Fix it — NOW

As you may imagine, I’m pretty happy that Derbs didn’t need surgery after all.  While I would never hesitate to put the horse first, nonetheless, I’m really glad that we’re not heading into weeks of stall rest – especially as others are prepping for a schooling show at Silverwood in early May!

I really dialed things back pre-surgery, figuring that if he was going to be stallbound for a while, it would be better to not ramp up his fitness levels immediately prior to the time off.  So we did easy rides.  Now, however, it’s officially go time.  We need to balance getting to work with not over-doing things.

Yesterday was a gorgeous day, and I took the afternoon off to deal with the logistics of returning Derby to Silver Fern, and to hang out and enjoy the day.  I watched Christy take Remy for a spin while Derby had some turn out time, then I brought him in and tacked up.   I decided to try using my Perfect Balance saddle pad with the new, thinner inserts I had purchased recently, but after about 15 minutes of really crappy work with no forward, I hopped off and put my old fleece pad on, and took Derby outside.

Things improved but by that time we were full on into feeding time – the other horses were being brought in, everyone was calling to everyone, and the parking lot was filling up.  It turned into a good test of my ability to deal with a distracted horse.

In my lessons, whenever Derby catches me out and pops his nose up, inverts or lets a shoulder bulge, Christy is on my case, insisting that I “Fix that! Fix it now!”  I practiced “fixing it” with Derby, getting busy with my inside leg, and really concentrating on not restricting him with unyielding hands.  It took some doing but eventually I had a much more pliant horse, and got some decent trot going both directions.

Tonight I had lesson, and things went pretty well as we warmed up.  As we got going. Christy started to ask me to “fix” certain things.  Get a decent trot. Make him rounder.  Add more bend in the corners.  Get those back legs going!   I knew I had to up the ante on the quality, so I went back to a key lesson from the Dover clinic last year.  Every corner is an opportunity to half halt and rebalance.

Going into the short side, I half-halted, applied inside leg, softening the inside rein while making sure not to throw the outside rein away.  “Better, that’s better…” the boss commented, as I held a smaller trot gait down the short side, half halting again before the corner, then adding bend.  “That looks good!” was the ensuing comment.

Derby started to run out of gas as we did some circles, so Christy asked for a canter to see if it would wake him up.  I sat, and asked, and happily, the canter quality was decent, my lower leg stayed still and when we transitioned downward, we had some nice trot.  A few minutes later, we did it again, then switched directions. I was really happy that we got the right lead correctly both times (that had been a little sticky for us) and that over all, my position was decent.  I’m glad that’s not fallen apart in the time off!

We’re doing another lesson tomorrow, and I’m going to try to get out to the barn early on Friday morning for a ride, before taking the next two days off.  I’m just so glad be riding, versus nursing a bored, ouchy, stall-bound pony!




Quality begets quality

It took some work but we got a canter with some energy. But it shouldn't take so much work.

I scampered out to the barn tonight, eager to ride.  Derbs seemed to be ready to go too, abandoning his hay and standing by his stall door as I fetched his tack and set out his boots and brushes.

We started as we always do, walking, and he came onto the bit nicely and was moving easily off my seat bones.  I moved him into a trot, and rode in two point practicing some of my new skills from last night while he cleared his pipes.  Once we were ready to go, I asked him to move out as we were tracking left, and I loved the response I got when I closed my calves on his barrel and increased the elevation of my post.  He surged forward at first asking.  After a couple laps I asked for the canter and he again responded promptly, but then dropped to a trot before I asked for the downward transition.  We reorganized and cantered again.  This time I paid attention to my postion, keeping my hips open and swinging.   This time Derby held the canter until I asked for the downward transition.

I switched direction, starting again with trot work, and paying attention to bend, as we were now going right, and I’m continuing to have some issues this direction.  To try to get through this rough patch, I’m really trying to be as deliberate – and correct – as possible going right.   We did some big trot/ little trot, and then I asked Derbs to move out, and got another nice response.  However, when I moved into doing some serpentines, my energy started to peter out.

At that point I noticed that Christy was wrapping up her lesson, and her next one was running a bit late.  I asked her if she could give me a few minutes coaching, and she said sure, since my lesson last night had been been a bit short.

We started on a 20 meter circle, and Christy started to fix our trot, insisting first on better quality.  At this point, we were really lacking energy, and I’ve been struggling with maintaining forward gears when we’re doing something other than blasting down the long side.

She reminded me to hold my outside rein, get busy with my inside leg, and soften the inside rein to encourage bend, while also insisting on more, more, more forward.  She had us spiral in and leg yield out.  We finally put it together, and then I heard “Sit sit ask.”  I did as she she commanded, and while the transition was ugly, at least I got the right lead, and we found some solid energy.    We transitioned down, and did it all again.

I was pretty happy with the canter quality – with Christy’s coaching, I was able to really engage Derby’s inside hind.

