On Wednesday night I had a riding lesson and got to ride "Fergie". Fergie was the very first horse that I rode at ATF so it was interesting to give her a try again after all this time. I remember that first time that I had a lot of trouble getting a decent pace out of her and forget about getting on her on bit or bending. At that stage I was really just trying to remember basic aids and trying to re-establish my own balance on a horse. Shortly after that first lesson I started leasing LuLu and then I bought Ruby, so I didn't ride Fergie again until this week.
There is a guy who is sometimes in my lessons who has ridden Fergie a lot, and I've listened to him complain about her before, so when I saw that I was going to be riding her, I wasn't thrilled. But it turns out she was really quite nice! Getting a good forward pace out of her was a bit of a challenge (she also had been ridden in another lesson that day, so it probably wasn't ideal timing), but I found that if I was aggressive about asking for it, and if I kept after her, that she gave up her resistance and did what I wanted. This is a different approach to how I was told by Pat Spettel to ride Ruby. In Ruby's case, she is confused or dulled by constantly nagging with the leg. With Fergie I think she just has to know that you are not going to give up. I guess that she is so used to lesson kids riding her that she probably does get away with a lot if she resists enough. Once she realized that I was not going away, getting the forward out of her was easier. It wasn't a rocking pace by any means, but it was much better, once I was able to get her going. But it was her lovely, light contact that I really enjoyed. Once we got going, she got nicely round, kept such a light, elastic feel that I was amazed. I found it somewhat eye-opening to ride a horse like this, it really was a bit of an "Aha" moment for me. Kind of like, "aha! So, this is how that is supposed to feel!" LuLu tends to lean and get heavy in the hand and with Ruby, while we have our moments of the right contact and feel, it's not yet very consistent, so it can be a bit of a struggle. It was a great lesson for me to see how little you really need to do, or should be doing, with your hands in order to get this result. I'm hoping that I can remember the feeling and that I can carry it over to other horses (especially Ruby, of course). At one point during the lesson we had been trotting around without a break for a long period and Ann said something like, "you're all probably dying at this point." And then she looked me and said, "Well, I'm sure Debbie is anyway." And I said, "I'm actually really enjoying this. Yes, it's tough, but I'm enjoying it."
After my lesson this guy at the barn (same guy who had the complaints about Fergie) said to me, "My horse is like a different horse now that your's is in South Carolina. He's so much happier." I wasn't really sure quite how to respond to that. Am I now supposed to feel terrible that his horse doesn't like my horse? It's not like a child's play group or something. What was I supposed to say or do about that?
Well, I'm trying to start off the new year on a more or less good, or at least healthy(ish), note. I believe I mentioned that I joined the "Y", but I didn't actually go for the first time until this past Saturday. For my first workout I was just going to do about half-an-hour, but I surprised myself by working out for almost an hour. I even managed to throw in a few running intervals.
Tonight I went back to the "Y" for more of the same. I spent half-an-hour on the elliptical and then walked for twenty minutes on the indoor running/walking track. The indoor track is really a great alternative during the Winter as the short, dark days, the frigid weather and the ice and snow (and snow banks) everywhere here make it pretty tough to run outside. The track is also considerably less tedious than the treadmill. I still want to keep sessions on the treadmill in rotation as I think I force myself to maintain a more consistent pace (whatever that targeted pace may be) and it works really well for adding intervals. Anyway, I'm pretty pleased with my motivation so far. I have signed myself up for a spinning class on Thursday night. I'm pretty nervous about that, it's been over a year since I've taken one and I'm hopelessly out of shape.
On the food front, I've been okay. Not perfect, but not bad. I've stuck to my breakfast resolve, eating yogurt or oatmeal 6 days / week. Most lunches have been reasonable -- I've actually been getting the entrees at the cafeteria at work (when they have a healthy one). Usually the portion is right and I'll get two vegetables as sides, something I tend not to eat much, when cooking for myself. I've been cooking a lot and have not had much in the way of sweets or other junk. I'm sure that I can get better in this area, but I feel pretty good about my progress at the moment. Oh! And I have increased my water intake and decreased the soda, so that is also a positive.
I think I need to have a different attitude about this health & fitness stuff than I have had previously. Always before it's been about weightloss and looking better. Well, maybe it hasn't been only about weightloss, but that always seems to the most prominent part of any new, healthy resolve to me. And this is also one of the reasons why I become so discouraged so easily, so demoralized when I can't ever seem to reach even a fraction of my ultimate goals. I throw my hands up in despair and figure, why bother? So, I think I have to completely throw weightloss out the window. I hope that weightloss happens, but I don't think that it can be the focus of my efforts any longer. It has just contributed to too many years of self-loathing and disappointment for me.
Instead I am now focused on heath and on training. When I don't want to work out, I have to remind myself of my (Eventing) competition goals. When I want to eat junk, I have to think about the health element and how it will make me feel. If I do eat junk, remember that bad physical feeling, rather than kick myself for having no will power or for setting myself back in my weightloss goals. As they like to say at Jenny Craig, "It's Progress, Not Perfection". At least, I think that was Jenny Craig. Whatever.
Last night I had some crazy dreams. I slept pretty well until about 3 AM (when the Ambien wore off). I then remember having nightmares about being fired. This is not so unusual, but this time I had dreams on top of dreams -- layered dreams where I remember dreaming about being fired and not being sure if it was true or it had been part of another dream. So, I kept waking up back-and-forth in either a dream or for real not knowing if what I had just dreamt was dream or memory. This happened for pretty much the rest of the night. Kind of like looking in one of those mirrors where you can see yourself reflected back endlessly. Crazy ... much? Ya, I know.
