Saturday, July 26, 2014

New Farm!

In less than two weeks our family is moving to a small farm on Vashon Island and I will be starting my practice out on the island and in neighboring areas (specifically Pierce County and the Pennisula). I'll still come out to King and Snohomish County if necessary but I will be focusing my marketing efforts in the Southend. I'm a little nervous about starting promotion for my equine massage business in this new area. Maybe "a little" is an understatement! I'm having all those usual thoughts I think most people have "What if I don't get any clients? What if the market is already saturated?" etc. Not to mention honestly, marketing myself is not my strongest trait. Several years ago I self-published a novel just for the experience of doing it, and even though I had a wonderful acquaintance at the time, Josh Ortega, giving me great advice, doing anything to try and "sell myself" was painful and about as easy as ripping out my own teeth. Thankfully, I think I have more confidence in my ability as an equine massage therapist than I did in my abilities as a writer.

 So, I need to just power through that all-too-human tendency to listen to the questioning voices in my head that say things like "I don't think they like you" or "don't brag - it's unbecoming!" that keep me from really selling myself. I am on the fence about whether or not I will eventually do rehab boarding. Right now we do not have the facilities at the new farm to do that so it's not something I need to decide soon. We do have the cross fenced pastures, but there are only shelters and grass pasture and for rehab boarding I would want to have stalls and pea-gravel, mud free paddock areas. Oh, and most importantly and arena! We don't have an arena yet and that would be imperative so that I would have proper footing for hand walking and rehab work.

 It is definitely something I feel passionate about, I am just weighing out the liabilities and the big one, whether or not I would be too emotionally connected to the horses in rehab and would be too sad every time they went home. I have always wondered how people could foster puppies and kittens because watching them leave is so hard. Of course, it's very fulfilling to get photos of Toad with her teen owner out in Virginia and hear how happy they still are together or even with Maiden, my mare who recently went to Montana, it's wonderful to hear how she's bonding with her new person and enjoying her new life. I think in the long run it will be worth it, but it's not something I can even start until we have added some major things to the property.

 I have been looking into giving riding lessons again once we are settled in. But once again, I will need to build an arena to do that. I was asked to substitute next week at  the pony camp I used to work at and I was more excited to do that than I thought I would be. I've really missed my students and seeing their excitement every time they come to their lesson and watching them progress. I looked into liability insurance for riding instruction and my first thought was how grateful I am to having the opportunity to work at the pony camp last year because it really prepared me for how much would need to go into even something as small as teaching three or four kids riding lessons per week. There are far more safety and liability issues than I could've ever imagined if I hadn't had the opportunity to learn from the director of the camp.

The moving truck arrives in less than two weeks so my time is going to be all about packing. Then it will be all about getting the pastures ready for my three horses. Then I can think about promoting my equine massage practice. I am open to any and all suggestions on how to best do that too!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Why Consistent Balance is So Important

When I was a kid I thought balance was only important while riding horses so that the rider didn't fall off the horse when the horse moves. It wasn't until I started learning the theory of riding and equine biomechanics that I really began to understand how the rider's balance actually affects the well-being of the horse. I hear a lot of people saying "You're not going to hurt that big ole horse," and figuring the horse is too big and strong for a 5'5" woman to hurt by poor balance. I realize that they mean no harm by that, but as I've been thinking more about the physics of balance and weight distribution and realizing that our balance on a horse's back, no matter how big they are or small we are, can be very important to their physical comfort and well-being.

I mentioned this in an earlier post that I have heard folks say (and this may be a more common belief about riding and balance than I realized) that if you stay fairly straight in the saddle, but let your weight fall to the opposite side of the horse's weak side, then it will "pull them back up straight" if they are falling in to one side.  Like I said before, without really thinking too deeply about it you would think that would make sense.  But then after thinking about what I know of equine biomechanics I realized that wouldn't work at all.  So, I did a little experiment with my daughter to see what would happen if I tried to get her to hold her body in a specific way by using different weight distribution on her back.  This is by no means a truly scientific experiment, we have no control group, the backback is not exactly in the same place it would be on the horse's back and yes, she's walking on two legs instead of four.  But it shows the basic principle of weight distribution and movement in regards to an organic being in a state of self-propulsion.

My daughter weighs about 65 pounds.  To mimic the ratio of rider to horse weight, I put six pounds of weight into a backpack, so roughly the same as a 100 pound rider on a 1200 pound Warmblood.   In this experiment I decided that she would emulate a horse with a weak right side, so a horse who was falling in to the right and needed to bring his right side up to meet his left for balance.   A horse who is falling in on the right side like that is moving in what feels like a natural way for him (or else he wouldn't be doing it).  Bringing up his weak right side and moving in a balanced way feels unnatural to him (or will until he gets stronger).  So, to keep that aspect of the experiment the same, I decided to have my daughter walk normally with the weight evenly distributed on her back, then try to see if I could get her to lean to the left while walking, by bringing more weight to the left side on her back.  See what happens.  Does she lean to the left like I intended by attempting to "pull her down" with the weight distribution?

