Monday, December 31, 2018

So long, 2018 - you were good to us!

Doing a wrap-up of this year feels kinda weird... it seems like everything went by in a blur, and we mostly just worked on the same things over and over and over and over again until they were really frickin' good. And then we went and showed in November and I got my bronze medal, the end.

I am more proud of this little pin than I am of my Ph.D. 

Ok there was a little more to it than that. We started off the year with Taran in training to figure out changes; meanwhile I rode Griffy and took him to a rated show where we did pretty well. Shortly after that my husband stole him back as a jousting horse and well... no more Griffy for me.

It's probably just as well, because all this hair is a PITA.

Taran eventually came home in May, and we started up with a new trainer since my GP trainer moved back to Virginia (still have not forgiven her for that). We struggled a lot with riding in the heat, and had two colic episodes due to dehydration. We decided that to keep T from overheating, I would only ride him first thing in the morning - which meant that trailering to lessons after work, or going to any shows when it was above 80 degrees, was pretty much out.

We got some nice trail rides in tho.

We were out of town for a while over the summer and to keep T fit while we were gone, I put him back in training with the new trainer.  When I had my first ride back, it immediately became apparent that *I* was the limiting factor in our progress. So I ended up putting *myself* in full training - five lessons a week, before work. It's probably the best decision I've ever made, because my riding finally began to improve enough so that I could really work on the third level things that Taran already knew how to do.

Leaning and collapsing like a pro, while my saint of a horse rocks a half pass.

We also became official Haflinger hoarders this fall when we added Leo to the collection.

All of them are 100% more photogenic than I am

We had planned on doing our third level debut in October, but Taran tried to rip his eyelid off and recovery was super slow (stupid Cushings). Instead I attended a Mary Wanless clinic, which was really hard and really eye-opening. Maybe someday I'll get around to posting the rest of my clinic notes lol.

We finally, finally, got to show third level. I was nervous as usual (ugh will that EVER go away???)  but T absolutely rocked it with a 67+% and a 64+% on 3-3, good enough to qualify for a freestyle, regionals, and a bronze medal.

We also worked on piaffe at home, which I never posted about but which was absolutely amazing.

Unfortunately we are closing out 2018 with a bit of uncertainty - T came up bilaterally lame in the front after riding him in a sand arena. At first we thought it might be sore soles - he's only got 4mm and 7mm in the left and right fronts, respectively, but after some time off he continued to be short on the LF. Radiographs of the coffin and navicular joints were clear, but he blocked sound to the coffin joint (which communicates with the navicular joint and also some soft tissue in the area), so injections were recommended. OF COURSE T cannot have normal joint injections because they contain steroids (and Cushings horses cannot have steroids), so we did ProStride (IRAP + PRP) + HA. Right now T is about 98%, but it takes several weeks for full effect. He gets rechecked early in the New Year, so fingers crossed that magic happens, because I REALLY want to do 4th level with the best lil grey wonderpony ever!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Haffie Holidays!

From all of us at Wyvern Oaks, we hope you're having a wonderful, joyous holiday, and may your New Year be filled with peace and joy!

And also adorable Haflingers.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Friday, December 14, 2018

Finally, third level

Although I know this blog is mostly dead, it's because this year has been so dang busy. Sadly I don't see that changing any time soon, but it is what it is.

We've been working this whole year on third level. Back in January we started on changes, and I swear it feels like we've been working on them ever since... and they are still not great. He's got a ballin' half pass at trot and canter, our rein back has gone from a 4 to a 9, his gaits have improved soooo much... but that damn change.

Until March of this year, Taran had never done a change under saddle (I've never seen him do one in the pasture either), and he's 16. Moral of this is, don't wait to teach your horse changes until this late in life. It really DOES take them a year to figure out the biomechanics, or so I hear. We're not quite at a year yet and we maybe only get a clean change 20% of the time.

