I’ve had such a great week- everything’s going well with work, ponies, etc…Until I got home yesterday to find about 72 feet of our privacy fence had been blown over in yesterday’s strong winds! Ugh. What a way to start the weekend.
Here’s what was on my radar before I started Googling “how to build a privacy fence”:
While I was in Florida, I met with one of the store’s vendor reps who showed me some beautiful new products. One of them was a collection of stock ties from the California-based Style Stock. These are gorgeous in person, with luxurious fabrics in all sorts of patterns. I’m sort of in love with this blue and gold tie, although I don’t know where I’d wear it!
TWO ‘Meeting Martha’ series on Eventing Nation
This series from EN writer Leslie Wylie documents how she met the Lady Martha Sitwell and went foxhunting with the infamous Ledbury Hunt. It’s a fun read and it makes me want to go hunting again RIGHT NOW! Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
In an effort to expand my literary horizons beyond fantasy novels and horse-centric books, I’ve been picking through Johnny’s bookshelves. I started this non-fiction crime book a couple of days ago and am completely engrossed by it! It’s about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and is centered around the architect behind the fair and a serial killer who murdered dozens of people during the event. The novelistic style makes it easy and quick to read.
The last time I was at the salon, I asked my stylist to show me just how she creates these beautiful loose waves that last all day in my thick, straight hair. She showed me the technique, and I tried it a few times with the straightening iron I’ve had since high school. It wasn’t working very well (maybe because parts of the plates have chipped off?), so I asked her for a recommendation for a new iron. She immediately sent me to this HairArt iron. IT IS MAGICAL, y’all. I can style my hair in about 20 minutes, the waves stay all day, and my hair is shiny and smooth. When I look good, I feel good, so this thing has been well worth its price!
We’ll be spending the weekend attempting to rebuild our fence. What are y’all up to?
Betsy Steiner is an accomplished dressage rider; she’s represented the United States at the World Equestrian Games, she’s competed successfully at Grand Prix for longer than I’ve been alive, and she’s trained a number of horses to that level. She’s also an incredibly kind and positive woman who graciously allowed me an interview after she’d spent a long day coaching and showing. I was eager ask her about Equilates, the Pilates-based exercise program she developed specifically for equestrians.
SP: Can you tell me about Equilates? What is it? BS: Equilates is a Pilates-based system of fitness training for the rider. It’s sports-specific (for dressage, jumping, any kind of rider) exercises off the horse. It’s unmounted exercises for the most part. We’ve also developed different exercises and used the Pilates-based exercises for mounted exercises as well. In my lessons, I always refer to the different Pilates terms and the exercises that we’ve done in Equilates. So if somebody, for example, learns some of the exercises on the ball, I can say, “Remember how it felt on the ball when you rolled back and forth, how it worked your abs? That’s your canter transition.” So it really helps the rider identify something when they’re not worried about the horse and everything that’s going on: keeping them on the bit, keeping them moving, what is he going to do. It takes them out of that very multi-tasking place into one focused area to think about “this is the movement and these are the body parts you are using.” So it really brings huge body awareness.
SP: I can imagine! It sounds like it would be a really beneficial program for any sort of rider at any level. BS: Yeah. It also helps me as a trainer. It helps me see. You can keep telling a person, “Sit straight, don’t keep collapsing on one side,” but when you see them off the horse, you can kind of tell in the work that we do if they really have a severe weakness on one side or the other. Or if they really can’t do something- say if they can’t really keep their heels down or whatever it may be. I’m not going to keep telling them to do that because they may try all the time but they’re never going to do it. So what kind of exercise can I do to help them do that simple thing? Or I’ll think, “No, that’s not a possibility. They have restrictions in their body, they can’t do that, so how am I going to teach them better?” So it helps people coaching other people to understand that individual’s body because everybody’s so different.
