I am enjoying a solo excursion along Michigan’s southern shoreline this weekend. Sure, I could be experiencing a romantic weekend getaway with my husband or laughing hysterically with my girlfriends after an afternoon of wine tasting, but being alone in my own mind sounded most needed. I never thought I would do this. In fact, I never thought I could do this. But here I am, away from home and alone. Reflecting and reaching in regards to all areas of my life.

This is Ngugi’s Word, though, so I will filter my reflections to meet this blog’s purpose.

It’s been three months at Shadowood Farm and a little over a month since my last post. Ngugi is now jumping full courses with trainer Laura in a hilly field:

And I am learning to flow with her in the field too:

It’s really empowering to be able to ride the way I’ve been riding lately. I’m no longer afraid of my horse, which is allowing me to push myself towards doing more challenging things. Just this past week I cantered into my first jumps–something I remember Laura telling me that I would do once I learned how to balance in her canter. She told me this in September, but I remember thinking, “Yeah right! I’ve heard trainers tell me I should look forward to doing something (like cantering or jumping) in X amount of time and it just never happened. Why should I believe it now?” Well, something has just started to click at Shadowood. I’m not sure what it is. Perhaps a different approach to training–one that involves constant cross-terrain riding and more intense workouts? Perhaps the full-day turnout in 10 arces of rolling pastures? Perhaps that I’m riding more frequently? Most likely it’s a mix of all these things and the simple fact that time has gone by.

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Reconnecting to last post in September, I wrote 5 goals that I’d like to assess.

1) I wrote, “Keep practicing the trip out to the field to bring Ngugi in. Not only is it a good workout up the hills, but it’s so relaxing to visit the herd and see her interact with other horses. Plus, every time I do it, I get less nervous about catching her or her spooking at cows. She seems to like being with me and doesn’t run away anymore.”

This goal is funny. At the time, separating Ngugi from the herd when I needed to get her ready for a lesson was a headache. I would stress at the thought of it because she would use anything and everything to get me nervous–spooking at the neighboring cows, spooking at the horses in the outdoor dressage ring, running away from me! Now, she walks up to me and walks calmly down the hill to the barn. I feel accomplished with this goal.

2) I wrote, “Get those elbows in.” My whole position has changed when I compare videos from the past. I used to hunch forward and stick my elbows out from where my hands were anchored on Ngugi’s neck. Now, although they do creep out occasionally, I sit taller and farther back, which naturally results in my elbows staying closer at my sides.

3) I wrote, “Relax those legs–seems easier now with new boots.” Yeah, this is an on-going goal. When I get tense or worried, I grip. I think I always will. So I need to keep riding confidently and calmly so that my legs hang down and only apply pressure when needed for a cue.
4) I wrote, “Work on straightness and centered riding.” I love using the mirrors in the indoor arena because I can see when Ngugi’s hind legs are following directly behind her front legs. I’m getting better at noticing and feeling straightness. In terms of centered riding, I tend to put more weight in my right leg, causing my left stirrup to be shorter and my left toes to stick out. Again, I am using the mirrors to check this and re-adjust.

5) I wrote, “CANTER, CANTER, CANTER!” With lessons on Tuesday, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, I get a lot of cantering in. Wednesdays I usually aim for a “stretchy, chewy trot” after Laura does an intense jump session out in the field, so Tuesdays and Thursdays are my canter days. Lately, the canter has been leading us to cavaletti work and jumping! Probably my most advanced ride on Ngugi was this past Thursday when we did a good half hour cantering over a small vertical to the left and then one to the right, ending with a tight right turn over a jump along the diagonal. It was very unexpected and showed me that Laura was right when she said jumping would be easy once I got the canter!

With 3 months of training complete at Shadowood Farm, we are headed toward our debut in the show ring come spring or summer of 2014! I’d like to end with a link to a post that a friend at the barn shared with me. I instantly saw much of my own story in this story. Thoroughbreds are remarkable animals that, when given the correct patience and love, can take their talents far.http://offtrackthoroughbreds.com/2013/10/11/an-american-ottb-goes-4th-level-this-weekend/