Monthly Archives: August 2011

Strengthening

As the show season here in MB has come to an end, I’ve been putting lots of energy this week into developing my strength training routine again. Yes I know I’m moving to another country in less then a week.. but I plan on keeping up with this while I’m working overseas.

The first exercise I do is called a reverse lunge. This exercise works your glute (butt), calves, quads, and hips. It’s a very good strength exercise for balance as well. I do this with my back leg elevated (about 1.5-2 ft is good, I usually use a picnic table bench or step). The picture shows a regular lunge. You should go down to approx 90 degrees. But, if this is too hard on your knees go as fas as you can. I do 3 sets of 12 on each side. Start with less reps if you are just starting out with this exercise (maybe 8 for the first couple weeks). 

Next I do side plank leg lifts. Side plank is probably the hardest exercise I have to do. Especially on my weak side. I started out doing the “half version”.

This exercise is excellent for your core (as all plank exercises are). It also strengthens your hips and outer legs, OH and balance. All key in riding. And daily life. The pictures show the half version (with “clam shell lifts”) and the other picture is the full version with leg lifts. I try to do about 3 sets of 10 reps on each side. I am now doing the full version, completing 10 lifts on my good side, and usually 6 on my bad side. I am working on strengthening my bad side by holding the side plank position longer on that side. Once again if you’re just starting out with this exercise, either do the half version for the first while until you feel ready to move up OR just to the full side plank with NO leg lifts. Even without the leg lifts the core will be strengthened! It’s important to work up at a pace where you aren’t going to overdo it.

I now move onto squats. I try to alternate muscle groups. I do a set of each exercise and then start over from the beginning. Squats are a pretty basic exercise. They also simulate the posting movement. When doing squats you want to be sure your knee isn’t going past your toe when you’re at the bottom of the squat. Also, 90 degrees is the general guideline for how far you should squat. Remember to keep your back straight and your stomach tight throughout all these exercises. Oh, and shoulders back! I do 3 sets of 20 squats. If you have access to a balance board or bosu ball, doing squats with the added challenge of balance is EXCELLENT for your core, and it definitely benefits your riding ability.

Next I do basic plank with leg lifts. This strengthens my core, glutes, hips, and the muscles surrounding my SI joint.

If you aren’t able to hold a proper plank position for more that 45 seconds without bursting into tears (it happens. Been there) Then focus on building up that strength first before adding leg lifts in. Same as with side planks. I do 3 sets of 10 reps EACH LEG. Proper plank position (as shown in pictures), your back should be even with your butt and you should be keeping your stomach muscles (core) tight. Be careful you aren’t clenching your butt too much. You want to focus on your core muscles supporting your body weight. DO NOT let your back sag towards the ground. If you need to, start out with half plank, with your knees touching the ground. Same thing though, keep your back straight and tummy tight. Work those core muscles!

Next I do bridge exercises. This is again for my back, hips, and core. Also hamstrings.

Keeping my core tight, as always, I also add in leg holds.

Your hips should stay even through this whole process. This builds stability in your hip muscles. I hold each leg straight for 10 seconds, and then switch. I do 3 sets of this 4 times each leg. The basic form of this is just holding the bridge position (first picture), and then moving your hips slightly up and down about 15-20 times. You want to be sure your back is staying immobile and your hip and glute muscles are doing all the work.

Last but certainly not least in this routine is push ups. FYI, push ups are less about arm strength and more about core strength. Certainly they do benefit your arms, but the are much more beneficial to your back and core muscles! They work all the same muscles as the plank exercises, but include the arms (if you can). Push ups are notoriously dreaded. My suggestion: If you can’t do full push ups, don’t immediately drop down to the half push up (or “girl” push up). Instead, focus on holding the starting position, with the same guidelines as a proper plank. As your core gets stronger, bend your arms to 45 degrees and work on holding the position at the lower angle. Then go to 90. Then work on pushing yourself up again. Once you can to one push up, try doing two. Etc etc. Even if you can only do 3 reps of two push ups, that’s a great starting point. In may this year, I couldn’t do one. Now I can do 3 sets of 15 full push ups. With time and determination, anyone and everyone can do push ups.

I always do atleast 20 minutes of cardio to warm up (running, biking, dancing around my house (only if I’m home alone)). Also, I do these exercises every second day. Or, three to four times a week. On the off days I either do a longer cardio work out, or just have a day off. During the busy riding season I kept up with these exercises, but at a lower intensity because of the numerous weaknesses I have in my hip, shoulder and back. You have to be careful not to overdo it. You should “feel the burn” while you’re exercising, and definitely be fatigued afterwards. Maybe even sore the next day or so. But, if you’re so sore you can’t function you’re pushing it too hard. Also don’t expect to see immediate results with any fitness routine. It takes time and dedication to see results. But it’s definitely worth it!