You can say to a rider, “Drive,” but what does that mean? How do you initiate drive? Where does drive come from? How do you explain it? Like, if we’re here face to face, I can say, “Okay, you engage your abdominal muscles, you push your hips forward,” and you actually do it, say, with an exercise on the floor or sitting on the ball, and just by engaging those muscles you move the ball forward, you’re like, “Ahh!” So you get that. You can do great things on the ball. Just imagine the energy’s behind you and when you pull it in a forward direction, the horse comes forward and onto the bit. So everything we do, it’s not like a pilates class per se, but it all reverts back to your riding.
SP: So it’s very riding-specific.
BS: Very riding-specific.
SP:So how did you come to feel like this needed to be developed? Was there just nothing out there, or were riders doing exercises but not ones that were very beneficial? BS: Yeah, when I started it, nobody was doing cross-training. Or nobody was talking about doing cross-training. I had always done cross-training with my riding career. That started very early on. I went to Canada and worked at Christilot Boylen’s barn and her mother taught dance and I had to go to the dance studio. When I went, I thought she did a lot of Pilates- it wasn’t called Pilates- but she did a lot of Pilates-based exercises and she explained when you did these, it helped your riding. So from the very beginning, I thought, “Well, that makes a whole lot of sense!” You understood your body and you understood straightness.
I had a very arched back at the time and she said, “That’s not beneficial for your riding, you need to use your back like this,” and because the riding was my complete and total passion, I thought, “I’ll do whatever it takes to be able to do it!” So that’s what sort of planted the seed to bring the fitness training into my riding. Plus, I love working out anyhow. I love different modalities of it.
I did a lot of weight training. That made my muscles too bulky- I didn’t feel like I was supple enough. I then I went to Tai Chi, which was really nice and that brought in a looseness and also core strength. And then I found Pilates, and that was, gosh, back in 1994 or something. I’d started working with this coach, the personal trainer I was working with at the time, and she started doing Pilates. She came back to the studio and said, “This is what you’re going to love.” And then on the reformers, we started worked on the reformer. [Ed.- Here’s an article on Pilates reformers if you aren’t familiar with them.] And because the reformer moves and has reactions, I thought, “This is the closest thing to simulating being on a horse.” So for me that was huge.
From the different things I’d learned from Tai Chi and in weight training and some yoga training and with the Pilates, I thought, “If you combine all those things…” It doesn’t have to be strictly one thing, because every body is different. So whatever works for a particular body, that’s what you should do. For a while, I was working on strength, and then it was like, “You don’t need strength now, you need suppleness.” So it changes, and sometimes you go to the suppleness, and it’s like “Okay, let’s build our strength again.”
SP: It sounds like it has a lot in common with the way we train our horses. BS: Exactly! Exactly. That’s nice that you brought that up. To me it was the same thing. With our horses, we do the gymnastic work. From the very first time I started riding horses, I thought of it as being an athletic endeavor in equal. Like, if I expected this from my horse, he expects this from me. I have to be fit, I have to be balanced, I have to understand my body and know where it is. That was a real interesting thing that I’ve always had problems with.
I think probably, then, gosh back in…gosh, that was a long time ago. There was no Pilates studio at all in Wellington. And you’d say “Pilates” and nobody really knew what it was. I was going all the way out to West Palm Beach to find a studio. One of the gals that worked out there, I convinced her- I said, “You have to come out to Wellington” and she said, “Well, I don’t know if there will be enough business,” and I said, “Trust me.”
At that time, I started developing Equilates and that’s when I wrote the book and did all of the comparisons- “when you learn this exercise yourself it really helps you do these movements on the horse.” And I’ve really seen that a lot, even in just using the language. You know when you’re talking to a rider and they’ve been working with you on Equilates and you say, “Feel the difference between your upper and your lower abs” and they can really articulate that and can really feel it. So it’s just developing a language and a body awareness so that when they’re on the horse they’re not balancing on the horse and they really have control. And I think a person really has to understand that to allow the horse self-carriage. That makes a long answer for that, doesn’t it? [laughs]
SP: It seems like riders in general are starting to approach the sport from a more athletically-minded standpoint than maybe they did in the past. Do you have any advice for riders on where to start?
