Saturday, August 21, 2010

An Improvement in Flat Work

I have to say that I am very pleased with how Ruby's flat work has been coming along this Summer. If I remember correctly, last Summer it was a bit of a struggle to get her consistently round and reaching for the contact and working through her back. I remember a good amount of inverted flat work. I would get some nice roundness for a few strides and then lose it again. And so we we would go back & forth with this. Last year I would see those nice round moments and be encouraged that the potential was there, it didn't seem completely impossible that we might get some nice consistency on the flat some day. And so I feel that day has more or less come.

Today I decided to do some schooling, since we have a show next weekend. We had the ring all to ourselves which was nice for me, I didn't have to feel self-conscious about my riding (I know, I have issues). We did about twenty minutes of good, solid trot work where she tried quite hard with pretty nice results. Once we moved on to the canter I was again thrilled with how lovely her left lead canter has gotten. Supple and round and really working from behind, it is a complete pleasure to ride. Her right lead canter still needs work, so we still struggle there. But it has definitely improved, we now seem to be able to string together a number of good strides before we lose the roundness. This week Alison (my trainer) pointed out that it might help to ride her right lead lighter in the tack, even in 2-point, so I tried that today. It's a bit hard in dressage length stirrups, but I just concentrated not so much on a real 2-point as I did on trying to stay a bit off her back in this direction and I have to say that I definitely felt that it helped. I got some nice roundness for longer than I usually do. What I probably should have done is finished with a circle sitting in the tack after warming up this way to see if that also showed improvement, but I wanted to end on a good note. Instead, after about 30-40 minutes of the ring work I ended by cantering a few additional circles in the field (my stirrups jacked up to jumping length) to shake out a bit of that routine ring dullness. All-in-all I ended our work today very, very pleased with my girl.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

On Running

I’ve known for a while that just riding alone is not quite enough of an activity level to make me as fit as I need to be. And I’m not even talking about weight loss here, at this point, thoughts of weight loss are a pie-in-the-sky fantasy for me and if I seriously sit down and think about it as more than a passing idea, I get very, very depressed and start to feel very hopeless, complete with all those wonderful feelings of self-loathing and worthlessness and whatever. Believe me, I have a lifetime of experience with this and would rather not go there, if I can avoid it. So, I’m really right now just thinking about better overall fitness, what I can do to improve my ability to ride and for better stress relief in general. I’ve always felt that running is a high return activity in this regard. A lot of bang for your buck, if you will. You can go out there, throw out a few miles in under an hour for a maximum physical result. Riding probably would be adequate if I could somehow manage to ride five horses a day, six days a week and do a lot of barn chores. But riding only one horse requires that I do something else outside of the horse stuff. Although, I DO feel that I am more riding fit at this point in the season. I’ve noticed that I can do a 10-12 fence jump course and feel just as good and fresh at fence #12 as I did at #1. This was not the case over the Winter. Still, I need work.

The problem has mostly been time. When you work 9-12 hours a day, and when plans to ride require about three hours round-trip, where does one sneak in the time to also add a run or something else? Lately what I’ve been doing is squeaking in a lunch-time run. It requires some planning and some willingness to be flexible and to change plans at the last minute, but so far I’ve managed to eek out a little bit of a run schedule. Luckily at work we have lovely, lovely trails just outside the door. I change in the locker room and have been rediscovering them all over again over the past couple of weeks. Of course running during working hours does have its challenges, like yesterday while standing out on the trail during my run and responding by BlackBerry to a volley of emails that had come in about a customer issue. But that keeps things exciting anyway, and this is the reason why we have modern technology! Of course, my colleague may not have appreciated my showing up at his desk immediately post run dripping with sweat to discuss said issue, but what can you do? (They don’t even notice when I cut off all of my hair, nor when I walk through the office in riding breeches and chaps, so it’s unlikely a bit of sweat registered either anyway).

Let me just say, though, that running is HARD. So, so, freaking hard. I’ve never been a natural runner, I know I whine about this from time-to-time, but it’s true. I am just not one of those people who can go out and bang out a couple of miles at the drop of a hat. It takes a long time to get myself to where I can even run a mile relatively comfortably, even with a walk break or two. So I’m trying not to be too disgusted with myself. Right now I’m just trying to get out there and cover some ground. I run, I walk. I walk, I run. I try to run some past the point where I desperately want to slow to a walk. I pick out landmarks, but once I reach them, I try to run a bit farther (even if it’s only the tiniest bit). I particularly like running on the single track trails. For some reason I find myself running for the longest stretches on those. I think it’s partially because it’s a bit of a mental game, picking through the footing so I don’t fall, plotting my path, etc. As much as possible, I try to run where the terrain allows it and to walk when the tricky footing forces me to be more careful. It doesn’t always work out that way, but that is my goal on most of my trail runs these days.

The other night I even did a run on the treadmill. I have to say, compared to riding and running on trails, running on a treadmill is some kind of mental (as well as physical) torture. I managed to squeak out two miles of intervals. It went something like this:

• 2 minute walk warm-up (16 minute mile).
• 2 minute running interval (12 minute mile).
• Continue walk/run intervals until I hit 1 mile (intervals consisted of 1 minute walk @ 16 minute mile alternated with 1 minute run @ 12 minute mile).
• After the 1 mile mark, I alternated 30 seconds run @ 10 minute mile with 1 minute walk @ 16 minute mile.
• At the 1.5 mile mark I just walked for the last .5 mile (16 minute mile).

