As the remnants of our typhoon hit the Northwest, we’re thinking of you all there, hoping you don’t have any damage and really just an opportunity to hunker down a bit. Hoping you are all well. It’s Saturday morning here, we’ve just had pancakes and I have uploaded pictures from the last two weeks. We’re about to head out on a sunny walk – 19 degrees Celsius. I have no idea what temperature that is, but it’s about like Bainbridge was last Wednesday! I have your weather stored on my phone as a favorite.
Dave is back from New York where he spent time with family for 10 days. We are happy to have him home and our prayers are with his dad as life continues with Gail holding him close from above.
Over the intervening two weeks, I have been catching glimpses of character traits in myself that are more Japanese than I might have imagined before moving here. Every Tuesday when I go to the inaka and muck the uma goya, and scrub the bakketo, I think about how much work goes into running a barn. I’m only there twice a week helping to scrub buckets, shovel manure and toss hay, so it’s a treat for me to get dehydrated, dirty and smoky (from the stove’s efforts to dispel flies). But for my new friends who are there every day, it’s another day at the barn, another day of toil. Today, on my walk through the fields of the inaka, the countryside which sets me free from buildings and bustle, I considered how they do it.
The answer lies in watching them sweep. Every broom (hoki – pronounced hoe-kee) I have ever seen is the same – long, stiff, reeds banded together and attached to a stick. They look like this:
You can’t sweep effectively if you are doing short, vigorous jabs. You have to pace yourself, using long, sweeping motions (that’s where the word comes from, right?). I changed my pace and found it worked better. Things don’t fly around, they are gathered up. After finishing chores and finally seated in a tight circle for barn lunches, I showed my three friends a video of Sam playing hockey, a word I learned early on from Kumiko (pronounced hoke-ay)
They had been amazed we went all the way to Saitama for “hoe-kee”. I was, too! When they looked at the video, though…it was so funny to see their expressions. It was as if they finally understood this sport I had been talking about my boys doing. “Ohhh!” they exclaimed, hands over mouths, eyebrows raised. “Ohhh! Hoe-kay!” Maybe they thought we were all playing broomball? I’ve got to work on my pronunciation!!!
Back to pacing, though. You can’t do a good job if you’re in a hurry to get to the next job, then the next, and the next, before you ultimately just take time for yourself at the end of the day. I tend to line up chores and work end to end, tightly, and go strong until I’m completely done. I end up frantic, spazzy, hungry, cranky. That doesn’t appear to be the way it is done here, and I can now appreciate why. The Japanese people I have met are efficient, careful workers. They are diligent. You can’t really be meticulous unless you pace yourself. I’m a marathon runner, I should know this. Have a plan and stick to it. Don’t go out fast. Run your own plan. Grab the power gels along the way.
Speaking of snacks…
Here is a little roundup of my ventures out into the inaka this past Tuesday.
As I was raking up the hay (which they grow themselves for the horses), I had occasion to to check out the dark brown earth I’d admired from the tiny road earlier in the morning. The ground is well cared for, productive. The soil is very dark and loose, smooth, almost sandy. The cabbage is planted in perfectly neat rows. I figured they were planted by a machine, but maybe not? These observations will feed a conversation about why routines are important, why doing things right the first time matters. I explained to one of my boys tonight that if you do a poor job prepping your mind for a test, then poor output will be expected. You can’t get good stuff out of the (beloved!) vending machine unless you stock it with good stuff. (The vending machines here – OMG!) Janet and Bill (my riding instructors) also refer to the horse’s vending machine. Unclear with your aids? Well, you don’t know what you might get out of the horse’s vending machine.
