Achieving Happiness

Hey all! Long time no write. Although I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s blogs over the past year, for my own journey I’ve been happier with my personal journal rather than a public forum. However, the urge to write hit me and…well it turned into a rather long essay. When the muses strike, am I right ūüôā

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At a hunter pace – two years ago.

Robbye and I have made the most incredible transformation in the past year. Last January I was so frustrated and unhappy that I put her up for sale. This January we were, as a team, knocking on second level dressage, and really stinkin happy as we did it.

When I last blogged, I wrote about my new strategy for remaining happy (both in and out of the sandbox) – take a big step back from every goal, reassess, and chill the fuck out. ¬†I put a pause on my bronze medal dreams, switched Robbye from partial board to full board, and continued taking weekly lessons – with the sole goal of “seeing where we could get”.

Step back from showing

I didn’t show at all last year. In fact, Robbye may not have even left the farm at all. Competing is extremely stressful for me, especially since I have a horse who needs me to be the boss 100% of the time. If I’m not confident, she’s taking over. If she’s taking over, we’re bucking across the showgrounds.

Do I want to spend $50 at a schooling show to smother myself in anxiety as I hang on desperately to my out of control horse?

So yep, there’s work to be done here, if I want my bronze. A lot of work.

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Our first show over fences – four years ago.

But the truth is, I’m still not sure if getting my bronze medal is important to me. As goal-driven as I am, and as much as I love rewards and ribbons and medals, showing recognized is extremely expensive; the cost to reward ratio seems very high. For now I have my sights set on some local shows so I can start working on my mental stability at a competition, and I’ve continued competing on my own (in cosplay contests) to work on my confidence.

Will we ever get back to the busy show schedule we used to have? I don’t know. At the moment it doesn’t matter to me.

And anyway, “moving up the levels” or “training up the levels” or “learning up the levels” is sounding more appealing to me than “showing up the levels”.

Full board for the win

Putting Robbye on full board has been absolutely huge, and I can’t imagine going back. When she was on partial board, I was required to go out 6 days a week to clean her stall. And for each of those six days I almost always rode – whether I really wanted to or not, ¬†and whether I was really in the right mental state to or not. Now, I go out to the barn when I want to and when I’m prepared to. Weather disgusting? Don’t go out. Didn’t get enough calories today? Don’t go out. Coworker upset me and I just want to go home and nap? Don’t go out.

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A very good ride almost exactly a year ago – we are so much better now.

With the way Robbye is (dominant, a tough ride, challenges me once a ride like clockwork) and the way I am (inexperienced, sensitive, prone to over-correcting and not letting something go once we’re past it), we don’t need to be hanging out with each other when I’m not feeling it.

Does that make me less of an equestrian? Less of an athlete? Less of a trainer?

I’m sure it does. I don’t feel dedicated anymore. I’m more of an ammy and less of an athlete; especially since I haven’t competed in a year and a half.

But part of my strategy for happiness was chill the fuck out – and I’ve chilled. And I’ve gotten happy. So, ya know, I traded some competitiveness for a whole lot of happiness. Worth it.

I’m also enjoying my other hobbies a whole lot more. I’ve started writing book reviews. I won second place at a cosplay contest this winter. I¬†made a whole dress.¬†I planted some flowers!

(And let me tell you about that cosplay contest – hearing how encouraging and positive those judges were as they critiqued my work was eye-opening for me. They told me that their judging philosophy was to note all of the good things a competitor has done with a costume, and judge from there – and they were vocal about those good things. I know not every dressage judge is going to be as complimentary, but I’m going to proceed with the assumption that they are, and that they’re here to reward the good, not mark down the bad.)

Moving up the levels

In November of 2015 – the last show we attended – we absolutely kicked butt at Training 3. It felt great, we looked great, and we even won, but if we respected the “show at a level below where you train” we shouldn’t have been showing high training by any stretch of the imagination. At that point, Training level was our max level.