Okay, maybe not so much. At least not until the last week of March. But I am already getting excited for the trip. Hearing little tidbits from Alison about what she is doing with Ruby. Every week filling out a new entry for yet another competition down there for her. Reading on COTH about other's Aiken plans ... it all has me incredibly hyped up and wishing that I was down there! I keep doing google searches for pictures and websites, greedy for just a taste of the Aiken horsey season.
More and more I think that I should try to rent something down there for a month or two next year. My job is set up to be remote after all. Actually, I blame a colleague who owns a house in FL for this bright idea. Once he told me that he was planning to work from there for a month this year, and hopefully increase his time there with each year, well, let's just say it planted the bug in my brain. Once I heard that, I thought, 'Hmmmmm. Interesting. INTERESTING. That is actually doable. HMMMMMM.' And it's relatively cheap there, it would probably cost me only a little more than what I'll be paying for hotels and airfare and kennels and whatever for one week of vacation down there. Hm. Food for thought. How great would that be?
I was talking to my father on the phone last night and he brought up this family story that my brother had told him over the holidays (apparently my father has no memory of it). I don't know why, but before my father could even say one word of the story, I knew exactly the story he was going to tell. And I was right.
So, my grandmother (mother's mother) came to live with us when I was about 11 or 12. She was childish and petty, I actually feel that she was even a bit evil. She was the type of person to play one person off of another. To get in the middle of disagreements between my parents. To snoop in people's dresser drawers. To take clothes and other items and throw them away or donate them without asking. She was constantly telling us what bad children we were and that we would never amount to anything and that we were nothing compared to the shining example of my cousins (I already admired my cousins, so I couldn't argue with her there. Still, it hurt to hear what I already suspected confirmed by an adult). She sat like an evil spider in her room waiting for what trouble she could cause, how she could get attention, how she could make someone feel like crap, or whatever. WIth the wisdom of age and experience I can now look back on this time and realize that she was probably an incredibly insecure person, but I still can't feel any affection for her.
Evil Grandmother was not a cook, my mother did most of the cooking in the house and enjoyed experimenting with different cuisines. My father was going through a period of unemployment and so my mother had gotten a job at a local bank. The bank had evening hours on Friday nights and so one Friday my mother asked Evil Grandmother if she could cook dinner. She left out a simple recipe for her to follow and Evil Grandmother made it -- some kind of pasta sauce.
Well, it's dinner time, Evil Grandmother is all smug and proud of herself and puts the bowl of sauce on the table. We all (my brother, father and I) sit down and look at the sauce and look at her, then look at each other. And then there is a long, silent, drawn-out pause.
Finally my brother says, "uh, so where is the spagetti?" (We called pasta "spagetti" in thos days.) Evil Grandmother: "spagetti? your mother never said anything about spagetti. she just left the recipe for sauce, nothing else."
Brother: "So, whadja' expect us to do, slop it into bowls and eat it with a spoon???" Evil Grandmother runs from the table in tears while hilarity ensues (you can bet she made sure we all paid for that one later.)
Father: "Oh great. Now I'm going to have to go up there and talk to her. "
I don't know why, but memories of this scene can make me laugh until I cry. I guess it's one of those "i guess you had to be there" sort of things. And knowing the players involved helps too.
So, this is a typical example of something that causes me a mild bout of anxiety. Last night we had a snow storm (actually, it's still snowing, but whatever). The power in my neighborhood went out at 2 AM and I woke up instantly. I always do, for some reason. Anyway, I was then awake for the whole rest of the night obsessing about how long the power was going to be out, how cold it was going to get (and how fast) in my house, how I was going to take a shower, etc. I was finally able to read (TG for headlamps), since I knew that there was no way that sleep was going to happen. The power came back at 4 AM, but by then I was I was wide awake. I think I may have finally gotten an hour or so at around 6.
While Ruby is down in Aiken for the next few months, I will be riding school horses during a weekly riding lesson. This was a Dressage week and I got to ride LuLu again! I had a half-lease on LuLu last year before I bought Ruby. During the six months that I leased LuLu, she taught me A LOT. Particularly about jumping, I feel that riding her was a big factor towards fixing my position (that and lots of lessons). I did not make as much progress in dressage with LuLu, but I would be slow to improve in that discipline no matter who I ride. LuLu is particularly tough however, she can be stiff and does not have the ideal conformation to be suited for the work. Last year I usually ended most dressage lessons pretty frustrated. Well, I end a lot of those lessons on Ruby pretty frustrated too, but with Ruby I definitely have glimpses of potential, or (if we had been working consistently) even some pretty good sessions, I never really came away from a dressage ride on LuLu feeling that way.
It was interesting however, because when I rode LuLu on Wednesday, our dressage was not ... terrible. I wondered if I was imagining it, but as the lesson progressed, it seemed to get better. I wondered if my memories were not quite accurate or something, but then, towards the end of the lesson, Ann actually confirmed it. She said that she could see a huge difference with me from the rides that I had had on LuLu (with Ann as my instructor) last year. She said that I seem to be able to ride her consistently into the contact and that she remained consistently nice and round for me. It wasn't perfect by any means and she still did her leaning thing, but apparently it was a very noticeable and notable difference. I said that I had been wondering if it was me or if they had had some better riders on her over the past months, but Ann confirmed that she thought that I had improved. Interesting to come back to a horse, and to an instructor, after many months of riding another horse and with a different trainer to see the progress. Anyway, I was pretty encouraged by the ride, perhaps I have made more progress in dressage than I thought.
