Sunday, August 2, 2015

Escape to Gap Mountain

I did a Derby Cross yesterday with a friend from my barn. A Derby Cross is eventing without the dressage and the showjumping. We drove about an hour and a half to Troy NH and got to ride before the heat of the day turned us all into limp noodles.

Cassel, in spite of his inexperience (and mine) really seems to love and understand this job. He's definitely not point and shoot. He needs lots of hand holding, which I feel much more capable of doing since I started running.

Seeing distances is not yet my forte, and he has a tendency to chip when I think I see a bigger spot and and I'm urging him up to it. But at this height it doesn't matter so much. It's more about showing him (and me) some new things and learning how to jump when the ground isn't level.

But we're both getting braver and I am starting to be able to communicate "YES! Let's go for it!" with my body language, rather than the grab mane three strides before the jump and stop riding. Sometimes a well placed growl helps as well.

We didn't stay for the ribbons so I have no idea how I did. I know I did the course in 2 minutes 8 seconds. It felt much faster than it looked.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Fitness Difference

I have ridden in many different bodies over my lifetime.

There was the "Fearless Kid Body" that could do an unplanned flying dismount at a full gallop and have very little to show for it other than a few tears and a very wounded ego.

There was the fluctuating College Body. In photos it looks pretty normal by middle aged standards. But I thought I was HUGE. But thanks to my Fearless Kid Body years, I was actually pretty competent, even if I wasn't always the prettiest one.

When I was in my early 20's I had a horse and was trying to be a Very Serious Dressage Rider. I fought a losing battle with my weight. I thought exercise outside of riding was some kind of medieval torture conspiracy. I never did learn to sit the trot. But then I go the Very Scary Warmblood and I hated riding him. I sold him and mostly quit riding for the next 12 years.
Somewhere in the middle of that long hiatus, when I was at my heaviest I did a very short term lease on a very nice little black thoroughbred gelding. When I got to the barn I discovered I couldn't get my boots on. I was winded after doing very little and I felt like I was flopping around. Then 9/11 happened and I lost my job and I had to end the lease.

I tried to get more fit at various points Before Kids and After Horses. But I had a bum knee that kept deteriorating and kept me from running, then biking and finally from walking more than a half hour at a time.

Then I had kids and my body and lifestyle completely changed. My son was a very active baby once he was mobile. It was absolute hell to sit at home with him watching him tear the drywall from the walls. So we would go "Run the Baby." Between chasing him, pushing the stroller and getting out every chance I got I became stronger.

When he was about 18 months old we spent a summer living in the first floor apartment of my parent's triple decker in Cambridge.  I saw it as an opportunity to finally get my knee fixed. The surgery was a horrific experience and then I got pregnant again and ballooned up to about 230 by the end of my second pregnancy, so I didn't really get to appreciate the affects of the surgery until after my daughter was born. Fortunately, the weight mostly slid off after she was born and suddenly I had two working knees!

Then I discovered yoga. This made me relaxed, stronger and focused. It enabled me to start riding again without debilitating muscle pain 12 years after I sold the Very Scary Warmblood. I was amazed at what a difference my new leaner, stronger body could do on a horse at Almost 40 then It could do at 25. That whole "on the bit" thing that had evaded me completely during my Very Serious Dressage years suddenly came easy (at least on a horse that understood the concept). But jumping still felt much more hit or miss.

Then last  year, when my son was 10 we decided to do the Couch to 5k together. I ended up getting very sick last August when were were in week 7 of the program and was too weak to continue. Then last winter was, well last winter and we didn't start again until Spring of this year. But we completed the 8 weeks of interval training and I'm running about 2-3 miles at a time. I wish I could time travel to my old self an say "Look what I can do!!" Running was absolutely inconceivable when I was younger. I didn't understand why anybody would do it, or why. But now I am loving it. There really is a fabulous buzz that comes with a good run that I never even dreamed of.

Here we are at our first race.

But the really amazeballs part of this whole thing is how much my riding has changed since we started the program this spring. Suddenly my leg is where I want it to be when I jump. I don't get (as) tired when working on my sitting trot without stirrups. My dressage trainer (who I don't see nearly as often as I would like) noticed something really different with me last lesson. Then my jumping trainer said the same thing. Jumping my position feels super secure (well relative to how I felt before I started running). I'm doing much less "grab mane and hope for the best" when I can't quite see my distances and just sitting up and waiting with my leg on knowing I can stay with him if we get a big spot.

