Lesson 2: Breakthrough

So then on 8/7, we had a lesson that made me go “wow, maybe we really can do this.” I am probably one of the least self-confident people in the entire world, on or off a horse, so my internal dialogue tends to go a lot like “why on earth are you even bothering with this, you suck, you will never be a good rider, you don’t deserve a horse this nice, you’re going to ruin her, you have no business trying to train a horse, you should just resign yourself and start a Special Limit Novice Long Stirrup Sort-of Hunter-esque Eq On the Flat division, because that’s all you’ll ever be capable of.” Nice, right? But last Wednesday, Pearl, Christy, and yes, even myself were able to prove me wrong [grammar/pronoun/tense fail?]. I’d been riding P in the jumping hack for a couple weeks and while I don’t feel unsafe in it, I do feel like I’ve had to kind of manhandle her in it to get a response. Part of this is probably that I’m so used to the “omg I’m yanking on her face must stop” type of ride. In any case, C and I had toyed around with the idea of seeing if we could find a bit P can comfortably go in. I honestly don’t have any realistic aspirations of showing DO YOU HEAR THAT LAMENESS/MONEY GODS I AM NOT TEMPTING YOU but juuuuuuuust in case, it might be nice to have a bridle that is actually show-legal. With her giant lumpy lips (excuse me, oral commissures), my best guess would be that something soft but still– she went even worse in a loose-ring single joint that the D– could work. However, I got a wild hair last summer and tried her in a flexible rubber mullen, and she chewed the rubber down to the core in all of two rides. I’ve heard (= read on the interwebz) lots of positive reviews of the HS Duo and nathe bits, but since I’m not about to drop a hundred bucks on a bit that could potentially be destroyed in less than two hours, I made my own Motley Saddle Club-approved Ghetto Nathe: a thin mullen bradoon, covered in Sealtex. Not flexible, but soft. Christy brought up the point that with her giant lips, there’s not much room in there, so the chewing on the rubber mullen could have also been a result of mare’s distaste of having something so fat inside her little mouth. My fake bit is a good deal thinner than that even with the Sealtex, so it was the best option out of my bit collection (why do I even have a bit collection when I’ve never owned a horse that went in a bit?). So for now, Pearlie-girlie is carrying a bit on a bradoon hanger underneath the jumping hack, but with the reins only attached to the cavesson part.

Anyways, lesson. We again started off with our “neckreining” exercise, turning her off my seat and paying particular attention to what my seatbones (+ 50 Dressage Vocabulary Points) were doing. My body definitely didn’t read the book about fine/large motor skills being better on opposite sides, so I’m righthanded and also have a much stronger right side, and tend to lean harder on the right side of my seat. Combined with my shorter/weaker left leg, my tendency to snatch at my left rein, and Pearl’s bad right hock, we’re definitely better to the right. So as we were making turns at the walk, my job was to take note of how I was weighting my seat when turning to the right, and then replicate that feeling on the left side when turning left. And oh hey, our left turns magically got a lot better! Good job, mare.

Next: trotwork. My total paranoia of ripping off my horse’s face (it started out as valid– the first I ever heard of Pearl’s existence was a line in an eq team email that went “we have a new school horse, she loves to jump but you can’t touch her mouth at all”) means that I pretty much tend to float the reins at Pearl however she wants them. Which again, used to be the ride that she needed and she has made tons of progress relaxing on a nice, easy contact. Kindergarten’s over, though, so it’s time to get a little better feel of her so we can start working that body. So, we picked up the trot, picked a rein length, and she was not allowed to snatch more rein out of my hands. Instead, we were looking for her to give to the contact, and realize that it’s much more comfortable if she carries herself instead of either leaning on me or peanut rolling around the ring. It took a bit, and you could definitely see the wheels turning, especially when I would ask for a halt and wait for her to soften instead of throwing away my reins as soon as she stopped. But after realizing that tossing her head or backing up weren’t the right answer, she finally softened and dropped her head and earned herself lots of good girls.

We went around like that lots, and that’s where you could really see the progress. We started off like this (actually, this was after we had already gotten to the good part, so picture even more nose-pokey)

where you can see we’re kind of getting it. Then we went into “well, can I avoid contact by curling underneath it instead?”

No can do, sorry. So there, I had to add more leg to push her forward back into the contact (oh god if I type contact one more time I’m going to lose my mind) and inside leg to get her to bend. We also started to ask for a bigger and smaller trot, keeping hands steady and asking with just core and seat. This is an exercise we’ve struggled with previously– I try not to play the “mare card” too much, but sometimes Pearl likes things, e.g. trot speed, the way she likes them, and we can do a pretty great Standardbred impression sometimes. This time, though, it worked awesome.

And in the end, know what I could do? Stop my horse right off my seat, that’s what.

Lots of pets for the pretty girl. I’ve tried asking around but I’m not really sure of her background. I know she was a broodie for a few years, and she’s obviously had some decent amount of training (jumps, has a lead change, goes in sidereins, probably has some lateral work if I knew how to actually ask) but she’s kind of been passed along as not fancy enough for an upper level horse but not quiet and auto-pilot enough for a beginner (more on that later). So to a) get her to change the way she’s been going for years and b) have ME be the one to do it was pretty awesome. For reference, this is her preferred way of going

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And this is how she was going by the end of our lesson

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Not bad, mareface.

Takeaway points from this lesson: I’m really, really not going to break her if I start asking more of her. Once I’ve established the contact I want, she’s not allowed to grab more rein from me and instead needs to accept it. Ride more from my core and seat rather than my arms and lower legs. I tend to (read: definitely do) carry all my tension in my arms and shoulders, and I’m worried my lizard brain is going to interpret “keep your hands steady and make her come to them” as “stiffen your entire arms and don’t let go”– I could see it starting to happen in the video. Handily, Sue’s saddle that we’ve been borrowing has an oh-crap-strap attached to the front dees, so I can hook a finger through that to remind myself that while my hands should stay stiller instead of flailing them at her, I do actually have joints in my arms, so I need to open and close them as I post. Do lots of bendy shapes, and work on controlling the size of the trot with my seat thing. Other exercises: no stirrups (suck it up, sistah), posting irregularly (up-up-down etc). Additional homework: strengthen my core but making an effort to sit up straight when I’m off the horse, too. Between boarding 60 miles from my house and working at a barn 40 miles from my house/40 miles from where I board, I log probably 500 miles a week. That’s 10-15 hours I could spend carrying my upper body instead of slumping into the steering wheel. I know myself well enough to not pretend like I’d actually set foot inside a gym, but I think I ought to be able to handle something I can do sitting down.

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