Blog .:. September 2006 16 Entries

More Power

30 September 2006 Comments

For the past few weeks, we’ve been concentrating on really riding the horse up into the bit. Not, let me be clear, creating a headset with the reins and then trying to catch up with the rear end. I start with a working-length rein and ride forward-forward-forward until the horse steps up through her back and reaches into the bit–she’s the one who takes up the slack in the reins, and, if the word doesn’t make you cringe, she’s the one who creates the frame.

All I have to do is maintain the contact and remind her to keep the energy coming forward.

“All” I have to do. *snort*

It’s a completely different trot when we get it: her step is larger and more powerful, but it feels like there is more room in the arena because she’s straight and listening to the aids. There’s time to adjust little things, without worrying about the big things. And although it can take a lot of work to get her to really move forward, once she’s there, maintaining is easy. (Not true of all horses, unfortunately. The super-cute gelding I rode this week will actually step up fairly well when you ask him to, but you better have legs of steel to keep him going forward. Ye gads!)

Although I know I’ve had this trot before, it’s been so long it feels like the first time again. And I finally have a glimpse of why upper-level riders can be so motionless on their horses: when the horse is engaged behind, and pushing through the back, and reaching into the contact, the rider doesn’t have to half-halt them to death to maintain the frame, or constantly cue with the leg to maintain straightness. The cues can be focused on creating the next movement and not correcting errors in this one. Right? I think so.

And it’s not at all the same thing as riding a hot, forward horse–in that case, you spend as much time rating the forward motion as you do trying to push a cooler horse up into real engagement. With the mare, who is a little cooler and takes convincing to get her to engage, once she’s engaged she actually needs very little leg to maintain. And the hotter gelding I rode actually slowed way down and started stretching out his stride once he engaged–vs. his earlier quick, frantic trot. But he took much more leg (reassurance) to maintain the engagement than the cooler horse. I doubt that’s true across the board for hot/quick vs. lazy/cool horses, but it was interesting to ride both types and feel real engagement on both types.

I also love how subtle my aids can be once the horse is engaged. We were reversing through the circle and it was finally a case where the “close the fingers on this hand, now close the fingers on the other hand” actually worked to create fluid, balanced turns and changes of bend in the reverse. Except for closing my fingers, the rest of my body could stay still and centered.

It’ll take time before I’m able to consistently maintain the back-to-front engagement, but it’s great to have had that feeling again. And to have had moments where I felt like the horse was truly on my aids and I was riding, not harassing or nagging her through an exercise.

My trainer has been telling me forever to “love” the forward trot, and I finally really get why: the next step up from “forward” is “engaged,” and an engaged trot is something to truly, truly love.

Tagged: Horses

So: the whole riding thing

26 September 2006 Comments

I know you’re wondering: I talk big, but can I actually ride?

Well, yes. And no.

My background as a junior rider was solid enough: at home, I was training all Second Level dressage movements and riding around 3’ and 3’3” courses (hunter, jumper, and eq style). But in the show ring, I’d say I was solid at First Level and the 2’9” to 3’ fence heights. I did show Second my last year–a little before the Super Saint and I were ready, but we learned as we went. And I did show a few courses at 3’3” with one of my trainer’s horses, but they were remarkable only because my show nerves didn’t get The Horse of Many Names and I killed.

Then off to college, where I jumped around at 2’6”-2’9” forever. And ever. Until I was bored to tears with the fence height. Of course, there were mitigating circumstances, like my tendency to injure myself. And my irrational fear of fences higher than 3’. I am deeply sympathetic to horses who think there are alligators in the bushes, because I am convinced there are alligators in the gap between the 3’ and 3’3” holes on jump standards.

As all re-riders know, however, previous accomplishments mean jack squat after you take time off. It’s all very well to know how to ask for a shoulder-in, but it’s another thing to convince your hips to do this and your shoulders to do that while your arms do this other thing and your eyes are looking out the back of your head. My body’s just not convinced it’s really supposed to move like that.

I’ve also discovered that my injuries during college have taken a higher toll on me than I expected them to. The problem was my back: the problem is always my back. And the riding program at my college is not to blame. Actually, funny but true: the swim team is. I know. Everyone says swimming is great for your back. Well. I pulled my back out freshman year on the swim team and it’s never been the same since. Not that it’s ever been great; I think I was born with an eighty-year-old’s back.

But with three years off riding, my back had finally reached a point where it didn’t hurt all the time. Or even most of the time. It only hurt when I did something stupid, like attempting a head stand and then falling over onto a chair. Now that I’m riding again, I find I’m very protective of my newly-healed back. As much fun as jumping is, it’s also where I tend to injure myself: the horse jumps funny, or takes a long distance I’m not ready for, or looks at the distance I’m riding for and thinks Are you kidding me?! and stops so I can get an up-close-and-personal view of the insane distance… and suddenly there goes my back again.

Better not to jump. I realize injuries can happen on the flat, but the point is: they happen to me over fences. The only time you’re going to see me going over a jump now is if the horse I’m riding decides to exit the dressage ring at B.