Oh, how that’s changed! We learned, and then perfected, canter/walk transitions. We learned, and then nailed shoulder-in. We corrected our leg yields and made them dressage worthy. We slowly transitioned from a Training Level-frame to a (gasp)¬†I-could-see-this-horse-going-Second Level-frame.

I mean for heaven’s sake, a year ago we couldn’t make a nice 10 meter circle. Now, they’re part of our warm-up. When we did a test run through last week, my trainer dinged me because those 10 meter circles were¬†too small.

All of this progress has been super for me. I don’t have any goals, but I can still feel us getting better.

Best of all, I think Robbye likes the “higher” (lol) levels of dressage – she doesn’t get bored. We have so much to work on we can’t fit it into just one ride: extensions at all three gaits, collection at all three gaits, leg yields, shoulder-in, haunches-in, simple changes and counter-canter – and that doesn’t even include all of the work we’ve been doing to improve movements we thought we already knew (cough halts cough). Her brain is engaged, her ears are forward, and her legs are engaged¬†and¬†forward.

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Pooped lady from last week.
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And one from last winter – talk about an outline change, even if you take out the roached mane.

I’ll tell you what – a horse who wants to work and is happy to work is a whole lot more fun to work with…and learns a whole lot faster, too.

 

On May 14th Robbye turns 8 years old. Every year I like to joke that “this will be the year she grows up”. Maybe she finally has grown up, and my happiness experiments¬†coincided nicely with her maturation. Or maybe her finally acting “mature” now is actually her just…being a lot happier. She only has to work when her rider is in the right mental state. Her work is interesting. She’s more fairly corrected and rewarded.

 

Happy, happy, happy.

What a happy pair we make.

Strategy for Happiness

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My life got a whole lot happier after I decided to keep Rob. I’d like to think that hers did, too.

As soon as she came home, I put her on full board. I no longer needed to go out to the barn six days a week to clean her stall.

I also immediately¬†forced¬†myself to take a huge step back from the attitude I’d had about riding and training for the three and a half years I’ve owned Robbye – namely, one of constant progress, weekly consistency, and an honestly grueling weekly schedule which didn’t care a whole lot about weather.

Instead, I decided that I was going to do some major chilling out.

Honestly, I don’t know what my goals are anymore. My “huge life bucket-list” goals, at least when it comes to competition, used to be earning my bronze medal and completing a recognized horse trial. Now, those goals seem expensive and silly. Do I¬†really¬†care about showing recognized? I’m not sure.

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As I backed off of my goals, I backed off my schedule too. Do I really need to train five days a week? In February?! Hell, no.

There were several work weeks in the middle of winter¬†where I didn’t go out at all. It was cold, it was raining or snowing, or I had a meeting. I didn’t feel well physically or I didn’t feel mentally up to having a dressage ride.

I’ve slowly been fighting down the guilt this new schedule causes.

You know what’s helped the fight the most? Realizing that¬†we’re not doing any back-sliding.

Hell, we’ve been making a¬†ton¬†of progress lately! Every ride is like a happy surprise – this is what my “young” and “green” horse is like after five days off?! What fun!

Fun. Fun. Riding and owning a horse is fun!

What Happened in January

 

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Like probably 90% of those of us who actually experience the season,¬†I struggle in the winter. My (picky vegetarian) diet¬†means I’m constantly cold. I’m beyond grateful to have an affordable indoor, but my desire to ride plummets with the temperature. The stalls are harder to clean – both because everything freezes and because the horses are in and aren’t getting worked. Riding itself isn’t as fun¬†– lack of turn out makes crazies, much longer warm-ups and cool-downs¬†must be budgeted for, and there’s about ten times as much hair to groom.

The worst of it, for me, is the lack of sunlight. ¬†When the sun sets at 6 so does my desire and motivation to accomplish anything. I can’t even read or watch Netflix – all I want to do is sleep…Sleep and sulk.

