Hey, I remember these muscles…

The really awful, frustrating, painful part of not having ridden in several years is the day after a ride.

When I was still riding regularly, if I was off for a week or two (or one particularly… memorable… time, a month), I thought nothing of hopping on and trotting without stirrups at length to get back into shape. Yeah, okay, I’d limp and moan the next day, but it wasn’t a big deal. My stirrups were always the right length still. I was still balanced. I could hop up and go.

That was… umm… four or five years ago? Almost six, maybe? Also, an embarrassingly large number of pounds ago.

Now that I’m riding with Heather, Leah & co, I’ve realized a couple of things.

One, my knees are apparently less flexible than they once were. This makes getting my foot into the stirrup an occasion for thought and study. Why does it not bend like it used to? How the heck do I get my foot up there? Is it really as far as it feels? It doesn’t look that far. That can’t be more than six or eight inches. Can I really not bend that far without lifting my foot up? I suspect more of this than I care to think about is weight-related; the muscles still bend that way, they just need help to get past the heft. Getting on the horse once I’ve got my foot in the stirrup is trivial in comparison.

Two, I’m right-heavy again. I’m dominantly right-handed and right-footed, and I’ve had issues with too much weight in the right stirrup in the past. I could swear I was past those! But it’s kind of hard to ignore my right foot going to sleep, even with dropping my stirrups a hole this week.

Three is not really a realization – it’s more of a complaint. My muscles hurt! Thighs, back, and butt are the current offenders. My calves seem to be OK, but that doesn’t really surprise me; I am naturally flexible in the calf and back of the leg region, to the point where instead of just being able to touch my toes, I can lay my hands flat on the ground. “Heels down,” I can do. <img src="http://blog.emeraldsilver.com/rsc/smilies/graylaugh.gif" title=":))” alt=”:))” class=”middle” width=”15″ height=”15″ /> But this is walk and a little trot work, maybe some walking without stirrups – nothing that would have kicked my younger, thinner self’s butt like this!

I didn’t ride last week because Keeley, Heather’s mom’s mare that I’ve been riding, was lame. (I led around the super-cute miss Nox instead and kicked my own butt with walking and the heat…) Keeley’s still off, so yesterday I rode Doodles instead, and I’m almost as sore as I was the first week. The sad part is, I did less trotting this week than I did that first week! Argh!

Arabians

Bless their hearts. *laugh*

As a kid, I adored Arabs. Just adored them. I wanted either a pretty gray one or a black or bay with lots of chrome, and we’d be bestest friends, and…

Then I met some.

Let’s see… There was Star, of course – nice horse, a little quirky, a little interested in the fillies still, and I’m still boggled at the weekly bathing in mayo thing.

I rode a mare named Lacey for a while – fleabitten gray, which I just don’t like that much – and she was a bit of a pill. She had two settings: lazy, and “FINE, I’ll GO, you evil human.”

Then there was Marcus, who just… had no personality at all; I have nothing bad to say about him, and nothing particularly good either. And his stablemate, whose name as totally escaped me but I think started with a T (Taffy? Tally?), who spent pretty much all her time jigging in place and is pretty high on my list of horses that were so annoying on the ground that I’m not sorry at all that I never rode her.

And of course there was Punky – dear, sweet, brain the size of a hummingbird Punky. The second horse I ever came off of. We used to joke that she had a five-minute reset button; you’d get her OK with something, and five minutes later, it was scary again. She’d stand in the crossties and scream and scream for her pasture buddies – who could care less – even when she could see them through a doorway into the arena. She had nose-bleeds. She was uncannily, frustratingly agile; we once watched her duck out of a set of stocks inside a wash rack, making a complete u-turn in a space that couldn’t have been more than two or two and a half feet wide at its widest. She regularly got sticks knotted in her long mane and tail. She was a very sweet horse – I only ever saw her make a mean move once, after a particularly rough series of camps – but man, oh man, was she a pain sometimes.

There was a half-Arabian too, a little bay pinto named Callie. She could be sweet, but for the most part she was a little turd, prone to kicking and head-flipping and this horrid little power-trot that felt like someone had replaced her legs with a mini’s and then lit a fire under her butt.

I realize, of course, that not all Arabians are those Arabians – and not all Arabians are the gorgeous ones in the show ring and professional portraits. That takes work that a lot of the ones I dealt with just didn’t have put into them on a regular basis.

But, being older and wiser than I once was… I don’t really want one any more. They’re shorter than I prefer overall. It’s a lot of maintenance to keep that pretty face. From what I understand, it can be tough to find a saddle that fits them really well. I’m sure I can come up with other excuses, too… ;)

Of course, if The Horse For Me is an Arabian in the end, I’ll take it, but when it comes time to look, I probably won’t be looking at Arabs to begin with.

-Less Is More?

Bitless and treeless, that is.

I’ve never ridden in a treeless saddle. I’ve heard lots of gushing praise about how close you feel to your horse, etc, etc. Is it true? Don’t know. I’m curious, and I’m skeptical.

Bitless bridles, on the other hand, I do have experience in – and I’m just not a fan.