I feel like I reached so many of my 2009 riding goals that I don't really want to be too greedy with my goals for 2010.
2009 was my first real year of competition of my "new" riding life. Previous competition experience was almost 30 yrs ago and never at the sanctioned level, that I can remember anyway. So just completing 3 sanctioned events last year happy, confident (with a happy & confident horse) and even placing in two of them was huge to me.
With that all said, here are some goals for me for 2010:
* 2009 my goals were to start competing, maybe accomplish one sanctioned event, don't get eliminated, don't scare myself or my horse too much. For 2010, I'd like to do more of the same, but I want to feel more confident and a little more driven & competitive.
* Improve my dressage. For most of 2009, I felt that I was terrible in all things dressage and it always overwhelmed me a bit. I need to work on balance and I need to have softer, more elastic hands. I have to be more decisive with my aids, but at the same time lighter. I need to take advantage of Dressage clinics and any opportunities that allow me to gain additional perspective and experience in this area.
* I think my jumping position and my ability to "ride" my horse through a course improved the most in 2009. I'd like to build on that, be braver, trust myself and my horse more and learn to let go.
* I need to be able to better recognize pace when jumping, especially in stadium. I need a better feel for when more forward vs. a check is needed. I don't always figure this out at the right time.
* I need to be better about keeping my horse balanced on jump courses.
* I had some time penalties at BN Level cross-country last season -- that is shameful! That needs to stop. Now.
* Review the Area Icompetition schedule in the Spring and plan out the season in advance with my trainer. Hopefully my training will have some good focus if I have my competition season all plotted out. I haven't decided how many events that I want to target yet. I will be competing in one when I'm down in Aiken in March, but I should probably try to do more than three for the Area I season.
* Listen to my trainer and don't whine, complain, or come up with excuses of why I can't do something. Trust her when she says I am capable of a (fence, a course, a new XC obstacle, a new height, a competition, a clinic, whatever) that I can do it. Don't question it, just do it.
* At least do some schooling of Level N. If it goes well and my trainer thinks that I'm ready, have the courage to enter N division at some point.
* Strive to ride 6x a week, but no less than 4 (not sure how that holds up for my on-call weeks, but I'll have to work something out).
* Improve fitness. Minimum of 3x a week of some non-riding work (running or spinning class or whatever). Work on being able to run at a tempo pace (for me, this probably means a 10 min. mile) for 4-6 mins intervals -- work up to 6 mins anyway. I feel that if I can run a strong (for me) pace for 6 mins, I will not be gasping for breath so much on XC 2/3 of the way through. Although, I guess I can't simulate the adrenalin factor.
These are the initial 2010 goals that I've been thinking of. I'm sure more will pop into my head, but these are a start.
My goals for 2010 are going to mostly be about behavior. I find that it's useless to make promises to myself like, "lose 30 lbs" or, "get a promotion or a raise (or whatever) at work", it's much more concrete and attainable to make goals around the specific behaviors or tasks that I can make a choice to do, or not do, on any given day that fulfill the goal and inch me closer towards the person that I want to be, towards the life that I see for myself. I believe my goals for last year were made with this idea more or less in mind, but I think that I am a little bit more mindful of that now.
I feel that I am already on the path that I want to be on for this year at work. There were some changes to our group over the past six months or so that have opened up some additional opportunities for me to learn new stuff, take on new work, increase my value to the team, as well as expand my exposure to the enterprise. This, along with some new projects on the horizon are giving me the opportunity to learn some valuable new skills that are much needed in our group, so I am starting 2010 actually pretty excited for the work year ahead.
The work goals that I want to work on, in addition to the above, center on my management of fear. I'm not sure how much control I may have over stress and anxiety, but I can address the fear that sometimes holds me back at work. Fear of failure, fear of not knowing something, fear of looking like an idiot, fear of admitting that I'm unsure. You name it, these things crop up consistently for me and to the detriment of my forward progress sometimes. I can't tell you how many times I've been in a meeting when some issue comes up and, if I have an idea, but am not 100% sure it's the right answer, I keep my mouth shut, only to have someone else pipe up with the same, or a similar, thing. I sometimes start off new projects terrified that I'll screw up. Learning something new, convinced that I'm going to fail -- so I am sometimes afraid to take that chance. So, my goal for this year is to get over it. When new opportunities come up, take them on. When I am shown something new, take a chance at trying it on my own the next time (with the usual caution of backing up what can be backed up, etc.) Don't be afraid to voice an opinion. And (perhaps most importantly of all) don't let the attitude, condescension or bad vibes of anyone else taint my self-confidence or self-esteem.
This is a new category for this year. About a month or so ago, I got this bug about cleaning and organizing and throwing crap away. It feels good. And it also feels really good to be living in surroundings that are a bit more serene. So, my goal is to keep throwing the excess away, keep up the dusting and vacuuming. Keep on top of what's stuffed into the refrigerator. Keep the fireplace clean. Shred everything that needs to be shredded on a weekly basis, at least. Get rid of the catalogs, cut down or eliminate magazine subscriptions. Go through clothes that haven't been worn in a year. More storage bins for the books and other stuff that I don't want to throw out, at least get it organized in the basement. Finish hanging the rest of pictures lying around the house (I actually just hung a few last week).
