(I’m gonna post these at the beginning of the week to keep me on track and then edit as necessary, so check back! Please!)
Finally sunny and Pearl’s tail is gross, so I’ve had grand plans to wash it all week. Opted to do that before riding because then it would have time to dry before she goes out in the paddock and rolls to create a lovely mud-tail. She was most unimpressed about a) washrack b) tailwashing c) standing still ugh mom this sucks so she was a little cranky (cranky for her = pawing and less inclined to stand still).
We just did a little bit of a bareback ride…she was mad about the spa time, I was just generally out of sorts, and I thought we just needed a break. Of course as soon as I got on her she was her usual chipper self and walking out like she was on a mission so I almost wished I had tacked her up so we could work-work…but then I would’ve had to get off, go back to the aisle, tack up, get back on, etc etc, and honestly, I think she needs to conserve the calories at this point. Walked some inside so I could catch up on text messages from the drive over (don’t text ‘n’ ride, kids!) then went to the outdoor.
We had an OK ride…nothing spectacular, but pleasant. I haven’t ridden her bareback since the Barn P days aside from the occasional cool-out after lunging, so my bareback muscles and balance are out of whack and she’s definitely bonier than the last time. Did maybe 5 minutes total of trot as I didn’t want to bounce on her back too much or start getting into any grippy/pinchy habits. I was able to get my legs to relax downwards and slow that trot down til it was more comfortable for us both, so that was a good thing. We need to get out of the arena and onto the trails next week I think. One of the things I miss so much about working with Tommy was that since he was so green, there was always something we could work on– poles, transitions, circles, figures, going on a longer or shorter rein, pretending to be a beginner and flopping around– that there was enough variety he couldn’t get bored. With Pearl, what we’re working on is more of a general way-of-going thing rather than literally creating a mental pathway for “this is called a circle” so she, and I, tend to get kind of in a rut. We’ve done some poles (I want to do the poles on a circle exercise again next week, too) but I don’t want to jump her until she’s had her foot x-rayed again and we’re really getting sick of the friendly confines. I usually walk her up and down the driveway after each ride in the outdoor but there’s a definite going away from home/going towards home vibe and it’s so rocky I don’t want to screw up her feet again, so trails it is.
After our ride I had her do her stretches, gave her her snack in her stall, then handgrazed her a little bit. In retrospect I should’ve handgrazed her the whole time because she could always have her snack when she comes in but she can’t handgraze unless I’m there…lesson learned. I did put my stuff away while she was eating in her stall so at least it wasn’t a total blunder on my part.
Tuesday 8/20- Thursday 8/22: Out of town. Probably playing some sort of musical ponies while I retrieve a Carson! Also I *may* have done a little retail therapy and gotten Pearl a hopefully-not-too-dinky black bridle that will await me when I get back. God I love package tracking numbers.
Tuesday 8/20: Someone canceled their ride at Barn Z, so I got a lesson! I rode Ligs, a 14 year old Holsteiner. I asked about his background and apparently he was imported as a youngster, did some combined training stuff and some hunters, so he’s basically got up to 3rd level dressage/3 foot hunter. Y’know, just your average school horse. Hah. I’m still not ready to embrace the “when one door closes” mantra, but he is an awfully nice horse that I wouldn’t have gotten a chance to ride otherwise, so there are some perks to this whole living thing. Anyways, Trainer N asked what I do with my horse and what I’d like to work on. Gave my standard “well, we do sorta low level English whatever-y, just started dressage lessons, no I’ve never shown her” answer and told her that I hadn’t jumped in forever so while I’d love it if I got to pop some fences, I’d like to work on more flat/engagement type exercises. I warned her that my favorite o/f habit is crawling up my horse’s neck. She warned me that Ligs can be a lazy dude, and off we went.
Ligs is indeed a lazy guy. It was great for me to get on another horse, because having to really push for even just normal working gaits isn’t something I’m used to with Pearl. N said he can start out stiff at the trot, so we wanted to really work the walk to get him engaged before we even thought about trotting. I had to reeeaaaallly push and even bump with my legs to get a bigger walk out of him. We did some serpentines and circles (the outdoor there is HUGE), focusing on making him use that inside hind on the turns.