Even my non-horsey hobbies suffer. I can’t get motivated to go to board game night when the sun will have already set before we get there, so I’ll just yawn my way through the evening, half asleep. I can’t stay awake long enough to read a novel, and I can’t get up enough motivation to craft or sew.

Obviously writing is out of the question, as evidenced by the last three months of radio silence from An Amish Warmblood.

When Robbye came home from training early last fall, I thought we had finally crossed the hump Рthe three years it took for us to find a loving and a workmanlike relationship.

The show, where we won our dressage class, was one of the high points of my life, as sappy as that sounds.

I felt like, at that point, I had accomplished what I had set out to do with Rob. We had completed this test which was submissive, brilliant (as much as a Training level test can be, anyway), and undramatic. We had won a class of more than ten people! We had proven to the world that neither of us were failures, and that we could do more than embarrass ourselves!

So that was nice. Very, very¬†nice.¬†But…what do you do after that?

The correct answer is: make new goals and start working on them. Look for the next “hump” and get over it. Improve, improve, improve!

But this show had happened in mid-November.¬†As winter began and¬†I desperately needed goals, excitement, and motivation, I had just achieved what¬†I’d been struggling with for three years.

So I did nothing, and spiraled lower.

I know it’s such a first world problem. I accomplished my goals with my HORSE, and now I’m as depressed as I’ve been in years! How silly it sounds.

But there I was burning money, gas, and precious¬†precious¬†energy every day to go to the barn and do…nothing. Clean my stall. Hand out treats. Sulk.

At the end of January I sent Robbye back to training, happy that I wouldn’t have to clean her stall every day anymore.

In mid-January I put her up for sale.

I wrote a long list of her favorable qualities – and wow, what an experience that was. Virtually bomb-proof. A happy trail partner. A decent, if green, jumper. Extremely tolerant – a “pony club” mount. Broke to the harness and cart. Great at giving newbie¬†rides and taking treats and pats from non-horsey people.

Above all, a talented, promising dressage horse.

I collected an album of photos. Here’s one where you can see her impressive build – one that would be great for a man, a growing boy, or a larger¬†AA. Here’s one where you can see her flashy wide blaze and her gentle eye. Here’s one where she’s jumping beautifully while I flail on top of her.

Here’s one where¬†you can see how¬†god damn pretty¬†she is.

The interest poured in (not to me – thank goodness – but to my trainer). One woman was particularly interested and wanted to talk to me. She was a mom and wanted a mid-level eventer for her teenage daughter.

And so I took the mom’s¬†call and sang Robbye’s praises for half an hour. I told her about how she can go out in the field alone or in a group and is happy. How she doesn’t like to roll and is dirt colored anyway, so grooming is a breeze. How she can be tough to get round and forward but once she gets there – oh¬†boy¬†is she there.

I told the mom how much she loves people. How she nickers every time I walk into the barn, and watches me walk around the barnyard if I leave her in her stall or the crossties.

I told the mom how I had taught Rob everything. Cross-tying and putting on a bridle and jumping ditches and walking through tarps and crossing creeks and doing carrot stretches.

The next day, I cried, talked to my barn owner, talked to my trainer, and then took Robbye off the market.

T1 & T2 Schooling Show – Details and Reflection

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I want to put a few more show details down here for my own documentation purposes. It’s a lame post – I know – but I really value this blog as a journal as well.

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I know that our halts need work – getting square is really a matter of luck at this point – so I feel¬†like a 6.5 on our first halt is¬†both generous and lucky. I’m also happy with a 7 on our free walk; as Robbye has¬†gotten stronger and rounder, she’s lost a bit of the fantastic stretch she used to have.

A 4 on our left lead canter feels¬†generous. We botched the lead twice and only ended up cantering on the left lead for probably 5 strides. I¬†was¬†proud of myself for maintaining nice geometry in my circle even as I struggled to pick up the correct lead. I’m hoping that I learned from this particular mistake and that it won’t happen again.

That final halt 10, though. #schoolingshows!

