Wednesday, December 25, 2013

And a Merry Christmas to all!

Business Bucky wishes you a Merry Christmas!

Model: Buckingham
Wardrobe Consultant: me!
Photographer: me
Finished on Pixlr Express

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Review: The Night Circus

I don't really know where to start with this review... I can't seem to find the right words to aptly describe my reading experience with the Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Erin has an incredible grasp of the English language and her writing so clearly embodies quality writing; with a complex vocabulary that boasts words I thought were made up, yet she manages to keep me comprehending the story. If I were to describe this book in a single word, I would easily choose: phantasmagorical (yes, that's a real word). The imagery that she transforms into prose from her imagination is truly remarkable; the reader is transported to her fictional story places where you can practically smell the odors... feel the familiarity, comfort and atmosphere around you... and visualize the setting in great detail.

The book is composed of 5 parts, and each chapter is short enough that a commute to work (or home) is the perfect chance to read. Each chapter focuses around a specific storyline that, at the start of the book, seem like they couldn't be further apart, or are completely unrelated. But, as you progress through the book, you start to piece together these seemingly unrelated parts, into a single story that converges beautifully. I found that when I started reading, I had trouble keeping track of each storyline and characters I was reading or what date and year it was. It was as if each storyline was a distinct root of a tree and as the story progressed, you moved towards the trunk where the story comes together--piece by piece, branch by branch.

I have not had a quality read like this in many years. Most books are written simply (and that's not a bad thing) and quite to the point. Or, they're written in such a fashion that I can't seem to understand what is being said (now, this is often 'bad') or there is a suggestion context. The intricate story she creates in her mind and then weaves together through words is complex and solid. It takes immense skill to create these timelines and stories of characters and then entwine them together in a fashion that makes sense and enhances the reading experience. The book starts out slowly and you can tell because as you're starting, nothing really makes a lot of sense and you're given glimpses into where she'll take you. You're introduced to the main characters and fed some basic background about who they are and a little of the role they will play--you're given the premise on which the story will be built upon, but nothing more until it's appropriate.

In addition to her careful plotting of pieces together, she manages to create a shifting atmosphere and impression of what's happening, for the readers. I felt the beginning of the book to be far more dreamy, light and fluffy but as the book progresses, even these dreamy places felt heavy and darker... like something (someone?) was lurking in the shadows. And as you spiralled towards the climax of the plot, things come together hard and fast. The dream is turning into the reality and you have to start paying attention to what's happening or you'll be in big trouble because you won't be prepared!

The Night Circus is a fabulous read for anyone looking for something different to read or an escape from the ordinary. And don't be scared off by the girth of the book... you'll get through it much faster than you might think.

And before I forget...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Bit By Bit: 12 Days of (Horsey) Christmas: A horse, of course!...

Bit By Bit: 12 Days of (Horsie) Christmas: A horse, of course!...: The ultimate gift for any horse lover is obviously a horse to call your own. Of course, a horse is for life, not just for Christmas so this ...

Monday, December 23, 2013

Bit By Bit: 12 Days of (Horsey) Christmas: Fine finery

Us east coasters had somewhat of an interesting weekend... with our world turning into an ice laden wonderland... with no power and an outdoor skating ring. So, a little late but better late than never the 11th day of Horsey Christmas at Bit by Bit:

Bit By Bit: 12 Days of (Horsie) Christmas: Fine finery: The 12 Days of (Horsie) Christmas selection for today is this tiny, delicate horseshoe necklace from Stella and Dot. Made of gold fill and...

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Friday, December 20, 2013

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Monday, December 16, 2013

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Lesson #66: Don't Look Down!

First major snow fall for the season and we're supposed to ride the following morning. It's a slow trek out that way but we surprisingly make reasonably good time. I do love the winter out this parts though... it's so peaceful... kind of like those Christmas cards that you see in the mail sometimes.

We worked long and hard today, on leg and seat aids again to remove the tendency to resort to hands (i.e. reins). The exercises we used were shallow serpentines, full serpentines (with ground poles) and lots of circles. ADW's moved up today... he's moved from pony to sport horse! This beautiful (and diva of a gelding) is a Trakehner whom our instructor owns, loves (of course!) and trained from foal/colt. Her original intent was to train him as a dressage horse but her comments today indicated that he both hated doing it and wasn't physically well suited for it (i.e. his confirmation wasn't great for dressage). He's a bit of a fussy boy and when he's around his Hanovarian "brother" but he's wonderful to ride. First, he's a beautiful animal, a fabulous mover and impeccably trained.

