Thursday, June 6, 2013

Continuing Ed

Yesterday Dixie and I went down to San Jose and took a Centered Riding lesson with Becky Hart.

Becky Hart is a name I've known for a long time.  She's one of the top ten US endurance riders, and one of the top international riders - I don't even pretend to follow FEI so I have no idea how well she's ranked overseas.  But she was the Chef d'Equipe for the US endurance team at the last WEG - she is the real deal.  (And don't even get me started on her horses - Rio was possibly the best endurance horse ever, with 10k miles and a ton of first-place finishes.)

And I'm a redneck from Mississippi with four months of dressage lessons four years ago, on a horse I've made, for better or worse, entirely on my own.  I was a little nervous, really.  But it's gotten to the point where I have to recognize that Dixie is a serious athlete, and she deserves a better partner, and I needed to go find out what I can do to improve myself and make her job easier.

SJ is only 60 miles away, but anything involving vehicles in the Bay Area takes far longer than you can comprehend, you lucky flyover state readers*, so I left the house at 10 to get to Becky's farm at 1, and I left there at 3 to get home at 6:30.  Dixie was a hot mess when I pulled her out of her pen, screaming and pawing like a completely unhandled filly, but I paid her no mind.  I rinsed her off (must scrub her with soap, that Foresthill red dirt is NOT coming out) and loaded her up and she snapped into grownup endurance horse mode.  She rode well and ate hay perfectly calmly while I tacked her up.  I started to think my lesson might not be a debacle.

Becky didn't laugh in my face at my goals:  Sunriver 100, 20 Mule Team 100 in February, Tevis '14, Decade Team.  (And the Nevada Triple Crown some year, but that's even harder than Tevis.  It's the Derby 50, NASTR 75, and Virginia City 100 all in the same year - but the trails aren't unfamiliar and at least it's not humid, so it's not out of the question...)  There's still so much that can go wrong, but it's not unattainable.

I could try to tell you all the stuff we talked about, but you know how lessons are - you learn a lot, but it's not something you can explain to someone later.  But somehow Dixie and I rode around that arena like a centaur, not like a monkey clinging to a horse's back.  We didn't do a single thing with my hands - all I had to do was sit back and shift my weight and she curved nicely around cones and stopped and started when I thought about it.

I finally learned how it feels when the horse lifts her back under me, and how to ask for it.  I learned how I'm crooked - I collapse my left ribs and wrap my left leg nicely around the horse, while my right ribs are braced up and my right leg is twisted funny.  It'll take some work to retrain my muscle memory to sit properly and cue properly, but that's the benefit of endurance:  I'll get those hours of practice hella fast.  I'm planning on going back for another lesson a week or two after Sunriver to see how we're coming along.

My mouth is often disconnected from my brain, and at one point Becky said she used to show TWH in the 70s, and I just up and blurted out "I'm sorry!"  Because I'm a huge asshole.  :headdesk:  She gave me this look like "did you just say that?!" and I explained that Dixie was a padded, sored show horse, and showing in Tennessee is barbaric, and I just hate the whole sport.  She agreed that she showed clean and had a hard time beating people who tuned up their horses, and we just left it at that and thankfully she didn't seem too offended.  D:

Dixie did me proud.  I just can't say this too often:  she has a great mind.  She really does.  She's hard to condition because she's so laid back, but she's so easy to ride when she's in shape.  I can't even believe I just typed those words - she was such a bundle of nerves for years.  Who knew that there was a relaxed, confident horse under all that panicked energy?  And I did this; I kept at it with her and brought out her good traits.  :)

And I got Dixie a massage on Tuesday.  There's a massage therapist at the barn who's an "endurance ally" - she does trails and dressage on her lovely Friesian, but she's crewed Tevis for her friends and she understands the sport.  She said she didn't do a lot of work yet, because she wants to keep the experience positive for her, but that Dixie seemed to enjoy what she did.  She'll work on her again after Sunriver.

*you know I'm not dissing the flyover states; I'm from them and I love them. But I assume that eastern seaboarders like Dom also understand how a hundred-mile round trip can take longer in a car than on a fast horse.  ;)


  1. I already said it, but...JEALOUS. I was able to audit a BH clinic a number of years back and got a lot out of the experience, so I can only imagine how awesome a direct lesson must be.