BS: I think if somebody took a beginner Pilates mat class- Pilates targets so much to the core strength. Then you can do yoga and different things like that. I think for a base, Pilates is really the best. When you get the concept of Pilates and working from your core, then everything you do starts there.
Then you go back to our horses- we want them to balance through their bodies, bring their bellies up, use their back, go forward towards the bit and be able to bring the haunches under. And you think, “Okay, if I’m asking them to do all of that, then I want to be able to create the same position in my body that I’m asking them more.” So you need to be able to engage your abs, bring your seat forward, push in a forward direction, and have them reach into the reins, not balance in the reins. Any beginner rider who comes to me, if the balance is off a little bit, we always go back and talk about body awareness and when they’re on the horse too “Can you feel this? Can you feel when you’re moving and when you’re allowing the horse to move and when you’re forcing movement in the horse because your body is either tight or stiff or holding, not letting them move.”
Pilates also offers a wholeness- you know, like, it’s a little bit ‘mind, body, spirit’. In training a horse, you can never just train the body, you have to train the body and the mind. And sometimes the body goes ahead and the mind has to catch up, so you slow down a little bit there and you give them time to understand and give them confidence. And now he’s confident and everything else, and you say, “Now we can move the body forward again” and I think for humans, my riders, I watch them, and it can be a rider of any age or experience, and you say, “If we just got them a little bit more balanced like this they could understand then how to release their energy and their horse’s energy in a positive way”
In my mind, it just keeps growing in benefits. It’s not just riding now, it’s blending together, it’s melting into the horse. You know how they say, “Become one with the horse.” When you have use of your body and you’re strong enough and can let go enough to let the horse move and you move with him, you can CAN feel like you’re one with him. And to me, that’s the most glorious feeling ever.
Interested in Equilates? You can read more about it, buy the book, or buy the DVD at www.equilates.com!
It was beautiful and sunny this morning, so I headed out to hack Moe before work. He seemed glad to see me, mugging for cookies and rubbing his head against me. (I blame Johnny for the sudden resurgence of this bad habit.)
When he realized we weren’t heading into The Arena Of Despair, he really perked up. His head lifted, his ears went forward, and he practically dragged me to the hay meadow gate. I hopped on, and off we went!
Moe felt like his usual self- he was extremely alert, eager to go, and spent half of our ride jigging and thinking about bolting. I’ll take that Moe over mopey, depressed Moe any day! We walked laps around the upper and lower fields for about 35 minutes before heading back in; I didn’t want to get him too wound up with trotting or cantering, but I’m sure he would’ve been happy to go faster.
One odd thing- about 20 minutes into the ride, I started hearing a distinct clicking noise. I couldn’t tell if it was a joint clicking or if he was clipping himself with his hind feet. Moe tracks up a lot, so it’s possible he’s clipping his front end with his hind end. The clicking sounded different than Gina’s joints popping, but Moe’s a different horse. He doesn’t seem uncomfortable or stiff, so I don’t know what’s going on.
At any rate, I’m glad my cheerful little horse was happy to go hacking; hopefully, more hacking and less dressage will restore his good spirits permanently!
Apparently, the secret to rejuvenating your senior horse is a three step process:
Take horse foxhunting
Give horse a month off
Put front shoes on horse
Gina and I went for a hard-work dressage ride yesterday; it was sunny and 55, so I opted to ride in the freshly dragged outdoor arena with a friend and her very cute Haffie gelding. Gina was raring to go. She marched around the arena in the biggest, most powerful walk I’ve ever felt her perform. It was hard to get her to focus and relax, though; she was unsteady in the contact and felt unusually stiff in her jaw and poll.