Once I felt and she confirmed that we had a better walk, we picked up the trot. I felt like I was posting a mile high with regular hunter-length stirrups and different gaits than I’m used to but N didn’t say anything so I assume it was mainly in my head. Also, now I know why people shell out the big bucks for CWD saddles: because they are like riding on a cloud. You hear that, saddle fairy? Right away, N had me push for a bigger trot. While he’s kind of dead-sided, when I asked correctly and persistently I got the response I wanted. He was stiff in his left hip so we tried a few things to loosen him up. More circles, lots of bending. Did some adjustments to his body frame, concentrating on when I asked him to come more up into the bridle, I need to back that up with more leglegleg. Then when I asked him to stretch back down (and it was a very nice-feeling stretch), don’t let him lean. We went for more of a loosening-up half-seaty canter first. Had some trouble picking it up from the trot but got it from the walk. He’s got a big ol’ stride and is very comfortable. When we came back to the trot he felt much better behind.
Then we did some exercises at the sitting trot. We did some trot-halt transitions and N very quickly figured out that– surprise!– my left side is much weaker than my right. Ligs was a very good tattletale in that when I asked for the halt, he would halt square in front but swing his hind end to the left because I didn’t have enough left leg backing me up. We practiced getting straighter halts at the walk, and then went back up to sitting trot. After getting the feel from the walk I had much better halts from the trot. We also played around with a little lateral work…some shoulder-in and a little leg yield. I haven’t done a whole lot with either before…we had sort of started Pearl with some in a lesson with Trainer P but not sure how much she has done before, and only at the walk so I’m still pretty shaky on the concept. Honestly I should’ve been like hey N, how exactly do I ask for this, because I’m not super familiar but I’m a social failure and only think of these things hours later so I just asked for it how I had been with Pearl/what felt right. Ligs, obviously, has done plenty before and I must’ve been somewhat on target because I got lots of “good girl!” It was so nice riding a horse with all the buttons…while I love the training aspect, it can be difficult trying to teach both myself and Pearl at the same time, so it was great to be able to just work on me. And while I am digging the discipline switch, my brain is so attuned to the “OK, now move this body part this many inches this direction” type of instruction, so it was a familiar beast. For instance, I like to choke up on my left rein and tip my left hand flat, making my left elbow too straight, so having someone telling me to keep my reins even, thumbs on top, bend left elbow without simultaneously having to worry about what new behaviour I’m trying to reinforce in Pearl was a welcome break.
After a walk break, we did some stuff with a single caveletto (+50 correct singular form pretentious points) placed on the quarter line near the corner so it was on maybe a 15m circle. First we did it at a sitting trot…funny how some horses will indeed just step over cavaletti instead of taking them like actual jumps (I’m looking at you, Pearl). The main goal was to use my body to half halt when we were lined up with the cavaletto, then use that energy to get him to pick up his hind legs more instead of stumbling with them. We did the exercise as a figure 8, which again highlighted the differences in strength between my right and left sides– it was really, really hard to enlarge the circle off my left leg if I turned too soon. Then we tried a modified version at the canter. It was obviously small enough that Ligs didn’t have to jump it, so he just strided over. The first time N was like “oh, you don’t crawl up his neck!” but after that I think my brain registered that we were “jumping” so I started to lean at him. Actually, I have noticed that I tend to lean more when I’m unsure of a distance. I can’t yet “see” distances in the sense that I can pick a takeoff point and ride to it, but I can tell when we’re going to hit a bad spot and rather than sitting and waiting my instinct is to throw myself over. N also pointed out that I’m fine on the takeoff, but when I’m unsure I will throw and brace myself on the landing (this totally makes sense, given that Pearl’s jump tends to throw you out of the tack more on landing than takeoff) and then it takes me a few strides to get organized after. To work on this, we cantered in to the jump on the circle, then after landing went straight, came back to a sitting trot, and did a little leg yield out to the track. Knowing I would have to transition back to trot got me to stay sitting upright more coming in to the fence, and get organized after. My body was getting pretty tired at this point, and we had one round where I was trying desperately to push him out off my left leg on the turn in, but my body was like Nope, can’t. My brain wanted to keep going but we called it quits at that point. We trotted out on a loose rein a couple laps each way and he was happy to stretch again. N said now that she’s seen me ride, she has an idea of what exercises we can do next time. Yay for there being a Next Time! She also said I could have spurs Next Time, so hopefully this will be more than once in a blue moon.
