Happiest Time on Horseback

Still underwater over here, but the end is n(e)igh! (har, har).

While snorkeling in my backyard, I am on a contemplative streak.

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When it was still only soggy, not swampy….

There are so many happy moments in my life, and I am lucky that many of those happened to be on the back of a horse. Excluding horses, my happy moments are still plentiful, but they take away a large chunk of availability in my tremendously awkward “growing up” phase.

I had this thought earlier today, when was I most happy while riding on a horse? I would say there have been times I have been champion, high point rider, and other notable honors, but none of those strike me as the happiest. Especially now, as an adult, where the color of the ribbon means relatively little to me.

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That little speck is me…

Over the course of my quarter life, flashes of nostalgia do stick with you though. Memories that are warm, rosy, and fill you up with joy. Here are a couple that immediately float to the surface of my mind.

  • Riding in a faux fox hunt, galloping across a field as a young girl who was used to city riding in a cramped, havoc-ridden indoor
  • Leading a trail of my camper-students on the Appalachian Trail in the Southeastern U.S.
  • Being lauded by Bernie Traurig in a clinic where I jumped grand-prix level heights (with my no-business-being-there trakehner)
  • Ending a particularly good O/F round in University and receiving a personal and loud cheer from my team

Each of these bring a smile to my face and a warmth to my heart. None of them are related to winning. I particularly enjoy the moments of relief in the midst of struggle. A lot of these memories I called out were bookended by times where I was questioning my capabilities and was losing faith in myself.

Riding is cyclical. And the weeks of “what am I doing”, “I suck at this”, and “why am I wasting money” can be so handily broken by a piercing optimistic burst. It’s in that moment, where Bernie calls you a natural, and it all christens the memory.

What are your favorite memories on a horse?

Rain, Rain, Go Away….

While I still would not trade rain for freezing sub-zeroes, it certainly does put a damper on riding when you don’t have an indoor.

Lots of rain means no riding. Wump wump.

When I was told my lesson was cancelled…

Luckily, I am one of those people that just loves being around the animals. So a day at the barn without riding is still pretty great.

When told I can still spend time with horses though….

I mostly have been doing an extensive clean up and hand walking job.

The property we ride on has a nice path that goes along the entirety, so my thought is if you do 3 or so laps, it’s probably a mile? This is a totally unofficial guestimate, possibly to not feel guilty about a package of Whoppers I get on the way home from the barn.

It’s good to reconnect with your horse on the ground. While frustrating that we cannot ride given the good streak we were on, I think it’s overall a positive thing to pause.

Right now, I have been doing some soul-searching as to what we each need to get to the next level. For him, continuing his progress on his weaker left side. Slicker and “uphill-feeling” downward transitions. Higher sensitivity to leg.

Excuse me, could you stop that whole squeezing me with your leg thing?

In order to get him there, I need better straightness in my body (I am a leaner). I need to not rely on the spur so much. And I need to be more precise and curt with my asks.

My forever battle is keeping my reins short and my fingers closed. Soft elbows. I could go on and on.

One thing I was reminded of in my recent COTH thread that I started is that it’s okay to have days as well where you are just enjoying your horse. They need those “lighter” days too. Especially with Q occasionally being used in other lessons and being ridden by other people.

One thing that is nice about the rain, it really creates reflection (yes, this is both a water pun and a real fact of my recent activities).

How do you all handle short-term downtime?

Group Power

Basking in the glow of good rides is its own energy that burns completely clean. I had the wonderful opportunity to ride in a group lesson, which I realized, I totally missed. Having additional people around to release the tension of mistakes, or cheer you on when things go well warms my spirit. As well, getting to watch others approach the same challenge generates interesting “huh” moments.

Yeaaa, group lesson cheerleaders!

With Q, none of us who work with him have Olympic aspirations. Thus, we are all taking our time to piece together a stronger, healthier, and happier horse. With that, comes taking a step back on course complexity and height, which I was elated to do.

Though on Saturday, we got to do something a bit more fun and higher than we typically do in our private jumping lessons, and we really rose to the occasion, no pun intended (really).