The mare I rode bitless was a big half-Percheron or half-Clydesdale (don’t remember which now) bay monster. *laugh* Well, ok. She wasn’t a monster; she was a pretty nice mare and an accomplished hunter, and it was a crying shame that her tail had been accidentally reduced to about four inches of dock and six or seven inches of (thick!) hair.

The barn’s policy was that if there was going to be jumping in a given lesson, the horse was to wear a hackamore. Okay, I can kind of see that – after all, you’re hardly going to chuck the horse in the mouth if there’s no bit. And of course, if you’re doing a series of lessons, there’s not really much point in changing out the bridle in between, right?

I rode this mare several times in a hackamore, and several times in a bit. She was 1000% better in the bit, let me tell you: polite and responsive, easy to steer. In a hackamore, it was more like dealing with a freight train. The last night I rode her – the week before my wedding – was in a hackamore, and she was pulling-pulling-pulling the whole time to get out of the circles we were doing and over to the jumping lesson on the other end of the arena. I didn’t think to wear gloves (usually don’t when riding) and near the end of the lesson when the instructor asked us to canter a circle, I massively chickened out because I was having issues controlling her and because holy shit, my fingers hurt. I “got” to wear the remains of matching knuckle-to-knuckle blisters on both ring fingers to my wedding in addition to the usual bridal things.

I realize my experience was with a single horse, but that single experience tells me that not every horse will be sooooo much better without a bit like some of the hardcore proponents claim. And to be honest, the mare didn’t seem to care one way or another whether she was being ridden in a bit or not. It was not a magic bullet to a happier, more willing horse.

Will I try it again at some point? Oh, probably, on someone else’s horse. But if and when I get a horse of my own, I think we’ll stick to bits unless there’s some compelling reason why we have to avoid them…

Silky

More old pictures – and I only have one of this pony that I was able to crop me out of, so please excuse my pre-teen awkwardness. And those glasses. :roll:

Silky was the step up from old Roman. No idea what she was, if she was registered, if she had a show name, how old she was – nothing. I do know that lesson pony wasn’t her favorite job; she hated kids. She was a confirmed nipper; I clearly remember her taking the fuzz off the sweater of a girl one day. I also clearly remember her trying to take a chunk out of my instructor’s butt when she was tightening the girth and not paying attention to the pony’s head. I don’t remember her ever trying to bite me, though, and my mother confirms – of the kids out there, I seemed to be the only one she’d tolerate.

She was a good jumper, and a pretty safe ride once you got on, as long as you didn’t mind dragging her out of the clumps of grass on the sides of the arena every time you passed at a walk. This is the pony I rode when we did an off-site dressage show and I got 2nd place despite having no clue what a diagonal was. I seem to recall that braiding her perma-mohawk was a pain in the butt…

This was 1992-1994. In 2006, I ended up back at the same barn under new management and found out that they had “inherited” Silky when they took over the site. Her nipping had turned into biting, and was extreme enough that the previous owner said the little mare had broken her arm. After a couple of attempts to teach lessons with her, she was deemed a risk to the health of the students and shipped off to be sold.

Old Roman

This is the very first horse I rode in lessons – and I have the photo to prove it! *laugh*

Roman was the old trooper of the barn. He was 26 when I started taking lessons, probably 28 when we left; they told me he was an Appaloosa, although I don’t recall them ever specifying his color. (Looking at the photos… I’m going to take a wild guess and say his base coat was a chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail, maybe? With a blaze… and probably a varnish Appy at that, given the indeterminate color…) I never did learn his registered OR show names.

They let him roam loose around the barn and paddocks – he was often found back in the back near the pasture where the babies were – and he’d reliably turn up in his stall for his grain. He was a terrible chow hound, and apparently had an iron stomach; I heard, although I can’t verify, that he got into and ate most of a 10-lb bag of “wormer feed” (feed-though deworming, I’m guessing) and was perfectly fine. I know he was always up for apples, carrots, pretzels, and anything else us kids could think to feed to him.

Five or six years after we’d left that barn, we heard through the grapevine that he’d been retired to “the farm” (somewhere in south Texas) finally. I hope he ended his life well; he was a sweet old horse.

As a technical side note…

It was pointed out to me this morning that there were some technical issues for those of you coming over from Blogspot or wanting to post comments with Blogspot addresses.

Turns out, Blogspot was on the spam list! My best guess is that it either came from the central spam list this blog software uses, or I got a bit overzealous on spammers one day and blocked it myself without noticing (which has been known to happen).

Anyway, it is unblocked now. Please let me know if you’re still having issues – either leave me a (URL-free) comment here or email me via the contact link at the bottom of the page (which now points to the RIGHT email address, argh!).

Pretties

Heather and I were talking yesterday about horsey things we just kind of always want.

For me, it’s saddles.

Now realize: I have one saddle. I don’t even really need to have one saddle, since I have no horse, but I do.