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I felt all of these were very fair, and the “very patient correction to L canter” comment gave me a warm fuzzy. I really appreciate judges (and trainers, and bosses, and … everyone) who can turn a failure or mistake into a compliment or gentle lesson.

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I am very happy with these numbers. All of the scores below 7 are issues I know I need to work on – the halt (I lost her haunches), the canter to trot transition (it’s still a bit of a “run her into the ground” type transition, instead of being back-to-front), the trot to canter transitions (still a tad hollow), and the stretchy movements (need more stretch!).

The 8 on our medium walk is reassuring; I’ve always felt that Robbye’s weakest gait is her walk, and I¬†really¬†struggle to get any impulsion out of her since¬†she prefers¬†to walk¬†as slowly as possible. We really worked it for this walk section and I’m happy the scores reflect that fact.

And there’s another high score for our final halt! I need to figure out what we do differently in our final halt and do it in our initial one. I bet you anything it has something to do with the tension I release for the second one…

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Again I felt these scores were fair for a schooling show. Truly, to get three 7s and a 6.5 on impulsion and submission is huge for me and especially for Robbye.

The “obvious leg aids” are just something I need to deal with until 1) Robbye is more sensitive and forward and 2) I’m a better rider. I’m very happy to have more obvious aids if it means replicating the work we got in this test, and I’ll willingly sacrifice my Rider Aids score for it, at least for now ūüôā

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Our final scores are just…mind-blowing. From reading your blogs, I feel that these would have been perhaps 60%-65% at a recognized show – scores I would be¬†extremely¬†pleased to earn.

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The rankings, too, are very heartening for me. There were 8 people in T1 and ten in T2. When I saw these numbers, I just hoped to placed in both classes – I know it shouldn’t be, but being competitive is important to me. Along the same lines of “don’t embarrass myself” and “make my trainer proud”, I want people to see my partnership with my horse and recognize it as a good one. The recognition that comes with ribbons is validating for me. So to beat ~15 other scores is¬†huge.

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Yes, I fell off at this show. Well, no, I didn’t fall off – I got dumped. And that really sucks. I heard later that Robbye was a huge disruption as she galloped through the warmup arena to get back to her stall.

That’s embarrassing, and embarrassing is the last thing I want at a show (especially one where I’m there representing my trainer).

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After crashing into a fence at a jumper round more than a year ago and subsequently taking a huge step back from jumping entirely, I never imagined that a fall could make me stronger.

But this particular crash awoke some passion that I¬†don’t think I’ve¬†felt before, and that passion led to a quality of work that I definitely¬†haven’t felt before. I¬†used¬†the fall and the way I felt after it¬†for me.

My goal for this winter is to make that quality of work my every day. Every day should be passionate and 100% committed – like I’m heading into the ring to score a 70%, or to win in a class of 10.

And if I don’t have the passion every¬†day – that’s okay! But I won’t be riding. I want that work I got after my fall, and I’m not willing to let Robbye compromise at 50% anymore. If I’ve learned anything from the struggles – and now success! – that she and I have endured as partners, it’s that¬†I am in charge. When I decide what happens, we’re both happier.

 

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So I may be riding less than 6 days a week this winter. And yes, this goal completely contradicts my 2015 goals to have zero days.

But the fact is that I want to work hard. I want to devote 100% to this relationship and to our progress, even if it means fighting sometimes, or falling off sometimes, or taking days off sometimes.

I know what I’m chasing after now, and I know how good it feels to catch it.

Show Time: It was all worth it

I haven’t been blogging or journaling. I have a backlog of posts I want to edit and publish (and I still intend to), but obviously I’m not going to journal the past month and a half. I wish I had, because I learned a ton, but life was just too crazy. Hopefully my year-end review at work will make it all worth it.

I was inspired to come back to the blog because of the incredible experience I had at a schooling show this past weekend. The short story is: it was all worth it. The money spent on training and lessons. The three years of work where it felt like we didn’t make any progress. The agonizing over training decisions, and the crying over failures.

