Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Lesson #157: Oh the Nerves!

It's clear that I've developed some anxiety with respect to riding Ariel. The last few lessons (particularly the last one) have been challenging and most definitely have been testing what I've learned. Though kind and good with people, this mare is not forgiving of mistakes by her riders if they interfere with her job. She knows what her job is, loves to jump (she hates suppling exercises) and when she's on her A-game, she's incredible in the arena. But, if you're an old goat like me, you come with a bunch of physical baggage that is likely to interfere with your riding. As well, not spending enough time with her on the ground or even just riding is a problem unto itself since you have fewer chances to interact with her.

Knowing that I have anxiety helps a good deal. I got to the stable with the intention to keep my brain in check and remember that the training starts the minute I get there. Clearly Ariel is still testing our little herd dynamics to see who's coming out on top but I'm determined to have my way.

Put hair on that chest!

Our warm up was amazing. I was as clear as possible with my aids and ensuring that my right shoulder (when on the right rein) was turning naturally, and not falling in. It was working out beautifully. It was flowing so well because following the posting trot, we were asked to drop our stirrups and ride with our seat and lay off the hands. Next, put both reins in our outside hand and go round. Once everything seemed in control, flowing and limber, we moved into canter. My transitions are improving when I remember to include half-halts whenever I'm changing something up and Ariel doesn't launch forward as often.

When I'm riding the canter, I decide to try something different this time... ride in a half seat. Last time I tried sitting up more, I also pushed my seat further back too so ended up driving with my seat and as a result, Ariel was racing around while I was scared for my life because I was struggling with stopping her. The half seat keeps my seat off her back while maintaining an open chest with upper body erect. This was golden because it was clearly Ariel's preferred method for a rider to sit when she's going round. Even on the right rein, things were good and the flow was even and I had control.

So true!

To finish up our lesson, a line of 2 x jumps was set up. At the very mention of jumping, I transformed into a nervous wreck. But my determination to not allow my fear and anxiety interfere was strong enough to give me a boost to man up and try it. We trotted in and I was over thinking everything so my 2 point was pretty shoddy. We got the 5 strides in between the 2 jumps but my brain was just so loud on approach to the jump that it was literally distracting this time! My rides weren't too bad and I was able to keep control and set Ariel up as I wanted but I definitely need to breathe and remember that I need to start slowing down sooner.

Friday, January 23, 2015

A Review: SSG Gloves All Weather (Style 8600)

I'm not a fan of wearing gloves for anything: I hate wearing them for dishes, lab work (during school), going outside, doing manual labour... horseback riding. When fit is poor, material too thick and workmanship shoddy, it makes for a frustrating pair of gloves to wear. That all said though, I've changed my tune about wearing gloves for horseback riding. Now I have different pairs for the seasons (I reviewed the Below 10 previously) and the tasks I need to do when I ride. In addition, I keep up with Laura @ Bit by Bit's posts about gloves so have gotten some of the "work" done for me. There is a specific glove that stands out for me and I'll be discussing that in this post (note, all opinions are personal and I have not been solicited to do a review on this product--though I wouldn't oppose!).

My situation: I school or hack, don't show and don't work at the stable. Ariel is usually outside in a paddock most of the year so that means I have to go out to get her--cold or hot. My favourite pair of gloves to date for schooling is the SSG All Weather (Style 8600). They cost anywhere from $25-35 CDN depending on where you're shopping and when (see, saaaale!). But this is probably one of the most popular and best selling pairs by SSG so I doubt they need to push it with a sale.

