I'm really surprised that I've gotten in so much riding over the past few days. I've gone riding every day since Friday, which is amazing. I also get to ride tomorrow for our final lesson of the semester. I'm kinda sad about this semester being over, but at least I'll get to go home and ride Stella over the summer.
Saturday was a very busy day. Larry called me up and asked me to puppysit Abby for a while, so I drove up to the barn and brought her back to the house. I took her for a short walk, but she got lots of time to run and play in puddles and visit with strangers. She also had a snack with me in the kitchen. Who says dogs don't eat applesauce and tofu? I also gave her a bowl of water and a few dog biscuits that I took from the porch at Jean's house. I had to take her back to the barn kind of early because the 4-H was planning to do a road cleanup for our community service project.
I was definitely ready for a torturous four hours, but the cleanup was exciting from the moment we got to Heather's house. Heather took me to the pasture to meet her horses, Skippy and Samson. They were adorable, and it was funny to watch Skippy chase Samson around. Then, Heather's dad got in his truck while Cassie, Heather, Elizabeth, my sister, and I crammed into my tiny little car. We drove down to a road that didn't have too much traffic and I parked the car off the side of the road. After a few seconds, I realized that I was completely stuck in the mud. I gave my car a little gas, kicking up a huge spray of mud that spattered the entire front half of the car but failing to move the car a single inch. What did we do? We laughed hysterically at my predicament. Then, we rummaged through my trunk for something to help us out. Cassie suggested taking two of my Quarter Horse Journals and wedging them under the tires to help, but that only got them all muddy. I used my ice scraper to dig away some of the mud that had engulfed my tires, but that didn't do anything to help either. Since we'd exhausted our resources, we stepped back and...yes, laughed and took pictures. Eventually, Heather's dad returned and he dragged me out of the miry mess that I'd gotten myself into. Everyone was making jokes about my ability to park my car, but they also thanked me for starting our cleanup with a bang :)
We went along well for a while, but eventually we got bored and started to think of things that would entertain us. A few cars passed by, and we pulled the good ol' invisible rope trick on each of them. One of us would stand on either side of the road, pretending to strain against some sort of line that was stretched across the path of the moving car. Of course there was nothing actually there--we're silly, not stupid. The motorists, however, were quite surprised to see a bunch of foolish kids giggling on the side of the road as they approached, and they would slow down and sometimes stop as soon as they realized that we were holding something (an imaginary rope) in their way. The looks on their faces were quite amusing, to say the least.
We also discussed the possibility of finding a human body as we were picking up trash. We were laughing about it until we discovered a spine...ribcage...skull... It was a deer skeleton, of course, but the discovery couldn't have been more perfectly timed. The scary (and very sad) thing was that we found about five deer skeletons by the time we finished.
After the cleanup, we counted 18 full bags of trash, which was a pretty good accomplishment. A guy who was working in his yard as we passed thanked us for doing what we were doing. Later on, we got him with the invisible rope, but he just stopped, smiled, and thanked us again :) We took lots of group pictures and then Heather and her dad helped me hose off my car, mostly the brakes and windshield. I was really pleased with the whole thing.
I went to the barn after I got home (after I got lost on some random back road), and I rode Stella. We had quite a nice ride, although it wasn't quite as nice as Friday's ride. She was steering correctly again, so I have no clue what had gotten into her. That's just Stella for you.
Mindy came over on Sunday and we rode together. Stella did something really cute when I got on her. She took a few steps as soon as I was mounted up, so I halted her and made her stand. Then, I asked her to walk. She really seemed like she wanted to do "something," and I gave her the reins because I was confused and wanted her to show me what she was thinking. Sure enough, Stella strolled over to the bath tub in the corner of the arena and started to drink. She's asked me to let her drink while we were riding before, but I thought it was pretty cool that we're getting to the point where we have little "conversations" that go beyond the basics of walk, trot, canter, extend, collect, halt, leg-yield, et cetera. She asks me to let her hand-gallop, or to let her canter for a longer time, or to let her have a drink of water during the ride. I'm becoming more subtle with my aids. I think we're quite a pair :)
We had an excellent ride on the flat. We walked and trotted and cantered for a long time, even with five people in the ring. Our ring is really small, and I think five is the most horses I've ever seen working simultaneously. I think five is the most we should put in there too. Larry, Mindy, Elizabeth, my sister, and I can all handle a tight ring, though, so we didn't have any horse collision mishaps. Mindy didn't want to jump Tina since she's pregnant and at the stage where the zygote hasn't yet attached to the wall of her uterus. She just didn't want to try anything with Tina that could abort the pregnancy. I offered to let her jump Stella instead. She took Stella over a few jumps, but Stella got a little crazy and she decided to end the jumping session while things were still looking good. I took Stella back into the ring and cooled her out, and then Stella got a quick rinse since she was so sweaty. It was a very fun day.
As usual, I had a lesson at school on Monday. Instead of jumping, however, we had a flat lesson. We did fun stuff for the whole lesson. I got to ride Blaze, a pretty little chestnut mare. She was a good sport through all of our silly human games, so I made sure that I gave her a peppermint or two as a treat.
Our first activity was the cup race, where we had to race across the arena, pick up a piece of rubber footing from the wall, race back, and drop it into a cup. We had to do that as many times as we could in three minutes. At first Blaze was a little confused, but she picked it up quickly and we got a whole lot of rubber bits into our cup. I think I had five.