If you're like me and you're also learning changes at the same time, well, you've got your work cut out for you. It's a struggle to contain their anticipation (because hey, you taught them a cool new trick and now they want to do it EVERYWHERE), keep the rhythm, straightness, and be uphill and THEN ask correctly for a change without leaning, pulling, flailing, ducking, or a multitude of (wrong) things you can do with your body. Even writing this makes it sound so much simpler than it is. Hopefully some day I will look back at this and laugh, but today isn't that day. On the bright side, my trainer can get clean changes about 80% of the time, so clearly we're down to rider error. Le sigh.

ANYWAY. Third level.

We'd planned to debut at third back in October, T tried to rip off his eyelid so we were sidelined. We finally made it out to a show the weekend before Thanksgiving. And while it's been our only show this year (what a change from 2017!), I'm so glad we waited. We were prepared, I knew we could do all the things, and I was ready to show off my little grey wonderpony.

We showed at a new venue, Haras, which you might recognize from Andrea's posts. It's a verrrrrrry upscale Lusitano breeding/training facility that hosts all sorts of Working Equitation competitions. They also hosted Charlotte du Jardin for a masterclass last year. Two massive covered arenas, OttoSport footing (watered by an underground system so no wet spots!), an on-site restaurant, hotel, and spa... this is definitely how the other half lives!

Sunset over the lake... you can see the two covered arenas on the other side

I arrived a bit later on Friday than I had intended and opted to do a long hand-walk instead of riding. I I knew the trailer ride would be a bit tiring for him, and I knew he wouldn't rest well at the show, so I wanted to save his energy. With the Cushings, managing his energy levels has become Something We Do, and I figured riding on Friday wasn't really necessary. Despite our last show being Nationals last year (!!!), T is generally good at new facilities and it wasn't like we were gonna put any more polish on. So we spent a long time wandering around, eating sniffing the plants, checking out the bleachers, and contemplating rolling in the arena.

One of the nicest things about going third is your ride times. GP goes first, on down to intro, so you're sort of mid-morning. Plenty of time to get up at a reasonable hour, feed, muck, braid and groom, get yourself ready and then ride. His braids were not the nicest ever (apparently going a year without braiding is not a good plan) but otherwise we looked pretty spiff. I started off the warmup super tense as usual, but worked through some breathing, moving, and stretching exercises and started to loosen up. T was a superstar and worked through our mostly walk warm-up, then moved on to quickly make sure all the buttons still worked. Forward/back, half-pass/leg yield, halt/rein-back, and one change each direction, done on a CC circle to true canter. They were both sassy and croup high, but whatever, I knew what we were going to get.

Coming down centerline for 3-1, I had such a huge smile on my face, I'm sure the judge thought I was crazy. WE WERE SHOWING THIRD!!! Unfortunately, the excitement got to me and I rode a very tense test, which means that I blocked T the whole time. We did all the things (well, the changes were... entertaining) but I knew it wasn't our best. I wasn't really happy with our performance and I knew we could do better.

We had a bit of time to wait until 3-3. I collected my test (62+%) and our ribbon (1st out of 2) and a mug (sorry, I still love swag, even if it was not my favorite test) and read over the judge's comments. We got a 5 on submission with "changes" circled and underlined, and I had a good laugh over that. The judge also noted that I'd taken 5 steps back instead of 3-4, so I figured I'd count to 3 and we'd get a better score.

I rode an even more conservative warmup for 3-3 because he was a bit tired, but we both felt way more relaxed. He was SO BALANCED in the canter, I just wanted to ride it forever, and when I asked for our practice change, it was so clean, so uphill, so steady... so perfect. And of course it was in warmup lol.

This test was much, much more relaxed. I let him flow under me and pushed us both for bigger steps and better self-carriage.  I set him up in the corners and remembered to mostly get out of his way.

Annnnd then we did the changes. I have watched this little gem about 100 times and it still makes me giggle. Late tempis are not needed at third, who knew?

I was SUPER happy with this ride... the test was as mistake-free as I could make it, and except for the changes it felt really solid. I cooled T out and headed over to the show office to pick up my test, and just about screamed when I saw the 67+%!!!!!

