Thursday, December 20, 2012

Saddle Revisited

I feel like my last post was a little incoherent, even for me. Sorry about that. I have changed my routine a bit as far as Ashke goes. I leave work and go directly to the barn, (advantage new barn), work Ashke, and then drive home. This process leaves me more time to work Ashke, gets me home close to seven, instead of the nine o'clock I was getting home at before, and doesn't require J or T accompanying me there. A win all around, since going home, cooking dinner, finishing homework and then driving to the barn was taking up all of our evening while making it difficult to get a good workout in with Ashke. Fail as a parent and Fail as a horse owner. Now, we have family time in the evening when I get home and Ashke gets worked. Win all the way around. The only drawback is that J has to cook (my job), so I guess I am failing as a wife. Oh well.

So, last night after working with Ashke, I had to stop and pick up stuff for the barn party on Friday, try to find chips (Takis) for T's band party today, and get GC's for T, J and one of T's teachers. I was home late, hungry and delirious. After eating, I tried to do my blog, but was interupted by the demands of petting a small black kitten. All in all, not my finest blog attempt. So, to clarify . . .

I think my riding struggle at the canter is four fold.

First, we aren't doing a lot of cantering.

I am riding in the indoor arena, which isn't heated but still comfortable, and only doing six or so circuits of the arena at a canter. Just like I was struggling earlier in the year to ride at the trot (sit the trot as the English riders say), I am struggling to get my body to remember how to relax and move with the horse. As we work our way up in the number and length of time we are riding, I think I will ride for longer periods of time at the canter, giving my body a chance to remember and rebuild the necessary muscles. I am much more comfortable at the trot now, even the extended trot, and expect that I will gain ability at the canter as we do it more. My desire to ride at the canter for a longer period of time is tempered by knowledge of Ashke's fitness and the need to not sweat him up during the winter. I don't want him chilled and I don't have a ton of time to cool him off at the end of the workout. Even after he is cooled down, if he is sweaty, he will be chilled afterwards. Drying sweat in a thick winter coat sucks. So, we are going slow. I would much rather do this right the first time than to screw up and have him experience a set back.

Second, Ashke moves differently than Queenie did at the canter.

Queenie, when she cantered, had a big, easy lope. She was 15.2 hands, with a long back and a long stride. Queenie had an incredible running walk and could do 7 miles an hour at the walk for hours. At the canter, she was settled and smooth. She did either lead equally well. She was on the leaner side, prototype Appy prior to their evolution into a spotted, big assed QH type horse. I never worried about her shying out or spooking at anything. She was rock solid. And we spent most of our time at either the walk or the canter. We never trotted except during 4-H. The canter was our gait.

Ashke has a sweet canter on the left lead, provided he is collected. Once he starts to stretch out, he becomes more ragged. He has a much shorter stride than I am used to riding, due to his short back and how he is put together. We are still learning our balance at this gait. I'm sure his job isn't any easier, considering I am relearning my riding skills. I should be happy we have come this far. So, in part my body is learning a new skill, not just relearning an old one. When Nicole was watching us ride on Sunday, she said he looked relaxed and collected, and was moving nicely. I felt like he was being choppy and short, but I think that's an Arabian thing. He's not going to move like a warmblood. He's not going to move like a QH. He's not going to move like Cali. I need to ride with some other Arabians, so I can compare his stride and movement with them. And not Arabians that are being shown Western Pleasure. I have no interested in the rocking horse canter that seems to me to be a canter in the front and a trot in the back. No thank you. (Although, now that I've written it out that way, Ashke does that sometimes. It feels like he is trying to canter in the front and maintain a trot in the back. I always chalked it up to him trying to compensate for his back - earlier this year - or him anticipating my request for a canter. Now, I wonder if he was started at some point in WP and is now very confused by my antics.)

Third, I am riding in an Aussie saddle.

Aussie saddles, in case you don't know, are a combination of western style and english style. Why do I have one? Man From Snowy River. That's right, I picked my riding style and equipment from a Disney movie. However, in my defense, I do have some very valid reasons for wanting an Aussie saddle. One, they are much lighter in weight than the western saddle. When you are thinking of spending a ton of time in the saddle and you weight as much as I do, having lighter equipment is necessary. Two, your seat style is similar to a western saddle, which is good, because I don't know how to ride English and have no desire to try. The saddle also has fenders in the front, which are designed to help the rider stay in the saddle while bushwacking. Three, the saddle I picked is called a close contact saddle. It brings me in as close of contact with my horse as an non-English saddle can, and I've been very happy with Ashke's response to leg pressure.

I had ridden in an Aussie saddle in the early nineties and knew going into this that I wanted an Aussie saddle. When we went to Down Under Saddlery, I explained to the woman there what type of horse I was getting, that I wanted a saddle that would be as close to riding bareback as it was possible to be, and what kind of horse I was getting. The woman who helped me was very knowledgeable. She fitted us with a great saddle and she's also the person who helped fix the padding so it fit Ashke's back better when we were having issues. He's so much more comfortable now. I am pleased with my choice, but I am still becoming accustomed to riding in it. Mind you, when we are out on the trail and my focus is riding, not working on leads or leg yields, or other technical riding issues, I and Ashke are both very comfortable. And I have stayed on and in control even when scared by wicked bunnies or mini horses.

Fourth, I'm still developing muscles.

Riding is something that requires muscle and balance. Balance requires muscles. I have weak, whimpy muscles and although it is getting better and I am feeling stronger, my body is reshaping and relearning itself. I put my weight loss program on hold for the holidays and although I haven't lost any more weight, I haven't gained any either, which I see as a win for me. The plethora of sugar heavy candy and cookies, the number and variety of meals and the overall stress of the season was not playing nicely with my diet, so better to suspend my weight loss program than to constantly be getting on myself about what I was eating.

On top of developing muscles, I am cautious about reinjuring my back. I have a slipped disc at my L5 vertebre and have been seeing a chiropractor for six years to address it. When we canter, my hips move in such a way that it puts pressure on that disc. Which results in pain. Not the OMG-I-can't-walk-ever-again-pain, but pain nonetheless. That pain makes me cautious. I don't ever want to have to deal with the excruciating pain of an active slipped disc again, so am willing to take it slow. However, I do want to canter, so we are going to go ahead at a slower pace. Everytime I've tried to speed up our process, something has happened to slow me down. Perhaps this is the universe's way of giving both Ashke and I time to heal and to develop the muscle we need to be great at this riding thing.

So, my goal going forward is to condition and strengthen both Ashke and myself. To make our riding sessions a little longer each time. To expand our canter each ride. To find balance and relaxation between the two of us. To find our stride at every gait and to become perfect companions to each other: balance, ability and some small measure of grace. We will revisit the plan in the spring, when we can get out on the trail and actually start tracking our miles.

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