Image taken from Dover Saddlery

The features on the packaging cardboard list the features of this glove with...
  • Aquasuede Plus Palm
  • Durable, breathable, good grip wet or dry
  • Elasticized back for a cool comfortable fit
  • Hook and loop wrist closure
  • Machine washable, air dry

Available Sizing: Child's 4/5, Ladies S 5/6, Ladies Univ. 7/8, Mens Univ. 8/9, Mens Large 10, Mens XL 11/12 (black only). My size actually ranges between a 5 and 6 (or even 7) and I wear the ladies 5/6 and they fit perfectly. All the features of this glove address the past negative perspectives I have about gloves and has made a glove lover out of me! I love that the elastic is adjustable and closes around the wrist so it's secure and there aren't open flaps around my wrist--it slips nicely under my sleeve of my jacket. They have great grip regardless of their status or condition. The best part is that I can toss them into the machine, wash and they come out clean and good as new.

Image taken from Big Dee's Tack and Vet Supplies
While the practical part of me has been satiated, I recently discovered that these gloves come in an array of different colours and patterns *swoon*. That's just me being facetious as the colours don't make me go any faster or ride better. I would recommend these gloves to the horseback riding newb or for those who want a no fuss glove that is versatile yet fun.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Expand Your Mind and Learn

I'd say it's safe to assume most of us spend the better part of our spare time keeping up with social media updates and current events. My office has 3 televisions that play either CP24 or BNN and I had to make a resolution to cut back on my daily Facebook time that didn't include things like responding to messages. All this information is nice... but nothing is of any real substance. One of the reasons I travel is because I am interested in other cultures, their art and architecture, history... Usually I become intrigued about something and always want to learn more.

Information highway

The interesting thing is, there is so much to know and learn but we're all busy and doing research on everything is tough. In an effort to continue to culture my brain, I am taking an "online course" through "Go Highbrow". The slogan on their page is "Expand your knowledge universe... in just 5 minutes a day". If you wanted to see 'how highbrow' you are, check out this quiz.

How do you go about this? The program is created where an email is sent daily for a set number of days about a specific subject (course) of your choosing and you'd read the email, while drinking your coffee or having a "petit dejeuner". The duration lasts anywhere from a few days to a couple weeks. The first course will be "Smartest Animals on Earth". Then I'll move onto the "Most Powerful Empires in History".

We spend a lot of our time focusing on conditioning and improving our bodies (at least it's the same resolution I make every year) and now we can work on our brains too!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Lesson #156: No Preconceptions

I've learned to go into lessons without any expectations in terms of having a "good" or "bad" lesson. I usually make that assessment afterwards and even then, I try to accept things as they are: an opportunity to learn. This is more important this time around because for the last 2-3 lessons, I've wanted to cry after each lesson. I've been struggling with Ariel more than usual. She's a dominant mare and apparently I've been letting her get away with a lot because it's cumulated in one of the most palm-sweat inducing lessons to date.

The lesson starts with posting trot and I'm able to keep Ariel mostly in the corners. I also decided to leave the spurs out and focus on clearing up my aids instead of relying so much on artificial aids because I never needed any before. The left rein has been great and she is bang on with that one and nothing I've done seems to agitate her. Now for the canter: the rhythm is right on and everything is relaxed and clean. However, get on that right rein (specifically in canter) and she's cutting that one corner and just being a plain biznatch. Posting on the incorrect diagonal in the 'bad' corner forces her to rebalance herself and more inside leg is definitely needed but she's ignoring me and getting her way. Sheri hands me a crop/bat and says, "when she tries that trick again, tap her on the shoulder to remind her of what you want." Not only do I have to sit up more so that she doesn't speed off because of the crop but I have to prepare while getting into that corner so that I'm ready both with the correct flexion and body/seat/leg aids. There's no point to fight with her through hands since she'd win every time. As we approach that corner, she's falling in so I push the crop against her shoulder and attempt to push her back out--no tapping or slapping.

It's not an easy feat and I struggle to get it right. At this point, we've tried this several times and only partially with success and she's not at all happy with me and with a mixture of frustration and anger, she's started rejecting my requests and deeking inside at that corner so it doesn't matter what I do. What happens next is probably the most nerve-wrecking situation I've had to deal with, to date. She plain refuses to do as she's being told and in addition to the deeking, (mini-) rearing, backing up, side stepping, shaking her head, leaping into the air and ignoring anything that's being asked of her.

