Frozen, but not in place

The super-cold temperatures mean that the arena can't be watered as much as we'd like. :P

The super-cold temperatures mean that the arena can’t be watered as much as we’d like. ūüėõ

The Polar Vortex III is coming to town. ¬†Most sequels suck, and I don’t expect this one to be any different. ¬†The ground is frozen and everyone is grumpy – Tucker even made a legit attempt at a bite the other night – way out of character for him. ¬†We are all sick, sick, sick of this weather. ¬†However, ¬†God in is good grace made britches out of Wind Pro and underwear out of merino wool and those lovely toe-warmer thingies (which I kid you not I buy by the gross) and so – we ride. ¬† We complain but we show up, and we ride. ¬†Christy even did a post about the determination her crew has displayed this winter.

That said, things aren’t ideal. ¬†There are some nights it’s been too cold to do much, and due to some exceptionally icy conditions, the horses have been stuck inside – a lot. ¬†The muscle has melted off them – even Derby, who carries a lot of muscle for a TB, is now sporting a pencil neck and droopy top line. ¬†Happily for both of us, my riding is continuing to improve as I get stronger in places I never thought possible through my Pilates work.

I’m coming off a three-week travel jag during which I rode very inconsistently (literally and figuratively!) ¬†But I got a real surprise on Saturday when I finally clambered aboard for a ride.

I was fiddling with my position, really trying to feel and engage my lower core muscles, and was working on big trot/little trot, a little exercise we do in which I ask for a

Stop taking my d@mn picture and take me inside already!

Stop taking my d@mn picture and take me inside already!

larger gait down the long side and a smaller one around the short side, while staying connected. ¬†The ‘ask’ comes from half halts, nothing else. ¬† ¬†We were heading down the long side at a spanking working trot and it felt great – forward, round, connected, back up, rider balanced – one of those ah-ha moments. ¬†Going into the short side, I half halted, and Derby sat down and halted. ¬†Okay, he took a couple steps but we did come to a stop for which I was not prepared, and subsequently there was grabbing of the horse’s neck required to stay aboard. ¬†There’s no doubt that my half-halts can be stronger, so I spent some time after that incident working on tuning the strength of the half-halt, so I could get a transition within the gait, not a full-halt.

I told this to Christy before my lesson on Monday and she confirmed my continued improvement. The trot work is looking good and our next step is putting the canter back together and wow, it is frightful.

As we plunge back into the sub-zero deep freeze for the next few days, most of my plans are on hold. I’m planning on getting on both Tucker and Derby for mostly walk work – we’ll set up some cavaletti and work on lateral responsiveness. ¬†This weekend it should be a bit warmer (in the teens, oh joy.) ¬†The 10 day forecast isn’t offering much encouragement at the moment but for the love of God, it is almost March. ¬†Mother Nature is bound to end this bender soon, come back to her senses and give us some normal temperatures. ¬†(We hope.)

Finally^2

FINALLY #1

We’ve finally had a break in the hideous cold we’ve been suffering this Winter, after being plunged back into the sub-zero deep freeze again early this week, and I’ve had two consecutive rides on the Derbinator. ¬†God, it is good to be back in the saddle, and things are going pretty well.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve started taking Pilates, working with a Joanne at Tensile Strength Studio¬†(http://tensilestrengthstudio.com/pilates/), on the apparatus, not the mat. ¬†What started as an exercise to shore up some weak areas, improve my body alignment and build flexibility has also improved my work in the saddle. ¬†Today was my first lesson in forever, and Christy was amazed.

A discovery in a Pilates season last week appears to have done a couple big things for my riding – most notably the curing of my duck butt and freeing up my hips to swing with the horse. ¬† Here’s what happened.

Last week the trainer had me do the Teaser movement (pictured left.) I followed her instruction, and fought through the  series of movements.  The trainer noticed I was struggling and asked what was hard about the movement for me, and I told her that the movement killed my hips.

“Ah,” she said. “You’re grabbing with your hip flexors, and you’re not using your core. Try to let your hips go and instead engage your lower core. Imagine you’re lifting your pelvic floor.” ¬†Now, this is going to be a bit indelicate but she described it as kind of like stopping things when you’re going to the bathroom. ¬†Not exactly, but in that general area.

Anyway, back to the Pilates session. ¬†She told me to try to switch the muscles I was using, and I did. ¬†Suddenly Teaser was easy. ¬†My instructor was surprised I could make this switch so quickly, which I attribute to the biomechanics work with Christy that has built the awareness that enabled me to do this. ¬†Pausing, I asked her if I could try something on the studio’s horse, which is essentially a padded barrel. ¬†I mounted up and sat there, feeling the tension in my hips. Concentrating, I engaged my lower core. ¬†My hips relaxed and my legs dropped straight down. ¬†That was a revelation!

Last night, in my first ride in who knows how long, I experimented with my lower core engagement. ¬†Prior to my revelation, “core engagement” was pretty much everything between my collarbones and knee caps. ¬†It took a lot of energy and effort, and I would tense everything up. ¬†My hips would become immobile. ¬†However, isolating and engaging the lower core was an entirely different experience. ¬†I felt plugged into Derby’s walk. ¬†My aids worked better. ¬†The trot work felt great.

Finally #2

Which leads us to tonight’s lesson. ¬†Christy said we were a transformed pair, and that I looked like a different rider. ¬†And it felt different too. ¬†Derby’s trot was forward and I could feel his back swinging. ¬†We’ll try to get some video to share soon.