Meanwhile, I’ve got a couple things I can work on. She did say I’m a “good rider” and my mind gets the concepts but my body just isn’t strong enough. What I need more is lots of trotting in to gymnastics, but since I’m not jumping Pearl right now that’s a no-go. She also said cantering poles without stirrups would help, so that’s going on the agenda. I also liked the figure 8 exercise, and can both trot and canter versions on Pearl with just a pole on the ground. The walk-halt and trot-halt exercise is also a good one to remember to gauge straightness on my part. All in all, it was a really great lesson and I got a lot of helpful feedback. She clearly knows her stuff more than a lot of hunter/jumper trainers I’ve ridden with (you get what you pay for I guess!) I don’t see why there needs to be this great divide between H/J and Dressage…flatwork with jumps in the way and all that. Hopefully it won’t confuse my poor little body too much to be riding two different styles at once…one of my little pipe dream goals is to maybe event some day, so it will be good to have practice in both at once. I’m thinking for now, I’ll mainly ride Pearl in “Dressage Mode” in Sue’s saddle, working on the same things we’ve been working on with Christy, but once every week or two ride her a la hunters (I can make the jump saddle work with some creative padding while she’s still building up muscle) and do more no stirrups and poles, to mix it up and keep building my own muscles.
Then I drove to Ohio, as one does, and got there in time for a 10 pm ride with Carson. We rode Kizzie, a little Arabian/Dutch Harness Horse cross that Carson has been working with this summer. I mostly just hopped on for funsies after Carson put her through her paces, but it was very interesting riding two horses in one day that are quite opposite. Kiz is kind of like riding an oversized pony. She tends to get balled up and tense and also do the breed-ring fake headset thing, so Carson has been working on getting her to come forward into actual real contact. We toodled around for a little bit and had a nice fun ride. Of course upon seeing the pictures, after a lesson in which I try to work on bending my damn elbows my arms are completely straight in every picture…can’t have everything, and I need to channel my reaction in a positive way as “well, here is something I really need to stay on top of” rather than “oh god I can’t follow directions worst eq ever” etc.
Wednesday 8/21: Sue’s day with Pearl; had a lesson. In the
evening late night all of C’s “barn family” (she’s been working and staying at the barn where she boarded her mare) got together and played musical ponies. The players: Parker, older QH gelding. Mack, ginormous Belgian-a-saurus. Fabio, grade QH-y thing. Annie, QH mare. I tried to make it just a have fun, think about your homework but don’t beat yourself up over every detail type of ride. I started out on Mack. Who is large. I don’t really get the whole drafty craze– I am much more of a TB gal– but Mack was a lot more responsive than I was expecting. He’s kind of like riding a boat (have I mentioned he’s kind of big?) but oddly comfortable. There are about a million years between his footfalls…posting his trot was more effort than sitting because there’s just so much hang time. Canter was a little tricky, as there were 3 other horses (two of them with little kids) in the arena and he’s got about 5 strides of room down each side but we got it both ways, so. Then I rode Annie a little bit (and she felt like a tiny pony after Mack). She is very much the type who will go for her owner and will cart little kids around if they don’t ask for too much, but if someone more experienced gets on her and asks her to do stuff like stay on the rail through the corners she’s like no thanks. Cantered her for the first time since she’s had her hocks done last week apparently…didn’t feel pretty but Carson said she looked better than she does for a lot of other riders so I didn’t feel too badly. She’s safe as houses obviously, so I just kind of let her have the reins and worked on keeping my position more upright at the trot even in a jump saddle. Then I walked out Fabio, who was having a bit of a “day” and had to get his butt kicked. While I might not have had particularly great rides on any of them, it was still good to ride other horses…I think I’ve now ridden more different horses in 2 days than I have in 6 months. Plus I do need to remember it’s OK to just have fun on horseback.
Friday 8/23: Sue’s day to ride Pearl but I was watching a friend and her trainer show at Lamplight (I swear I will show there one day; I don’t care what discipline) and it’s closer to Pearl than home, so figured I would triangulate and get a visit in. Plus I needed to refill her supp tups. While she’s a very sweet girl, she’s not the type to holler and come running when she sees you so I don’t really get to the “ooh she loves me!” a la Black Stallion, but she did amble over to the gate with more purpose than usual when I said her name so I’ll pretend it’s because she was glad to see me rather than she was bored and knew she’d get cookies. Didn’t have a lot of time so I just tidied up her mane, which I really need to keep on top of more, and then handgrazed her. She was noticeably less ribby than the last time I saw her so I’m hopeful we can get some more weight back on her before the weather gets cold. I’ll get proper pictures next week but snapped a quick one in the aisle before putting her back out.