It was a great ride and the fifteen minutes of torture coaching was invaluable.

There’s always something

A nice moment. We're working a small stretch, he's staying uphill, and that inside hind is engaged.

Christy and I had an interesting moment tonight, as I was working on developing and keeping Derby really engaged on a circle.  She started talking about softening my aids, specifically my spur.  Huh?  I wasn’t spurring and said so.

Diplomatic silence from the middle of the ring, accompanied by a raised eyebrow.


Well, God love her for having a high enough opinion of my riding to assume that I am in full control of my extremities.  Sorry to disappoint, Christy.  I’m not.   We stopped what we were doing and zeroed in on my leg.  It turns out that I’ve been egging Derbs on with my spur almost constantly, when I was happily under the illusion that I was keeping my aids quiet and deliberate.

Um. Awesome.

Looking at the videos, I cringe. I’ve got my spurs in Derby’s side more often than not.   Sure, they’re rounded, but they still don’t feel good.   The last thing I want to do is make him dead to my aids, and it sure looks like I’m on my way to desensitizing him to my spur. Yikes.  I’m putting the Tom Thumbs back on.  Developing a steady leg capable of delivering ONLY deliberate aids is now job one.

The posting-with-too-much-weight-on-my-foot problem still persists, and it’s contributing significantly to the unsteadiness in my lower leg.  It’s not reasonable for me to think that this issue would have been fixed a scant week since I started tipping my butt up into two point, letting my stirrups rattle on my feet as I hold my weight with my thighs, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying.

My review of tonight’s ride did reveal a couple bright spots.  For the most part, my posture has really improved.  I’m keeping my hip angles open, and doing so is now coming more easily.  I don’t need to constantly catch and correct myself, at least, not to the degree I did even a week ago.  That’s a step forward.

This sort of moment gives me hope, He's really moving, he's uphill, I'm sitting straight and am keeping it together.

In other good news, Derbs is over the muscle soreness.  He was moving out well and evenly tonight.  We cantered on a circle both ways,  and the quality of the canter was good – he held the leads and was stepping under himself – so clearly, the soreness is abating.  Canter transitions on the circle are at the top of our homework list – they’re great work for his hind end, and require me to get our collective ducks in a row – forward, contact, bend, sit sit ask – and give me the time I still need to organize everything.

So, overall, a good night.  Problems persist, but that is no surprise.  There will always be something to work on!

Putting a few pieces together

Derby looks smashing in bright red, but I think we may be over-doing it a bit with this ensemble.

Riding bits and pieces of tests – a little stretchy trot here,  free walk there, etc. – is far different that putting a whole test together.I’m just barely starting to string together movements with deliberation.  Tonight we had a couple important firsts.

The big news was that I actually rode a canter transition.   I had Derby in a really nicely balanced canter – he was on the bit and it felt great.  As we rounded one end of the arena, I closed my fingers, half halted, engaged my core and kept it together as Derby transitioned to a trot.  I kept the trot going, and it wasn’t a bad trot – he was still on the bit, in fact, the contact was really good.  Still trotting, I decided to test my contact.  I fed him a little rein, and a little more, and still more.  Stretchy trot! Legit stretchy trot with contact! I rode half a lap like that, then picked him back up, and then invited him to stretch again.  Wow.  That was a great moment!

I also watched some video Liz shot a couple days ago.  She quietly got about three minutes of trot work that I didn’t know she was shooting.  We had a few nice moments but watching that video, I can clearly see that I”m still closing my hip angle.  I have to sit up and engage my core if I want that horse to move!

So, a nice win tonight, but much remains to do.

Wrong lead? Nah! It’s counter canter!

Counter canter! Yeah! That's what we're doing! Counter canter!

Well, tonight’s ride only went partially as planned.  I was looking forward to my lesson, and showing Christy what I’ve been working on for the last few days.  We did earn some nice kudos – the left lead canter was really good – we had a decent transition, and I was able to show Christy how I’m getting better at really riding the gait – keeping the horse forward, getting him to step out and under himself, and holding the contact and getting him to move forward into it.   We got a gold star on our homework for that chapter, but we turned around and flunked the next one.

The weirdness started when we switched direction.  I had been getting some nice work this direction recently and felt that I was making real progress on the canter depart … but tonight wasn’t the night.  I was doing something new and strange – we couldn’t pick up the right lead to save our souls.


Okay, we did get it a couple times, including an unscheduled walk-canter depart (seriously, where’s the fruitbat?) but more often then not, I was putting him onto the wrong lead with alarming consistency.

We had some decent moments. I'm pretty happy with this canter attempt.

