Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Importance of Being Earnest

Greetings and Salutations to all of my Bastian's adoring fans. It's been a few months since our last post-honestly there wasn't much to report and it's important for me that each blog post be original and contain something new and exciting. So buckle in kids, here we go... ;)

Honestly, things got pretty rough there between March and the middle of May. I was on a slow downward spiral of Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas. Seriously though, I was not at all mentally in the game. I was letting Bastian get behind my leg; that totally makes sense because if he's going slower it won't be as scary. WRONG. I was finding silly reasons to not ride, for example if he blinked three times while I was putting his bridle on. Okay, maybe it wasn't that silly, but it might as well have been. He would blink and I'd be like "oh, he's not feeling 100%, I think I'll just lightly lunge him." WRONG move again. I was questioning everything, including whether or not I should even own Bastian (or any horse for that matter).

I saw what was happening and I did nothing to stop it or change it. I was creating Bastian's lack of confidence, I was making him spooky because I was spooky. He was NEVER like this before. N.E.V.E.R. Never. Get it? It was me. I'm known a lot of different horse people in my life and like many of you, I've met the horse owner who is scared of their horse. They make life dangerous for themselves, their horses, and for the rest of us equestrians who happen to be around them. Horses are dangerous-it's as simple as that. In order to lessen that danger, one has to act confidently, calmly and logically. If you take away any one of those three elements, you start to increase your chances of getting seriously hurt. I was still calm, but I had abandoned confidence and logic. Bastian is an amazing horse, he wants to work and he wants to do well, he tries very hard despite the mixed messages I give him to figure out what I want him to do and he does it. But he needs my confidence-as soon as I start to question whether or not that one corner of the arena is really safe to trot through-I mean a bird might fly down from the rafters or maybe the light coming through the window might shift and it could cause problems...he tunes in and says, "OMG, mom thinks this corner is scary and if she's worried, then I better be worried too...oh my...bird! Duck and run, duck and run!"

I always swore I wouldn't be one of those riders and when I was a kid, I definitely wasn't. I did all the crazy stuff that horse kids did, but I was never afraid. Over the past several years, I've fallen and had some major injuries, but I was never afraid to get back on. I analyzed what happened (logic) and then made sure to not do it again. For example, I was jumping 2'9" in lessons with Kristin at one point-it was amazing,

(A classic example of a fence I WILL NOT be jumping)

but if Bastian over-jumped a fence I would completely lose my position because I had no leg to balance off of and I would sometimes come off. Therefore, I no longer jump very high because the chances of him over-jumping a 2 or 2'3" fence are way less likely. But something shifted after I fractured my hip last November and I spent every ride between December and mid-May waiting for the Boogie man to jump out at us. I was seriously considering parting ways with my beloved B permanently. I was ruining him and he deserved to live a happy life running XC with some kid who had more balls than brains, not with me turning him into a spooky-mooky.

I gave myself a time limit. I also can't stand when people are faced with important, life-altering decisions and they just keep putting it off. Guess what folks, it is never going to change until you make a decision (for the record, deciding to do nothing does not count as decision). So I said you either get it together, or take up a new hobby, under-water basket weaving perhaps? Happily, I can report that I never made it to the final days of my time limit. Here is how it went down:

Riding Quest Stables hosts clinics with a fabulous clinician, Patrick King. (Whom I highly recommend by the way) I signed up to ride in a 1-hour private on Saturday. I started riding, pussy-footing around the arena as usual and hoping that Bastian didn't decide to spook at something stupid, causing me to fall off. Long story short, (too late!), I ended up having about a 20 minute psycho-therapy session with Mr. King. I explained my mental anxiety and he asked me why I still rode. That is a complicated answer. The short version is this:

1)I love it

2) I've spent so much of my life doing this, I don't know how to do anything else

3) It's my own form of freedom-I walk, slowly, with a limp. I can't run, jump, stand on my tiptoes, skip, jog, or do anything of the things that a "normal" human being can do anymore. When I ride, I get to forget that because I can trot, I can canter, I can jump and (I know its cheesy-bear with me!) I can forget for a moment that physically I am broken and damaged beyond repair.