It was super cold today (the night before, it was snow and -20-ish temperatures) so warm-up was a long time so that everyone was in good shape before we started to get into the real work. Our first exercise was lots and lots of circles around the arena to get them supple and "bendy". Once things were coming together, we moved to a shallow serpentine to work on bending as we're moving forward. This was not a concept I grasped, at first... it's not a turn of the horse so much as their bodies bending away from the forward direction and "drifting" in and then back out of the rail.

A shallow serpentine

To accomplish the bend, it was a matter of using your "outside" (without getting into great detail) leg to push, your same seat to drop, your opposite leg to keep them from drifting in and then a little bit of flexion through the hands. We had to switch this 3 times! I sure hope I got all that right :S

Then we moved to wide loopy figure 8's that looked more like 2 large circles next to one another and had to remember to change our diagonal when we crossed the middle and added 3 ground poles. I was a mess. I wasn't asking Ariel early enough to turn and she would nearly crash and then just pick left or right. It wasn't pretty and I spent a lot of time looking at the ground. I have a bad habit... even when I'm walking, I have a tendency to look down. This is even worse because I can't help but look down at the ground poles but then I get obsessed about it at the moment and nothing else happens.

Our last exercise is a 2 loop serpentine that crosses 3 sets of 3 ground poles that are laid across the long length of the middle of the arena; as if there was a set between F and K, B and E, and H and M--all along the axis of A to C (above diagram). This is tough stuff my friend. If I thought that the figure 8 was tricky and it took me way too long to figure that out, this one was a HUGE mess. Ariel was confused and I was physically everywhere because instead of 1 set of 3 poles for me to fixate upon, there was THREE(!) sets of three, plus I wasn't giving her the correct signals (or timing it well). She was pretty annoyed with me and threw up her head several times. Eventually, something clicked and I managed to get through it a couple times at the end (finally!) and we ended that lesson on a great note!

Posting Diagonal Jar Tally: 2* x $2.00 = $4.00
To date: $47.00
*I only counted the ones where I should have known better and not the ones where a bazillion things were going on at once and I would have been lucky to not be caught with the incorrect diagonal*

Bit By Bit: 12 Days of (Horsey) Christmas: Brush off

Bit By Bit: 12 Days of (Horsey) Christmas: Brush off: Welcome to day three of our 12 Days of (Horsey) Christmas gift guide. Although I personally cannot justify the expense of...

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Friday, December 13, 2013

Bit By Bit: 12 Days of (Horsey) Christmas: Arabian artistry

In the flurry of things going on lately, I totally forgot to tell you about my newest collaboration with another blogger... who also rides as an adult! We're working together on the 12 Days of (Horsey) Christmas!

Bit By Bit: 12 Days of (Horsey) Christmas: Arabian artistry: In keeping with the season, the next 12 posts will be gifts appropriate for horsey folks on your Christmas list. (Technically, ...

Monday, December 9, 2013

Lesson #65: Aiming for Zen

December 8, 2013

Yoga is by far one of the best training tools for riders. I’ve been doing yoga for many years now; when I first started, I was doing it during my lunch hours at work (wouldn’t I be excited if I was riding over lunch instead!) and I found my progress was really fast. My goal at the time was to touch my toes and I surpassed even that and ended up being able to get into Salamba Sirsasana (supported headstand) in less than 4 months’ time. Talk about progress at its best! The same type of schedule can't really apply for riding because for most of us, riding daily is just not feasible; be it due to location, finances or time.

Sometimes I complain about not seeing the progress and thus feel like I'm stuck. But, reviewing my posts, I recognize that things are in fact progressing (albeit slowly) but pieces at a time. Kind of like how our lesson was teaching us that miniscule changes add up to the bigger picture and that we need to pay attention to those little changes. ADW and I spent the entire lesson in trot while focusing on leg aids, seat position and body awareness; it felt like a lesson spent practicing our forming full sentences with the alphabet. Having done yoga, the concept of body awareness and recognizing that minor tilts or adjustments of one’s body can mean the difference between doing the pose properly versus not.

I was practicing the leg aid and dropped seat bone to ask Ariel to turn. I have to remember though that she will eventually ignore these signals if I don’t release after she’s accomplished what I’m asking her to do. Lucky for me, she’s still very responsive. It takes little for her to turn a nice small circle.