I made every effort this weekend to set myself up for success. This was our first show since Rob returned home from her dressage boot camp, and my first since I attended my own boot camp, and I wanted it to be¬†successful. I wanted it to usher in a new era for our relationship – one where we like going to shows, where we’re successful at shows, and where we’re happy working together even away from home. So I hired my trainer to come coach us (a trainer! At a show! How novel!), I planned to dress casually even in the show ring, and we trailered down the night before to school in the show ring. I also didn’t invite any family to watch, which explains my sad dearth of media.

So we arrived the night before, something I’ve never done. She got on the trailer great – it was her first time on this particular trailer and she walked right on like it was her own stall. Portentous for the rest of the weekend, maybe?

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When she got out of the trailer at the showgrounds, I expected her to blow me off. She usually does – letting her anxiety completely take over until she forgets I exist. Instead, she calmly lowered her head like I asked, with perked ears and a happy eye but also with a nice focus on her boss mare. (That’s me! Boss mare 100% of the time. I’ll just keep repeating it to myself until I believe it.)

Immediately after unloading we tacked up to school. We were the only humans there and the farm was very dark. It’s a nice, large, showgrounds – probably six rings, plus a couple of warm-up areas. The stalls feel luxurious, the footing is always impeccable, and the farm¬†is always spotless. It’s also where I showed as a kid, so it has a special nostalgia.

It was the perfect environment for me to focus 100% on getting some decent work at a new location.

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And decent work was achieved! We had neither perfect roundness nor great forward, but we had enough of each that I was very pleased. My expectations have definitely been raised in the past few months – six months ago that late-night school would have been the best ride we ever had.

We tucked the ponies into their stalls and headed to a very late dinner and an even later bedtime. But¬†staying at a hotel nearby means a later start in the morning, apparently.¬†Post-4:30, even! Why didn’t anyone ever tell me!?

The morning of the show, Robbye was again well-behaved in her stall. No screaming, no anxiety, lots of eating and drinking and pooping. We tacked up and prepared for our first test – Training 1.

And it went…alright. My trainer was preparing for her own ride so couldn’t coach us, which in hindsight was probably good for me to experience. Now I know what the difference is between my instincts and what Kim wants me to do, and I can actively work to warm up on my own the way¬†that will get us the best work.

So the first test was just okay. We botched a lead¬†twice, which is weird, but I’m sure it was just a lack of forward and/or impulsion. That was the theme of the test –¬†slow – though the judge didn’t seem to see it as much as I felt it.

Robbye¬†got to rest¬†for an hour or so while I tried to get over my disappointment. That ride hadn’t been the incredibly overwhelming improvement I’d fantasized¬†about. Where was¬†the pride? Where was¬†the glow in my stomach?

Soon it was time to warm up for Training 2, and I headed with my entourage (showing with a trainer is so fun! You get a whole fan club, and get to be a part of a fan club for your teammates!) to the outdoor warm-up arena. Rob¬†hadn’t been out here yet but I wasn’t worried; she was so well-behaved and quiet that we just..did it. We just warmed up. It was a mediocre warm-up, again, but it was fairly-round and fairly-forward, so I was content!

Until she dumped me – right on my head. She even galloped away without checking to see if I was okay. Horses never do that in the Facebook videos!

At¬†this point I’m on the ground hyperventilating because I’m just. So. Upset. Sad, embarrassed, and overwhelmingly disappointed. Why have I been doing all this work? Why did I pay for all of the training and the new gear? Our boot camp was supposed to mean we wouldn’t humiliate¬†ourselves at shows and events anymore – like we have been for the past two and a half years. I’m tired of having the crazy horse. I’m tired of falling off or of bucking across the dressage court.

And yet here I am, crouched on the ground with a split lip, unable to catch my breath because of debilitating disappointment.