This is just one of my routines. I have lots of other exercises and stretches that I do as well. These, however, are the ones I’m focusing on right now. I have noticed a huge difference in my riding skill since I started some of these strengthening exercises in the spring.

Click

You know that moment where you feel everything you’ve been working on for so long just click into place? That describes this weekend. Perfectly.

Schooling rounds Thursday night were like a dream. We were there in plenty of time, the rings weren’t busy, and Will jumped around to everything on a nice gallop. We even got striding on all the schooling lines, usually we work on adding to slow Will down, but he was on such a good pace we were able to gallop up the 8/9 stride and the 6 stride with no problems.

I went into my first class Friday, picked up a gallop, and we went around the course like it was the easiest thing in the world. It was our 2’9 Jr. Ami class, we placed third in this round. Then we moved into our Sr. Low division. Same thing. Walked into the ring, picked up the beautiful gallop Will has finally figured out how to do, and had the rounds of our life. Placing fourth in the first round, 2nd in the handy, and first in the under saddle. The first round we would of placed higher except I made a tiny mistake coming into the two-stride (yes there was a two stride, and yes it was fantastic). I got him into a tight spot at the first jump and then in between I had a slight lean to the right. He of course just ran out the side, which my lean didn’t help. But, we went right back to it and he got through it beautifully. We were reserve in the Sr. Low Division, out of about 10 good horses and riders! Willard was a very good pony.

Saturday went just as perfect. Our first class was the 2’9 Jr Ami Handy round, which we won! Then the undersaddle, where we placed 2nd for another Reserve Champion title in that division. Then we went into our Open Low division. Where we had AMAZING rounds, especially the handy. I came out grinning just because it went SO nicely. We placed 4th in each class, the low, handy and the u/s for that division. We were up against some pretty good company, and everyone had great rounds.

It was a perfect way to end off our season. We could’ve competed Sunday in the Hunter Challenge, or the Derby (which had added fences such as a big castle jump and the bank, vern, and grog from the jumper ring), but it was decided that we should end on a good note and not push our luck by trying to do the derby challenge with all it’s new jumps which we’ve never done before. As much as I would’ve loved to try it (we were allowed to school over everything in the morning before the show), I know it was just as worth it to come home and be happy with how well we did and wait for next season to move up. I couldn’t be happier with my horse and everything we’ve accomplished so far.


The Partially Elevated Trot Grid

I found a book!

I got this book a few years ago at RMWF after helping work at the Horse Country Magazine booth. I never really looked at it until today, when I was feeling inspired to do more than just hack around. Flipping through I found a lot of exercises, starting with just poles on the ground, to grid work, to more challenging things such as introducing bank jumps and fixing common problems (running out included). So, I picked an exercise and set off across the yard to set up my jumps and poles and then headed out to get my horse who was loving all the grass outside, but not loving the bugs.

Willard is still the outsider here at home. The other three horses we have keep him atleast 10 feet away from them in the big pasture. They must be jealous of his mad skills. Or just scared of how big he is. Both?

Anyway, back to the point. The exercise I picked for today’s ride was “The Partially Elevated Trot Grid”. A very simple exercise consisting of four trot poles, each one elevated on one side. I started out with just basic trot poles, and actually didn’t get around to the exercise until 40 minutes into the ride as I had to get Will’s focus back on me and not on how high his head to get in the air looking for the other horses. My refocusing strategy today was very blunt. Since all Will wanted to do was prance around like a fool and over collect his neck, I decided that if he wanted to show off his energy I was going to use up some energy. So, we did laps. This gave me a great chance to work on my two point and keeping my upper body back and leg steady as we galloped for a good 15-20 minutes. After a few laps each way, I began asking him to do small collected canter circles on the short ends, and lengthen again on the long sides. Then I did serpentines with flying changes up and down the ring, then did some canter-halt-canter transitions, and then, when Will was finally ready to break to a trot, I did some more lengthen and shortening work around the whole ring. After this extensive refocusing/energy ridding warm up, he was much more compliant to what I wanted to do and much less worried about where his “friends” were.

This is the point where I started working the exercise. The benefits of this exercise are, that by raising the alternate ends of the poles, a definite straight line to ride straight through the centre of the grid is defined. This allows you to concentrate and establish your calmness, balance, and rhythm before moving on to other exercise. It also gives your horse a chance (if they meet the first elevated pole on an off-stride) to figure out how to adjust their step to stop over the poles cleanly.

