Friday, March 25, 2011

Oh how the mighty fall

Last night I had a glimpse of our family as the typical suburban family and how I wasn't quite achieving this "off-grid pioneer mentality" that I aspire to. It was while we were jumping around the living room playing Wii sports on our giant tv. Oh well. I guess it's good not to be too extreme in any direction. A little video game action mixed in with a homesteading mentality is probably good for my daughter while living in this culture. Although I am seriously thinking of getting rid of cable tv (because we can just watch shows on Hulu ... see, not quite as admiral as it was initially sounding, huh?).

Meanwhile, back in my sustainable mindset: I am excited to learn a couple neighbors are possibly willing to help me get the empty space between our house and the storm pond cleaned up and turned into a neighborhood pea patch instead of just a vacant, weedy, rocky space. I was out there for a bit on Wednesday afternoon trying to dig out some of the crab and weeds and it is all growing in a huge mound of rocks and really hard clay so it felt like back-breaking work and I didn't get very far in what felt like a long time. Let's say that for how badly my back hurt, I didn't achieve much. I did find a Long-toed Salamander though. I named him "Little Dude" and put him down by the storm pond so I wouldn't accidentally impale him with the shovel.

I planted some broccoli and cauliflower starts and they are growing like crazy in their little covered starter pots on my windowsill. Some of my tomatoes have sprouted and as usual the red peppers haven't done anything yet.

The last couple days I've felt like I'm coming down with a cold or something, tired and fatigued and a little achy and my sinuses are plugged. So, I wasn't feeling up to my semi-scary lesson with Rolls the spooky, young, green Arabian. I wasn't really feeling up to a riding lesson on anyone. So, I asked for a lesson on how to lunge a horse instead, which turned out really cool. V. wanted to start our lesson on lunging with Toadie - an off-the-track thoroughbred she's training (or re-training) to be a dressage horse. Race horses are trained very differently than dressage - or really any kind of "riding horse" - so Toadie is started all over again from scratch with V. Toadie (who has a real name but I forgot what it is) is very recently off the track and actually won a few races when she was racing. She is just a few months shy of four years old. And she is so beautiful. I honestly don't think I've ever met a horse in person who is as beautiful as she is. It's kind of unreal - like meeting a super model in person**. She doesn't quite look like a real horse to me. She looks like an airbrushed photo in 3D walking around. I seriously did not know horses could be so beautiful! I wish I had a photo to post of her to make my point but I can't remember her real name so I can't look up to see if there's anything on the internet about her racing career.

While V. was getting Toadie ready (since she's not a lesson horse I'm not allowed to work with her) I went out and relieved V.'s boyfriend of the duty of holding V.'s younger horse Gabrielle while he was out eating grass in front of the barn. Gabrielle is four years and has only been under saddle for five months so I don't get to ride him yet. But he's like a big 16.1hh kid (that's 65 inches or 5 feet 5 inches to the top of shoulder). He's greener than Rolls and pushy but not spooky so I felt more confident with him. He did spook over a piece of black plastic that had fallen in the grass and rustled in the wind, but his spooking was just jumping a little and pulling his head back and getting a panicked look in his eye (the way Girl spooks) as opposed to jumping or rearing and then spinning around and running away like Rolls. So, handling him and then putting him away before getting Rolls helped bolster my confidence. Plus, just feeling more comfortable at the new barn and getting to know the owners and V. and getting to know Rolls is helping me be less afraid.

So, after watching V.'s lunging session with Toadie, when it was time for me to go get Rolls I wasn't scared of him at all. He wasn't being spooky, but he did decide that yesterday would be his stubborn, obstinate day, but honestly, that attitude does not scare me in horses the way spookiness does. I know how to react to a horse being a butthead and I can kind of see it coming and instinctually react. With spookiness it's like the horse and I run the risk of feeding off each other's fear and spiraling together because I have no idea what to expect and every spook on the horse's part spooks *me* which doesn't help either of us.

So Rolls decided half way to the cross ties that he was going to stop, push me over and turn around and go out to the pasture. That did not work for him and I pushed him back and reprimanded him for his rudeness and made him continue walking forward. Then when we got to the cross ties he decided to try and bite me, which just got a firm "Ah ah ah! No!" and swat on the muzzle. After that he stood like a perfect gentleman and when I asked him to move from side to side as I moved around him to groom him, I didn't need to touch him, I just pointed and he very nicely moved where I wanted him to. He even picked up his feet for me when I picked out his hooves.

I got to try the lunging with him and there were all sorts of intricacies that I had no idea about, from how one holds their body to how they hold lunge line in one's hand. Before we did an actual lunge session, V. showed me some ground work you do with babies when you're just starting them under saddle. One was making them turn in circles bending in their middle. I asked if I could try it and V. said, "Well, you can *try* ..." and I actually was able to do it (though not very gracefully) on one side, but the other side I was more clumsy and Rolls wasn't as sure what I wanted him to do.

Lunging went a lot better. What was surprising was I started out facing my body in the wrong direction (I was facing him but turned slightly in the wrong direction) and he tried to switch direction. Then as soon as I turned my body facing the correct way he didn't try to change direction again. So, body language IS super important in lunging. I know it looks like to the layperson that all their is to lunging is standing in the middle of a circle holding a long, nylon rope while a horse walks/trots/runs around you. Just like to a layperson all dressage is is sitting up straight on the back of a dancing horse. Oh but there is so much more to it, Little Grasshopper!

I was able to get him to walk, trot and canter and do fairly smooth transitions between the three without having to do anything other than gentle half halts with the lunge line, but relying mostly on my (inexperienced, clumsy ...) body language. A comical moment was that Rolls is lazy so to get him to canter you need to do a quiet, sideways crack with the lunge whip while giving him a voice command, opening your body to show movement and clucking or kissing. Well, I can apparently crack a whip with my right hand but not my left hand. I'm going to need to work on that. V. thought that was funny.

I was pretty excited about learning a new skill. And it's a very valuable skill if I'm going to eventually teach little kids riding because the age group I want to start with - four to six year olds - will need to start out without reins for awhile to get their seat and learn focus. My daughter was able to use reins when she was five, but when one of her friends tried to ride a horse with me and seeing that age of kid on ponies at horse camp last summer, most kids that age are way too unfocused and scattered to hold the reins because they wave, shake and pull them all the place and end up hurting the poor pony. So, I need to be really good with the horses on a lunge line if I want to do that.

**I did spend an afternoon once hanging out with a super model and other than being very tall and skinny she actually wasn't that breathtakingly beautiful in person, but I'm sure there are some who are. I couldn't think of a better analogy.

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