think are perfect, but overall it’s a decent fit and a great transitional saddle that isn’t going to hurt her. I think I’ve finally got the stirrups in the best position, and I’m starting to get the hang of it.

The upside of getting so much riding time lately and riding the treeless saddle has given me the opportunity to work on my “Centered Riding” concepts. It is unforgiving of my mistakes and has been good for me. I am getting better at balance, at understanding where my horse’s feet are when we’re moving (I now feel that there is one diagonal I am more comfortable on than the other but I can’t tell you if it is R or L… working on that too). Lately I’ve been focused on two specific concepts from Sally Swift’s book (because there are too many marbles for me to handle all at once!): Soft Eyes and the Bubbling Spring.

Soft Eyes has to do with expanding awareness. In looking at something- then softening the center of your gaze and using peripheral vision to take in the largest possible expanse it helps you to become more aware of both your surroundings and your body

The Bubbling Spring is about the balance point on the foot. It is the point of intersection about 2-3 inches behind the big joint of the second toe in the soft part of the foot. It is a pressure point and I try to imagine energy coming up through that point helping to ground me and keep me balanced softly in the stirrups.

I am working on these concepts in life as well as in the saddle. I’m slowly adjusting my healthy habits to lose those few extra pounds and getting back to the gym more frequently (or running at home on nice days) is part of that. I recently had a great workout on the treadmill where I didn’t feel like being there at first, but kept at it trying to think about my center, bubbling spring bringing me energy and keeping soft eyes. At one point my ‘soft eyes’ had me almost convinced one of the posters on the wall in front of me was in Greek! I ended up keeping a good pace up for over an hour and ran over 6 miles feeling great when I finished.

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I have also been thinking about these concepts in my teaching. They were developed after the Alexander Technique which is a big concept in music as well as riding, acting etc.

I was working with an advanced young student this week who wasn’t getting great sound or coordination. It’s a lot of marbles to keep track of- and there wasn’t only one thing to work on to improve. I believe this young man isn’t always aware of his own sound and what he was actually doing.

I asked him to think of his body like a tree that has roots into the ground through those balance points on his feet, and that his “trunk” needs to be centered and strong- yet flexible- and his arms and head were the tops of the trees and could move freely without tension. I asked him to play again but to move his attention between a few things: his sound quality, the balance of his fingers over the fingerboard, his bow arm balance and where his bow placement was. It improved dramatically just giving him a method for “tuning in” to something.  

 So the good things coming out of my abundant saddle time has been my riding and connection to my horse’s movements. We’ve also been getting some nice conditioning in with both 12 and 15 mile rides with at least 4.5mph moving pace- which has been good considering the conditions are not always great and yesterday we dealt with some icy spots on the trail that really slowed us down.

The down side is that I have noticed effects from the absence of training and groundwork. I am truly pleased with Khaleesi and all the great strides she has made literally toward being a good trail mount, but when we’ve spent more time together in ground work and in the arena, or just working in the yard with communication, we are much better. We are not dancing as well as I’d like. 

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There are some things we are doing great with that were goals of mine:

Leading and backing up is really going well. I love that I can walk into her space and she moves out of my way yet follows wherever I’m asking. Sometimes her back up feet move right in concert with mine. She walks to the stool perfectly in place for me to get on and USUALLY stands still after I’ve mounted. Her gate control is really getting better and better: I can open and close almost any gate from on her back and she does a pretty good job of listening to me as I place her exactly where I need her to be. Also – I sent her onto the trailer last week and she walked right on almost faster than I could remove her lead rope.

Not so good: she still tries to turn me around on the trail. I can move her all the way to a 360 turn and continue, but it’s not what I want to have to do. It is also happening the same frequency- not decreasing- even though I’ve never let her take us the opposite directions.  I’ve decided after more thought that I’d like to be able to untracked her hind and move her back against the way she’s pushing me. I tried this today and it worked “OK” but we haven’t put a lot of work into that so it’s not nearly as clear.

In the 7 clinics videos, Buck works a lot early on with being able to untrack the horses’ hind end which is valuable in a lot of things, one being to stop a horse who is not in control, but also to bring a horse into control who is about to make a bad decision (kick another horse, turn around?) We need more work on this from the ground and in the saddle.

On the trail I don’t have nearly the control I want to asking her where to walk/trot etc. If I want her to move aside and let another horse ride next to us she doesn’t always move. Also we do some riding where the road condition isn’t great and I have struggled asking her to walk where I know the footing is better and it frustrates me when we slip around because she is not walking where I’ve asked her to. On the short strips of road we ride- I struggle getting her on the RIGHT side of the double yellow line.

We need to do some more closed environment work to address these things. Otherwise I have to jerk on her and “yell” (not actually yell- I avoid that as much as possible) but kicking her and popping with my leathers after she doesn’t respond to gentler aids, or pulling her head is not fun for me and not what I want our relationship to look like. Our dance would be more in Buck’s words “hands like a butcher” and dance like a “mosh pit” at those times. We can do better.

We need some alone time, and I am certain it is near on the horizon. Meanwhile I’ve enjoyed the company of great friends and horses on the trails along with some lovely views.

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As for the “team” of team green to 100- I am so glad it’s expanded to include Susan Wager and possible one of her daughters! When we get to some of these longer rides we will appreciate the help getting through strong and sound, and we have a handful of folks who (schedule and travel permitting) have agreed to crew for the team and they also make great riding and conditioning buddies. Susan decided we need an official logo and is working on that currently!

Thanks to my vet friend who always gives input if I ask- and kindly looked at a particularly gross photo this week of something… well… in the end I think it was nothing, but thanks for checking that photo out!! Special thanks to Evelyn Grau who has generously loaned me her Freeform saddle for the past few months (longer than I’d anticipated needing it!)

And to all of you who I meet in the “real” world and comment on enjoying the blog news and following the story- thanks for being there supporting us in spirit!

Onward as always!

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*****NEWS FLASH*******

Got the email from Phonix Rising right as I was about publish the post: Saddle is shipping FedEx today!!!!!  

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