Riding always plays a necessary part of my life — escaping from my origin of joy is damn near impossible. But I do go through periods where I experience fewer opportunities to sit in a saddle. This makes me sad to an extent, it boils down to expenses much of the time. During these times, I meditate on my riding.
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.
Answer: Not well.
One thing I’ve been told consistently by separate horsewomen and men throughout my riding career is “Ride the horse you are given.”
This can mean a lot of different things depending on the circumstances. Be more tough on a pokey sloughy type, don’t expect the saintly 2”0 packer to jump around a 1.20m course, and allow a horse’s fitness and physical limitations be your guardrails.
It can translate to a whole host of other lessons, but those examples tell us we have to listen and be pliable. We cannot immure our animals into selfish expectations.
Sometimes I focus so much on what a horse needs at a given time, I do not embrace its counter-message. Be consistent. For me and my human clan, it’s a tough sell. Be flexible to what a horse needs, but also be the same in the intensity and escalation of your asks? Maybe you should ask me to solve differential equations without a calculator while juggling especially slippery objects.
If you are like me, you have a lot going on in your life, what I like to call “distractions” from my true love of animals and riding. Examples of this include this little thing called “work” and “taxes”.
My mind can be flooded with these distractions, and when I allow it to take a forefront mental calculations, my riding feels much more hurried. Rather than be the relaxed and soft rider I know I can be, it’s about getting to point B in the fastest way possible.
Real life scenario – I arrive at the barn, late for my lesson, after a high-pressure, hectic work day. I allow my normal, slow warm up. This was deliberate. When getting Q up to speed, I kept repeating to be slow and listen to him, especially we are dealing with soundness question marks.
Good job me right? Wrong.
We start jumping, and there goes all that quiet riding I warmed up on. I am aggressive, shoulder-pitching, leaning self with all the pressures of a stressful corporate job screaming at me when I need it least.
Being consistent is my crux when my mind is playing through its own algorithms. My approach needs to be the same, because it’s not fair to divert course mid-ride.
Does anyone else have to practice deliberate consistency? Or get easily caught in a tense cycle once it starts? Always appreciative of suggestions.
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.
What are your hidden pet peeves?
Our show has been officially delayed. While sad we are not showing this weekend, this will be a good chance to actually accumulate all the necessary gear before jumping into the show ring. As well, it never hurts to have more practice time, especially given all the weather-related drama we’ve been having lately.
This past weekend, I finally got a chance to look at videos of myself riding. I obsessively made others film me in university and early adulthood. I shrug certain equitation problems away unless it is staring me in the face, so these were always helpful to give an unflinching look at my problems.
There is no substitution for boots on the ground, preferably yelling at you, but a video of what you look like can at least remind you of what holes in your riding need tackling.
Very rarely do I look at videos and feel better. The more likely outcome is me looking and wondering how the heck I can get away with what I am doing up there.
This was one of those times I was pleasantly surprised though. There was a lot I would change, but that’s a part of my self-improving nature that will always be there.
My hands are doing less weird things. Trust me, they used to do really weird things, like pull down into crotch regions with super long reins. Shivers.
I still wish I had less expressive shoulders over fences, but I recognize there is improvement there. I need more weight in my heels on landings, but my leg is fairly stable at this height.
I see areas where I could support Q much better through sharper turns, but I need more flatwork to really get him bent around my leg more effectively.
All of that will come. I am happy I see progress! If this was a video review, we would not quite say touchdown. But maybe this qualifies as a 2-point effort.
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).
How have you all progressed over winter?
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.
How was everyone else’s Saturday rides?