Several circles, shoulder-ins, and leg yields later, we were ready to trot. Gina zoomed off like a horse possessed; maybe she was channeling her inner harness racer? More circles, leg yields, and spiral in/out exercises ensued. We had some really nice moments of powerful, pushing trot- those moments make me really excited for show season! The rest of the trot work was kind of a mess, though. Since last year’s lesson with Claudia Misner, I’ve been working hard on being more aware of my body position- especially my hands. Gina still tries to cheat me by avoiding the outside rein and gets a little cranky when I insist she pays attention. I figure I’m doing it right when I feel her twitch her tail angrily!
We attempted a little cantering, which was nearly disastrous. I haven’t bothered to remove my small, nubby spurs from my boots going from Moe to Gina; she doesn’t need them and I am competent enough to keep them away from her sides. Except for yesterday, apparently. After we had some consistently nice trot work, I asked for the canter. Gina leaped forward, then lurched right as she spooked at her shadow/the wind/a pile of poles/a butterfly flapping its wings in Australia/who knows. I gripped with my legs, poking her with my right spur. Gina was not pleased and performed some hybrid half-pass/crow hop left, then bolted toward the barn. I’m pretty sure that’s exactly how the zig zag movement is supposed to go, you guys.
Gina never really calmed down after that, and we finished with some quiet trot circles in the indoor arena. Afterwards, I pulled her mane, rubbed her down with Sore No-More, and slathered her tail with The Herbal Horse’s Healthy Hair.
I really think hunting and time off were good for both Gina’s body and mind. She’s more energetic and alert than she has been in ages; I think our dressage will get back up to its usual level as we continue to work. I’m optimistic that our scores will be decent if we can keep this level of energy in the ring!
Moe hasn’t been himself for the last few weeks- he’s been lethargic and reluctant to move very forward under saddle. Usually, he’s a hard worker who tries his best even if he doesn’t completely understand what he’s supposed to do. Lately, he’s been half-dead in the ring for both me and his lesson kid.
Nothing has recently changed in his diet or routine. His appetite is as hearty as ever, he isn’t sore or stiff, he’s drinking well, he’s pooping well, and he isn’t exhibiting any unusual behaviors except for being really, really lazy.
When the vet was out last week, I had her check him for ulcers, do a fecal test, and do some bloodwork on him. I heard from the vet earlier this week: Moe’s bloodwork is completely normal and his fecal egg count is zero. He had no ulcers, and while his teeth need to be floated, they aren’t so bad that they’d cause major problems with his ability to eat or work. I was relieved to hear his bloodwork was normal; I was terrified he was anemic from kidney disease or cancer or some other horrible thing.
Interestingly, she suggested he might have sand accumulation in his gut. I was surprised to hear this, as the barn isn’t on particularly sandy soil and he isn’t eating his grain from a dirt floor or anything. My vet suggested putting him on Sand Clear for a couple of months to see if it makes a difference.
I rode Moe yesterday after dropping off his Sand Clear; he was lethargic and kind of sour again. There’s no way I’m taking him to next week’s schooling show- he’s obviously not feeling 100%, and I can’t ask him to go gallop and jump. I’ve given some thought to how to change our training plans. I’ll have his teeth floated in the next month or so. (I can’t afford to have them done right away, as my recent vet bill was appalling thanks to Moe’s bloodwork and Gina’s breeding soundness exam.) Moe started Sand Clear today, so I’m hoping that between that and floating, any physical issues will be cleared up. I’m also going to give the dressage a break for a while. It’s never been his favorite activity. I’ve been gung-ho to work on it because it needs work, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was getting a little burned out on it. So over the next few weeks, we’ll head out to the hay meadow to hack, and we’ll go over some mini courses in the outdoor arena. I’m hoping that giving him a mental break and addressing some physical concerns will have him back to his normal self soon!
And if he continues to act lazy and unhappy? We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it; Moe’s certainly earned a retirement if he wants one!