The first few times I went over the grid, Will banged his way through, slightly surprised at the newly raised poles. But, after a few times through (going away from the gate) he was stepping neatly over each pole. Then I switched directions and started coming home. This changed the scenario a bit. Will was now refocusing on where the other ponies were and not really seeing the grid ahead of him. So, after a few times of him rushing through and not paying attention, I added in tight turns, or stops, or walk transitions, to get him concentrating on mea gain. Horses are sometimes like boys (ages 8-19) who have a gameboy in their hands. You have to do something dramatic to get their attention. Throw a loop into their plans every once in a while.

I used the grid as part of a circle, getting Will to bend around my leg and coming to the centre of the pole off the curve of the circle. This got him listening in no time, and I was able to end with him in a gorgeous frame and calmly chewing the bit and licking his lips. Finally. I got through to him. 

From Beach

Shot taken by Christine Budzak at Beach Party 2011. Love this picture, definitely one of my favourites of Mr. Willard.

Oxers oxers oxers!

I hacked Willard at home last night for the first time, and he was surprisingly good. I mean, take out the wild eyed looks every time we passed the corner closest to the barn and he was damn near perfect! One thing I know is going to be a challenge is working with him on an open gallop stride, as my ring is not quite wide or long enough to open his striding. I might have to move our hacks back to the grass pasture.

Tonight we trailered up to McMullans for a lesson, and Charlene and Mike had been scheming on how to fix our oxer/running out issue. They’re plan was dynamite. We started out the evening with Mike lunging Will over some jumps. Watching Mike work with horses is one of my favourite things to do. He always knows how to earn their respect, without over doing it or punishing them. The jump started out as a vertical, maybe about 2’9, with a brick box underneath on the short end of the arena. Then a back rail was added. Then the back rail was moved up to about 3ft. Then to 3’3″. Will started trying to run out a few times, but quickly realized that Mike was not to be toyed with and jumping over the jump from whatever distance he found was a MUCH better option. Next, the oxer was moved up to approx. 3’6 and Will was asked to jump it. The first few times he got himself into bad distances, but jumped out anyway. If we didn’t know he was scopey already, this was a good sign. After a few ugly, awkward jumps, he finally figured out that he wasn’t going to get a break until he did it right and didn’t mess around. The last jump was gorgeous. Nice and round, with his feet kicking up far over the back rail. At this point Mike stopped him immediately, said “good boy” and handed him over to the mercy of my hands.

After getting on and letting him chill for a bit, we promptly started up the work again. Mike told me to pick up a canter and go to another oxer built along the long wall. This oxer was maybe a bit bigger then 3ft, and decently wide with all white rails. We got into a tight distance, but Will jumped out no problem. Next, we were told to gallop down to the 3’6″ oxer on the short side. This was definitely the biggest jump I’d seen in a while, so I was a tiny bit nervous, but I didn’t hesitate. You don’t say no to Mike, and he generally knows how far to push. So off we went, and we got a tight distance, but Will jumped over the thing like it was hardly there. I actually hardly felt him jump it was so smooth. This gave me confidence for the next 6 times we hopped over it. We only had one stop over that jump, and it was because of a super deep distance. Will actually started to jump it, but decided that it was probably best to just put is front feet back on the ground. Forgivable!

Charlene then took over the lesson, and we did a course of oxers, all around the 3ft range. He carried me to each one with ease and jumped BEAUTIFULLY. I couldn’t help but smile every time he went over a jump. I wish I had video to show, but nothing can replace the feeling of a horse jumping so cleanly and round with seemingly no effort. Hopefully tonight gave Will the same amount of confidence it gave me in his ability.

To say the least, I am very impressed. And very grateful to have coaches who are as talented and insightful as Mike and Charlene.

Some “Pro” Shots from Heart

Here are some shots my dad took at Heart! 

This is how you pull muscles up the side of your stomach!

He looks so innocent...

Medal course walk with Charlene and Patti!

Three and Four Heart.

Well. It sort of got better. Saturday we competed in Sr. Low Handy, Open Low, and Adult Ami classes. My first round of these three was a gong show. We added in everything and had a rail I believe. My second round started out gorgeous. Coming to the second jump, and oxer with natural rails, a brick box, and pink flowers with the perfect pace and distance to take off, my dear boy decides to run out the side instead. We went back the second time and he jumped it nicely and went on to complete the course. Okay, well that sucked. But we moved onto our next round. Similar course, coming to this oxer. He does the same thing. He wasn’t spooking. Just casually changing direction. It wasn’t something I could feel or predict. He really did have the perfect distance to the jump. And every time, he went back very perfectly the second time and did the rest of the course with no issue. FRUSTRATING. We placed 4th out of 5 in our Adult Ami/ Non pro that day, and third in the flat portion. He was very good in the flat, probably the best flat class I’ve had all season. He was trying to make amends I think.

Hanging out at Heart!