Note the NINE on the rein back! We have never gotten anything better than a 4 until this weekend. (not shown: 4s on the changes hahahaha)

Yes please I will take that 7 on the extended trot thankyouverymuch. 

Also wonderponies require a lot of ear rubs an groomings

There are a lot of itchy spots, you know.

Hubby and I often use horse shows as a sort of mini weekend getaway, and this weekend was no exception. We spent the afternoon napping and relaxing in our camper (I did giggle gleefully every time I looked at my test), and then opted to get dinner at the on-site restaurant.  

It was fancy and absolutely delish, and they didn't even mind our horse clothes.

Sunday dawned cold and rainy, and I was even more glad for the indoors than I was on Saturday. We stuck with our tried-and-true mostly walk warmup, and then did a very uninspired 3-1 for a 61+%. Probably I should be happy for 60+ our first weekend out, but really, we can do better than that. I just get SO tense for the first ride, it really stifles poor T. He can still do all the things, but he really can't do them well if I'm shutting him down every step.

Even with a less-than-satisfactory test, we'd set out to do what I'd hoped to: gotten our bronze medal scores and qualified to ride a third-level freestyle. I was super tempted to scratch our second test since I knew we'd both be tired, but I really wanted to redeem ourselves after another crap first test. Our last test was obedient but kinda flat. We were both tired, and no amount of fancy footing was going to fix that. We held it together and put in a mistake-free test for a 64+% under a much tougher judge, and I was super happy with that. Plus that got us a second qualifying score for regionals - not that we'll necessarily go, but we have it.

I think this is what they mean when they comment "croup high"? BWAHAHAHAHA

Funny story about the drive home... I was on a little backroad about 5 minutes from the barn, when i noticed a little red slow-down spot on my map. There was literally nobody else on the road, so I wondered what it was... 

Not sure if you can see it, but there's a combine driving in my lane. The guy was texting on his phone and apparently Maps was tracking him going slow enough that its algorithm determined there was a traffic jam of some sort. 

So Taran is officially a third level horse and a USDF bronze-medal-winning wonderpony. It's been a long year to get to this point, but I feel like we did it right and we are a solid team. As always, there is so much to work on, but every ride gets better and I'm starting to feel true self-carriage and unlock so many amazing things. We may not be the fanciest thing out there, but nobody tries harder or has a bigger heart than Taran. He's truly the Wonderpony!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Mary Wanless clinic day 1 - learning how to walk again

After reading Megan's incredible write-up of the Mary Wanless clinic she attended earlier this year, I knew I wanted to attend one. Turns out, she comes through Texas a couple of times per year, and I managed to snag a spot in the fall clinic.

Based on Megan's experience, I was a little nervous coming into the clinic, but I REALLY wanted to understand some of the position problems I've been having. There's the left collapsing, the hands, not finding my left seatbone... so many things to work on. Plus, when I look at pictures of myself riding, my leg and seat position just don't look right.

Collapsing left in my torso, no weight in left seatbone, wtf is my left hand even doing...??? (but hey, my horse looks awesome doing half pass despite my worst efforts!)

Leaning back and pulling, two of my most favorite things to do.

The biggest thing about riding with Mary is that you're there to work on YOU, not on the horse. Expect your position to be picked apart (kindly and logically) and then reassembled in new and more effective ways, and it's gonna feel WIERD.

For example, the very first thing she asked me is how much weight I had in each seatbone vs in my pubic bone. Uhhh... I ride with all my weight in my seatbones? So every time I'm going down on his back, 100% of my weight is in the weakest part of his back - not good. Related to this is that I carry most of my weight in my stirrup, so my leg comes forward and braces, which also means my thigh isn't on the horse. And that was just in the first 60 seconds!