And pray you don't fall off!

Ariel and I are having a full on fight; a battle of the wills. And I better win because I'm not going to be very happy if I don't. Things happen very quickly and Sheri tells me, keep cantering large and speed up just a touch coming into that corner and really push her back out. In that whole mess of things, I remember fearing for my life, almost toppling over her head, getting jossled about, smacking her shoulder firmly and wanting it all to stop. Even as Sheri is firmly telling me, "Ride through it! Sit up and canter now! Bring her back to a trot ... and canter! Go go go! Don't let her stop!!" I remember responding very loudly as I zip past her, "Okay but I'm really scared right now!!!!!!!" *eeep!* Even recounting this escape makes my palms sweaty!

Somewhere in that whole mess with Ariel, we sort out our differences and Ariel snorts in submission. *THANK HEAVENS* Now I can focus on what my body is doing correctly and incorrectly. I realize that part of the issue is I'm telling her one thing and then asking for the opposite. My right shoulder actually falls in so my own body is torqued. I make a point to ensure everything is turning and going the right way even if it feels like too much. Things get better and more snorts of submission and relief.

We end the this stressful flat lesson with a lengthened and relaxed trot with the aim of having their heads low and the reins to the buckle. I slow my posting and in a few steps, Ariel slows and reaches and her head drops in a relaxed state. We then alter between seated and posting trot with the aim to "listen" to them to understand whether we are doing the right thing for them by ensuring that their heads remain low/relaxed and the rhythm remains unchanged. If they get tense at seated trot, we return to posting trot. And guess what? This mare's right on her game when she's submitting to your requests. We manage to get around and around at a even rhythm with a relaxed pace at both posting and seated trot. I do manage to get moments of that swinging motion in seated trot and it's evident when everything about Ariel remains as is and we go round a few more times.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Doesn't the Horse Do All the Work?

This is probably a question that comes up regularly for horseback riders (novice or otherwise) when speaking with non-horsey friends and family (or strangers). This post's underlying theme is a rant but I am running out of patience and, polite responses! Granted, sometimes it's genuine ignorance and they're reasonably open of the discussion we have. I have yet to meet anyone who is belligerent about the response but here's the question for you riding readers, what do you say?

Well I have to, when Deb's not paying attention!
The background to this post started with a dinner meeting in October: I met up with people who don't ride (but are physically active) and was coming from my lesson. I live in the city but these people live in the 'burbs and have really close access to riding stables and have zero (ZERO! Can we go negative points?) interest to explore the sport. We start on a bit of the usual banter and I try to avoid talking about what I had been up to. The question of where I was coming from came up casually but one of them asked "Why are you so tired and sweaty? Doesn't the horse do all the work when you ride?" I was too shocked and offended (b/c I'm sensitive, like that) to be flabbergasted. I raised an eyebrow and slowly (and calmly) replied "no". Clearly I looked like I was ready to punch them in the face so someone else piped up and asked about what it's like and what I do etc. The instigator continued to rub me the wrong way by asking things like "... that's the highest you go? (yea, because they can do more, right?)... don't you just sit up there and have the horse take you around? (because horses have become mind readers)... you like the stink of horse and poop? (oh come on. because if they haven't showered in days or weeks, they smell like roses. And everyone poops!)..."

I wish I had the cojones/balls/bullocks/chutzpah to whip out my smart phone and then make them watch this (the authors do need to get the grammar right in this vid but yea, "take that, jerkface!"):

Have a good day, everyone! :)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Another New Year...