Sunday. Medal day. Our first class was the Open Age Medal. Once again a repeat of yesterday’s shenanigans. Second jump, and oxer out of line, runs out the side. Out of nowhere. Goes back, does it perfectly the second time around and finishes the course like a champ. A douchey champ. Next class, Adult Ami/Non-Pro Medal. Starts out gorgeous, does a beautiful roll-back from three to four but runs out the side of four. Goes back perfect and does the last half of the course better then anything he’s done this year. Go figure. Even Charlene had no ideas as to why he was doing this over and over again. I can’t feel it coming, therefore I can’t predict when to correct him.  Charlene is just as confused as I am.

As you’ll see in the video, he literally just changes direction in a split second. He comes right up to the jump, and like a stride out from a great distance he just shifts over. Wtf.

Farewell Bluebear

It all started with Chicken McNuggets and a very lucky conversation almost 13 years ago.

That’s right, McDonalds is partially responsible for getting me into this sport. The summer when I was 6, on the way home from dance class I believe, we stopped at McDonalds for lunch. While I was munching away on my nuggets, my mom started a conversation with a lady sitting near us. Long story short, because I don’t want to write an essay, she name dropped Sheryl Feller and Bluebear after my mom mentioned that I loved horses. Numbers were exchanged and we both went on our separate ways. Later on that summer, my mom phone Sheryl and a day was set up for us to come out and meet some horses. Another long story short, I was introduced to Bluebear Farms, and Otis. My mom and I started out just trail riding every once in a while, then it was decided I needed some lessons as I was very confident but had zero skill. Dangerous combo. Jaimie Feller was my first teacher, on Otis of course, in a western saddle. I remember always trying to run him over. Oh, and when he asked me to drop my stirrups? I only dropped the side he could see. Or I would drop them both but grab the horn. When he asked me to let go of the horn? I took my stirrups back. I was such a good student.

Oh, and Jaimie, do you remember that time on a trail ride when you bet me a dollar to jump the caution tape in between two trees? Did I ever get that dollar?
I continued with western for a while, and then got interested in english after I saw another student jumping. Sheryl started me with that, and the first time I wanted to canter, of course I fell off. This was my first of MANY falls, and I remember Jaimie saying to me “It takes at least 7 falls to be a good rider, you’ve got one down”. I’ve stopped counting, but I think I’ve surpassed “good”.

After that I went back to the safety of a saddle with a horn. By this point my mom and I had moved to Carman and bought a small acreage with a barn and pasture. Otis was purchased from Bluebear, and my beloved boy was moved to a new home. We continued taking lessons through 4H, which Sheryl came up and taught and I also went there and rode other horses. After a few years in 4H I was ready to try english again, in a big way. I started taking lessons on Buster, and I never looked back.

This must have been when I was about 10.

 

I rode Buster in lessons, and then moved onto others such as Scottie (who has taught many a rider what leg means), Ronnie, Kazoo, Maddie the pony, Hunter, Kodak (once, and she jumped me off), and then finally my own horses. Monty was the first one I jumped.. successfully anyway. I tried with my mom’s stubborn QH gelding, Washington. From Monty we went to Flash, and from Flash we took a giant leap to Willard. Fast forward and I now am not only taking lessons at Bluebear, but I’m a boarder there as well. Will spent a year at home, where we learned about his fear of cattle, and then we moved him into Bluebear, where he stayed for 4 years until we moved him back home tonight.

So, Bluebear, and all the people involved, thank you for the past 13 years and starting my career in this sport.  I’ve learned many lessons. Including, but not limited to:

  • Not all horses can or like to jump, but trying to make them do this task makes you a better rider.
  • It takes time and patience to make braids look decent. In my case, many years of patience.
  • Learning how to fall correctly is an necessity.
  • Fly spray fly spray fly spray.
  • Rubber boots don’t pass for english boots.
  • When you hit the dirt, you dust yourself off and get back on.
  • Horses are relatively uncomplicated, people are a different story.
  • Eliminate your tracks (shaving prints down the alleyway).
  • Know which lights are the arena lights, before you turn them off.
  • Always latch gates.
  • You can learn something from every coach.
  • Horses keep us humble.
  • Wear gloves. Especially when it’s -30.
You’ll always have a fond place in my memories. I can remember the days before the nice lounge, the bathroom, the locker room, and the big paddocks. Before the menagerie of jumps, the big grass ring outside, the nice new sign. Yoyo. It was a second home to me for many summers, and tagging along with Sheryl while she went to shows or just worked around the barn was always a highlight for me. I remember going to Heart and Brandon Fair almost every year since I can remember to watch, and dream about when I would get to go into the show ring.
That dream came true, and is now continuing to evolve as I’ve moved onto bigger horses and expanded my horizons. My 10 year old self never even thought about flying around the globe to pursue this sport. Who knew.
Thank you for all you’ve taught me, and giving me the tools to go out and learn more.