So when your riding instructor tells you that fitness is a integral part of this sport, listen. I've ridden in so many different types of bodies in my life and this one (even though I'm kind of old and decrepit) is definitely the most effective.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Back in the Groove

It's been way to long since I've written. I got into a funk over the winter because I couldn't ride basically from February to April. The ring and trails went from deep snow to solid ice to mud and FINALLY they were 100% rideable in May. Me and my lovely barn mates treked out to a local show in early May and the first day was a bit of an embarrassment. But we looked pretty!
We were the only ones in our hunter division (adult long stirrup) so I ended up coming home with three very undeserved blue ribbons and the championship. The Weston Wayland show is absolutely the best possibly run local show you can imagine. They have lots of volunteers that make things run so smoothly. But Cassel wasn't having any of it. He was completely herdbound and wanted to know where his buddies were all the time. When we were cantering around in our solo class of one, he swapped leads. Since he really doesn't do flying changes in general without much concentration from me, this was a HUGE surprise. We're cantering around, super forward past the lean to where the registration desk is and suddenly I'm on the wrong lead.

The second day, I woke up and didn't even want to go back, he had been such a twit (for him). He didn't scare me at all, but it just wasn't fun. But my husband just said "Go drink some coffee" and shoved me out of bed.

I was so glad I went. The dressage did not go as well as I had hoped, but I hadn't had a lesson since November and then I went off course. But he was focused, I was focused and we had fun. 

Then we did this:
It was a little rough, but he's just so GAME when I get him jumping out of the ring. If I'm not certain I don't want to jump something he won't go. But if I commit, he will. For a horse owned by an amateur who only gets a couple training rides a year at this point, I'll take it!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Sporting shenanigans and Other Musings

In 2010 the FEI disqualified Olympian McLain Ward from jumping at WEF because his legendary mare, Sapphire displayed "hypersensitivity" in her front legs. To make matters worse, the elimination was retroactive. Eventually the FEI rescinded the retroactive disqualification, but did not apologize or acknowledge any wrongdoing. He had been in second place prior to the disqualification and eventually recovered his winnings.

The incident was so bizarre and random that it was actually covered by the New York Times, which almost NEVER covers showjumping. Sapphire, who had won gold medals in two different Olympics was one of the few modern day equine legends in showjumping. These days when top riders compete with "strings" of seemingly interchangeable warmbloods from Europe, Sapphire was something special. She and Ward won gold medals in two different Olympics. (2004 Athens and 2008 Bejing). If that horse had been abused or mismanaged there is absolutely no conceivable way she would have held up and been competitive for as long as she was.

They tested for the hypersensitivity by tapping her front legs repeatedly and she picked them up 3 or 4 times. All domesticated horses will lift up their legs when you tap them. They are all trained to do this so you can clean out the bottoms of their feet and shoe them. Plus a sensitive mare would probably get annoyed with all the tapping and fussing and pull her legs away. All other scans, drug tests were completely normal. The disqualification sent ripples of disgust and anger through the equestrian community. But nobody was really surprised.

In 1996 Ward's father was sentenced to 33 months in prison for arranging to have four horses killed for the insurance money. I'm not sure what would drive a professional horseman to such a heinous, unthinkable crime, but that's what happened. I think somebody at the FEI decided that Ward's family were douchebags and decided to hit back in a really petty way.

And of course they got away with it. The FEI is the governing body of all these high end horse shows. There is nobody higher to appeal to. At least not until the competition is long over and you've forfeited thousands in entry fees and travel and you've long since packed your toys and went home.

In my opinion the FEI does some really weird shit. They do not require helmets in upper level dressage competitions. Helmets are voluntary. Since Charlotte Dujardin won Olympic gold in her navy blue Charles Owen, more and more upper level riders are opting for increasingly blingy but ASTM approved headgear. But according to FEI Rules  Helmets are not required for dressage

"when competing, warming up directly prior to the  Competition, riding between the stable and the warm up area , riding of the competing Horse in the warm up area, and riding back to the stable."
That is insane. Helmets can prevent traumatic brain injuries. A beloved American Olympic rider FELL OFF AT THE WALK when her horse tripped. She spent 4 weeks in a coma and 3 months in in-patient rehabilitation re-learning how to walk and talk. If she had been wearing her helmet that probably would not have happened. Enough with the top hats. We don't need to to see our best riders compete in men's eveningwear. From the waist up, dressage riders look like they are going to star in Oscar Wilde revival of "The Importance of Being Earnest." But they love their traditions.

I've been thinking about all this a lot as the Superbowl approaches. I went from being horrified to horrifically and uncategorically bored any time somebody mentions the air pressure in a certain 11 footballs.  All sports and their governing bodies are corrupt and corruptible. But sometimes you stand in the rain at the AFC Championship game with sixty thousand people and just dance and high five and have the time of your life. Sometimes you watch old videos of Gem Twist and Greg Best and wonder how the hell they made it over the water from that gallop. But in both cases, you just fly with your heroes and ignore the noise. There is inspiration in it all.