Next, we use the flexion I was practicing last lesson but this time, we use flexion during turns by flexing the opposite way to straighten out on the long side of the arena. The motion is rather miniscule and has nothing to do with pulling but rather twisting (in a way) so that their heads turn just ever so slightly into the direction you're asking. This is certainly helpful for turning Ariel around when she's likely to be mostly distracted with something outside or otherwise.

Our next topic is body awareness, broken into two parts: upper body and lower body. Horses move forward freely when the rider's hips move in alignment with the horse; their gait is smooth and liberated. And when you want then to stop or slow down, you inhibit this motion ever so slightly: your hip motion becomes ever so slightly less fluid with the horse. Seated trot is incredibly trying in this area because your lower back and abs are absorbing the motion so you're not bouncing around. Sheri tells me to loosen my lower back (which apparently is INCREDIBLY difficult to accomplish even for experienced dressage riders!) so that it follows the motion of Ariel. I get one or two strides once during the entire lesson. I see when I am not accomplishing this when Ariel raises her head in protest and slows. But it's really interesting because she's so responsive that the slightest incorrect adjustment is felt by her and she isn't afraid to tell me. That's the lower body and is particularly obvious; unlike your upper body which I'm reminded to keep still yet soft. Sound absolutely contradictory yet? For those yogis out there, you know what I'm talking about! Pull and push simultaneously--that's what your yoga instructor will tell you too. During the lesson, my wrists are sometimes rigid and tight or my grip is death gripping the reins--all times where Ariel is quick to tell me by raising her head up and slowing down. Or instances where I find myself pinching with my knee which causes her to either stop or make her gait particularly stiff and bouncy.

I completed the class feeling pretty impressed (and zen!) about the nuances of a rider's body in communicating with the horse. It's literally a language we're learning to speak with our horsey friends but intricately with our bodies. Onwards with the week so that I return to Gosling Stables!

Posting Diagonal Jar Tally: 3 x $2.00 = $6.00
To date: $43.00 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Lesson #64: Technically Difficult

December 1, 2013

It's cloudy, rainy and cold out. All conditions that enhance the challenge of a good lesson. This is all the more reason to consider well, your fitness regimen outside of lessons.... similar to the way I endeavour to practice the piano daily so my biweekly lessons are fruitful. I did a few days where I completed 15-20 minutes of yoga stretches and sun salutations if I couldn't fit in much else.

I have to go to the paddocks to fetch Ariel; I like doing this because it gives me the opportunity to see her before she has to work. It's great that she's trained whereby she approaches you when you head out there, and seems happy to come in. Once all tacked up, we make our way into the arena. There's a new horse today, Romeo. He's a really pretty dark bay.

We actually spend almost half the lesson warming up because we have to; the arena isn't heated and since it's cold and wet, it takes longer for us (horse included) to get warmed up. So, to make use of the warm up and not just have us mindlessly going in circles, we are asked to turn our horses with our seat and legs only. I have Ariel turn smaller circles at the far ends of the arena and weave throughout the arena. At walking pace, it's easy but as you move into a trot, you have to really be diligent about having things come together. To turn on (say) the right rein, we drop our right seat bone and push with our left leg. The purpose... the dropped seat gives the horse something to "pivot" around when they're turning and the outside leg is simply pushing them over. I manage some pretty nice circles.

Stopping without reins! Here, we're isolating our hips and tilting our weight from being evenly distributed on our 3 points in the seat and shift the weight into the back. Our hips also become a little more rigid and there is less movement with the horse/saddle. Success! Ariel stops when all these wonderful aids come together.

Canter is still not familiar for me and I don't ride it well enough to be confident about riding it freely. When we work on canter, I remember to use both my legs this time, when initiating the canter. Ariel must be excited today because she takes off and we go speeding around the arena. I do notice that time and again, if I'm not properly focused, I lose my proper alignment and my knees clench Ariel and she doesn't like that. So I actively have to remember that there is no pressure coming from my knees. We ride the canter well today and I even accomplish a nice (approximately) 20m circle at one end without falling out of the canter and keeping pace. It was so satisfying when that happened because it must have meant things had come together well enough to keep her going.

Our last exercise is the X-jump posting trot. My 2-point still suffers and my weight is heavy on her neck so I have to remember to push my bum out and support myself with my core muscles. I think my anticipation for the jump is really getting me screwed. I struggle with the reins, I pull back or I look down. I find it more difficult to do this during a posting trot because you have to anticipate when you're going to get into a 2-point. To make things a little more interesting, Ariel likes to cut the corners and she's already cutting the corners before the actual jump! One time we almost trotted into a ground pole and she had to deek so she wouldn't trot over it. I almost fell off of her! The little devil! Sheri says, "add flexion away from the turn, while going into it". A little better but note quite yet. I'll need to remember to do that with this mare since she likes to cut corners.