Then, we played the musical blankets game, where Teresa put out a bunch of the little blankets that we use to cover the saddles while we walk to the arena when it's raining. We played just like musical chairs, but we had to get one hoof onto the blanket in order to be safe. I stayed in for a few rounds, but then I battled John T and his rider and lost. It was really fun to watch from the middle. One girl got really into the game and urged her horse on, so he broke into a gallop and started bucking. She sat it just fine and started laughing, so everything was okay.
The best game of all was when Teresa put us into teams of two and gave each team a length of baling twine. Each person had to hold an end of the twine and race their horses to the opposite end of the arena, then turn and race back. Allyson and I won both times. I was glad to finally get the chance to play this game. I'd heard about it a lot and it sounded like so much fun. It really was, too.
Our last game was ride-a-buck. Teresa got us to take off our saddles and mount up bareback, and then each of us got a slip of paper with our name on it. Blaze was awfully uncomfortable because of her withers, but her trot was fine to sit bareback. I lost my paper at some point. I've played ride-a-buck at shows while studying patterns--I fold up the paper with the pattern printed on it and tuck it under my thigh. It was fun to try it bareback, and I guess I need to work on keeping my legs from wiggling when I lack tack.
Today I had to make up a lesson from earlier in the semester when it snowed. I got to ride Merlin, who is one of my absolute favorite school horses. It was an advanced-level jumping lesson, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. When I was in hi-elementary, I made up a lesson in an intermediate class and scared the instructor to death because I almost fell off midair over a jump. I was kind of expecting the same thing, only on a more advanced level... It was a great lesson, though.
We started on the flat. Beth, the head coach for the riding team, was our instructor for the day. She asked us to drop our irons and do a sitting trot. That was easy enough. Then, she asked us to do a posting trot without stirrups. I explained to her about my hip and how posting without stirrups usually exacerbates the problem, so I got off the hook with that one. I just continued to sit the trot. She didn't like how I held my legs without stirrups. When I don't have stirrups, I allow my legs to drape around the horse. She told me to tuck my legs up, basically in a chair seat and with my knees higher than they'd be with stirrups, which reduced the security of my seat. I didn't like it, but I tried to keep my legs lifted whenever she was looking. When we got our stirrups back, we did some more work at the posting trot. Beth also didn't like my dressage-esque posting. She told me to post "forward and back" instead of "up and down." I knew exactly what she wanted and was perfectly capable of doing it (She said that it was "excellent" when I started doing what I've spent years learning NOT to do.), but it was terribly awkward and unnatural for me. If I posted like that at home, Larry would kill me. No, he would simply never let me ride one of his horses again and THAT would kill me. I did it the hunter way for a while before going back to the way I normally do it.
That's one of the main reasons I don't want to try out for the equestrian team. I just don't want to be forced to ride like that. It looks terrible and it's less effective. She told me to "untuck" my hips from under me. Larry would slit my throat if I did that at home. At my first year of District, the judge was placing forward-seat riders. Jacqui, a girl who used to ride with Larry, joked that she was going to go into her equitation class "showing off her butt and boobs" (as we often describe it at our barn, though in public we always use the term "forward-seat"). Larry said that she most certainly would not :)
When we cantered, Beth told me to stop moving my elbows. I was confused because I thought she meant that I should lock them and jab poor Merlin in the mouth with every stride. I thought that was atrocious, so I kept thinking about it. Finally I watched someone else in the class and I think I realized what she wanted. She wanted me to "pump" my upper body instead of opening and closing my elbows to follow his mouth. If Larry heard her say that, he'd flip out. He's spent years yelling at me and everyone else at our barn about "pumping." Once again, it looks atrocious. I do occasionally two-point the canter, either because I'm on an uncomfortable horse, my hip is hurting too much to sit, or I'm asking Stella to hand-gallop, but I don't allow my upper body to flop back and forth as if I have absolutely no abdominal strength.
I guess I'll have some more funny things to tell Larry next time I see him. Maybe I'll call him and tell him how they told me to "untuck" my hips (I told him that before, and he laughed out loud.), "pump" my upper body (He'll be flaming mad.), and show off my goods (sic) to the judge.
I personally felt excellent on the flat today. My hip was hurting a little bit before I got on, but I took care of that. I felt relaxed and everything was moving/not moving as it should. The experimentation with forward-seating was where my riding got a little wonky.
Jumping today was excellent, even though the flat portion of the lesson was slightly irritating. We did a combination for the entire lesson. It started out as a set of three very low jumps. There were two strides after the first jump and one after the second. We took the combination from both directions. I liked how Beth asked us which way we thought should be easier. Everyone in the class said that the direction that started with the two-stride set of jumps should be easier, but we were all wrong. Beth explained her reasoning to us, and it made a lot of sense. I really do like her teaching style, even though I disagree with a lot of what she told me today. I had a lot of very nice jumps, mostly because Merlin is a great guy.
The first time through the combination, we popped over the first jump and then Merlin moseyed out of the line. I felt him doing it, but I just couldn't stop him. It was a little embarrassing to have him run out like that, especially since we weren't even going that fast and he wasn't being difficult. He just decided that he wanted to scoot out of the line and trot back to his buddies. I made sure not to let him move off the path after that.
I also encountered a little problem once we reversed the line and took it from the one-stride side first. For some reason, I sat back down during the one stride between the two jumps, and I got a little left behind because I simply didn't have enough time to get back into two-point. I didn't do that again either :) The rest of our jumps were very fun and easy. I did get a little nervous at first because Beth raised the jumps up and they looked very high, probably the highest I've ever jumped. I relaxed though, and everything was okay.
Tomorrow's our last riding day of the semester... Aw :(