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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Long Arms, Short Reins

OUCH. "Ben Gay, Take Me Away"....

Yes, I know - I am mixing up some advertising slogans here, namely those of a certain strong-smelling human liniment and equally fragrant bath salts. I KNOW you all know what Ben-Gay is - as riders I think we are all in need of it at one time or another (I actually prefer some stuff called BioFreeze. Active ingredient is menthol, so you're quite minty-fresh, but it works great.).

I realize some of my readers probably weren't around during the era of the "Calgon, Take Me Away" commercials, so here is one for your viewing pleasure.

As a side note, I can practically tell the year this was made by mom's professional attire - remember when bows were in? I can also tell that the guys in the suits at the advertising agency were really pleased with themselves for paying tribute to Today's Working Woman. Of course I had to crack up at the actual bathing scene. Yep, all of us over-stressed moms have a swimming-pool sized tub surrounded by marble columns in a palatial bathroom, not to mention a hairdresser on call to arrange our luxurious locks in tasteful updos before we climb into the mountains of bubbles... *eyeroll*

I'm thinking about this ad right now because I wish I had a combo of the two products to relieve some of the muscle aches and pains I'm currently experiencing. However, they are not attributable to traffic, the boss, the kids or the dog: I'm sore for the best of reasons, because I made it to the barn for a lesson on Saturday! I'm not quite sure why I'm so uncomfortable this time, because I did my Gatorade/vitamin/Advil routine, but my inner thighs are killin' me.

Trainer M put me back on my friend Pebbles, which suited me fine. In my current state of un-fitness, I appreciate a horse I have to slow down versus one on which I have to use leg, leg, leg to get a decent trot. It's funny, I got used to my last trainer constantly telling us to go faster at the trot, so when Pebbles volunteered her speedy gait as soon as we set off on Saturday, I thought all was fine and dandy. I was literally brought up short when M told me to take it a little easier on P's short QH legs. I was thinking, "Hey, this really wasn't MY idea," but of course I obeyed!

I am very grateful to a poster on the COTH Hunter/Jumper forum, who asked the other day for suggestions on keeping her hands forward. I have continued to struggle with keeping mine forward as well as lower. The one thing that someone shared which really "clicked" for me was a piece of advice she'd gotten from Anne Kursinski, which was "Long arms, short reins." I needed a little phrase to keep in mind and this must have worked pretty well, because in this lesson instead of "Hands lower, reins shorter," I got "Bend your elbows when you're asking to slow down!" Sigh. It's always something, right? :-)

After the usual W/T/C warmup, I did a little two-jump course of diagonal gate to diagonal gate, trotting into the first jump and cantering to the second. I wasn't particularly thrilled to not be starting with a crossrail and got a bit nervous, which never helps my jumping form, but we did okay and I think only had one sticky fence the entire time we were jumping. It did help that the gates were almost on the ground, therefore not even 2,' and they were straight across, not curved. I've really had an issue with the latter kind ever since the lesson when good old chestnut mare Polly got it into her head that we needed to vault the side of one, nearly putting me into orbit (it was at least 3').
The jumps were just this kind of gate, no rail above.
At my last barn, the trainer wanted me to do a five-jump course after two lessons, and this was after a 10-year hiatus from riding. I gamely attempted to comply but finally had to tell her I just wasn't up to it, physically or mentally. So trainers obviously think I am capable enough to do what they're asking. I keep telling myself this, but it's still hard to psych myself up for jumping anything that's not a trot crossrail. Another "nervous factor" was Pebbles kept getting a little strong before and after the second fence. I know my braking afterwards was not very graceful (that's mostly when the "bend your elbows" comments were coming as well). Over the jumps, I did fairly well, but my legs were definitely flopping more than I'd like. Yeah, I don't think I'm quite ready for bigger fences! :-/

The leg-flopping was due to three factors: nerves, fatigue and worn out knee patches on my breeches. I wore my older pair and the synthetic suede is absolutely shot, cracking and missing entirely in some places. On the upside, these pants are not so tight around the waist that I can't actually tuck a shirt in, wear a belt and look a bit more tidy. My other pair give me a hideous muffin top that I am not about to have on display, so the polo shirts have been untucked. I really need to get some new breeches. There was another post on COTH last week discussing this very topic, specifically which breeches work best in hot weather, and I now know what kind would hopefully work on my shape. Unfortunately, they're Tailored Sportmans (Trophy Hunters, to be exact) and cost about three times more than I want to spend. But they come in low rise, side zip with a wide waistband and I'm pretty sure that's what I need. The local tack shop is having a sale this week so I might just wander on over. People think buying a bathing suit is bad - hah, they've never had to find breeches!