The first order of business was to shorten my stirrups two holes (I have half-holes so this isn't as much as it might seem). This put more bend in my knee and somehow allowed my thigh to lie flat. Mary was careful to place my leg just so, moving my thigh muscle out of the way so that everything was in the proper position - including my toe, which I have struggled to get to hang straight FOR YEARS. She then held my belt and showed me how she wanted me to tip my pelvis a bit more back, which allowed me to weight both my seatbones and my pubic bone evenly. Finally, she had me push my collarbone against her hand so I could think about carrying my torso a bit more forward. And then she had me practice that position at a walk.

What I looked like after Mary had worked her magic. Way more bend in my knee, my thigh is actually usable, and I'm not leaning way back with my torso because I actually have weight in the front of the saddle.

Initially, I felt like my torso was so far forward that I was practically in two-point. I struggled not to fall back on only my seatbones with each step. But the longer I rode, the more solidly I felt plugged into the saddle. My left seatbone, which is normally up somewhere around my shoulder, was solidly under me. I felt even everywhere in the saddle. My leg hung comfortably in place, and I could see my toe pointing straight forward (instead of out at a 30 degree angle). When I started asking T for some small walk laterals, I found he was much more willing to shift his haunches around now that I wasn't sitting hard on his back all the time. SUPER AMAZING MAGIC Y'ALL.

I literally spent the entire hour lesson walking and halting on a 20 meter circle and struggled with every step of it.

A crappy still from a video that I pulled off another rider's phone. I know, I'm just walking, but THIS WAS SO HARD.

One of the best things about Mary is that she's great with visualization - but visualization specific to you. To be clear, I've always struggled with visualizations in books, because I'm never quite sure if I'm doing it right. Mary does it completely different - she physically (gently) manipulates your body to exactly where you need to be, then has you describe how it feels, in your own words. It's like your very own customized visualization. In my case I told her I felt like I was leaning so far forward that I was "falling off over his ears" and she kept repeating that to me. Because it was my visualization, I could picture exactly what it meant so I could reproduce that feeling with my body. I thought that was an incredibly powerful technique, and like nothing I've ever encountered before.

The final five minutes of the lesson were spent demonstrating our posting technique, at the halt. Mary's comment, when she saw my posting, was "oh my, we have a lot to work on tomorrow." I laughed, because she wasn't wrong - but ohmygosh, posting correctly is really hard!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Taran's special sneakers (or, how EasyShoes keeps my Cushing's horse sound)

Taran has been barefoot for most of his life, until he stepped on a nail that went through both his coffin joint and navicular bursae, back in 2011. During recovery, he had a hospital plate and then a rocker-toed supportive shoe, but early on after the injury it became apparent that whatever internal damage the nail had done meant that he needed the toe on the damaged foot (his RF) to be kept very short, or he would be off due to the strain on the DDFT.

Fast forward to early 2017 - second level, and we were having some issues with Taran being a bit sore on the fronts under some conditions. My trimmer did what she could, and we tried hoof casts to keep him comfortable, plus loads of biotin supplements. Unfortunately, the casts only last about 10 days under the best conditions, and they're not really a long term solution. I ended up having x-rays done, and we discovered that T only had about 4.5 mm of sole (he should have had 10-12mm). So, we opted to put steel shoes on him for a cycle or two and see if that helped.

At almost exactly 4 weeks in, Taran started short-striding on the right front. We pulled the shoes, shortened his toe, and tried to reset them, but he just doesn't grow enough hoof for four-week resets.  We were forced to go back to barefoot again.

(This was before we figured out that he had Cushings, so if your normally fine barefoot horse suddenly has no sole depth and doesn't grow any hoof, you might want to try to figure out why.)

Sept 7 2017 - This was shortly after the metal shoes were pulled. Note how unevenly he's standing, with the RF held out away from his body at an angle. He's clearly not comfortable here.

Sept 7 2017 - Flat sole, weak caudal hoof. Poor guy.

He actually did two shows in early fall 2017 barefoot, while we kept bringing his toe back so the RF would be comfortable again. The problem was, he'd be fine on really good arena footing, but short and choppy everywhere else. We didn't want to put his Easyboot Trail shoes on for serious work, because the extra weight and further-forward breakover point would put additional stress on the DDFT, which we were trying to avoid (they are also not legal for shows because they cover the hairline). But we were also struggling with bruising due to a thin sole. So, we ended up trying EasyShoe Performance glue-ons.