The nice thing about our flatwork progression is that Q is getting a motor as well as more impulsion to his gaits, which makes the jumping easier and more enjoyable.

We did a line to rollback to rollback course. The jumps were objectively not big, maybe 2’6”, but when you have been jumping 2’ mostly, there is still a child-like enthusiasm when jumps go up.

I laugh about the days when jumping 3’9″ in lessons was “normal”. Maybe one day I will own a horse capable of that, but I am happy to do what I can now.

That’s all to say, Q was fantastic. He totally marched down the line in the strides, jumped the snot out of the oxers, and in general felt really willing.

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Not Q, but big man is still adorable and still for sale.

One thing I will continue to work on is to get his hind end aligned, he loves to trail his hindquarters out (toward the rail if you are coming off it), especially through the turns. I need to really bring him more effectively around my inside leg then and also finish the turn with outside aids so we don’t canter somewhat sideways.

It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have some thing I could do better. But I cannot contain my joy with him. We are all so happy with the little squirt. Maybe a show season could happen?

Back to Basics

It’s funny, when you teach a horse self-carriage on the flat, it can do really tremendous things for work over fences. Like, who would have thought a strong, flowing hind end would do wonders for jumping ability?

(said no one, ever)

But truly, we have been putting in some great flat schooling for Q. He began as a traditionally “dead-to-the-leg” type of sensitivity, and through a lot of transitions and changes of pace within gaits, he’s turning into being more responsive and less surly to the leg.

As well, tracking left was more difficult for him, and it still is to this day. Especially at the canter, you can tell there’s weakness/imbalance. He used to look to do a sneaky lead change. Now he is much stronger on it, and I am attempting to get him to quit throwing in his left hind when picking up the lead.

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Not the subject of this post, but I have to keep posting stills of this big guy until someone buys him!

Do the basics, and do them well. That’s what I keep thinking with him.

Trot-to-walk transition needs work? Spend some time making them “perfect” so he doesn’t fall into the walk.

Circles are a bit oval? Steer more effectively and really encourage him to not over-bend to the right, and be rigid to the left.

Heavy in the hand? Add leg, push his hind end further underneath him and raise his forehand.

It’s refreshing to revisit fundamentals, I enjoy demanding quality from myself. Shoulder- and haunches-in become good turns. Lengthening and shortening become well-ridden lines. Transitions become crisp departures.

It’s a level of gold lining that is fun to dust on everything.

Catch and Release

I have had the Real Slim Shady stuck in my head for most of 2019 (okay fine, two days, that’s it, but still). Mostly the part where Eminem says, Guess who’s back, back again…

I am back! After a wonderful and relaxing holiday break, which sadly did not have ponies in it. The challenge of going home with only a carry-on to contain your stuff. And helmets are not very space-efficient.

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If I look away, maybe she will not be there when I turn around.

I have always enjoyed stepping away from riding for short periods of time. It does a lot for my bad habits, almost as if it waters them down. When I am not as “close” to the issues, I return to more of a blank slate.

As well, it gives me a chance to read up on the latest thoughts and methodologies of our esteemed equestrians on the internet. There is nothing I love more than to peruse Denny Emerson’s Facebook tangents or a thought piece published in the Chronicle by Charlotte Dujardin. Though sometimes I read outside my respective discipline, all of us are after the same thing: a horse that is listening and willing to perform what we ask.

Breaks are also nice as horses are usually given lighter schedules and are allowed to “be horses” for a couple of stringed-together days.

Yes, there are some horses that “need” a job and interaction, but they could also use time away from the regular routine.

I am always reminded of San Remo VDL, the famed equitation horse who only is regularly ridden during the Medals Season. That is probably the best life as a horse, be renowned enough that you can take months-long vacations each year!

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Beautiful equitation horse… (Photo by Phelps Media)
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… and adorable fluffernutter (Photo by Becky Huestis)

Truly, to be a horse woman is to know pressure and release, and for us and our horses, the release is a crucial reward.

How do you all handle breaks from riding? Do you come back refreshed? Frustrated?