For humours sake, we discussed what I would do if I didn't ride and I decided that I would become the crazy dog lady who sits at home and I would just play video games all day (which as a side note, now that summer is here, I'll be finishing Assassin's Creed and beginning Mass Effect..yup, I'm just awesome like that). Regardless, being the crazy dog lady who plays video games just wasn't appealing to me (I would also be rich....). So Mr. King told me what I needed to hear and then I rode.

What were his words of wisdom? I'll give you the politically correct version: "Get you head on straight and ride your horse." That's the PG version. It worked. He had me focus on riding-getting him forward and listening to my aids and riding correctly. Oh equitation how I loathe you! By the end of my hour, Bastian was FANTASTIC! He never once batted an eye or looked funny at a corner (we rode repeatedly through the 'scary' corner of the arena). This became my homework-just ride transitions. Count the strides, half halt, equitate, transition, count the strides, equitate, transition, rinse, lather, repeat. Honestly the hardest part for me was the counting (Masters Degree in English, remember? Failed college math 3 times? yeah, that would be me...). But every ride after that, transitions have become our focus and guess what, it totally worked.

Bastian is now in front of my leg 98% of the time (I mean, he is lazy and I get a 2% pass card because he ignores my leg a lot of time because it's all over the place). When he starts to lose his focus, I transition and he's like "oh, right, we're working, what's happening next mom?" Because he's forward he's steadier in the bridle, he's engaging his hind end more, he's basically been pretty awesome. And I am mentally there. I'm not checking out and hoping that it all goes to plan when I get on. I ride every stride. Sometimes I still ride those strides poorly, but I am riding them and that is half the battle. Make a decision, every step of the way, more leg, half-halt, outside rein, touch of the whip, wiggle the pinky...Assess, act, assess, act, assess, act.

I think I was riding in/watching a clinic with Stuart Pittman when I heard "a horse never minds a forward mistake." I've kept this in the back of my mind (even though I wasn't applying it)-forward is never wrong with a horse. Engage. Forward. Kick on. Go. Its good advice and Bastian and I have been living it the past few weeks.

My second epiphany was getting to have a schooling session and mini-lesson with Kristin Stein. I haven't ridden with her for nearly 3 years, since she moved her business to Akron, OH. She was passing through and I was able to set up a lesson with her. A., she was pleased with Bastian-I was thinking he was going to be super wonky and she was going to be like what the hell have you been doing, but she complimented him and was pleased with how he felt (yay!!) and B., she made me aware of the equitation flaw that was really causing me problems-I wasn't balanced correctly over my thighs. I was putting way to much weight in the back of the saddle and wasn't sticking with Bastian's motion and momentum, causing me to stress his already weak back and cause lots of not so pretty riding moments. After just a few minutes I was exhausted. Riding correctly is hard work. ;)

We also discussed how weak I was overall. I hadn't realized just how much of my core and back strength I had lost when I fractured my hip and spent two months on the couch (playing video games!). Up to that point, I had a fairly intense core, and then, poof, it was gone. So since my lesson with Kristin I have doubled up on my daily Core/Ab workout. The difference (after the initial three days of barely being able to move) has been phenomenal. I am slowly getting more stable through my core and that in turn is making me more effective while riding. My back is my weakness at the moment, there are some crazy crunches that Debbie Rodriguez makes you do on the SITS DVDs and my back muscles give a resounding no. But we're working on it.

This is a long blog post, I know, stick with me, we're almost done. Bastian has been and will continue to be an amazing horse for me. He has taught me so many things and through him, I have truly become a horseman, not just a rider. The lesson of the past few months is that you need to be earnest in your endeavors, you can't go in half-heartedly and expect things to turn out well. Be truthful in your riding abilities, realize the impact that your mental state has on them and act. Don't wait for bad things to happen, ride pro-actively, keep your focus. Earnestness results from showing sincere and intense conviction; be sincere in your riding and intense in your convictions that you can and will do it correctly.

We're less than two weeks away from our first (and likely only) show this season. We're headed to the Lake Erie Dressage Derby, where we will be showing First and Second Level. I'm pumped, it's going to be a hoot and they are offering TIP awards! I'm already starting to pack...I promise to update after the show! Until then, Bastian wants to remind you that all fan-mail that does not include mints need not be sent. ;)

P.S.~ if you have the chance, check out the play The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde-its amazing.