Sunshine, is that you?

We had our first day of sun (pause for applause) in ages at the barn today.  It was a hilarious start to the day, when we heard that the rings were closed, then they weren’t so we played a bit of chicken on being able to ride.

It turned out to be a beautiful day though!

See that blue sky!

I started the ride with a hearty number of companions in the one viable riding ring of what is typically multiple arenas. I didn’t get as complete of a warm-up as I usually do, mostly because I felt it better to keep moving rather than plod along the rail, doing shoulder-ins and other lateral movements while new riders were learning how to steer.

Reading the ring, I kept it pretty simple to start. Q felt great, he had been a little pigish my first ride on him on his left side. Always tougher that direction, after a long break of regular rides, he will try to bulge  his left shoulder inward and swap his lead tracking left.

If you let your guard down, he will push that button. But today, he was tremendous at the canter going left.

Tomorrow is hopefully a jumping day, and we are also (fingers crossed) going to have a couple less people in one ring at once. I am grateful to be able to ride, but it’s hard to be productive and hyper-vigilant of the different riders (with varying experience leves) around you.

How was everyone else’s Saturday rides?

 

The Plan

Tomorrow I ride for the first time in a week and a half now. It is so good to be getting back in the saddle, and I now have some more news to look forward to.

Horse show in March!

Hilariously, I do not have any respectable show clothes that I can wear in the divisions I will be riding in. My European-inspired jumper flair is not going to work for Adult Hunters and Equitation. So, the hunt begins for new clothes that won’t make my trainer gag when I step into the ring.

How my current trainer sees my bedazzled KEP helmet…

But this also presents something tangible for us, a goal!

Now all our work will lead up to time in the show ring. Cheers to wearing my tall boots again!

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?

Trajectory

There can be real frustration in riding so many horses over your lifetime. Sure, it is really wonderful and valuable to sit on a lot of different types and get to refine the asks.

But, sometimes there is not a sequential progression as a rider. I step into bad habits on specific horses and jump to another before I fully resolve them.

Because of that, I feel as though I am a library of slightly-aggressive, make-it-work methods. In fact, my recent solo hacks has been really restorative for me to focus once again on the fundamentals.

In my collegiate and early adult riding, much of the focus has fallen on the needs of whatever horse I was riding, and you can see the evidence of that in my weaknesses.

A dirty stopper encouraged me to drive with my tailbone.

A heavy mouth gave me broken wrists and open fingers.

A speedy, flat jumper gave me quick, over-active shoulders.

All of my mishaps originate from poorly-executed attempts of correcting a behavior or dealing with a quirk.

 

Some flavors of this definitely happened.

I’ve become this patchwork of the past horses I’ve ridden. In turn, this has made me cautious, skeptical, and untrusting.

I need to become a better partner in the future, because they do not deserve to be haunted by the horses of my past.

I continue to struggle with linear growth as someone who, by the nature of my circumstances, will always be hopping from horse to horse. I can ride almost anything, but I want to excel and really communicate better with the animals that I sit on.

I do think I am getting more opportunities for specificity now, and I am hoping that when I one day own my own horse, all my tools and tips will help that horse as a well-rounded rider that can handle curveballs.

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Loved this horse, and trusted him wholly. I am hoping to return to that.