I guess I'm probably ouchy because I jumped a lot more in this lesson than I have in other ones (I went through the two-jump course about six times). I found out that I literally cannot maintain a 2-pt in canter, too; the 15 seconds I attempted of that might well be what's done me in. Prescription = more saddle time, of course - I'm working on it!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Dream Boy!

NOTE: I apologize for the lack of posting lately. I started a new job last week and my head hurts from info overload and stress! I just today got to look at what's going on with the Derby field so I'm really behind. :-( I also have not made it back to the barn since I rode Penny, but I'm hoping to get there this weekend - that will DEFINITELY help my outlook on life, LOL!

* * *

Tell me you've ever seen such fantastically gorgeous eyes on a horse before:

Oh. My. God. I can't take my own off them! They are SO enormous, so limpid and full of expression... I do think they are darn near the prettiest horse eyes I've ever seen. He is just AMAZINGLY beautiful! Does anyone else find it incredible that someone would give him up to the KHP?

*wipes drool off chin*

Whew, I need to pull myself together. Too much equine pulchritude in one package. I'm laughing - guess he turned up in case I needed another reason to go back to the Horse Park! There is absolutely no way I'm driving to Lexington again without visiting this guy. I was at the Horse Park, of course, for the WEG and the National Horse Show, but I didn't have time to actually "do" the exhibits. I have in the past, but it's been about 10 years. As you know I had plenty of other fun adventures down in Kentucky, but next time, I'm doing the KHP tour!

It's quite a coincidence that this video came up because I was planning to write a post soon on Lipizzans. I must confess, I have always had a huge soft spot for them. It all started with this book:
Not my copy, but mine is even more "loved"-looking!
I've read this so darn many times I'm surprised the spine is still intact. The whole story is so cool: boy loves horses. Boy (Hans) lives in Vienna, cheek-to-jowl with the Spanish Riding School, and knows something is going on in there that he wants to be a part of. He trains the only horse he's got (and yes, of course I was jealous of him for having any horse), sweet Rosie the bakery carthorse, to do a little piaffe - at least with her front legs :-). Boy sees the SRS perform and notices Maestoso Borina, the star of the show, capable of multiple courbettes in a row. They eventually come together and the magic continues.

Wesley Dennis's fabulous illustrations made this book come alive for me, as I'm sure is the case for all readers (what a blessed partnership, Marguerite and Wesley!). I pored over every detail, wondering what the sawdust in the ring smelled like... how smooth the deerskin saddles were... how soft those shining white coats were... how come the riders' legs never seemed to move, despite no stirrups... what the vision of synchronized white stallions moving as fluidly as poetry actually looked like. I don't remember if the word "dressage" was mentioned (and if I go to check you know I will wind up blowing a couple hours reading the entire thing yet again), but it wouldn't have mattered, because this kid growing up in the H/J world of New Jersey had never heard of it. In fact, I thought what the Spanish Riding School did on horseback was their very own special thing - I had no idea anyone else even tried! :-)

In case you doubt that I truly was mesmerized by the world of the SRS, here's the lunch box I carried for most of elementary school. My mother made it for me, and it's covered in various horse-related items. The Lipizzans on the back are directly from the book. I don't know if Mom freehanded the illustrations, or used tracing paper, but it certainly was a unique lunch accessory and I ADORED it:

Count this among the things I would try to rescue in a fire or tornado situation. It's a bit battered (even survived the one and only time I fought back against a bully and whomped her with it - made a most satisfying "Clang!"), but I'm sure you can see why I treasure it.

So we've established that I was/am crazy about Lipizzans. The Spanish Riding School tours the USA on occasion, and there are other troupes of Lipizzaners that put on shows, but of course, the ultimate goal for any fan would be to see them in their very own palace, the Spanische Hofreidschule in Vienna, Austria. You might think this would have been an unattainable goal for a little girl growing up in Monmouth County, NJ.... but you would be wrong. Because, dear readers, I DID go to Vienna and I DID get to see the white stallions, live and in person.

