Riding can be such a thinking sport. Constantly, we mull over our weaknesses and how to address them. We reflect on the challenges our horse is facing and dream up exercises, tack, and strategies to reach the next step in our journey. Meditating on this sport can become all-consuming.
I spend car rides to and from the barn picking apart rides, noting where and why I need an adjustment here and a tweak there. All my directives aim toward supporting the horse I ride that day.
Then I will test out ideas, come to this blog, and write about it. I will also read the blogs of others to devour other ideas from the talented equestrian blogosphere. Throw in a smattering of COTH threads, and my head is rolling.
We are all thinking about our riding. Plotting, planning, and theorizing.
It’s very sad when my days consist of work, travel, and the only pony time I get is trolling the COTH boards. Don’t get me wrong, love the community there, but there is not quite anything for your soul like sitting in a saddle, as I am sure most there would attest.
In my time off, I am trying to remain fit (ha…) and stay mentally focused.
Today I got to test how well my time away was treating me.
I am not a “triggered” person. There is no one event, word, or situation that will throw me into blind rage. This is especially true with horses, where more often than not I am told I am too soft and ineffective.
There is one horse behavior that truly drives me batty. And I encountered it when riding Q this week.
Let me set the stage, Q is not – by any stretch of the imagination – a wild horse. He always tends to be behind your leg, and he carries himself as a “been there, done that” kind of guy. It is rare he will bat at eye at anything. Like, truly anything, sometimes *I* jump at noises that he is just like, What’s going on up there, lady?
I cannot reiterate how calm this horse is.
With all the rain we’ve been having and the mild unsoundness, I got on the goober still expecting the same Q.
RULE NUMBER ONE WITH HORSES, DOOFUS. Expectations? Throw them out the window.
It took one strange spooking horse in the distance to initiate the launch sequence. Hopping and rearing. Pretending we were a dolphin. It was cute, were it not for the 5 other horses in the ring.
I will ride through most fanfare, but rearing is not an activity I am not willingly participating in, especially since there were other (well-behaved but impressionable) horses in the ring.
Out of courtesy for others, I got off promptly and marched the guy down to the smaller, quieter ring.
Mind you, I didn’t want to let him loose, because I still wasn’t sure how he would feel soundness-wise. I had a good idea he’d feel fine, since he was impersonating bombastic marine life. However, I was not going to let him buck around in case it was cold weather jitters, and he tweaked something further.
So I got back on in the smaller, quieter ring and like *magic* had old Q back, slow and predictable (and most importantly sound!).
However, I knew he had a hidden energy in him, so I was fed up with his “I couldn’t possibly trot forward” schtick. Dude, you tried to plant me in the ground not 10 minutes ago!
We had nice forward movement, then later returned to the “scary” ring and acted a perfect gentleman. At any rate, the spooking followed by zapped energy is not a strategy for success when I am riding. I will make them move forward if they show me that they are willing to spook explosively.
At the risk of being a broken record, I must say Q has been out of this world. We have to consider where he began. The first time I rode the little guy he would –
Be incredibly behind your leg, borderline catatonic
Not engage his hind end (weak, plodding tracking, see point above)
Crane his head and chomp on bit
Aggressively pop his shoulder to the left
Fall in through any inside turn (see point above)
Lean heavily on your hand
Refuse to do walk to canter transitions
Fall and stumble on downward transitions
Now, hold on, I am not saying I am the savior that fixed these problems. Far from it. Nor am I saying that all these symptoms are fixed.
However, I cannot believe the horse I sit on when I ride this week as compared to the one I rode a couple months ago. With a good farrier and regular work under non-beginner-lesson students, Q has so much more balance and strength to each of his gaits.
Truly, cantering up to jumps is enjoyable (and not feeling as if we are in reverse, on a treadmill).
I have also come a long way with Q, as lord knows, he is not the only one with issues to unpack. I am a leaning, fingers-opening, shoulder hunching monster at times. His balance question marks have instilled a center of gravity that is deep in my heels, rather than pinching in my knees as I am occasionally known to do.
His slower pace transformed by aggressive “get ‘er done” tactics with relaxation and nuance.
It’s a wonderful thing – to do right by each other – and in that way I truly feel as though we are partners.
This weekend should finally mark a jumping lesson. I am looking forward to hopping over some fences for the first time in over a month (darn, rain).
Part of my 2019 mantra — to be happy with what you have — has practicing a neat little Jedi mind trick.
Normally my arrival to the barn after work goes something like this –
Panic, stress, panic about getting to barn late.
Ride for 20 minutes.
Panic, stress, panic about getting back home late.
At that level of frenetic, what is even the point?
So now, I arrive to the barn, take my leisurely time, even if it means I will be there kind of late. I snuggle the horse. I walk around the property. We sniff grass.
More importantly, I indulge in a bit of fantasy.
Don’t get me wrong, we don’t want to slip into delusional or unsafe. I am not jumping property fences, gleefully claiming I am the new wave of Beezie Madden (which, is sacrilegious to begin with, if you ask me ).
The scene is typically only me with a small collection of other people at the property in the evening hours. So I strut around and pretend.
I own this horse. Lie.
I own this beautiful property.Lie.
I don’t have to worry about Property Taxes on this beautiful, development-rich land. TRUE.
I love this moment.Most truth ever! Shrink my nose into my head.
At any rate, my re-ignition of childhood imagination has me feeling much happier. I need a re-calibration of my mind to stop focusing on what I don’t have, which is not healthy and endless.
I encourage everyone to lie to themselves in small doses, when the mood is right and your heart needs it.
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!
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.
A special someone (whose name might be the oddest in the alphabet) is becoming so enjoyable to hack.
Anytime I sit on a horse, I generally am happy. Certain horses make the happiness easier to achieve.
A lot of this is personal preference. I have the opposite of an electric seat, perhaps we call it a slumber seat. I cause horses to sleep while cantering, a not at all useful skill. What’s even funnier is that I somehow think we are going SO FAST all the time.
Thus, a leg ride has never been my MO, not to say I don’t enjoy it, it’s just not “as” fun. I like spicy, fiery, and barely broke.
When I started riding Q, he did not have shoes and was a bit over being in “school horse mode”. He certainly took advantage of riders who were earlier in their riding careers, never in a dangerous way, just to avoid work.
Thus he was a bit meh off the leg, clunky to bend, and in general duller to aids. I was also unfit even more so than my average state of being, so my riding was about as helpful as listening Google Maps in a foreign language. Communication be muddled.
His physical comfort has increased tremendously since adding shoes, and *surprise, surprise* so has his willingness! It is a remarkable difference, to which I attribute none to my riding, entirely placing this acclaim on good care.
Between myself and the other girl who rides him, we have been so in awe of his short transition. Truly, it’s amazing what a couple of seemingly insignificant changes can make. Hacking him feels less like dragging an angsty teenager from bed and more like working with an over-eager intern.