I think I hit a turning point on the ground there, guys. Usually, I don’t get angry. Angry, for me, quickly turns to tears and humiliation and apologies.

But this time, sitting in the sand, with everyone looking at me and with my ride time quickly approaching, I felt a fire start in my belly. My breathing slowed and the pain from the cut in my lip faded away.

I. Got. Mad.

So I got back on and absolutely rode the snot out of the rest of our warm-up.

And then I rode the snot out of the test, too.

And as we trotted down centerline, the anger faded and the anxiety faded and the embarrassment faded, and all that was left was an overpowering, absolutely glowing sense of pride. I managed to hold back tears of happiness until we saluted the judge, and then I broke down in relief.

We had nailed the roundness. We had nailed the forward. We had nailed the transitions and the geometry and that silly canter lead. I had anchored my seat in that saddle and she had said¬†Yes ma’am and I had responded¬†Good!

This¬†is what we’ve been working toward.¬†This¬†is what teamwork feels like.¬†This¬†is what submission and impulsion and rhythm and¬†success¬†feel like.

And hey, apparently this is what winning feels like, too.

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Boot Camp: Robbye II and III

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Once I had a base built via Hollywood (the GP schoolmaster) and some fun installed via Tonka (the retired pro barrel racer), it was time to meet back up with Robbye and show each other what we learned! Here are some notes from the first two full lessons I had on her after a month of separate boot camps:

  • Forward forward forward.¬†Now that she actually responds to leg, I can¬†get forward when I want it,¬†and I can insist that it’s the amount of forward I want! Walk is still a bit tougher, but trot and canter – it’s magical. I¬†love¬†Robbye’s trot.
  • No more “wiggling” my hands to ask for roundness. Like I asked on Hollywood, Robbye responds better to a gentle pulling side to side – it’s more like I change the bend in the neck until she gives in her jaw. Once she gives and rounds, I can play a bit smaller to maintain the roundness.
  • THOSE STOPS THOUGH. When I ask for a halt like I’m riding a barrel horse, Robbye really sits on her butt and¬†stops.
  • When we get into an argument – especially about roundness – I need to immediately get on a circle. 20m is okay – 10m is better. This gives¬†me¬†the advantage because she can’t use her favorite weapon – bracing into my hand.
  • Speaking of bracing and hands – I really need to cut that habit. When Robbye feels my bracing arms, she responds (understandably!) by bracing back.
  • I also need to remember my releases. I’m trying to teach self-carriage, and in order to do that I need to¬†let¬†her carry herself.
  • It’s time to start practicing lateral moves! She has baby leg yields and shoulder-ins!
  • She really needs a haircut. We’re playing a fun game of how-high-can-Robbye’s-mane-grow-before-falling-over.

Boot Camp: Hollywood V

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My fifth ride on Hollywood, and my first after having ridden Robbye. I went into this ride knowing that he was teaching me things I would take back to her.

  • I DID A CANTER PIROUETTE! It was awesome. For Hollywood, you just push the shoulders into a smaller and smaller circle until he sits on his haunches and pirouettes. It felt¬†very¬†weird. A lot like Robbye’s canter when she doesn’t want to move forward.
  • I practiced test 1-3. It was a really nice way for me to see everything I’ve learned. I had to maintain bend – especially during the counter-canter – maintain roundness, leg yield¬†off¬†of the wall, get a confident canter transition without losing my seat, and (of course) pay attention to geometry the whole time. It was a really¬†really¬†fun exercise and¬†not¬†easy even on a very knowledgeable horse.
  • I need to be even more consistent about my left bend. It’s really an issue for me.
  • I also need to be more vigilant about my core/trunk position – I like to twist, and that’s silly. I also like to get popped out of the saddle. I think this is going to be any easy change for me to make, as soon as I focus on it. Goal time!
  • I’m gaining so much confidence. I warmed up by myself doing shoulder-ins, leg yields both onto and off of the wall, and checking my own straightness and bend. I couldn’t have done that a month ago.