Other very specific home stuff:
* Get the garbage disposal / dishwasher fixed. * Get the screening on the screen porch fixed or replaced (probably not until Spring or so). * Get the deck stained. I think there is a loose board there too that needs to be fixed. * Hang a new curtain rod in my bedroom (the one that's in there is hanging by a thread). * This old electrical outlet thing that (I think) used to be part of some alarm system (previous owner) needs to be made inactive or closed or whatever. Anyway, need an electrician to take a look. * Have light bulbs replaced in the garage opener and the overhead garage light (sounds silly, I know, but I can't reach either, even with the step stool!)
Oh, I really don't know. In 2009 I feel like I really didn't buy nearly as much random stuff in general that I have in previous years. I definitely did not buy many clothes or make trips to Target regularly, I haven't been to a mall in YEARS. Can't remember the last time I ordered anything from Crate & Barrel or William Sonoma or Pottery Barn. But I did buy a horse last year and so have also been spending money on all the stuff that comes along with horse ownership. So I can't say that this newfound restraint has saved me anything. It's just flowing out the other side. At least I recognize that I have to make adjustments if I am to pay for the things I want and need for the horse, so I guess there is something positive in that. I guess I just need to continue to make better and better decisions about how I spend my money. Think about something before I buy it. Cook more (I am doing this already). Review the cost of stuff in the grocery store. That kind of thing.
I've decided that I don't have any social goals. I am an introvert. Sometimes I don't want to go to a party or socialize, that's just the way I am. I am no longer going to force myself to do something that I don't want to do. If I want to stay home, why shouldn't I?
Health, Fitness & Weight
Well, first of all, I can't obsess about weight, as terrible as the situation may seem. Worrying about the scale and obsessing about my weight and berating myself for it does nothing for me but cause sick heartache, stress and, most of all, extreme self-loathing. Again, the goals are about behavior, about the things that I have a choice to do, or not do, on a daily basis. The hope is that the consistent good choices may have some effect on the weight and fitness. So here is what I'm thinking:
* 3 days a week of some non-riding kind of exercise. I am thinking mostly of walking (with the hope to get to some amount of running eventually), spinning classes, yoga and maybe some other cardio-machine stuff. (I joined the "Y" this week!) * Yogurt or oatmeal for breakfast. Allowed to have one "treat" breakfast a week (like egg with turkey bacon, for example). * Take-out allowed once every three months. * A 12-16 oz water with lunch everyday (I have a terrible Diet Coke habit). Eventually restrict DC to weekends only. * Cook dinner at home (or heat up leftovers, or at the least, have yogurt) six nights a week -- some kind of frozen or prepared meal is allowed one night a week. I've actually been increasing my cooking over the past couple of months so I'm almost already there. This also helps greatly in the finance sector. * Get someone in to look at the treadmill. The belt seems to be slipping (maybe belongs under the "Home" category).
Talk to my doctor or someone about my increasing levels of anxiety and stress. Maybe I can get some therapy or something. I was even thinking about looking into hypnosis -- could help with both the anxiety and weight-loss.
Follow-up about some of the medical stuff that I've put off, like a mammogram and a mole/skin check.
Well, that's what I've come up with. I do have some additional riding-specific goals that I want to write about in a separate post. I have to continue to think about how the choices I make each day bring me closer to who I want to be, or whether they move me farther away. If I can be conscious and mindful of these small, daily things, then I should be in a good place by the end of 2010. We'll see.
I feel like both 2008 and 2009 were pretty good years for me. However, I set some goals for 2009 and fell short of many, if not most of them.
As I stated in a previous post, I reached all of my riding goals. In fact, I actually surpassed them, so I ended 2009 extremely happy and satisfied in that regard.
I had a goal to save more money. Nope, didn’t happen.
My goal in 2009 was to be more social and I can’t say that this really happened either. I did go to a couple of parties and social events. The Adult Camp in Aiken trip in March was pretty social. But in general, I was not very social at all.
Health, Fitness & Weight
Probably my biggest failure in 2009. These are the goals that I set last January:
• Re-commit to Jenny Craig. Be more careful with lunch (I don’t eat JC for lunch). Continue to use JC meals for breakfast & dinner.
I did start off the year very committed. I went back on JC for most meals and was very good about sticking to it. I kept it up for about two months with no results whatsoever. It was so frustrating because JC had worked so effectively at the start of my weight-loss effort. I guess I just had reached a point where I needed something else, I just didn’t know and don't know what that something else is. After two months of miserable failure and frustration, I gave up. At that point I had been on a Jenny Craig meal plan for almost a year and had had enough. I’m still a fan of the program, I just couldn’t do it anymore.
• Get back on the scale (both at home and at JC).
I did this in January & February while I was religiously following JC. I did stop once I stopped going to JC however.
• Start eating fruit mid-morning at work again.
Nope. Well, I can’t remember, I probably did start off the year doing this. I did not carry it through the year, however.
• Alcohol for social occasions only.