Turns out, these magic shoes basically turn Taran into Fred Astaire. There's nothing on the toe, so the breakover is much further back where he likes it. He was wearing these at Nationals last year and it was the best he'd ever moved (ok, ok, so the super-awesome Otto Sport footing didn't hurt either). 

EasyShoe Performance glue-ones, sometime late fall 2017. His toes have run forward here - we were still trying to back them up after the metal shoes. Also notice how straight he's standing, and in all subsequent pics

Uhhhhn-fortunately, because there are only two small cuffs on the sides to glue to, they aren't the best at staying on - even with bell boots on 24/7. So, we tried casting over them:

Feb 8 2018 - Easyshoe Performance with hoof casts

But after one too many resets 10 days apart, we eventually gave up and tried the Easyboot "Love Child". This has a bigger front cuff to glue on:

Feb 26 2018

Feb 26 2018

You can see that although it provides more glueing area, it doesn't quite match the angle of his hoof, and it brings the breakover point further forward. Still, using it allowed my trimmer to move his toe back over time and shore up his heel, and we haven't had any problems with soundness this year (knock on wood).  

May 9 2018

June 1 2018

June 1 2018 - compare the overall concavity and health of the caudal hoof with the first pic

But... Taran just doesn't move as well in these as he does in the Performance shoes. The toe is just a bit too heavy for him, and he feels like he's struggling to get his front feet out of the way. My trimmer tried taking removing most of the toe on the shoe, while still keeping the advantages of having a wider glueing area: 

Aug 1 2018 - Love Childs with the toe rasped back

Aug 1 2018

However, removing so much off the front of the shoe changed the integrity of it, so we sort of ended up with flip-flops. Plus, the Love Childs were back-ordered, so we went back to the Performance shoes.

Oct 20 2018 - Performance shoes (shiny because I had just hosed his feet off)

Oct 20 2018 - Note how normal-looking and even the hoof wall is, although you can also see the event line about 1/3 of the way down, where we changed his feed

Taran's whole way of going is different in these - he's light on the front end, yet he's clearly comfortable so uses his shoulder to the fullest extent. It's been a long road, but I think we've finally found the perfect combination for T... even if we do have to reset ever two weeks!

Friday, September 21, 2018

It's all fun and games until somebody tries to poke an eye out

After an entire summer of no rain, we've gotten loads of rain in the last two weeks. Which means loads of mold, and loads of bugs. Which also means that sensitive horses (like a certain grey wonderpony) get itchy eyes.

And they rub them.

And sometimes they rub them on sharp, pointy things, which then requires a vet call and a bunch of stitches.

Luckily it was just the eyelid - the eye has a small scratch on it but is otherwise OK.

Unfortunately there's a lot of local swelling, so it's not the prettiest thing.

He's on Banamine and Uniprim, plus an antibiotic eye ointment 4x/day. He can't have anything steroidal (which would speed healing) because Cushings horses cannot have steroids.  

Unfortunately, he tore his eyelid last Sunday - the day before the vet was supposed to come out for fall shots. He's been having vaccine reactions, so he now gets Banamine whenever he's vaccinated. Unfortunately, with his immune system already stressed from the eye, we can't do vaccinations until the eye is fully on the mend. 

Normally the timing of vaccines wouldn't be a problem, but he has to have flu/rhino at least 10 days before any rated show, and our third level debut show starts in 11 days. He was all set for a vet re-check this morning, when we were hoping he would be cleared for vaccinations, but then I got a call saying that he's torn the stitches. 

At this point all I'm not even disappointed about the show - all I care about is him healing up and getting better. Rushing his health right now, for the sake of a competition, is not something I'm willing to do. So we'll tell T to stop rubbing his face (poor guy!) and wait for the all-clear from the vet. Besides, this just gives us more time to perfect our still questionable lead changes.