You see what happened when I tried that - I got exactly the opposite reaction from what I was looking for.  She leaned her weight to the right and when I asked her why she wasn't standing up straight she said she was trying to make up for being off-balance.  Not to mention, if your horse is leaning to the right because of a weak right side, and you put more of your weight on the left side to try and pull him into balance, he is going to work his left side even harder and thus exacerbate and intensify the strength imbalance in his body.

So, stay in the middle of your saddle, keep your weight balanced and encourage your horse to engage his weak side.  But don't try to pull him over or balance him by changing your balance or you will do a great disservice to a horse who - like my daughter - is just trying to move in the most efficient way possible for himself despite an unbalanced weight on his back.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Different types of art

This has nothing to do with riding, but my friend sent me the link this morning and I had to watch it a few times just to try and see how he did it.  An old friend of mine is a glass blower in Maui with a shop called Hot Island Glass so the first thing I did was email it to him and say, "Can you explain how he did this?"  It looks on the surface like it's easy - just turn the rod with the hot glass on it and poke a few things, pull a few things here and there and boom! Cool looking glass horse!  But I guarantee if I tried to do that it would look nothing like a rearing horse!  I feel secure in saying that because my dad is an amazing wood carver and especially likes to make birds and fish and you can find them throughout the greater Seattle area on his friend's mantels and on their desks at their offices.  But when he sat me down with all the fancy tools and showed me how to do it, my little bear figurine looked nothing like his life-like realistic fish and birds.  I guess it's a "feel" that you get from years and years of practice.  Which is actually a lot like riding, come to think of it.  Buck Brannaman talks about a "feel" a lot in his clinics and it's true, you do get to the point where your timing is no longer a conscious decision but based on the sensory feedback you're getting from your experience with the horse.  So, enough rambling, here's the video I was talking about (well, I can't seem to share the original one sent to me but here is another one)

And speaking of the art that goes into riding, I have made it through the initial application process to take an instructor course with a woman I admire quite bit named Peggy Cummings.  She studied with another amazing woman in the horse world named Sally Swift and is focused on what has been a very big thing for me in the process of learning, which is balance and harmony in communication with the horse.  She calls it "connection" with the horse and refers to it both on the ground and under saddle.  I still need to send a video snippet of my riding and teaching before I am officially accepted as a student but I am very hopeful and excited.

I've been thinking as I've been learning about equine massage that it would benefit my practice to either be a veterinarian or a really well educated riding instructor.  The former is just not in the cards for me at this time because of cost and time commitment (my most important commitment right now still is being a mom).  But the riding instructor part is accessible.

One of the things I have already seen in my beginner students is if they have ridden before (ie: they're not getting on a horse for the very first time with me so I can catch them before they develop a negative habit) is that often they "pose" and get rigid.  Very few of my beginner students relax when they sit on a horse.  They brace their back, they force their heels down and they lock their arms.  And then they forget to breathe.  I can completely understand that because like them, that is how I would get on a horse in the beginning as an adult after several years of not riding.  I may have done that when I was a child and riding hunter/jumper too but I don't remember.  One of the things my first instructor as an adult, Sheryl, used to make me do was sing while I was riding and it turned out to be a really great tool because not only does it force you to breathe, but you just can't stay tense when you're up on a horse singing "row row row your boat".  In fact, I tried that with one student during a Leader Ride that I happened to be watching my friend, Terhi teach (that's when the volunteers have their lesson together) and one of the students was feeling very afraid because she was on a new horse to her and he was a little more high strung that the last horse she road.  She was very shy though and when I tried to get her to sing she wouldn't do it with all the other teens around, so I jogged beside her and sang and occasionally said, "I look pretty silly here singing and jogging next to you - will you please sing with me?" and she started to laugh and another great thing - you have to breathe when you're laughing.  So singing is also beneficial even if it's the instructor making herself look silly in front of all the other kids.

You know, though, we as humans tend to do that in our daily life too.  Someone says "sit up straight" or "stand up straight" and often people will pull their shoulders back hard and hold them there, which often causes their back to sway, and then they will forget to breathe, or breathe up high into their chest because they're holding so much tension up in their shoulders, then everything will start to hurt from the pressure of forcing your body in that position, and they'll finally take a deep breath and slump over and think "Ok, this feels better!" and stay that way.  It wasn't until I started taking pilates with a woman named Shelly Gossard in Seattle that I began to really learn what it's like to truly "stand up straight" in a way that supports your body.   She was great pilates instructor but then we moved to the Eastside and it wasn't convenient to go to her anymore.  So, I started taking classes with Beth Glosten and continued my education on what is really means to "stand up straight" and also to "sit up straight" when riding.  And how it does not involve bracing your body or holding anything together in your body.  It's more like stacking things up on your body in the correct way so that everything is supported evenly.  Which if you have been holding yourself in a slumped position (like me for most of my life) you can't do until you strengthen a different set of muscles that can naturally hold your body in that position.  Very similar to how we are training my daughter's horse, Geir.  In fact, I often tell him that I can completely relate to what he's going through learning to use his body correctly because I'm going through the same thing.

This little snippet of Peggy Cummings talking about riding instructor really sums up my own personal goals as an instructor perfectly: