It's already Tuesday and I meant to get to this sooner but time escapes me. I hate weekends. Either I can’t manage my time very well or there is just too darn much to do to try to cram into two days. But let me start over. I love weekends that are like this past weekend. Saturday was a splendid day for JB and I.
My weekend started out with an early Saturday morning dressage lesson with my instructor, Nisca. Once a month , she travels to this area and once a month , I meet her for an hour session. The lessons were being held at Herron Park, the same place the Blacktail Mountain Classic endurance ride was last weekend. I mentioned in an earlier post that Herron Park used to be the site of the local eventing club and hosted many 3 day events. Therefore there are two dressage arena’s with decent footing, a cross country course and access to miles of trails. I love having lessons at Herron Park because after the lesson is over , I can take off and go do a few miles of trails to get in some great trail and condition time. Or take a few small jumps. The opportunities are endless!
Hauling over there meant that I had to get up extra early to make sure JB had a full belly before his day of work. The lesson was scheduled for 9:00 a.m but I like to get there about a half hour to an hour early so I have time to warm up before hand. I knew after the lesson, we would take advantage of the trails.
Ofcourse, we werer running later than I wanted and by the time we arrived, , I was feeling a bit rushed. I wrestled on JB’s easy boots , mounted up and headed down to the where the arena was , on the other side of the park. As we made our way , a dog caught sight of us in the distance (the park is frequently used by hikers, bikers and dogwalkers as well) and was now running towards us. Visions of a dog/horse collision ran through my mind and thoughts of the recent situation Tamara of In the Night Farms began to make my heart jump a bit. The owner, far off in the distance was calling the dog back but it was of no use. The dog was far more interested in this large animal coming it’s way. The dog appeared to be a lab cross of some kind and seemed to just be coming to say hi. I continued to stay our course and the dog kept coming. JB and the dog were now locked in on eachother. JB isn’t afraid of dogs but he is not particularly fond of them either. His stallion instincts tend to kick in a bit. He will attack a dog given the right opportunity , even his own dogs. The dog slowed as it approached and JB pinned his ears and swished his tail. The dog made a wide circle around us a few times to try to figure things out. I tried to keep JB on our slated path , towards the arena. The dog continued to stay near, now dashing back and forth in front of us, behind us and around us like a little yellow bullet. JB was , if anything, as irritated as I was at this distraction and ofcourse the dog was now his main focus. I could still hear the owner yelling for the dog and the dog continued to ignore his attempts to retrieve her.
If I was nice, I wouldn’t have ridden over to the owner , delivered the dog, politely informed the dog owner of the risks he creates by allowing his dog to run after livestock, and then go about my way.
I was not feeling nice at the moment.
I was feeling down right irritable.
So instead ; I kept riding right past the owner as the dog followed me....
Ok, I admit, it was a bit defiant.
But , I gave the owner every opportunity to catch his dog and he didn’t. The owner attempted to grab the dog once , yelling at him to come back but the dog had the " ignore owner" trick down to a science.
JB, myself and our new friend now made our way to the arena. Right about then, I thought “ I bet this dog, would follow us if I picked up a nice trot and headed up the trails". Maybe it would teach the dog owner a good lesson, watching helplessly as his dog disappeared into the woods with a stranger. As it was, the owner didn’t seem to be too concerned as he stood at the top of the parking lot and never bothered to actually come retrieve his animal.
I had just about decided to go ahead with my plan when the dog and, moreso the owner, was saved by the bell.
Right about then Nisca arrived and shouted out to me
“ Hello, I see we are tense today!”
“Yep, dog kind of set things in motion for us today” I replied.
Nisca could see that I was struggling to get JB’s mind on the task at hand. Ofcourse, who couldn't see that. He was more concerned about which direction that darn dog was going next. We moved around with his head up high , tense back , kinda like a camel. Needless to say, she caught us in less than a pretty moment! Thankfully, the dog finally hightailed it back to the owner , seemingly satisfied and apparently growing bored with us .
Ofcourse, the remnants the dog left behind would sabotage the first half of my riding lesson. I spent the first 15 minutes of the lesson getting JB to refocus on anything but “where is that dog”.
Once we got back to work mode, Nisca pointed out that she noticed that as JB went around the arena tense, hollowed back, so did I. "Really??? I am surprised you noticed" I said and laughed.
OK- I give..... it was time for a refresher course on my tendency to hollow my lower back in times when JB is already tense.