How did this miraculous event come about? My mom had a dear friend who worked for the US Army as a school counselor. Judy was stationed in Bad Tolz, a base of ours in southern Germany/Bavaria (about 25 miles south of Munich). My parents decided when I was in 9th grade to ship me over there for a month - sort of a do-it-yourself exchange student arrangement. I knew Judy and thought this was splendid idea, especially when I found out I would be not that far from Vienna. I'm sure my folks gave Judy a heads-up that there was a certain thing I really HAD to do, but immediately upon arrival I imagine I started dropping hints. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, this is all great, and that is a pretty church, but when are we going to Austria..."

I am exaggerating (God knows, or Judy probably would have put me on the first plane back), and I truly did enjoy everything I got to see and do over there, but you can bet by the time we finally did make it to Vienna I was in quite a state. Vienna is a gorgeous (and clean, or at least it was in the late 70s) city and I loved everything about it. But I really knew I was in the right place when I saw the wooden inlay art framed in our hotel room: two Lipizzan horses, performing their trademark "airs above the ground." I think Judy practically had to post guard over them so they didn't find their way into my suitcase!

The great day finally arrived and I set off by myself for the Riding School (Judy had been before so stayed behind. Quite an adventure right there for a 15-year-old to be turned loose in a foreign city, and I doubt my mother knew about it!). I was only able to afford a "standing room" ticket for the performance, which meant I would be standing up behind the people lucky enough to purchase seats directly on the balcony. No matter, just being there practically elevated me another foot. I was floating around on a cloud of happiness.

The hall of the SRS is exactly as lovely as you would imagine. It's not really all that large; when the horses were doing the quadrille, there didn't seem to be room for all of them. I was situated in about the third "bay" from the far end, right side of this photo:
When the stallions entered the ring, there was an audible gasp from the audience. As for me, it's a wonder I didn't faint dead away, standing on my tiptoes to see. The Lipizzaners! The real ones! Borina's relatives! Right there in front of me! Ever have one of those "out of body" experiences, when you just can't fathom that you actually are where you are? To add to the experience, someone who'd bought a balcony edge seat in front of me (actually a gilded velvet chair) didn't show up, and the extremely kind people around me all but pushed me into it. To this day, the thought of those nice people, looking at the teenager with stars in her eyes and realizing what was going on, making room for me - it still makes me cry. I spent the entire performance hanging over the edge of the balcony, feeling like I could almost reach out and touch the horses walking, trotting, cantering and doing the "airs" below.

I may not have truly appreciated the mastery of dressage that allows these horses and riders to do what they do so brilliantly, but I certainly could tell it was difficult. The part I had most looked forward to, honestly, was the airs above the ground. I wound up being ever-so-slightly disappointed. Mainly it was because they took place so quickly; I was used to staring at the picture of Hans and Borina in mid-courbette and I guess I thought there was significant "hang time" involved. Silly me. Now I'm glad to say that I would be much better able to understand the dressage aspect and the true beauty of the quadrille.

After the show I was allowed to go across the street into the Lipizzan's stable. I had been very, very worried about this, afraid something would happen and I wouldn't be there on the right day or somehow not allowed in. As it turned out, I had no problem. I was crushed to discover, though, they had tied the horses to rings in the back of their stalls, and all I could really see was a bunch of muscular white haunches! What? I wanted to pet some noses, darn it!

One of the stallions, bless him, came to my rescue. He somehow slipped out of his halter or broke his tie and got himself turned around, and happily nuzzled me when I made a beeline for his stall. I know, I know, I was asking for it sticking my hands/fingers right at a strange stallion, but somehow I had no fear (and I should have known better, as a story I'll tell another time will reveal). We had a few brief moments together - I believe I had time to plant a smacker on his adorable pink and grey nose - and then someone from the School came whipping down the aisle to shoo me away. I'm sure I blushed beet red but honestly, I didn't care - I'd gotten to touch one of the White Stallions of Lipizza and that was good enough for me. :-)

I took a bunch of photos of this whole experience, of course, and I wish I knew what happened to them. I know there were slides, because I was able to put together a really kick-ass 4-H Horse Project presentation (I'm sure people had done projects on Lipizanners before, but I was likely one of the few kids in NJ who'd ever seen them in person!) which earned me the top award at the state level. Again, not knowing where the photos are is okay: my trip to the Spanish Riding School is one of those memories that is firmly embedded. Definitely one of my happiest horsey times ever, and I look forward to meeting the gentleman at the KYP who will bring it all back!