Actually, I was pretty good in the alcohol area. I can’t say that I only had a drink during social occasions and at no other time, but I have cut down on my alcohol consumption considerably over the past few years to the point where I now many times will go weeks without a drink. If I do have something it is usually only on a Friday or a Saturday night (and rarely both). I have also found that I get headaches pretty quickly once I start drinking alcohol (that never used to happen) – it’s almost like my head is reminding me with a small hint, what a hangover feels like, so don’t go there. Anyway, alcohol has not been a problem and so I also don’t feel like I can blame any of my weight issues on that.
• Continue 2x/week personal training sessions.
I did continue these through March or April, but stopped for a few reasons. First (and probably the biggest, at least most immediate, reason), is that it is very expensive (even with the company discount) and once I bought a horse, a lot of extras had to be cut. Work heated up and became very busy where I had trouble fitting it into my schedule, in addition to carving out time to ride everyday. Lastly, I really did not like the bulkier muscles that I felt that I was building. I really liked the training sessions for the motivation, the focus and to keep me on track. But I feel that I have the kind of body that builds muscle too easily. Fine, if you’re a guy, but as a woman (particularly a short woman) it is not doing me any real favors. I think that maybe my body would benefit more from the pilates/yoga-type of resistance work.
• Pick up the running again – run a minimum of 3x a week through March.
I was actually pretty good about running. Until sometime in March. I unfortunately had a fall from a horse while I was at Adult Camp and, while I wasn’t really injured, my hip and shoulder on one side was very sore for a very long time (well over a month). It was too uncomfortable to run and so I fell out of the habit. What I didn’t do that I should have was walk during this time, walking did not jar my sore areas. But I guess I probably used this as an excuse to fall off the wagon.
I seem to have this love/hate relationship with running. I am not a natural runner, so it takes quite a lot to get myself into any kind of running shape. There is a lot of ground work that has to go into getting myself to the point where I can run for more than a 30 second-1 minute interval at a time and my ability to run falls away very quickly if I am not being consistent. So, when I do fall off the running wagon, the thought of what it’s going to take to get me back there is very often just completely overwhelming. It also takes me a very long time to reach a point where I enjoy the running. So a long step-up period during which I am mostly miserable is just a hard mental hurdle for me to get over when I’m not in running mode and am trying to psych myself up for it. On the flip-side, however, I always feel pretty good after I’ve had a run and when I can get into the swing of it (and I’ve done that ground work to get me into that place where running comes a bit easier) I feel pretty fantastic.
• Plan to bump up mileage and/or the number of running sessions per week after March (hopefully the snow will start to be on the wane by then and I’ll be able to use some trails).
Yeah, not. The opposite happened. I stopped running all-together.
• Weather, snow & salt permitting, walk dogs on significant walk (or run) – minimum 2 miles, 2-3x per week.
Nope. Poor dogs.
• Look into a “Y” membership, or re-up with the Spinning studio.
• Ride 4x a week (includes 2 training sessions/lessons per week).
This I pretty much did, at least through the competition season.
Work was actually pretty good for me in 2009. I think that I took on a lot more over the year, increased my responsibilities as well as my knowledge-base. I was exposed to more customer and partner groups, expanded my relationships with team members and other peers and widened the scope of my professional expertise overall. My year-end review was probably one of the best that I've received, so I ended the year feeling quite positive about my professional life.
What I didn't do very well this year (in particular with regards to work) was manage stress and fear. It was a very uneasy year in the world and my company went through upheavals as many other companies did. I found that I can very easily be sent into panic mode and that it also doesn't take much at all for me to doubt myself, feel a loss of confidence or feel threatened -- I'm not an idiot, I realize that it mostly comes down to self-esteem & insecurity issues. When these "panic times" cropped up I could pretty much always recognize that I was not dealing with them well, I could intellectualize the logic of the situation, but the emotions and the chemistry of the situation almost always took over.
So, some of my 2009 goals were successful, but I continue to disappoint myself with my lack of commitment to health, diet and exercise. That is one area of my life where I have continued and sustained failure. I can get into a mode where I do exercise consistently, where I eat generally healthy and more or less correct portions, yet I can not seem to keep it up long-term. I also think that periods of stress and fear, as well as loneliness, greatly exasperate my issues with food and interfere with my willingness to stick to exercise commitments. Because 2009 was a pretty stressful year for me (even though it was a good year, in aggregate), my diet and exercise habits were affected in direct proportion.
With all the above said, however, I ended 2009 pretty satisfied overall and pleased with the year I had.
Riding Camp: In March, 2009 I travelled to Aiken, SC to the adult training camp that my trainer hosts every year.That trip proved to be a kind of bootcamp back into my riding life. We had intensive riding lessons in Dressage, Stadium Jumping and Cross-Country. We trailered to some of the big cross-country courses in the area for schooling. We did pacing work on the galloping track and also competed in a two-phase (Dressage and Stadium Jumping). During the course of the week I caught the “bug” and looked at a couple of horses to buy.
Buying a Horse: While in Aiken, I found a nice horse who unfortunately failed the pre-purchase vet exam. During the tryout ride, however, my trainer Alison had had me riding over various of the jumps on the Full Gallop Farm cross-country course which started to give me a hint that maybe I was going to be able to do this riding and competing thing. Granted, they were all Beginner Novice obstacles, but they were a step up from what I had been doing up until that point.
Once back in New Hampshire, I started my horse search online. Communicating with both Ann (Alison’s assistant trainer) and Alison (who was still down in SC). What appeared at first glance to be many horses available in my price range, narrowed down very quickly with Alison and Ann’s experience and knowledge. Either the horse in question was merely an eventing prospect (meaning that they had never done anything before, and thus you really had no idea whether it was going to be suited for the job) or, worse, the horse had a record of not even being able to get around a BN XC course without being eliminated, or Alison or Ann knew the horse and knew that it was a complete pill, had a habit of dumping his rider or some other unsatisfactory or scary habit.