I know that all sounds like a completely sad effort, but that is where I am in running ability at the moment. I can barely run a 12 minute mile for one minute. And I can only keep the intervals up for a short time. Still, I ended the session feeling like I had had a really good workout, so I think that my body definitely got something out of it, and I was sore the next day.

I think that if I can get myself outside to run/walk in some fashion three times a week and then do a TM interval session like the above one time a week, that I could see some decent improvement in my fitness. Since I am not really training for any kind of running event and because I don’t want to make myself crazy, I’m trying not to concentrate on distance or speed in any way right now (although, I think speed & distance is something I have to target for an interval work out). I’m mostly focusing on how long I want each running session to be (40 minutes, 1 hour, whatever).

Now if I could also just carve out a little time to include some yoga or pilates during the week …

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Riding Out

This Summer I have been enjoying riding outside of the ring and off of the barn property. Last year I didn’t do nearly enough of this, Ruby & I were just getting to know each other, I was still getting my riding legs (and seat) back and I just did not take nearly as much advantage as I should have.

This season I was off to a shaky start with my riding. First there was the unfortunate fall at the Pine Top HT in March, and then in April (or maybe it was early May) Ruby managed to buck me off during a ride. I think this shook my confidence more than anything, the other fall was an accident, sort of a freak thing, so I don’t think it left as lingering an effect as the bucking incident did. The bucking was the type of thing that I had been able to ride through before, so it had me a bit shaken up. I wasn’t hurt at all, but it had me worried that my horse really could dump me whenever she wanted to. I went out on a trail ride shortly after my fall with a couple of the more advanced riders at the barn and I can honestly say that I was a bit shaky. We spent most of the ride doing a very athletic trot, to canter, to galloping and that did help take a bit of an edge off of my fear once it was all said and done (although I was slightly freaked out about it during the ride). After that ride I managed to suck it up and take Ruby out on the trails on my own a good number of times and each ride (especially each ride I did alone, just Ruby & I) restored my confidence in leaps and bounds.

Once I got over the bit of nervousness that I had, I really started to enjoy these hacks out on the trails. I like to talk to Ruby the whole way, I never mind being alone (some people hate that) and I take it as my opportunity to commune with my horse, go at the pace we want that day and to take the direction that we decide in the moment. As an event horse, I think it is good for Ruby’s brain to go out alone sometimes. I think it’s good for her brain to hack out in general (it’s too easy to become ring sour or dull from 100% ring work), but it’s also good for her to feel confident getting out there without another horse along for company. I think the hacking out in general also helps to install a good “forward” feeling in the horse as well, no kicking along required outside the ring! And it’s good for my own bravery and confidence. Once I got over my initial post-fall shakiness, I really relaxed and felt completely comfortable to trot, canter and gallop with Ruby on the trails on my own.

And then the deer flies set in. This pretty much ended our trail riding excursions for most of the month of July. They are too numerous and too miserable for the horse during these weeks, I just couldn’t subject her to that. Luckily there is a big field over on the next road that we are welcome to ride in when we want and so I started going over there once or twice each week. The field is a different experience than the trails. The huge, open area definitely makes for a more firey, “up” horse. Last year the one time I took Ruby to this field, she was a bit crazier than I’m comfortable with. This year she has been more settled. I’m not sure if it’s because I introduced the field riding during a real hot spell, or because I’ve been riding her a lot in general (maybe a combination of factors) but she has been, while still prance-y and excited with a spook here & there, much easier to deal with overall. When we’ve gone, I usually do a good solid trot for three circuits of the field and then will walk a lap and then will introduce a canter and do a couple of laps of that (usually with a walk lap in between). If I’m feeling particularly adventurous we will then gallop up one long side or another. And then I will change directions and do the same in the other direction. If I really got my act together and put a plan together, I would map out some kind of regular trot & canter repeat plan, but for right now I’ve just been enjoying going out there and winging it.

The deer flies have abated somewhat, so we are now back to regular trail riding. There are a couple of people in the barn who recently have been inviting me to ride out with them on the weekends and I have been enjoying that a lot, but I still need to find a way to keep a hack alone once or twice a week in the rotation. Ideally we would have about three hacks during the week. One to the field, and two trails (or one trail and two field rides, maybe alternating the ratio week to week), with one or two of those hacks being out on our own. It very rarely works out this way, work or weather or laziness or something usually eliminates at least one of the rides, but that is what I’m striving for anyway. This is the plan in general:

• Two lessons per week.
• One-two dressage schools (no lesson) on farm property – on a dressage lesson week, one dressage school should be enough.
• Three hacks a week: some combination of 2 trails / 1 field, 2 fields / 1 trail, one or two of the weekly hacks being in company.
• One day off a week. (In real life however, it’s really worked out to be two days off a week, sometimes three).

This is what I’m striving for anyway. I’m still trying to figure out how to work in a little jumping on dressage weeks. On the jumping weeks, since I have two lessons during the week, I think that’s enough. But I find that on the dressage weeks I’m not jumping at all. And, while I don’t really think Ruby needs it (although she LOVES it), I think that I do somewhat, if for no other reason than I need to it to keep up my nerves. Too much time between jumping and I start to get nervous about it all over again. I need to jump enough so that I am not so freaked out about it. So, I still have to figure that out. Of course, the season is going to be over in about two seconds so I may need to start working on my plan for NEXT year at this point!