And the saddles I want aren’t even really practical saddles for how and what I ride. (Well, ok. The Stubben and Wintec VSD saddles would be kind of appropriate, given my discipline ADD…)

I want a Western saddle of some flavor, because I don’t have one. I kind of want a sidesaddle, although I’m sure it will bring nothing but bruises and hilarity when I try it, lol.

This bareback saddle is kind of awesome.

And then there’s the really out there stuff.

I have always wanted a McClellan saddle. (And maybe this Western one too.)

Why? Umm… no idea. I’ll let you know if I figure it out.

I’m not sure what a Hardback trooper saddle is, but it looks neat.

And then there’s the “miltary saddle”. That looks fun.

And the Canadian style trooper saddle, apparently.

I’d like a Portuguese or Peruvian Paso saddle.

I want this saddle because it’s blue. *laugh* Well, and I’m curious about treeless saddles.

Some of the endurance saddles are interesting…

Oooh! Or some of the native costumes for Arabians. This one is blue too.

What on earth would I do with that many saddles?

Umm… still trying to figure that out, too, really. Probably ride in them all once or twice, and then ride in one or two the rest of the time while the rest gathered dust, to be honest.

I can still drool, though, and waste a few hours on eBay finding them…

Ah-ha Moment

Posting trot is learning the UP beat of the trot. Sitting you must ride the down beat and scoop similar to cantering. That’s why so many get smacked in the butt when learning to sit because they are tuned into the up beat.

-Gigi, Chronicle of the Horse forum thread “WHY is the sitting trot so difficult to master?”

There are a lot of good suggestions in that thread, but this is the one that really resonated with me for some reason.

I’m curious to see if it works now!

Riding Goals

Inspired in part by discussion this weekend and in part by a post on another blog

So, what are my riding goals right now?

Goal 1 (and it’s the big one): Confidence at the canter

I am pretty confident at the walk and trot, but canter is my big bugbear. The more I think about it, the more I suspect that maybe I didn’t have enough confidence at the canter to begin with – we pretty much went from walk/trot/canter the arena to jumping very low x’s within 2-4 months of beginning lessons. Cantering the arena is one thing; cantering a circle or steering much is another, and I distinctly remember as a child being frightened that if I made the horse turn in the direction opposite the one we were going at the canter, they would fall. (I know better now!)

I am able to canter, but I have to work myself up to it. I need to get enough confidence to stay at the canter and work on more than basic around-the-arena and circle steering. I probably need to work on my seat at the canter; I have issues with freezing and tensing up (yay fear) that mean I don’t relax well, which impedes my ability to follow the horse’s movement, which means a bit of a bumpy ride.

Goal 2: ???

And this is the other issue. I… don’t really know what I want to do.

Dressage has a certain appeal still. A part of me wonders if I didn’t switch to it because I had a horse take off bucking when jumping, and it scared me and my parents – although there was never any pressure from them, they were kind of relieved that I wasn’t jumping any more. I want to be able to do the neat things, and I know I have to do all the things that lead up to the hard things. And yet, I haven’t really progressed in so long… I don’t know. But I’m still interested.

Jumping has taken on a certain appeal again. I never did jump much higher than 2’… if that high (let’s be honest, I was 11-13 – I may be remembering them as bigger than they were). I haven’t jumped at all – well, not on purpose – in easily 12 years, probably more like 15. I want to at least try it; I don’t know if I’ll be OK with it or not, but it’ll be a change of pace, and I want a change of pace.

Eventing? Eek. Kind of scared of the cross-country portion.

Endurance? Meh. Not without my own horse, and even then…I suspect I’m too much of a wuss.

Western? Cows are only good for eating, I’ve disliked the barrel racers I’ve met in the past enough to be completely turned off… What does that leave? Reining? Yeahhhhh. That’d be humorous. *chuckle* As far as I can tell, reining is dressage for Western riders – bigger saddle, bigger bit, more speed and flash, but the same thing. Chalk it up to a maybe, I guess. I was always an English girl at heart, though.

Trail rides and puttering around without a discipline in mind? …I guess. I don’t know. I think I kind of miss not doing more shows as a kid. I like trail rides just fine, but I’m not sure it’s going to be enough, y’know?

Birthday twin!

We’re digging way back for this photo. Yes, that was a polaroid. And yes, it has a frame. *laugh* I have no excuse. I was 11, ok?

This is Star – or Gronostar, I do believe, if I remember his stall plate correctly. He and I had the exact same birthday, and if he’s still alive, he’s 29 this year. I was told he was a breeding stallion for a few years, before he was gelded.

He actually made it in the local paper at one point; his owner used him for a trail horse and I believe was training for endurance, and they were a common sight in the area for years. I haven’t heard of them for several years now; the owner was elderly, and let’s face it – the gelding is getting up there too!

I got to ride him for a lesson once; he was a lot more lively than the lesson horses I’d been on up to that point, let me tell you. He was also incredibly silky, because his owner used to bathe him in mayonnaise every week or so. (I’m still kind of grossed out by this for some reason.)

One year, he got a purple blanket for his birthday. Unfortunately, it rained the next day… and he turned pink. *chuckle*

Every time I pass by the area where I last heard Star was boarded, I think of them.