There was one horse that belonged to a former student of Alison’s. I was going to take him on trial, but the owner changed her mind at the last moment -- decided that they were going to be able to get more money for him (apparently that sale fell through). But then Alison, in her last week in Aiken, found a horse that seemed perfect. “BeBe”, an Irish Sport Horse pinto, was only 5, had done some fox hunting previously and then had competed successfully at BN level around Aiken that season. Best of all, she was exactly in my price range. Alison tried her out and then took her for a couple of days trial back at her farm. For a green horse, she was very willing and steady. She seemed especially naturally suited for jumping.
Alison’s very picky vet in Aiken passed her with flying colors, so I decided to move forward with the purchase. This was a bit of a leap of faith for me because I did not go down to SC to try her out! But I felt that it was extremely unlikely that I was going to hate the horse in one ride (I can’t remember the last time that happened). It was also pretty unlikely that I was going to completely be head-over-heels in love after one ride either. I needed to make as unemotional a decision as possible and decided to completely trust Alison’s instincts and her experience. The horse came North when Alison did and I decided to re-name her “Ruby” (show name, “Ruby Slippers”).
My first competition with Ruby. Groton Pony Club is a local schooling event that offers divisions from mere inches off the ground (and walk-trot dressage tests) up to Novice (fences of 2’11”). Since Ruby and I were new to each other, both of us were pretty green and because I hadn’t really competed in something like 30 years (yes, really), I entered in the 2-foot division. We came in third! I still think that judge was extremely generous with the dressage scoring though.
Apple Tree Farm 2-Phase Schooling show. This is our barn 2-Phase, they run a few of them throughout the year. I again entered in the 2-foot division and we came in second. I think that I should have entered the division above, however. I was being conservative.
A schooling event that happened to coincide with a crazy nor’easter. We bumped up to the “Elementary Division” (2‘3” jumps) for this event. I remember walking the cross-country course in the morning and wishing that I was entered in the division above (Beginner Novice - 2’7” jumps). It ended up being both a terrible and a positive experience, Ruby did a fantastic impression of a bucking (and spooking and bolting) bronco for the entire day. I don’t know how I stayed on and got through it. And I don’t know how I managed to restrain myself from scratching our entry, although I was extremely tempted to do so throughout the day. We even ended up with a decent (for us) dressage score and clear jumping rounds for both stadium and cross-country. I was very happy to end the day in one piece, but wasn’t looking forward to repeating that crazy experience any time soon.
My first sanctioned event and (of course) a bump up to Beginner Novice (2’7” jumps). I remember walking both the stadium and the cross-country courses in the morning and feeling absolutely terrified. Our dressage test was unfortunate, but we redeemed ourselves in the jumping phases. I decided to get over my fear and hesitation and my former insistence on trotting almost everything and went for it. We had one rail in stadium, but went clear for cross-country -- having a lovely and bold round. I ended the day thrilled and so happy with Ruby and very excited for our future together. Oh and we managed to pull off 8th place too!
This event was most notable for me because I feel like we redeemed ourselves a bit with our dressage test. It was not wonderful by most standards, but it felt so much better to ME. Almost as if we had maybe turned a corner and were headed in the right direction. I feel like we also had a pretty good stadium round, but our cross-country round was so-so, since I managed to incur significant time faults (we were otherwise clear, however).
Our final competition of the season and what I felt was our best performance. The dressage test was SO much better. Our stadium was clear, but I managed to incur a couple (2.8) of time faults on cross-country. Even though I had the time faults, I feel like this cross-country round was so much smoother and more even than any of the other XC courses we had done previously. If I had been slightly less conservative and had been willing to canter through the water obstacle (which Ruby had wanted to do) we would have been fine with time, I was kicking myself afterwards. Anyway, we managed to pull in 7th place and I was very satisfied with our performance.
All-in-all I am very happy with how I progressed with my riding over the past year. I did everything I had hoped to do and more. I think one of my goals was to MAYBE do a sanctioned event at Beginner Novice level -- and I managed to do three of them, so I was quite happy with my progress, with Ruby’s progress and with our performance overall. Additionally, I feel like over the past months we have been building a solid partnership and that I’ve gotten a bit braver and bolder and (hopefully) a little more solid in my skills. I have so many things that I need to work on and improve, but I feel like I have a much better idea of what these specific things are. I feel like I have a more defined idea of where my weaknesses are and am more focused than I was this time last year. I have some ideas of what my goals are for 2010, but will write them up in another blog post.
Last night was my last lesson on Ruby and my last lesson with Alison for a couple of months. Happily, it was a jumping lesson! After warming up, Alison put together a few different jump courses for us to do – I don’t know why, but I felt myself getting a little bit nervous for them. You would think that I would get used to all of this at some point. Anyway, I think our jump courses generally went pretty well, however, I also think that I overcompensated with what I had taken away from my last jump lesson. During that ride I learned (or was reminded) that I needed to not be afraid of “forward” – during that lesson, allowing Ruby to flow forward to each jump improved the quality of the jump and allowed for a more consistent distance each time.
