Friday, October 9, 2015

Lesson #213: Some Nitty Gritty to Get Excited About

The best instructors are forever students and want to keep learning by keeping people around them, whom they can learn from. On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to take a lesson from my instructor's coach!! *swoon* I wasn't sure if I should since it's considerably more expensive but I justified it as a "special lesson" and that I could use it to learn more about my situation and take the information and address what's keeping me behind.

I'll be referring to him as "A" and give you an idea of how awesome-sauce he is. First thing, he's German trained and has been riding since he was a kid and was vaulting by the time he was 10--if you can do a handstand on a cantering horse... I'd say you're pretty darn good. He has a centred calmness about him so when you meet him for the first time, you're not shaking in your breeches. He also relates to his students through appropriate illustrations on what he is trying to say, so they understand. And for someone like me, his technicality and sheer focus to the lesson tasks just draws me in even more.

We start the lesson with me puttering around doing what I would normally do, so he could get an idea of how I ride, where I am etc. Sheri and J told him that I am trying to sort out my inflexible hips/back and uneven seat. Because we all know, everything comes from the seat ;)

"A", on the walk
"A" immediately gets me back to basics... when Ariel and I walk, I should be swinging my legs, in tandem with her rib cage. Legs don't just dangle there. We work on this throughout the lesson any chance we walk. I am also asked to keep at least 1 metre off the rail... this is to ensure I have Ariel's attention because it doesn't give her the chance to lean on the rail--in short, we're doing what I want us to do. I try to stay straight too... yea, good luck. Ugh.

"A", on the trot
The trot isn't so bad except as the speed increases, so does the difficulty with keeping straight. "A" reminds me that I should be using my seat, not my hands: "Ariel stepped beneath you, to stay balanced. Can you feel that?," he says. For the first time, I notice that because I'm actually looking for it. In short, it's how you use your weight in your seat that is what "seat" is all about. I am asked to take my feet out of the stirrups and trot. Immediately, both seat bones drop and now my job is to get my pubic bone properly balanced too. The three points of our "seat" is what we are balancing on and the stirrups are not meant to act as a balance point (while on the flat anyway). "A" gets technically anatomical and tells me that the horse's 14th vertebrae is where our seat should be aiming to connect, or as close as possible.

I am reminded how unusual this sport is, compared to others where the participant is getting 'traction' through their feet. Here, riders 'contact' (for the lack of a better word) through their seat and their feet are not meant to do much of anything--"A" reinforces this concept when he asks me how much pressure should be placed in the stirrup: practically nothing! Even though we are asked to drop the weight through our heels, we are not meant to use our feet as balancing points even though our brains tell us that when something is beneath us, we balance there. Phew. Overwhelmed yet? When I put my feet back into the stirrups, I am attentive about not putting much weight... and I feel the support coming from my lower legs!

"A", on the importance of correct posture
My posture is one of my biggest issues and "A" asks me to sit and "hold two pizzas, one in each hand to the side". Immediately my posture is fixed and I sit back appropriately and my chest is open. Now, without changing anything else, grab your reins. HA! I'm also reminded that if Ariel disappeared from underneath me, where might I want to land... not on my backside, that's for sure! So make sure your legs are where they need to be.

I didn't get a lot of time to work on the canter but where I did, I was reminded of the same things we talked about above. Easier said than done! Sheesh. Perhaps next time I"ll have the chance to do more at the canter.

"A", on Ariel and Deb
Imbalances in rider or horse are common. It's based on habits that we develop and we unknowingly strengthen (or loosen) something we're not intending. Hence we each have a dominant/strong side that tends to take over. It shows up in riding when two beings who have different imbalances try to coordinate with one another, physically.

Horses are inherently good and do their best to please their rider. That means that as moody as Ariel can be, it's on me to set her up for success. Otherwise there isn't anyone to blame for failures or struggles except me. Mare did fantastic despite everything!

In the end... there isn't a lot of "new" stuff that I wasn't somehow aware of at some point but rather, a way of refining what I have been taught, and a different way to look at these things. I hope that if you ride, that this little review might have been helpful to get you thinking about some of the things that you might be struggling with. And if not, hopefully this has given you a more in depth look at what it takes to get just the basics right.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Thanksgiving Mash-up Recipe

I spent the summer getting and eating the lovely greens of the garden and now is the time when we start seeing the robust root vegetables and squash. As the weather cools, I'm reminded of the Thanksgiving dinners my mom put together for us as kids. One of the most memorable dishes she makes is a butternut squash mash. To this day, Thanksgiving dinners aren't quite complete without it and this is the first year I'm having to do these types of things on my own. I thought to share the recipe!