Also moar time to feed moar cookies.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

How to torture a baby Haflinger

Leo's been having "a day in the life of a good pony" sessions on the regular. Sometimes it's just tacking him up and letting him stand while I do chores, sometimes it's a hand walk, sometimes it's longeing, sometimes it's ponying.

And sometimes I get creative.

If you're gonna flinch when I pick up your feed bowl, you're gonna have to WEAR the feed bowls.

I have sprayed a LOT of water on Leo. Gallons and gallons. He's getting marginally better about it, but we've got a long ways to go.

Charlie sometimes supervises these sessions.

Hand walks on the street are another excellent place to torture baby Haffies, although he's really more concerned about culverts than anything else. I've been playing with a lot of R+ (clicker) training, and that's been an incredibly useful tool when we encounter anything "scary".

Like manhole covers. Those were also concerning... until Leo learned he got a cookie if he stomped on them. He's now a manhole-cover-stomping machine.

The neighbor down the street is have an addition put on, so we stopped to explore the (not actually) terrifying porta-potty.

Also touching mailboxes resulted in cookies, and I foresee a time where I will have to pull him off of mailboxes. 

What are your favorite torture training ideas for baby horses?

Monday, September 17, 2018

Notes from lessons

I have a 45-60 minute drive home from the barn after my lesson every morning, and one of the things I've been doing is dictating lesson notes. This helps my brain solidify what I've learned in that lesson, which seems to make things "stick" better. For me it's a cross between visualization and trying to explain to someone what I've been doing, but it seems to help.

I will say that Siri is not the best at deciphering riding terms (for the hundredth time, Siri, it's a HALF PASS not a "half past" and canter instead of "can't her", GEEZ), but at least trying to read them later is entertaining. I've cleaned them up here for easier reading.

On a circle right, ask for more bend right than you think you need, but be careful to keep your left shoulder back so his left shoulder doesn't pop out. More inside right leg and a little less left leg to encourage him to carry weight on his right hind because that's his weaker one. If you're doing haunches in on the circle, be sure to keep his nose and shoulders pointed on the outside track, otherwise he'll go too much HI because it's so easy to get too much angle in HI to the right. Use outside left thigh to keep the shoulders moving around the circle.

To the left on the circle, use a tiny bit of renvers to keep his right shoulder coming into the right rein Think more shoulder in this direction with a little counter flexion. For canter-walk this direction, really think renvers when asking for the walk, but don't let his haunches swing out so be sure to keep your right leg behind the girth.

Would you believe I'm actually asking for a touch of counter-flexion here? If I don't, I lose him in the right rein and he falls out on his right shoulder.

When developing half pass from shoulder in, keep your outside shoulder back and your outside leg as well. To the right, allow your left hand to move a bit forward to allow the bend right. But if you start to feel him falling on his right shoulder, ask for a step or two of leg yield and then go back to half pass. You can also do a 10m circle out of HP to get him to stand up in the inside shoulder.

Because T's right hind is not as strong as the left, I have to ride him differently depending on if I'm going to the left or to the right. For a right canter HP doing 15m circles with haunches in and really working on bending is very helpful to get the feel I need for HP. Coming out of the corner into HP I need to ride HI, then think a touch of SI for a stride or two, then half halt on the left rein and push his haunches over. Inside leg to make sure he doesn't fall right but it's less of a problem to this direction.

Not enough bend out of the corner whoops.

To the left, he wants to fall in with his haunches naturally so I don't need to push his haunches over as much. Instead, coming out of the corner, I need a stride or two of renvers and then push his haunches over but make sure I keep my left hand low and open and use my right thigh to really push his shoulder left. Otherwise he will lead with his haunches and get stuck with his shoulders and he doesn't go anywhere.