I had this in mind last night when I rode our jump courses, and Ruby was very eager to move quite forward. In fact, I think she was quite speedy and pleased with herself in general. So, with the lessons about moving forward in mind we jumped, but some parts tended to be a little strung out and not as balanced as they should have been. It seems that I remembered one part of the equation: forward, but threw out the other part: balance & rhythm. I managed to get it together though towards the end of the lesson and I feel that our last course was much improved. I seem to have all the basics down, I just have to figure out how to pull them all together all at once! And also to recognize when an adjustment needs to be made, whether that be more forward momentum, a check to balance, where the horse needs to be packaged up some (as Alison would say), whatever.
While I was riding last night, I remember yet another takeaway from the lesson with Pat Spettel. My two hands should normally be mirror images of each other. This is another thing that I already knew (of course), but she had a way of emphasizing it that has stuck in my head and caused me last night to constantly check on myself and make adjustments accordingly.
I rode Ruby tonight and she was one huge bundle of freaky, bunched-up energy -- mostly because she didn't get ridden at all last week (I was on-call). After riding her around for a good while she finally settled down but was still on a hair trigger. I find one of my bigger challenges on rides like this is overcoming my own nerves and just getting down to the job and riding her through it. I think I did a good enough job of it tonight, although I probably should have ridden longer. One of the working students at the barn offered to ride her around for me first before I got on, but as nice an offer as that was, I declined because I really have to get over my own fears and get through this kind of thing on my own. I may not be the best rider, but I can usually handle this at least, I think I sometimes don't give myself enough credit in that regard. Anyway, Ruby is funny when she is this energetic too, she gets very fancy and tucked under, now if I could only replicate it during her calmer moments (without the freakiness).
While I was riding, I remembered another big takeaway from my lesson with Pat Spettel: my leg should always be long with heels stretched down. Now, I know this, of course. I've always known it. But she emphasized how whenever I feel my calf getting shorter, if my heel ever starts creeping up (and it does this quite a lot during the rides where Ruby has seemed to need a lot of leg) that I am not correct, I'm doing something wrong. So this is one of my first and biggest signals that I need to make an adjustment in my own riding in the moment that it happens. I just have to make sure that I'm aware of it when I'm doing it.
I can't believe that I forgot about this part of the lesson, but it came back to me while riding tonight. Now if I can just keep remembering it!
On Sunday, December 13th I participated in a jumping clinic with Lynn Coates-Holmes. Lynn in an upper-level event rider, she is also one of the trainers from whom my trainer takes instruction. Because I haven’t been riding nearly as much as I should be, I was pretty nervous about the clinic. I didn’t really know what to expect from Lynn (I had heard of her, but had never met her), what to expect from Ruby, nor what to expect from myself. I was also worried that the jumping exercises or courses might be a bit beyond my current level of competence. I was riding with my friend Marilyn who rides pretty much everyday and who takes a lot of clinics with her horse Finn. Marilyn has also been at this longer and more consistently than I have and is probably a bit above me in ability level. The other rider in our time slot was Lisa, another rider who is an eventing veteran, so I really worried about being the dunce of the group. Green horse, green rider, not much experience, poor fitness, poor confidence in ability, inferiority complex, etc., so as usual, I came into the experience a bit of a wreck.
Lynn had us warm up on our own, so we all did some walk, trot and canter in both directions, with some figures thrown in here and there. Lynn did not direct this part, but did throw in a comment here and there. One thing she said to me as I was cantering around in 2-point which both thrilled and astonished me was, “nice, soft hands”. I feel like my hands are really not that great, at least not on the flat. It is one of the things I’m currently struggling with. But I think in the 2-point and cantering around, I’m not “messing” as much with my horse and more just allowing her to go forward and really balance herself, so my hands probably are much softer in this scenario. This is something I have to keep in mind more and see how I can translate it more to flat work when I’m not in jumping position.
After having us warm up over a little cross-rail, Lynn then started setting up a gymnastic. I believe the gymnastic ended up being a three-element obstacle – jump, land, jump, one stride, jump. After we had been through this a couple of times, she started adding additional jumps on to a course for us, each new jump requiring a bending line or a roll-back (which is a tight turn reversing direction), making the full course rather twisty and complicated, when all was said-and-done. It really required the rider and horse to be on their game, in good communication, have a good sense for pace, position, balance and approach to each jump. So, the course ended up consisting of: the 3-jump gymnastic, bending line (4 or 5 strides) to another jump, change direction across the diagonal, over a jump, bending line (5 strides) to a panel jump, roll-back to a jump, 3-or-4-stride bending line to an in-and-out (jump in, two strides, jump out) with a roll-back to a “skinny” (a very narrow jump, so you have to be pretty accurate).
I was pretty pleased with Ruby and with myself as we managed to handle this course quite well, I think. Lynn was very positive about my position in general, she thought that I had a nice, open frame, a good leg, and (when I was concentrating enough) a good, following hand. I held a bit too much over a couple of jumps at the beginning of the session, but once Lynn pointed this out and when I could keep it in my head to let go, it did not remain a problem for me. Two areas where it became clear that I need to improve are: fitness (no surprise there) – I was fizzling out towards the end of each jump course and so my riding through the fences near the end of the course was not nearly as good as the ones at the beginning. And the second area that needs significant improvement is pace moderation. I need to better be able to recognize when our pace needs adjustment (usually when more “forward” is needed) as I don’t always realize it in the right moment. I’m finding that when it does dawn on me, I am usually too close to a jump and thus in a zone where you don’t want to interfere with your horse. I ran into this issue a couple of times at competitions this Summer, so I do know that it’s something that I need to work on, but I think it is also something that will come naturally with more experience. Lynn, also loved Ruby, she commented a number of times about how great she is, how cute a jumper, how honest and how willing, so I was really thrilled to hear that. I always like to hear that a professional event rider who I respect really likes my horse. I told her that she would see Alison competing Ruby around Aiken this season.
