Happiness over Expectations

I read a great article on Noelle Floyd this morning, written by Annette Paterakis. It had some great tips on overcoming burnout in riding, but the point that stood out to me the most was to let go of your expectations; your expectations for your show, or for your lesson, just let it go.

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And now you have this song stuck in your head.

We don’t know how any given ride is going to turn out, and trying to project lofty goals onto a ride can often result in one becoming more obsessed about the future outcome of that goal, than the present moment, your actual ride.

It is easy to become distracted by scores and placings at shows, and to make goals and expectations that revolve around them, but when we don’t reach those expectations, the resulting annoyance, frustration, and even despair can make one question what the point of riding and showing even is.

For all of my shows I have had goals and expectations, but after reading this article, I think I’ll try not having expectations. With this coming weekend being our first show of the year, I think it will be a great time to implement this new technique.

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I don’t mean that I’ll go to the show anticipating for us to do horribly, I’ll just go without having any expectations for what our scores should be, or how we should place.

I won’t focus on getting a higher score, or placing above someone. Instead, I’ll focus on why I ride: for fun and for the exhilarating freedom it gives.

Here’s to no expectations, but to happiness and having fun.

Read Noelle Floyd’s article on preventing burnout in your riding here:

I remember getting frustrated so many times with my riding career as I became more focused, and, okay – a little obsessed – with my results. I wanted to prove to myself (and maybe a few others) that I was a good rider, and I needed those baby blues as evidence. I was trapped in a vicious cycle – the more frustrated I got, the more my results went downhill…

Read the rest at: https://www.noellefloyd.com/blogs/self/dont-worry-be-happy-5-ways-to-fight-riding-burnout

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Post SI Injection – Update

It has been nearly two weeks since Hope had her SI injected, and the difference in her has been astounding.

After a first couple of ouchy days she started to improve dramatically. Her canter feels like it belongs to a different horse. It is so much more balanced, and her left lead doesn’t feel like it is hard for her anymore.

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And the only evidence I have is a tiny, fuzzy picture.

Her trot has basically stayed the same, although she does find lateral work easier now.

The change in her canter has been fantastic, but what I love seeing even more is the change in her attitude. She has always been very willing and happy to work, but after the injection she has been super obliging. She hasn’t said “no!” to anything I’ve asked, and just seems generally happier.

I’m so relieved that injecting her SI has helped and has made such a difference for her. She’s still Hope, of course, and still acts Hope-like. She still occasionally fusses with the contact, still has a tendency to go downhill, and still will visibly let me know if I’ve done something that she disproves of.

At two weeks post injection, I probably won’t notice any continued improvement, and that’s just fine with me. I didn’t think that the injection would magically make her travel more uphill, or to accept the contact 100% reliably, I just wanted to make her comfortable and to allow her to continue to teach me, which she still does everyday.

I have my fingers crossed that the effects of this injection will last the full estimated six months, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

This coming weekend will be our first show of the year, so I’m interested to see if the injection and Hope’s improved canter will result in slightly higher scores. We’ll be trying out our new freestyle for the first time as well, which is choreographed to the music from the movie The Greatest Showman. I’m being somewhat unorthodox and keeping the lyrics in the songs, but I think they suit Hope and our story. I’m not afraid of who we are, a jumper bred Appendix and a learning young rider, striving to do our best in an elite sport dominated by warmbloods and monetary influences.

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An ex-jumper who snorts and stares whenever there are jumps in the arena…

 

Maremma Mondays

Ayla and I are two weeks into her advanced obedience classes; as slightly impressive as this sounds, “advanced” doesn’t involve anything super hard or unreasonable. It’s just more manners and general obedience to turn her into even more of a solid citizen.

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This is my best attempt of getting a decent picture of Ayla and the minis. Apparently the boys forgot to take the course in photogenic-ness, but at least Ayla aced it.

This set of classes are mainly going to focus on working in a distracting environment, heeling, respectful leash walking, and further developing skills that were learned in the previous classes.

Ayla has been wonderful in these past two classes, she’s starting to get like an old pro. I can hardly believe she is the same dog as the absent minded puppy in our very first classes who had an attention span of 5 seconds and would get distracted by an imaginary worm or a phantom bug.

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And here’s a picture of Ayla in a bucket, just because.

In this weekend’s class we were working on getting her to give to pressure. It’s actually a really interesting training program that they teach, and this class reminded me of how one would teach a horse to give in to pressure. Steady gentle pressure was applied to the leash, and as soon as Ayla gave in to the pressure (i.e. stepped towards it) I released the pressure and rewarded her.

The point of this is to teach her to understand and respect gentle pressure of the leash, so that if she ever goes ahead of me while I am walking her on a leash then I just need to apply gentle pressure, which means that I’m not tugging or yarding on her leash. I found it interesting that this particular trainer actually takes the time to teach the dog how to give to pressure. I feel that a lot of other training places just teach the dog to not pull on a leash by giving the leash a tug if they ever go too far ahead without even teaching them first what pressure means.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the classes, and I’m interested to see what else we’ll learn. After these classes Ayla will officially be graduated from her obedience training. Although, I might decide to do an additional set of classes focusing on training off-leash which aren’t part of their traditional round of obedience classes. Ayla being off-leash and expected to focus on me in a field of other dogs would be very interesting. She may not listen to me at all, but I have a feeling that she’ll catch on quickly.