Flying change work today was great. Going right lead to left, I tend to ride a little backwards and don't have enough power coming into the change. He can save me because he's switching to his stronger lead but it will be half a step late behind. I need to think of riding him forward in a slight renvers as soon as I leave the letter on the long side to come across the short diagonal. If I think about the renvers just before the change, it's already too late because I'm not yet coordinated enough to make it all happen so quickly. From the left to right, I also need to think about forward but it's less of a problem this way. He did a very clean uphill change today this way despite usually being croup high this direction.

When setting up for canter HP right, think haunches in coming into the corner, all the way through the corner, and then you will actually have enough bend for HP and it starts so easily. Otherwise you won't have the bend you need and it will take too many strides to get organized. Today it was a struggle to go between shoulder is leading and haunches leading in the canter HP, especially to the right.

We had a couple of good changes each way, but the last change from right to left he just wouldn't do it. I finally got it but it wasn't pretty and we were both tired so I was out of the saddle and throwing my shoulders around. Need to work on keeping the canter with enough jump but also enough forward to get the change. When he anticipates the change, he gets really bouncy and disconnected which is hard for me to sit and it just spirals downward from there.

Did a lot of rein back. If he doesn't go backwards immediately when asked, make sure you have your leg on and give him a small tap. Also be sure to wait 3 seconds before asking for RB or else he anticipates and starts backing immediately after the halt.

Turns out the key to a good rein back is an uphill, forward-thinking halt - you should feel like you can ask for a canter out of the halt. Who knew. 

More on setting up the canter HP. When going left, think SI in the corner before the HP, then immediately open your left rein and point your hand at the letter you're going to. LOOK AT THE LETTER and make sure his shoulder stay leading. Use the outside thigh to push the shoulders over and keep your outside shoulder back. Also remember to swing your hips!

HP left at the walk, and look where my left hand is. This is (one of the many reasons) why he can't get over left - MUST keep that hand down and open.

I essentially don't ever sit on my left seat bone. Today I worked without stirrups and discovered that I essentially cannot do a renvers tracking right because I can't get my left seat on him enough to make it happen. No wonder we struggle so much going left. To the right, I still want to collapse left and in the mirror it looks like I am torquing my torso left even though my right side is straight. Trainer suggested seeing a PT to help even out some, so I will be looking into that.

If I collapse any more to the left, I'll probably just fall off.

Do you keep notes on your lessons or rides? Does it help you to look back to solidify the concepts?

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

10 unexpected things about China

Recently, we burned all of our frequent flyer miles and went to China with the kiddos. We've traveled a lot, but mostly to Europe, and this was definitely a different experience.

10. Cab drivers
DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT, under any circumstances, get in a cab in China. We arrived in Beijing around 9 pm and were a bit pressed for time to get to our hotel before the desk closed (none of those 24-hour desks there). So, we grabbed a cab instead of taking the subway. Let me put it this way: Google maps said it was 42 minutes from the airport to our hotel by car, and the cab driver made it in 35. I ended up putting my head back and closing my eyes to avoid the carsickness, anxiety, and certain death. 

We were all pretty glad when we arrived (alive) at our hotel.

9. Smog
I know people talk about the smog, but unless you've experienced it, it's pretty unbelievable. We didn't see the sun for an entire week, even when we took the bullet train 5 hours to Xian - instead, everything was just sort of a hazy yellow, and you couldn't see for more than a few blocks. We ended up wearing smog masks when we were outside, to prevent sore throats. Plus, it smelled.


8. Crowds
Travel guides that August is the busiest month, and they mean it. Imagine Disney on its busiest day, then put 4x more people in the park. It was that crowded everywhere we went. I love museums, but it was 25 people deep at nearly every single exhibit. Fighting crowds can be exhausting for me, so it was very nice to return to the quiet of our hotel at the end of the day.

But there were some random cute horse statues, so it was worth it

7. Lines
Be prepared to throw your well-honed queuing skills out the door, because lines are anything but linear in China. If there's a one-foot gap between you and the person in front of you, someone will step into that space. They're not being rude (most of the time), it's just how things are done. We did encounter one gentleman at the line at the train station who was actively trying to cut in front of us, and I ended up body checking him at the counter.