    Way to go both you and Dixie, you for sticking with her and her for turning into such a solid-minded partner. :)

  2. Sounds really useful, and fun too - I'm sure Dixie appreciates all your efforts. I've found it's mostly about us getting out of the way so the horse can do her job . . .

  3. One of these days when I have a trailer, a Centered Riding lesson is going to be high on my list of things to do. *I* know I'm not straight, but I haven't been able to figure out quite how to fix it.

    Although 60 miles to a lesson, yikes, I'm really glad that was worthwhile because that is such a headache time-wise!

    Sounds like you two are having a most excellent month thus far.

    1. Yeah, it's a monthly deal at the most; I was totally wiped when I got home last night.

      "maybe it's not my my weekend, but it's gonna be my year" - this is my current theme song :)

      You're going to adore your trailer when you finally get one. I've only had mine for two years and I still <3 it like woah.

  4. What a great opportunity! I see just from reading your blog the progress you and Dixie have made, but it is hard when you are with the horse day in and day out to notice the changes. Becky is speaking at Horse Expo tomorrow, she is on my list on must see lectures.

    I'd love to read how you address conditioning the laid back horse. That is my issue too. Went out last night, could barely get a working trot, arghh!

    1. Oooh, you'll love her lecture I'm sure! Tell us about it!

      Conditioning - carry a crop when you bring him back from his winter layoff? Really, Major is at the point where he doesn't need conditioning, not like when you first started out. He will hold his fitness and keep improving if you do a 50 every 4-6 weeks and do long fun rides with friends every weekend/two weekends. You're at the point where you're reaping the benefits of your year+ of hard work; just enjoy him!

      Of course that only applies to mid/back-packers - if you want to race it's a whole different ballgame. But if you're happy with your speed, don't feel like you need to keep pouring on the miles.

  5. That lessons sounds like a great next step in your overall plan. Taking lessons from someone you respect is such an eye opener - I'm interested to hear how you feel you are progressing with your body position, etc. with her advice.

    Too bad about the traffic and long drives to go a short distance... I'm sooo not used to that!

  6. You. Get. A. Big. Gold. Star!

    Lookit all the good things you're doing--and you are DOING them, not just "hoping" or "talking about" or "trying!"

    I couldn't be prouder if you were my own pup, and Dixie too! Wish I could be there to crew for you at Sunriver. :-)

  7. Waving from the flyover state! :) And yes, traveling 60 miles in 55 minutes is one advantage to living here. I keep saying it makes up for those nasty winters... kind of.

    I started following your blog either right before or after you lost your other horse and have watched you and Dixie begin your journey. You should be very proud of how far you have come as a team. Best wishes on this next step!

  8. Sounds like a really great lesson, and how cool is it to be able to ride with someone who has a clue about gaited horses!

  9. Go you! How freakin intimidating to think about doing but no doubt awesome to go through it and now have the info and memories.

    It is always on my list to find a good trainer that I could stand who could give my some basic dressage lessons. I took riding lessons at an English barn from like 5-7 yrs old and 1 dressage lesson when I was 18--and everything else has been trail. I try to be very aware of posture and seat in general from running and playing a wind instrument, but then you don't always know you're doing something off kilter when you're doing it! So again, go you, and I should really get on that lesson thing..

  10. I think your goals are very attainable as long as life treats you in a fair manner. You and Dixie have made amazing progess over the last few years, it is impressive and admirable.

    Also, this made me both laugh out loud and want to give you a fist pump: "But somehow Dixie and I rode around that arena like a centaur, not like a monkey clinging to a horse's back."

  11. It's such an amazing feeling when you stop and take stock of where you started from. You and I have that in common and it doesn't matter the sport, it just matters that we have made it to where we are and all of the sudden goals that seemed so unrealistic in the beginning are suddenly within reach.

    More power to you and Dixie!!!

  12. I love your goals and totally admire your ambition. That's what makes it happen!

    Sounds like a great lesson. After our last show I know that I need someone to help me find some connection with my horse...we were in the ring with two very separate plans! Can't wait to hear how the next lesson goes.

  13. I just wish I had a "like" button. So excited for the places you will go :)

  14. Lucky girl you are! To get the input & direction from Becky had to be really something. Getting that back up makes all the difference in the world! Dixie is looking "accomplished"! :-)


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