Have you ever tried breathing into your lower back? Unless your familiar and good at yoga, you might find it as difficult as it sounds. Needless to say, Nisca stood on a step stool next to me while I was in the saddle on JB and we worked on correct breathing.
Boring you say??
Just try it and you might find it one of the most frustrating things you have attempted in a while. The concept sounds simple enought but apparently the tensions of life teach us to only breathe using the tup third of our lungs.
Your probably saying, OK, so what does breathing have to do with tensing my lower back , right?
Wait for it....
When I don’t breathe correctly, I don’t soften my seat correctly. When I don't soften me seat and lower back correctly, I hinder the space he can lift his back into. In order for my horse to soften and lift his back , he has to have a place to lift into. Tensing and hollowing my back get in his way.
This concept isn't anything knew for me but doing it consistently tends to elude me.
So , how do I fix it?
Here is the sequence of events that Nisca took me through to get on the right path...
1. First, position yourself to allow the correct breathing. This means I have to tilt the pelvis back the slightest bit, kind of like tucking your tail bone underneath you a bit so you are on the flat part of your sit bones as opposed to the points of them. This flattens my lower back , gets rid of the hollowness, and engages my abdominals correctly.
2.Breathe into my lower back, using all of my lung capacity instead of just the top half. This fills the lower back with each inhale. This is the correct breathing that naturally occurs when we sleep. Life and stress teaches us how not to breathe apparently. ( the way I see, I should have stopped breathing completely years ago!)
3. Open my chest across my clavicle and bring my shoulders down and back so that the bottom tips of the scapula come to a point, almost like the bottom of a heart shape.
****Warning, don’t just pull shoulders back and down because this will cause your lower back to hollow again. Focus instead on moving the bottom points of the scapulas toward one another.
Sound easy?? Feel free to give it a try and maintain it while you are riding your horse. For me, I have spent the better part of my adult life at a desk on a computer and have developed some bad posture habits. Opening up the clavicle and maintaining it can be very difficult for me.
So for an hour , JB and I walked around and worked on this. We only trotted for a little bit but mostly worked at a walk. What I found was that by the time I ran through my mental check list of …
keep pelvis tilted under and back with abdominal correctly engaged
don’t round shoulders
keep elbows resting quietly at sides
look up, etc, etc ,
I had stopped breathing correctly. Ok- start again at the top of the list… and the process would begin again. Eventually with enough correct practice this should come without a second thought. Atleast that is what I am hoping for !
Once the lesson was done, we decided to head up the trail for a few miles. Ofcourse, the first 2 miles is all up hill . JB, just coming off 12 days of little to no work we took it slow and only trotted on the few flat spots we could find. We rode for about an hour and then turned around, as much as I didn't want to , I could tell that if I went any further, it may have been just a little too much. Round trip it was approx 7 miles.
Back at the park , there is also a cross country course set up year round and luck would have it that this weekend, there was also a Trail Challenge competition scheduled for Sunday. So, there were obstacles set up for it, including a freshly filled water jump. YEE HAA!!
I couldn’t resist the opportunity to cross water and work on a few small jumps with JB. Ofcourse, JB thought the water jump was just a really huge water tank and took a big drink , which was great. The jump has both a jump in/jump out approach of a walk in walk/out approach. We walked through it about 3 times. Then I attempted to canter him through but he put on the brakes and walked gingerly through. He finally caught on to the game and we made a few nice trot throughs without breaking gate. The cool water splashing him as he trotted through kind of weirded him out a bit! He is not a big fan of water but only because I haven’t had much opportunity to expose him to it. Eventually JB got to where he okay with water splashing, no thanks to Tom and Cassidy ,w ho kept galloping through and soaking us !! Laughing as he went by. JB finally figured out he would get less wet if he kept going. After a bit we even got to where he could trot in , trot across the width of the jump (about 12 feet) and then jump up and out of it, about a 2 foot jump out height. We jumped over a few of the lower level jumps like logs and few regular cross rails with regular jump standards. I had a blast and it made me miss my eventing days back when I was a pony clubber. JB seemed to really enjoy the jumping as well. He appears to be cautious jumper and picks his feet up well over the fence.
Saturday was a great day spent on the back of my horse. One of the better days I have had in some time. We did a little bit of everything and JB was a real trooper with each task I asked of him. This little horse continues to impress me with his willingness to try whatever I ask of him and give it his all to the best of his ability. If he never wows the crowd with speed on the endurance trail, I suspect he will make up for it in versatility.