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A New Barn, a Lost Shoe, and an SI Injection

This past week has been fairly exciting here. The week started off with us moving to a new barn, and on our way there, we went to the vet’s clinic to get Hope’s sacroiliac joint injected.

The new barn we moved to is about 20 minutes closer to us than the boarding barn we were at, and Hope now has a huge paddock to herself that she has access to 24/7, and also field turnout with other horses (something that Hope hasn’t had in a couple of years).

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This is Hope’s new paddock. It’s ginormous, definitely big enough for her to bounce around in if she wants to.

I decided to get her SI injected because although I noticed a difference with the acupuncture, the effects didn’t last more than a couple of weeks, and the vet had said if that happened then we might want to consider doing an SI injection.

After Hope’s injection on Monday, we carried on to the new barn. In typical Hope fashion she settled in right away and started exploring her new ‘house’ and meeting her neighbours over the fence. As per the vet’s instructions, I gave her three days off and planned to ride her for the first time on Thursday.

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Even though we didn’t ride, Hope still enjoyed daily wither scratching

When I got to the barn on Thursday, Hope had graciously removed one of her shoes for the farrier, even though she wasn’t scheduled to come out for another week.

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I feel like this is relatable.

My farrier was fortunately able to come out on Thursday, but it wouldn’t be until fairly late, making me unable to ride that day. I figured it wasn’t the end of the world as the extra day off would give the injection more time to take effect.

On Friday, with Hope’s complete set of new shoes and four days post SI injection, I was able to ride her. I was hoping that I would be able to notice some difference with the injection, but I figured that there wouldn’t be any earth shattering change as Hope normally takes about a week for any treatments to take full effect.

Our ride was, to my horror, utterly terrible. Hope was tense and looking at everything, and even though I had hand walked her in the arena on previous days, she still found plenty of things to stare at. To add on to this, she felt really stiff and was not at all willing to relax or take the contact, and a couple of times she even stumbled behind. I figured that her stiffness was just because she had a few days off, and the tripping was a result of the injection and she was still figuring out how to use her newly lubricated backend. However, I did feel that we weren’t giving a very favorable first impression to the other people at the barn.

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I wasn’t noticing any positive difference in her, until we started to canter. The canter has always been the hardest gait for Hope, with the left lead being particularly difficult. But her canter felt amazing, the best it’s ever felt, even though she was stiff. I was excited to finally see some positive difference, and figured that I would continue to notice an increasing difference as the days went on.

Saturday’s ride was only marginally better than the previous day. Hope was slightly less tense, but still stiff. Her canter still felt wonderful though.

This morning I decided to lunge her before I rode her so that she could move around freely and hopefully loosen up a little more. She looked really good, and her left lead canter looked the same as her right lead. Normally her left lead canter is a little more off balanced and flailing than her right, so for it to look normal is a huge difference.

In our actual ride she was fantastic. I had never felt her so willing, so supple, and so able to carry herself and go to work. Everything didn’t just feel good, it felt easy.

I’m looking forward to seeing how she is tomorrow, and I have my fingers crossed that today wasn’t just a fluky good day. I really hope that this works for her and that we have finally found the answer to her chronic always-slight-stiffness. For now, I’m crossing all my crossables and waiting for tomorrow.

The Best Compliment

What is the best compliment that you have ever received in relation to horses? Over the years I’ve spent with horses I have gotten several compliments that stand out in my mind, however, most of them relate to me individually. The compliments have revolved around my riding position, or how I ride, and while I certainly appreciate receiving these praises, I’ve found that compliments about aspects of my horses that were brought about by me are so much more rewarding to get.

These past few weeks have revealed the best compliments that I feel I have ever received.

While I was grooming Hope in the barn’s cross-ties one day, a new boarder stopped to chat. I had known of this person through showing, and also because she breeds warmbloods for dressage, but I had never personally talked to her before.

As we chatted, she commented on how similar Hope apparently looks to one of her Hanoverian mares. She stepped back to better assess Hope and said “Wow, she really does look quite similar, and she has a lovely neck. Beautiful neck.”

I peered at her from the other side of Hope. Huh? Hope? A lovely neck? I thought to myself as I stared at Hope. When I first started working with Hope her particularly unattractive and thin neck was one of her defining features.

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One of the first pictures I took of Hope back in 2014. This is not what I’d call an attractive neck…

But as I looked at Hope, I realized that her neck had changed. It no longer had the appearance of a shapeless stick, she had developed defining muscle and a subtle arch. She no longer looked like a scrawny pasture ornament, she looked like a dressage horse.

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Her transformation has been largely brought about by my riding. Knowing that I’m able, with the assistance of my coaches, to train a horse to develop their neck is one of the best compliments I have ever been given, to know that I am able to ride in a way that positively affects my horse’s muscular development.

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The only recent picture I have of Hope’s neck is one of her wearing her birthday hat.