Which brings us to where I am today, about a year after I started re-riding. I take lessons about once a week. It’s all I can manage right now. For the last year, I’ve mostly done walk-trot. Hee. I never expected to call myself a walk-trot rider again. It’s not that I can’t canter, or won’t canter, or don’t want to canter–I do–it’s that I want–and my instructor knows I want–to ride the horse correctly for dressage. As a teen, I think I “needed” to canter. You know: more speed, higher fences (but not too high! Alligators!). Right now, I “need” to find my right leg and stop trying to fix everything with the left rein.

Even though I’m a walk-trot rider (heh. No, really, I’m laughing. It’s just so funny to me), what I’m doing is far more technical/detailed that what I did at, say, college, where the emphasis was on long, low, and forward, and not so much on precision. It’s a different kind of progress, but it is indeed progress.

Not that you would have believed it if you had seen me after my last lesson. I got off and felt like that time I hadn’t been riding for a year and then took my cousin’s big, round quarter horse out for a three-hour trail ride. With no stirrups. And lots of trot. My cousin came home and found us standing in the yard. Wanted to know why I wasn’t getting off. I had to admit that I couldn’t lift my leg over the saddle’s cantle, since I didn’t have a stirrup to push up against and my thighs were done. Dead. Lying on the street somewhere in protest and awaiting relief from the U.N.

You’d think after a year of re-riding I wouldn’t be getting that sore still, but with only one lesson a week it’s an all-or-nothing deal. Besides, I’m sure it impresses all the junior riders when I gimp around the barn for the next hour. Shows how dedicated I am. Right?


Tagged: Horses

Ahem. A game. Am I the only one amused?

25 September 2006 Comments

I saw this on TWoP, originally, but I’m adapting it for books. So. Come up with one famous literary quote for each letter of the alphabet; don’t cheat and look up an alphabetical quote list. Rack your brain until you remember a line. Once you know the line you want to quote, then you can look it up and make sure you have it (and the author!) right. You can count itty words (a, an, the, it’s, etc) as the starting letter or not, however it’s most convenient.

  • All that you held most dear you will put by and leave behind you; and this is the arrow the longbow of your exile first lets fly. Divine Comedy, The Paradiso, Dante
  • Because in times like these, / to have you listen at all, it’s necessary / to talk about trees. What Kind of Times are These?, Adrienne Rich
  • Call me Ishmael. Moby Dick, Herman Melville
  • Do not go gentle into that good night. / Old age should burn and rave at close of day:  / Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Do Not Go Gentle , Dylan Thomas
  • Exegi monumentum aere perennius. (I have built a monument more lasting than bronze.) Odes III.30, Horace
  • Forever his spirit will wander / Cold and alone as the sea / His voice ever scatter the seagulls / But never again shatter me. Untitled, Michelle Bainbridge
  • Godlings are born racily. // They are excavated / Into life by the strong licks / Of the world-cow, suckled / By goats, mares, wolves. Nativities, U.A. Fanthorpe
  • Had we but world enough, and time, / This coyness, lady, were no crime. To His Coy Mistress, Andrew Marvel
  • It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
  • (In) Just- / Spring when the world is mud- / lucious the little / lame balloonman // whistles far and wee In Just—, E. E. Cummings
  • Kings may come, and kings may go. / What was I, to bring these low? The Book of Good Counsels, an old Hindu text
  • (The) Lady, or the Tiger? The Lady of the Tiger, Frank Stockton
  • My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: / Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair! Ozymandias, Percy Bysshe Shelley
  • No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. Meditation XVII, John Donne
  • Oh paint me / again, and badly, so that I / may seem unreal. O Painter Who Painted Me, Juan Ramon Jiminez, trans. Eloise Roach
  • Pity this busy monster,manunkind, // not. pity this busy monster, E. E. Cummings
  • Quoth the raven, “Nevermore!” The Raven, Edgar Allen Poe
  • Roman, remember by your strength to rule / Earth’s peoples—for your arts are to be these: / To pacify, to impose the rule of law, / To spare the conquored, battle down the proud. Aeneid, Book VI, Virgil (trans. Robert Fitzgerald)
  • Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate. Sonnet 18, Shakespeare
  • Twas brillig, and the slithy toves / Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: /  All mimsy were the borogoves, / And the mome raths outgrabe. The Jabberwocky, Lewis Carroll
  • Up the airy mountain / Down the rushy glen / We daren’t go a’ hunting / For fear of little men. The Fairies, William Allingham
  • (A) Victory is twice itself when the achiever brings home full numbers. Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare
  • Water, water, everywhere, / And all the boards did shrink. / Water, water, everywhere, / And not a drop to drink. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Coleridge
  • (In) Xanadu did Kubla Khan / A stately pleasuredome decree Kubla Khan, Samuel Coleridge
  • You do not do, you do not do, / Any more, black shoe. Daddy, Silvia Plath
  • (When) Zephyrus eek with his sweete breeth / Inspired hath in every holt and heeth / The tendre croppes… Canterbury Tales, Chaucer

Edit: I admit it: I had to Google the “V” quote. I just couldn’t think of a good quote starting with V. And I had to stretch to get some of the others in—Z is not the best quote from Chaucer’s prologue, and I feel bad about the (In) Just—bit of J, since the (In) is crucial to the line. I also decided to stick to the first quote for each letter that I came up with, so some of them are pretty bad—and I thought of better ones later. Oh well.