A lot of new tidbits that we worked on this lesson. Many technicalities that most people are not familiar with and don't have any idea what it all means. But it's incredibly satisfying learning, practicing and incorporating these things into the lesson!

Posting Diagonal Jar Tally: 4 x $2.00 = $8.00
To date: $37.00

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Review: The Cat Whisperer

We've been out of internet at home for almost a full week now. I spend all day at work in front of a computer and have full internet access for over 8 hours a day; which is what I suspect, explains why I'm not clawing at the walls yet. I spent the weekend finishing my unexpected read: The Cat Whisperer by Mieshelle Nagelschneider.

You may or may not remember that I have a new fur baby and I'm relearning how to effectively care for your cat. Some of this new found knowledge is attributed to the fact that I volunteer with The Annex Cat Rescue for the past 2 or 3 years. And, it's very true that you can take the wildcat out of the jungle but you can't take the jungle out of the domestic cat. Buckingham is a well-mannered gentlecat just like his tuxedo outfit would suggest. But, he's still got those feline urges that make him unruly and silly, every now and again. I've picked-up a lot of practical knowledge about cats, but have yet to master some of the finer nuances of feline behaviour.

If you have a cat (or want to get one) and are keen to better understand the way they think, and make your life a feline heaven, you'll want to pick up this book to read. I remember when I was that kid when I could do nothing more than beg ask for that family pet and Mieshelle recounts her own experiences with cats (and other animals) to help others who are having trouble in their feline paradise. Mieshelle is a thorough writer about her subject of expertise; she has a life-time of experiences with cats and the way they are and her knowledge is based on experience and intense observation. The thing that many city humans miss out on (and modern humans in general) is that we have lost touch with working with animals. I see dogs dragging their humans down the street choking on their collar or humans who inhumanely declaw their cats, thinking only about what suits them or people who think their meat didn't deserve to be treated well before ending up on their dinner tables. But all the while, these people think this is normal or that this is the way it should be. Like the horse that has helped humans build history, cats and dogs played a significiant role to getting us where we are. But now, we're generally so far removed from them that we've all but forgotten how to listen to them and read them and build a real relationship with them.

The book is broken into sections that a reader who is desperate for relief from their inappropriate urinating/defecating cat or the multicat household which has become a battle zone, can immediately zip directly to that section and read the subject in its entirety. She addresses common problems that cat owners have dealt with or are dealing with. And, if you decide to read the book from cover to cover, the flow in which she's laid out is logical and builds on the previous one and is appropriately chapter referenced where applicable. The writing style is casual and easy to follow. She uses plenty of examples yet inserts many detailed scenarios that might come to mind while the reader is reading. She also has plenty of papers and references footnoted throughout the book for those who wish to do further reading/research. Her primary objective is to help us humans better understand our feline friends and adjust the environment appropriately so that our cat can do what we want in a humane and practical manner without resorting to drugs. Many of the procedures are lengthy, repetitive and require a great deal of patience but that's exactly what modern humans are missing... real patience and let's face it: animals are great teachers for this.

But, there are few things that are perfect in this world and I found that as detailed as she often is, it felt like sometimes I was being told that I wasn't doing things the way they should be done. Things that in my personal practice, have not caused me any problems currently or in the past. I felt invisibly attacked--yes, a little sensitive on my part. She also had a lot of shameless self promotions peppered throughout the book about checking out her product page or her personal consultation page, to which I've just added to... hahaha. But, upon reviewing these sites, I think they are worth looking into because she has some very solid products which I'd seriously consider purchasing and her consultation practice is one which I'd also seriously consider if I was having unresolvable issues of my own. Most pet stores don't come close to providing any real substantial items like these and products are often cheaply made or poorly designed. Perhaps I'll do another review in the future when I purchase something (like that timed feeder!).

My opinion? The book is written simply and substantially complete with relevant content that the average cat owner could easily put into practice. Any new-to-cat-ownership humans should definitely pick it up for a read so that they can better understand their new feline friends. Simply put, get her book as a reference piece in your home if you have a cat because she's quite thorough and basic cat behaviour will probably not be changing significantly in this lifetime so unlikely any need for an updated edition. Otherwise, check it out at your local library and take it for a reading test-drive before you make a conclusive decision to purchase it.