Riding around the ring Tuesday, on a quiet older horse which really did not want to do more than walk, I was admittedly jealous of another rider moving quickly with a spry horse. I like harnessing power, and working together with Emmy was a joy. We were often at odds, two energetic beasts with too much going on in our heads, but when we were in unison it was a lovely experience. I should clarify – riding is always a joy. Always. But there’s a certain elusive harmony which keeps those of us who like a challenge coming back for more, and the pursuit itself is a large contributor to the enjoyment. Back to my mount for the day today, Gen, my instructor helped me tune into the minutiae that I often trot right over in my zeal to get “working” – arbitrarily defined by me as trotting and cantering around various ring geometries (although Janet would probably not bestow the term “geometry” on most of my hoofprints). Paying attention to how my balance and the pressure of my seat bones communicates through the back of the horse below me is not something one can rush, nor can an amateur rider really and truly tune into it when other things (like, “ride a proper circle, Alli!”) are pressing concerns. As Gen walked around, carrying me along as I prodded and prodded him, hoping to elicit a hayashi (trot), I enjoyed the view of Fugi-san in the distance, and considered how lucky I am to be immersing myself in the barn life of a new land, hopefully lightening their load a little as they smile at the crazy gaijin’s tales, and knowing that if I am open to it I will learn much from every horse I am blessed to ride. I don’t need to go mach 5… and you know what? The next day I realized you can get a very good workout nudging a horse at a walk…just needed to change my mindset a bit.
And a few more shots from just last week…Mom, I know your rump went to sleep looking through five months of pictures last upload, 😉 so if you want to jump to the album where I left off after last week, use this link. Just scroll back a shot or two to make sure I have that timing right.
I’m so thankful to have this dear grey mare in my life. Saturday was a very busy day – starting out with our first roller hockey games (I’m a coach now! and thrilled!) then a soaking in the rain packing up gear, then 6 boys at our house, and hungry, then off to find some Magic cards which were accidentally thrown out (so headfirst in a trash bin) then back home, throw breeches and boots on…and head to warm Emmy up. But it’s RAINING again…so…here’s the whole story. The backstory first? Yes?
Training Level 1, 1st test Thanks to Janet (my instructor) for filming this and for bringing me so far in 2.5 years!
Emmy and I enjoyed a bit of a wild warm-up at home (rain on the arena roof, which must sound like jaguar claws to her or something) so she was pretty hot and full of energy even after warm-up. On the way to the show via the trails through the woods she was quite intrigued by rain on the leaves and how the woods sound in the rain (different than normal). Once in the warm-up arena she had no real desire to canter through the muck, nor did she want to canter on the rail (where there is a decent path and no muck), so she picked the next best option – try to leap 20 yards of muck! The woman coaching her client in the middle of the warm-up arena must have had some second thoughts, but she stayed put hoping I could steer this beast.
Janet arrived shortly after and held a constant refrain: “MORE bending! more LEG! FORWARD! Get her to pay ATTENTION!” Eventually we settled in a bit, and I thought the walk from the warm-up ring to the arena might go smoothly. JUST as we were walking by a van with a horse in it, the horse inside decided to let fly with a large bang on the rear door. Emmy spun wildly to the right launching me forward in the direction we WERE going, then wheeled (by the bed of a pickup, which I thought might be a nice clean landing spot if I got thrown) but by this time she was cantering and I was still barely mounted, so determined to stay on, and keep my white shirt clean. I steered her toward a cedar tree to induce a stop, got her turned around again just in time to see Janet turn back toward us, arms outstretched, going “What’s the hold up? Come ON!”
Once she was in the dressage “court” Emmy performed fabulously, not even “talking” to the other horses around like she did last year. You’ll note one effort to gallop away from the judges’ stand at “C” at the left end of the arena but I got her back under control and just barely transitioned to a trot and made the final tight turn down the center line. I wonder what my scores will be? The whole event was great to look forward to – an excellent motivation for focus and a good opportunity to keep Emmy familiar with the unfamiliar. Life should NOT always be groundhog day, should it? Thanks for watching! (This is the second half of the test. The first half is a mirror image.)