These are not exact measurements and it's more about putting together proportions of the ingredients you enjoy.

  1. 1 small/medium butternut squash
  2. 4-6 carrots
  3. 5-7 small red potatoes (or other potato)
  4. 1 white small/medium onion
  5. 1-2 cloves of garlic
  6. 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  7. 150g cheddar cheese
  8. Salt to taste
  9. Black pepper to taste
  10. Granulated garlic powder (1/2 tsp or to taste)
  11. Ginger powder (1/4 tsp or to taste)
  12. Nutmeg (1/4 tsp or to taste)
Haul from the farmers' market
1. Gather the fresh ingredients and start cleaning them of dirt and blemishes/eyes/etc and peeling the carrots and potatoes. Note: I chose not to peel the potatoes unless there is a blemish or eye so I could keep the fibre-y bits. Keep in mind that often the best nutrients are found in or just beneath the skins so you won't want to let those go to waste (and it's good for your colon)! You'll also need a large (~6 quart) crockpot, water and your stove.

Cutting the squash can be precarious so be careful!
2. The tricky part will be to get your butternut squash peeled, opened and cleaned. Tip: I laid it on its side with the 'bulb' in my weaker hand and sliced off the stem. Then I inserted the tip of the knife into the columnar portion of the squash, lengthwise, and pushed the knife down towards the top. Once the cut is made (doesn't have to be all the way through), I pull the knife out and stand the squash upright and then take the knife and drop it into the cut and bring the knife right down to the 'bulb' and am able to slide it right open. From there, the peeler has a "grip" where I cut the stem off and I peel from top down.

Carrots, garlic, potatoes and onion
3. Then I cut everything into smaller pieces for quicker cooking and easier mashing. Note that carrots generally take the longest to cook so I cut smaller pieces and the onion cooks the fastest. At this time, I have not yet cut the butternut squash because that cooks the fastest.
Boiling phase 1

4. Add the ingredients to the crockpot and add water just until it starts covering the ingredients. Cover the crockpot and turn it on high heat to get boiling.

During this time, get the butternut squash ready by cutting it into smaller pieces to be cooked.

Cook on medium-high for ~10-15 minutes or until you can push a fork into the potato and carrot with resistance.

5. Add the butternut squash pieces and add some more water to the point where the water is halfway up the squash layer.

6. Boil for about 10-15 minutes more or until the fork easily slides into the butternut squash. At this point, you're ready to drain the pot and you can either chose to keep the broth for something else (it's great to drink if you've got a cold as its full of vitamin C and other water soluble vitamins/minerals) or dump it.

7. Grab your fork or potato masher and add in the butter and cheese. Slice the cheese into pieces so for easier melting. Mash vigourously. Include the salt, pepper and other spices as you are tiring out and mix well. Tip: if you aren't sure about the spices, take a small portion out into a bowl and play with the proportions there to see what you like. My proportions are for a full pot based on me fiddling around with a recent batch but your tastes and portions will be different than mine.

I got so excited to taste and run out the door with it (I was taking it to a pot-luck), I didn't get an image but the image doesn't do much justice to how it tastes so nothing lost there. But if you're looking to get some colour into your diet and mix things up for Thanksgiving, check this out and make it in place of your mashed potatoes!

Let me know if you get a chance to include it in your Thanksgiving menu this year and how you enjoyed it!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Lessons # 210, 211, 212: More Doldrum...

As I mentioned in the last lessons post, nothing noteworthy has been happening and so I haven't found the motivation to post anything. I continue to work on the same things as position and whatnot, over jumps but nothing significant has come out of it so far. I continue to consider the things I am not doing right:

  • I'm too handsy when I should be using seat and leg aids
  • I am stubborn about using spurs or the crop/bat
  • I find myself tending to one seatbone sometimes
  • I don't open my chest up enough in corners and don't actually turn my shoulders--hence part of the counter-bending
The only interesting thing has come out of the lessons lately is that I had the opportunity to ride the last 10 minutes or so of a lesson, on Sheri's fancy pants dressage horse, Blue. He's humongous and has so many of those "fancy buttons" like leg yielding at a touch. Riding his strides is like learning all over again b/c if I thought Bons was floaty, this guy is even more so. Certainly, we saw a lot of the issues I've been having, manifesting very clearly while on Blue because he's just SO responsive.

Hopefully if I just am continually diligent about the exercise, I'll see some improvement.