Dressage, December 21:
The second clinic that I participated in was an individual Dressage lesson with Pat Spettel. I was worried about this clinic because (again) I haven’t been riding a lot over the past couple of months, and our Dressage is the first thing to fall apart when I’m not riding consistently. I was concerned because Dressage is not my strong suit in the best of times and because it was an hour-long private lesson. No breaks when the instructor needs to concentrate on someone else in the class, it was to be pure, unadulterated, un-filtered and constant attention – ACK! There are so many things that I despise about myself with my Dressage work, my balance isn’t great, my hands aren’t soft or elastic, my legs tend to creep out ahead of me (this is partially a fight for my position with my current saddle), my aids are not clear or distinct. I don’t always know what I’m doing really and I feel that Ruby suffers for it. I also very often let myself become frustrated and anxious about my crummy performance in this area which just makes everything worse all around.
Pat started by having me ride around a bit while she watched so that she could see how bad it really was. It wasn’t too good, let me tell you. Once she had seen enough, she decided to take everything back to basics. I had told her a bit about Ruby’s experience, my experience, what our challenges are and some of the things that have frustrated me over the past months. I emphasized the problems I’ve been having with bending, particularly to the right, but also that very often “forward” is a big problem. However, that Ruby can be a different horse, sometimes I feel like I’m kicking constantly to get any kind of forward out of her, and sometimes it’s like riding a firecracker, I just never know what horse I’m going to have. Well, Pat decided that it was all related, but wanted me to forget about bending for now. The bottom line, she felt, was that Ruby was not respecting my leg (which is really the same issue for both forward and lateral movement) and that I was not being clear or distinct enough with my aids and was not following up immediately or properly with a touch of the whip when my leg was not being respected. Additionally (and perhaps more importantly), I very often was not giving her a chance to respond, but was just nagging her constantly with my leg to the point that she almost had no choice but to ignore it. I was also holding far too much and not really allowing the forward that I was asking for to happen. Basically, I’m a mess. Poor Ruby.
So, Pat had me work on lateral movement. Sidepass on a circle, distinctly asking for sideways, and then asking for forward. She worked on my actually knowing when I really wanted a movement away from my leg and when I was asking for forward and being very clear about each. When asked, and if there was no response, an immediate follow-up with a tap of the whip just behind the girth was required, and knowing when this was needed and timing this correctly in coordination with the leg aid.
Some of the big take-aways for me were:
* Don’t nag with the leg, ask and be done. If the leg aid is not responded to, follow immediately with a tap of the whip -- horse learns to respond to the leg immediately, eventually the idea is that the whip will not be necessary and should respond to the barest of leg cues.
* Know specifically what I’m asking for. Do I want a more lateral movement or am I looking for forward? Be clear and distinct and don’t over-ask.
* If it’s getting all muddled and the horse is not responding, or I’m having trouble being clear, bring it back down and do some sidepass at the walk. Get the horse listening to the leg again.
* Coming around a corner, hold the bend with the inside hand, but then RELEASE and allow the forward.
* From the waist up, ride from upper arms / pectorals, not my hands and wrists. Feel as if my pectorals are attached to the horse’s. Keep my elbows bent and my arms beside my sides. Thumbs up.
* Inside hip should be slightly forward. More so when tracking to the left than to the right with Ruby (because of her particular balance issues).
* You never want your horse to think that you don’t own their hind leg. In other words, you must always have control over exactly where each back leg is, where it is being placed and how it is responding.
For the entire hour we only worked at the walk and trot, but we were still soaked in sweat when it was done (it was hard work!) I feel like I got a lot out of the session and wish that I could have a few follow-up sessions with Pat to solidify what I learned to ensure that I’m on the right track. I’m kicking myself for not having taken an earlier clinic that was offered with her back in November. I guess I was too chicken or something.
I found both clinics to be extremely insightful and productive. I came away with a lot of very great and practical feedback that I feel will add immediate enhancement to my riding. I wish I could say that I have more clinics in the immediate future to look forward to, but Ruby will be down in Aiken, SC (as of this coming weekend) for the next few months. Alison will be training her for these months and will also be competing her for the season down there. She is starting her off at the level I had been riding at this past season and then will hopefully bump her up in level so that she will be ready if I’m ever ready to move up this Summer.
During this time Ruby will be getting great training, but my riding will be taking a bit of a back-seat. I’m hoping to concentrate on some other things while she’s away. I think that I’m going to join the “Y”, I would like to take some spinning and yoga classes. I would like to do some walking & running and I’m planning to take Tig back to obedience school. So, hopefully this period will be as productive for me as it is for Ruby. I then plan to go back down to Aiken at the end of March for Alison’s Adult Eventing Camp. Since Ruby will be down there waiting for me, I’ll be able to ride her at the various cross-country courses, the galloping track and do all the other intensive stuff with her that are planned for that week. I also intend to finish the week off by riding in a sanctioned event down there (well, it’s actually in Georgia, but close enough).