Each new year is accompanied with people asking about new year's resolutions. I made several last year but it's evident that many of them went straight out the window quickly so I ponder the point to making them. My perspectives teeter between these two schools of thought:

This is the "better me"
This is the "crabbier me"

However, based on my review of the last year, I see that there has been a lot of progress and events so it would be a shame not to have goals and something to strive for. I break them into categories:


  • Finish all my "stuff" half an hour before I intend for bed--10:30pm bed time! (hopefully my caffeine habit will reduce too!)
  • Getting active daily (by week), minimum: yoga twice, cycling once, cardio once, get off 1 stop earlier to walk home
  • Complete a preliminary project management course
  • Complete my Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt
  • Study and successfully pass the MCAT
  • Be on time for stuff
  • Make more of an effort to get out with friends
  • Limit Facebook time to once a day, 20 minutes (this one is tough b/c I love procrastinating!)
  • Maintain a regular blogging schedule so I can aim to have a minimum of 10 posts per month
  • Decorate my new home by finding spots for all photos or other images
  • For my piano, improve enough to get to grade 4 by end of year and perfect the Christmas tunes I've been practising for the last 2 years (only around the holidays!)
  • Complete 2 more speeches in my Toastmasters ACB set


  • Clicker train Stanley in the basics and ensure he comes when called
  • Set-up the ultimate cat-terrium indoors
  • Get Stanley to wear a collar without ripping it off


  • Ride every moment of a lesson with intention--don't waste time
  • Communicate with half halts for transitions consistently to reduce that ear pinning and tail swishing
  • Participate at one adult show at Touch N Go Farms (not aiming to place--just get over nerves and gain ability)
  • Improve my hip/seat flexibility and overall fitness so I reduce/eliminate my physical short comings


That's so me.

Lots to do... and I intend to follow through this time. Resolutions 2015, watch out! Here comes the most motivated Deb yet!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Lesson #155: Aww Poop

If I thought I was having trouble with circles last time, this time was probably worse. Things started out well enough and I have been feeling it for weeks now, the stiffness or strange feelings in my body with respect to off kilter hip joints (right) and shoulders. When I ride a right rein turn, my body actually tends to torque to the left which doesn't help the turn. As well, I've noticed my right seat is doing something all its own. All these issues contribute to confusing signals for Ariel in terms of what I want her to do when we're on the right rein.

Additionally, in an effort to sit up more, I seem to sit up TOO much and my weight falls back and I end up driving with my seat so she's getting faster and faster (the complete opposite of what I want!) instead of slowing down and collecting herself a bit more. We end up zipping around the arena. The only good thing is I'm not terrified and do have enough confidence to feel like I can get her to turn when we need to and such. But, I have to try to find that "balance" between sitting up more but not pushing all my weight into the seat to drive her forward.

Not a lot of progress in this lesson... I even spent 10 minutes or so, trying to get her to complete a full 10 or 20 m circle at the walk. She was totally having none of it and was falling in, just ignoring my aids or counter bending. Needless to say, I finished up the lesson feeling kind of "blah".

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Blog Hop: 2014 Year in Review

I'm participating in the Blog Hop that +Laura of Bit by Bit initiated on her blog! She's doing a "Year in Review: 2014 and a blog hop". Like Laura, I am an adult student and don't have nearly as much experience as many of the riders in the blogisphere. I hope that this will be an opportunity for me to recognize both successes and short-comings.

WINTER (January - March)

Dark saddle pad, cremello horse
This past winter was really rough for everyone with regular dumpings of snow and super cold temperatures. Included was the ice storm of 2014 that sent many of us into the dark and cold for several days. But this never stopped any of us and we continued to ride. I worked a lot of jumping basics such as a crest release, 2 point, jump position recovery, straightness, soft eyes ahead, what it meant to land on the correct lead, better tools for adjusting trot and control of the trot through the seat/body. I ride two other horses, Quinn and Bons. I also bought my first piece of tack (no horse yet), a navy and green saddle pad, which I cleaned too.