Interesting exercise, anyway. Try it. Go on; I dare you. (And good luck with X. *snicker* Xanadu was easy: what are you going to do?)


Hummer advertisement: Huh?

24 September 2006 Comments

The Hummer people have this online advertisement that is something like:

Picture 1: Some guy with a briefcase. The caption says “How to turn $XX,XXX into a Hummer.” $XX,XXX is whatever price a Hummer is; I don’t know and don’t care because it’s an ugly car. Besides, you could buy a nice horse for that price.

Picture 2: The guy walking away from some sort of screen thing; basically, there’s more background visible now. No Hummer in sight. I suspect this is related to some pop-culture magic act that I know nothing about. It just looks stupid to me.

Picture 3: Some other picture. I forget it.

Picture 4: The same shot as #2, with a Hummer in it.

I mean… what the hell?

It doesn’t take a magic trick to turn $XX,XXX into a Hummer, which is what the commercial seems to be implying. Give me a suitcase full of $XX,XXX and I could turn that into a Hummer. It’s called buy-ing. People do it. All. The. Time. You hand over cash, the salesperson hands over the goods. It works just as well for a fifty-five cent candy bar as it does for an $XX,XXX-priced Hummer.

Gads. I hate marketing and advertising departments. Bunch of idiots. Except the Nissan people who came up with the “Shift” commercials; those I sort of like. It has nothing to do with the fact that my car is a Nissan. I swear it doesn’t.

Tagged: Advertising & Marketing

Good Reading

21 September 2006 Comments

Having nothing else to read, I pulled what I thought was my mother’s old Ruth Fielding book off the shelf. If you’ve never heard of Ruth Fielding before… it was a book series along the lines of the Trixie Beldon books. What? No Trixie Belden in your past, either? What about Cherry Ames? Good grief, you were deprived.

Fine. Nancy Drew. That sort of series.

Got it? Anyway. This particular Ruth Fielding book was first published in 1915 and was given to my grandmother in 1929, when she was ten. She gave it to me in 1990, when I was ten, with a note that says the book is “60 years old, but I’ll bet it’s still ‘good reading’.” It is; I love these sorts of books.

What I find particularly interesting about the book at this moment, however, are the ads at the back, which are for various similar book series. Some representative samples:

From Washington the scene is shifted to the great oil fields of our country. A splendid picture of the oil field operations of today.

An up-to-date college story with a strange mystery that is bound to fascinate any girl reader.

May Hollis Barton is a new writer for girls thoroughly up-to-date in plot and action. Clean tales that all girls will enjoy reading.

This new series of girls’ books is in a new style of story writing. The interest is in knowing the girls and seeing them solve the problems that develop their character. Incidentally, a great deal of historical information is imparted.

[...] and introduces a new type of girlhood.

Since the enormous success of our “Motor Boys Series,” by Clarence Young, we have been asked to get out a similar series for girls. No one is better equipped to furnish these tales than Mrs. Penrose, who, besides being an able writer, is an expert automobilist.

Her sunny disposition, her fun-loving ways and her trials and triumphs make clean, interesting, and fascinating reading.

While I’m not surprised the quality of writing is stressed, I do find it interesting that so much stressed is placed on “new” writing styles. It makes me wonder how juvenile literature was changing in the early 1900s, although not, perhaps, to the extent of actually researching it. Also the focus on “clean” stories: not surprising given the publishing date (1915), but for some reason I wonder if it’s connected to WWI. Couldn’t say why that question even pops in my head. The emphasis on historical information also makes me sort of laugh, if only because today the popular juvenile literature seems to be most fantasy stuff: magical mystical wizards and what not.

How times change.

And yet… while I thoroughly enjoy the book series my grandmother read as a child, I’m not convinced she would have enjoyed the books I read.

Old-school Nancy Drew: not so bad. The Murder Mystery series? Junk. Anne of Green Gables? I don’t even know when that was published, but I think my grandmother would have approved, actually. The Babysitter Club? My god. I don’t even like the Babysitter Club.

The Limberlost books—now there was a series. My grandmother was named after the main character; she gave me a copy of the book for that reason.

Do people still write books like these? I really have no idea; for some reason, I have this image of kids growing up on Babysitter Club junk-food and Harry Potter-fantasy and never getting the equivalent of a nice, healthy apple.


So sad that I’m going down to the garage right now, where I believe a box containing the Trixie Belden books is hiding.

Somebody has to read properly.

Tagged: Anne of Green Gables series by Montgomery, Babysitter Club series, Books & Reading, Cherry Ames, Clarence Young, Gene Stratton-Porter, Girl of the Limberlost by Stratton-Porter, Harry Potter series by Rowling, J K Rowling, Lucy Maud Montgomery, May Hollis Barton, Motor Boys Series by Young, Mrs Penrose, Nancy Drew, Ruth Fielding, Trixie Belden

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