Emmy and I embarked on a huge adventure – enter a schooling dressage show up at the Saddle Club on Sunday. We are lucky – we can just hack (ride) over there from her barn. I didn’t sleep the night before. I was worried that her excitable self might be tough to manage and that we’d end up being more of a rodeo ride than a refined dressage duo. I had visions of her jumping the rails and ending up outside the court, being spooked at the boxes with letters on them and flowers (one of my favorite videos is “dressage horse freaks out at the Olympics” with exactly this unfortunate scenario) or me falling off. Thankfully, I returned home alive to my children and husband, and none of these bad things happened! (I realize, though, that if they had – I might be richer for it if the YouTube video went viral – so either way, it would have been fine. Provided I was still alive.)
This particular Ride and Review affords you a chance to ride a test (a sequences of gaits and patterns), then receive coaching, then ride it again and try to improve your score. I really enjoyed the whole experience, especially getting another crack at the test and some expert advice from someone who has never seen you ride before. Thanks to Jackie Chipman (Saddle Club President) and Rebecca Parker Black (judge) for such a great experience! Will remember this one a long time 🙂
New photos and video have been uploaded to the album!!! Check the folders for Nov and Dec to see a hockey tournament, Sam trying out being goalie, Ben in basketball, and the cutest the Christmas elf you’ve ever seen…
If you are interested in what my dressage training is all about, here are a couple videos (and if you go to the channel, you can see more). Emmy is the spirited Irish Cob I am “borrowing” from Steve and Theresa just down the road from Janet’s Whitethorn Farm where I train. Theresa filmed the clinic with guest instructor Bill Woods for me so I could watch it again. Today I finally summoned the noogies to watch – I truly hate my lower leg position but since we continue to work on canter departs I decided to ignore the leg and take in the instruction once again! I’m also including a video from November 18, 2013 so you can see the progression over 10 months. Much work remains, but I can see progress, and I am noting how patient my instructors are. Geez it takes a long time to retrain the body! I am very grateful to have an opportunity to work with Janet after 26 years out of the saddle. I’ve been riding twice a week for the last 7 months and have only missed two rides this summer thanks to a steady stream of great high schoolers who have been able to hang out with the boys and other neighborhood kids. I can’t recommend Janet Grunbok highly enough. As Steve says, the progress to date compared to where I started is night and day! If you want an excellent instructor on Bainbridge Island, look no further. Janet is the consummate professional, always reading, thinking, seeking additional training for herself, and furthering her students’ understanding of dressage with selected readings from the web and dressage publications. Her lessons are focused and build on the fundamentals. Each time I come away exhilarated and with a goal to work on between lessons. I sure wish I’d known Janet when I was 8 years old and starting to ride my first pony! First lesson with Janet! I was on the longe line until February while we worked on balance, among myriad other things. You learn a lot just hanging out with Janet in the barn!
Today was a great lesson. Steve and I got to the barn early with Emmy and had time to longe her first to get the ya-yas out. Today we worked on posting and leg position. I wrote a little reflection on my lesson:
Undoing the hunter-jumper mindset – the myth of the quiet seat.
Is it possible that all my training and years of riding as a girl basically just taught me how to stay on a horse vs. really drive it with my seat? I think so. I thought I knew how to ride, but I am learning that I never truly did. I was just staying on most of the time. Having a stubborn pony helped me develop strong legs, and my trainers did a good job in the fundamentals. I learned to drive the horse with my legs and use my upper body (forward or backward inclination) to communicate speed. But I’m not sure I really got training in the use of my seat other than try to keep it!
For instance, good posting meant you looked decent getting around the ring. The idea was not to flop all over. Now that I am learning the discipline of dressage, I am throwing some element of my previous training out each lesson. However, sometimes I don’t know what I’m supposed to throw out until I unravel why I keep doing what I’m not supposed to do. Why am I supposed to be thrusting my hips forward so assertively with each post? Today I finally understood that the swing of the hips through the post is not about appearance, but rather serves to drive the horse forward. Now I get why we’ve been working on it. The point is the function it serves, not simply the form. Proper form will follow (eventually) if I can keep focused on the function.
Now I just need to find a way to ride more!
Here’s a video of the lesson. At 0:55 sec Emmy got spooked by something so I got to enjoy an unexpected canter. 😉 Thanks to Steve for capturing this!