And yet people line up neatly to do tai-chi in the square, so IDK?

6. Crossing the street
Most streets are 4 or 5 lanes going EACH WAY... with no walk/don't walk sign. This can be rather intimidating for those of us used to being told by the little green man that it's safe to cross. We discovered that the absolute best way to cross any street in China is to find someone's grandmother, and then cross with her. NOBODY is going to accidentally hit someone's grandmother, so as long as you sort of glom awkwardly around her, you're perfectly safe. The alternative to this is to find a large herd of people and then try to stay in the center, as tightly packed as possible, and cross as a group. Outliers are in danger of being picked off by mopeds though, so be careful.

Also be careful what you order. Exactly how do you fit the arctic ocean in a glass, hmmm?

5. Security
Holy cow, security in a police state makes the TSA look like a joke. Upon entering the country, we had our fingerprints taken. Our bags were checked every time we got on the subway. We had to go through a metal detector as well, and there were random pat-downs. You had to show your passport or national ID card to buy tickets for the subway, to get on the train, for every single site or museum we went to, and there were often random checks as within the sites. I think our passports were scanned 6 times as we went through the Forbidden City. When we left the country, our bags were meticulously gone through by multiple people after being scanned twice at two different checkpoints in the airport. We went through several metal detectors/body scanners, and I was patted down for at least 5 minutes, despite having nothing in my pockets and no shoes on. I'm not sure how secure it made me feel, but I'm pretty sure the Chinese government now has more information on me than the US government does.

Also you get locked in a tiny box while using an ATM

4. The scale of things
It's a good thing that the medieval and renaissance European kings didn't travel to the East, because if they had they would have felt dwarfed by the sheer scale of things in China. The Forbidden City is far, far bigger than Versailles or Hampton Court Palace or any of the other European palaces. The Summer Palace (sounds quaint, right?) boasts an enormous lake that takes about 4 hours to walk around, in addition to the 60+ small palaces that surround it. The Great Wall is... well. About as great as you might imagine. Even just a "regular" modern apartment complex is often made up of 10-20 identical 40 story buildings. It's a whole other level of scale that's really challenging to comprehend without actually being there yourself.

It's, uh, Great.

3. Name everything
Everywhere we went, the buildings were named. Some of them were quite peaceful-sounding, some of them were quite funny. After a while you start coming up with your own versions.

Surely there's also a "Room of Peaceful Happiness" somewhere around here?

2. Ghost cities
On the train from Beijing to Xian, we noticed city after deserted city. Dozens of partially-completed, often identical 30+ story buildings, with motionless cranes on them, no cars, no lights, no people. It turns out these are called "ghost cities," which the government has built to house future populations, or families that they are trying to move from the country to modern cities. We probably saw 50 of these ghost cities on the 5 hour train ride, and I found them to be incredibly eerie and disturbing. There's a great article about them here.

These buildings are just shells - nobody actually lives in them.

1. Being a foreigner
In Europe, it's not terribly obvious that you're American until you open your mouth. In China, it's blatantly clear that you're a foreigner. This can garner a lot of staring (we smiled, waved, and said "Hello!" a lot) and also a lot of random people taking pictures of you.

I was sitting on the steps in Xi'an, chatting with the fam while waiting for our tour guide, when I noticed a young lady sitting really, REALLY close to me and taking a selfie. I looked over my shoulder to find several people openly taking pictures of us. I motioned to them and said "picture?" and suddenly there were 50 people posing with us, taking a group picture. The third time this happened, I asked for someone to take a pic with my phone too. So be prepared to be somewhat an object of curiosity if you go.

Our new Chinese friends!

It was an interesting trip - the culture is very different, and the historical side is pretty neat. If you go, you'll need to book all hotels and travel ahead of time, plus get your visa well in advance. Hit the main sites, enjoy the food (but be careful about what you order), and remember that the tap water is not safe to drink. If you're female, plan to wear dresses/skirts all the time... and definitely do NOT go in August!