SPRING (April - June)

The single elusive 2'9 jump that one time
Things really start to progress for my riding in the spring as I start my 2 lessons a week once the weather is nice and I am excited to continue working on my progress. We visit an A circuit stable called Forest Hill Training Centre and see how things are 'on the other side'. At my stable, I attend a clinic on showing and basic horse care for part-boarders, informally learn about the Pessoa Lunge line and head out on my first hack. I also experience my first major fall off of Ariel and I ended my diagonal jar and donated all the proceeds ($201.00) to Equine Guelph in memory of my instructor's horse who passed. I spend my first entire lesson on bareback at walk and trot and another time, get to jump a single 2'9 jump successfully! I participated in my first Blog Hop and did something different when I attended an off property clinic at Cadogan Farms to learn about le TREC.

A Le TREC exercise (I didn't get the chance to participate though)

SUMMER (July - September)

Off property at the Erin Fairgrounds
With so much happening in the spring, it's not really a surprise that things continue at full speed in the summer and I unintentionally learn the full body half halt (this has been tricky to reproduce instinctively), started my first mini-course of jumps (like under 2'?), did my first off-property lesson at the Erin Fairgrounds, bought a riding vest, brought my stirrup leathers down a hole from 7 to 6, work on a simple training level dressage test and have a very successful garden with 75% germination of the garlic planted the fall before (I also grew potato, beans and other leafy vegetables).

I've been told I clean up pretty well from time to time
In August, things take an interesting turn when Ariel is injured and I start riding other horses. I end up riding Bons (whom you're already familiar with) and a new gelding named Hank (the tank!). Hank is often a winner in the show ring and his riders place both well and frequently with him. That said, he knows his job and can anticipate certain asks of the rider, but (and that's a big but), he requires the rider to be diligent, clear and on the ball because he's lazy and sneaky otherwise; I learn to use a lot of leg in that lesson. On my blog, I participate in my second blog hop through Chronicles of a Moody Mare and blog about "a close call".

Things get REALLY busy this summer because +ADW and I get hitched in late-September. We have a lovely ceremony at the church I grew up in and celebrate on Ward's Island in Toronto. Unfortunately for me, there were not any horses involved.

FALL (October - December)

Stanley C. Panther *mew*
October had me try my hand at cleaning my grooming brushes since I figured they get Ariel (and Molson or Bons) clean so where does the dirt go? Evidently, into the brushes because they're pretty filthy when I wash them; I create this post for newbs who are looking for a way to do this. During lessons, I work on grid work and more focus on my ride into jumps and out. Sitting up recovering are my focuses as well as riding a good distance into the jump before take off. Around Thanksgiving, +ADW and I adopt a new kitten and purchase a home (literally across the street from my parents :P). Bucky gets his second Halloween photo shoot and is dressed as a crocodile this year.

Sometime in October and November, I update my blog template and continue to work on updating it to suit my needs (it's still in a state of flux). I have another eureka moment when I figure out how to 'tell' Ariel which lead to take for jumps and which way we're going (provided my ride in is good), following the jump. I encounter a dilemma about whether to attend a clinic or go to a show that my brother was telling me about... I chose the latter and missed the lunging clinic that Sheri was holding. Sheri puts out exercises that work on our distance by learning to judge (still a work in progress!) distance of jumps to see when we take off and how to shorten/lengthen strides. As if to say that it's time for me to consider pausing my 2 lessons a week, I get a flat tire late in the evening on my way to lesson and I'm fortunate that J and Sheri are such awesome people to help me get to lesson and crawl the car to the stable. We attend a Royal Horse Show at the Royal with the stable and for the first time, we watch pony racing and Ian Miller in the show jumping competition. The month's lessons were primarily focused on jumping with breaking down the distance, control, communication, leads etc. I also change stirrup irons to those flexy ones that bend for a deeper heel and a more soft impact for the knee.