Another compliment that I feel blessed to have received was from a friend who doesn’t hand out compliments lightly. She was watching the tail end of my ride, and as I brought Hope to a walk and came along side her, she said “She’s looks lovely for a horse her age, I never would guess that she’s 20, she doesn’t look a day older than 12! You’re a credit to your horse.”

The phrase “you’re a credit to your horse” filled me with more joy and satisfaction than a hundred first place ribbons ever could. For it to be visibly obvious that I do my best to care for Hope shows that I must be doing something right.

For me, the best compliments I can get when it comes to horses aren’t the ones that praise me for how I look on a horse, they’re the ones about my horses whose changes were brought about by me.

What is the compliment that you have gotten that you hold most dear?

 

No Problems, Only Solutions

Some rides just don’t go as planned, and for me, today’s ride was one of them. Hope has been really good these past few weeks and we’ve been steadily improving without any bad or iffy rides, this seemed to make the ride today even more annoying because we have been doing so well.

I was tired and Hope was tight and somewhat uncooperative. Easy movements and exercises felt like effort, and movements that normally require effort felt impossible. Trot serpentines and downward transitions felt rushed and stilted, transitions to canter were downhill and strung out, and any chance of a flying change or canter pirouette went out the window.

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A relaxed trot in a lengthened frame? Not gonna happen.

The more I tried to get Hope to comply with what I wanted her to do, the tighter she got, and the more frustrated I became.

I brought her to a walk and lengthened my reins, allowing us both to have a mental breather. I was thinking about just ending the ride there, nothing was getting better and I doubted it would suddenly start to improve, but I didn’t want to end on such an unpleasant and out of tune note.

As we meandered about the arena, I tried to think of a good way to try and salvage our ride. And then I remembered. I remembered why I even do dressage. I do it because I love it, and because I have fun doing it. Today I wasn’t having any fun.

I picked up my reins and gathered Hope up, thinking of the movements that both of us enjoy: trot and canter extensions.

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Not a stellar extension, but you can see how much Hope and I enjoy it.

I asked Hope to trot and we did a couple of ten meter circles, then I steered her across the diagonal and asked her to lengthen her strides. She plowed forward, rushed and downhill, an unfortunate sensation that doesn’t instill any feeling of fun. I asked her to come back, half-halted and gave with my inside rein, and I then asked her to extend her strides down the longside of the arena. She obliged. She pushed forward and lengthened her strides, her trot becoming larger and cadenced.

I asked her to canter, and at the next longside to once again extend her strides. She thundered forward, her large ears perked forward. We went across the diagonal and I asked her for a flying change. She swapped behind, changed back, and then gave me the full change. Shoddily executed.

I asked her to extend down the next longside, and then brought her towards the short diagonal. I pushed her forward and asked her for shoulder-fore to be straight, and then asked for the change. Bang on.

We went across the next short diagonal and I rode her forward in shoulder-fore, then I asked for the change. She jumped through in the following stride, straight and clean.

I brought her down to a walk and called it a day. I’m so happy that we were able to turn a ride that started out inharmonious into a fun ride. It wasn’t what I had planned, which was to work on our pirouette canter and 1/4 turn canter pirouettes, but we didn’t finish the ride frustrated and annoyed like it had begun.

When I was grooming Hope in the barn after our ride, a friend said, in a conversation completely unrelated to horses, that “there are no problems, only solutions”. I was struck by how true this statement is. It wasn’t a ‘problem’ that Hope and I were having a bad ride, but it was a situation that had to be solved, and we solved it.

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Maremma Mondays

It looks like Maremma Mondays are turning out to be a biweekly thing, so without further ado (what the heck even is an “ado”?), here is the second installment of Maremma Mondays.

Ayla doesn’t fall into the stereotypical category of guard dog. I’m sure that the most common stereotypes that come to mind when you think of a guard dog may be a sleek coated, no-nonsense Doberman, or perhaps a large and steadfast German Shepard, but Ayla is a little bit different.

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Her large and fluffy white appearance has earned her the title of my small polar bear. As she sits in the pasture surveying her domain, she looks far from threatening. The wind fluffs up her fur and she playfully chases after it, or perhaps checks the perimeter for any stray beetles.

Despite her fluffy exterior, she is a ferocious guardian if anything suspicious comes too close to the minis. Even though she does have a very strong guarding instinct, she still finds time to be goofy and she is sure to have a smile ready to appear on her face at any time.

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That’s one of the things I love about her. She always manages to make me smile, if not with her own version then with her antics.

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She always knows when I had an annoying day and tries, and manages, to make me laugh. She knows just what to do to make me smile, whether that’s doing a dance around a beetle, barking at a carrot, or making awkward and silly faces.

I’m sure that Ayla sounds like a lot of other dogs, she might even sound a bit like your own dog. That’s the wonderful thing about dogs, they always seem to be able to make us feel better. I appreciate this gift that dogs appear to universally have so much more now that I have Ayla. She has made me see that even after an annoying day, a smile and a good laugh makes things seem less annoying.

Appreciate your dogs and their efforts to make you smile. We’re so blessed to be able to have these creatures in our lives.