+ADW and I enjoying Paris (France) around Christmas time
We take a 2 week hiatus in December to vacation in Paris where I was able to add to my UNESCO World Heritage Sites listing. While in Paris, we visit most of the major sites and eat a lot of very good food and pastries, and get lost in the romanticism that is the city of Paris. Despite going on vacation, it isn't really like me, to just stop doing 'stuff'; I collaborated again this year, with +Laura, another adult rider, on her blog posting for her series of "12 Days of (Horsey) Christmas". The posts document a series (12, to be exact!) of fun, practical and wonderful gifts for the equestrian in your life (or you!). Upon my return to the stable, I start out with a great lesson where I went in with a very determined mind-set that felt like I wasn't gone for as long as I was. However, the subsequent lessons that followed definitely left something to be desired. Granted, at this point, I have returned to riding once a week because the winter weather is in full effect so I'll be focusing on getting my fitness levels and sleep schedules in check so I'm ready for spring!


Having done this exercise to review my year, I see that I had noticable progress once I started taking 2 lessons a week. It's not that it was leaps and bounds but I felt like progress was being made (however small). I did drop all my 2014 year's resolutions it seems and will need to do better this year (more about that in a future post). A lot happened this year that were all big milestones (like getting married, buying a home, riding off-property and visiting Paris) so those certainly did interfere, but I'm not one to accept that as reasonable excuses. This past year was an incredible year full of changes and progress and I'm really pleased. That said, with all the great progress it will become my baseline and I look forward to continuing to improve in 2015!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Lesson #154: First Lesson of the New Year

I'm going to take it all as practice.

My lesson yesterday was (let's say) challenging. The day prior, +ADW and I pulled out the carpet of our new house. The house itself is not new so needed some TLC to bring it up to code and make it our own. I looked up the methods to pull up carpet and also consulted a colleague who is big on home improvements. All the sources I sought were highly informative and encouraging about what needed to be done. The only thing they didn't mention was that I'd be sore for the following days because of all the squatting, up and down stairs, the pulling and rolling and carrying... By the time our lesson came around, I was struggling to walk at a pace faster than snail speed and stand up straight.

I thought that things would be okay even though I did start with a bit of apprehension. I'm also warned that Ariel's been moody and that the ride might be just "enh, okay". The warm up was already an indication of things to come when I found myself struggling to keep Ariel deep in the corners of the arena. We're also told that our lesson plan is grid work. We move to canter and continue to get ourselves warmed up further; more difficulty ensues from Ariel. At this point, I'm having difficulty keeping my seat balanced appropriately.

Gimme carrots

By the time we move onto the exercise at hand, I was pretty apprehensive about it. Our first task is to canter through 3-4 ground poles and then take a turn back to the start. Control and decisiveness all went to crap and Ariel nearly bucks me off several times (I'm still surprised I didn't topple over her head!) at the end of the line. Now, it's not her fault completely because I'm leaning forward, my legs are who knows where and I've given control to Ariel without clear instructions in advance. On her, she should have been more forgiving (okay, I probably would have done similarly) to my poor execution since it's you know, a typical novice rider issue. I felt completely out of control again and it wasn't that I was going much faster than I've gone before but without control, it was hella scary up there. I am told to sit up, keep my chest open and up and to keep my weight back and low as I am going into the line and take a 2 point over everything and start slowing her down as I'm finishing the line and looking the direction I want to go, in advance. I also added in a small 10-20m (it was not really either...) circle before the line to get her attention and slow her down a bit.

The subsequent passes are better but she still speeds a bit. J tells me to put both reins in my outside hand and the other behind my back as I go over with 2 point. Progressively, as things are starting to look up (a bit), the poles are turned into low X jumps and finally a horizontal. Things are "better" but certainly this is not one of my better rides. I don't even get a break during the cool down: I decide to jossle my hips by riding without stirrups only to have Ariel bolt (and me yelp) as some ice slides off the roof. Hopefully this is not an indication of things to come for 2015.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to everyone their family and furry friends!

Stanley hanging out in my new (horsey) grooming tote

Stay tuned for my post about a year in review :)

Models: Stanley C. Panther
Wardrobe Consultant: me!
Photographer: +ADW 
Finished on Pixlr Express