We worked at it, and revisited bending, and Derby grew more and more resistant on the right rein.  I knew then that somewhere, something was wrong with how I was riding, and I got confirmation of that fact when Derby started to resist naughtily, spooking at a corner and refusing to to bend.  I put him on a small circle, and doubled back, inching him back towards the corner – but I was getting tired and didn’t have the strength to really kick him over.  Then he tried to pull some of the same crap on the long side.  I smacked him with the whip, sent him forward, and we did some small 10M figure 8’s at the other end of the arena, and then headed for the end where he had spooked, bending on a serpentine.  No avail, he did it again.  I turned him in tight circles, keeping his feet moving, and was furious with myself and I’ll admit it, with him.  At this point, I was almost exhausted, so after he walked and halted nicely I called it a day.   However, ideally, that wasn’t the right time to end.  I have squeezed myself into Christy’s schedule tomrrow night, and we will revisit these issues!

Incremental improvements

New red duds for December.

I’ve been working hard since my last lesson, in which Derby was dull and the ride was generally uninspired.   Developing Derby’s forward gears and maintaining engagement and roundness in the transitions have been my primary foci.  However, as part of the working on forward equation, we’ve been doing more work at the canter.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the quality of my homework and am looking forward to my lesson tomorrow.  Derby was good yesterday and really good today – we had some very nice trot work including some bending serpentines in which we maintained impulsion and had good bend.

In the back of my mind today was also the imperative to start working in more correct bend.  When I remembered, I rode bend going into corners, and given the traffic in the arena today, I also had to do changes in direction and line.  We did lots of circles and the quality of that work was some of our best.

Early in the ride, I put Derby into a canter, keeping transition quality in mind.  I also wanted to start doing a better job of riding the canter – holding the contact, pushing the horse into it. and also engaging his hind legs.  Today was – I think – our best canter ever.  Derbs was enthusiastic – he didn’t peter out but instead held the tempo – and I was able to sit up and ride circle that felt balanced.  I also got the horse to move out from that circle – I’m not sure I’d go so far as to call it a leg yield , but it was in that vein.

We’ve also schooled transitions ( trot / walk / trot) over the last few rides.   First I had to develop more responsiveness from Derbs – you need energy to maintain engagement.  The transitions have improved incrementally from ride to ride, as I do a better job of riding them – using my half halt and getting the horse to soften while staying in the bridle by holding the reins, engaging my core and closing my legs going into the transition.  You have to ride downward transitions forward – which is really counterintuitive for me and something I struggle with. It’s not great yet but we’re doing better, which is enough for me!



Two steps backward, one step forward

I’ve had some interesting rides recently – not great, but interesting and productive.  The good news is that while our canter work lacks grace, I’m growing more and more proficient in that gait. It’s comfortable, I no longer need to work myself into cantering, and I’m starting to actively manage the gait, asking for more a more forward canter, and correcting Derbs when he breaks to a trot before I ask for the downward transition.

Getting the horse forward and into the bridle is still a work in progress.  The key here is getting Derby in front of my leg.  I know that I need to stay on this and not accept a sluggish response.   Today I felt the canter petering out, and reached back and gave him a crack with the whip.  He surged forward, I said “Good boy!” and stayed out of his mouth, letting him go on.

We had kind of a crappy ride in my lesson yesterday – Derby was dull and almost rank – he felt very resistant and we had numerous discussions – about walking, about halting, about transitions.  We abandoned work on transitions in favor of working on getting the horse forward. Christy had me reinforce my aids with whip and spurs and pretty soon, I had some good responsiveness.   But, across the board, the ride wasn’t great.

Today was much better.  Whatever was stuck in Derby’s craw yesterday was absent today.  We had a nice ride, he was nicely in the bridle, and we drilled trot-walk-trot transitions with good results – the horse stayed round and connected.  We also had  nice canter work both ways, and high-stepped over poles, staying round and without ever trying to add a stride (seriously) between poles (a symptom of his being behind my leg, I was told.)

Derbs earned himself a couple days off.  We have family coming over tomorrow and Friday.  It’s going to be warm and sunny, and the paddocks are full of lovely squishy mud that I”m sure I’ll have to chisel off on Saturday.  He’s earned it however.  Good boy!

Tearing myself away ….

Just when things were getting really good, I have to take a (very) short break from riding.  Short, as in two days.  And really, I’m only “losing” one day, since Derbs gets his fall shots and dentistry on Monday, and would have the day off due to the vet work, whether or not I was in town.   That said, the day is dawning sunny, and promises to be warm (for November.) It would be an awesome day to ride, but I’m on the way to the airport this morning.

While I don’t want to give the impression that all of my problems are solved – far far from it! – it has been a gratifying week.   The work we did in my lesson (see “Tightening the Screws“) awakened me to the fact that I have been letting Derby steal rein – when I’m not just flat out throwing the reins at him – and I was putting him on his forehand.  Since that lesson, I can feel when this is happening, and while I still need a few strides to organize, think, take hold, half halt and close legs and engage core and hold contact and go now, horse! go! …. the good news is that I can get remedy the situation.

Our last couple rides have been really nice.  On Friday, the highlight was a nice, relaxed, rolling canter that felt balanced, and that I was able to influence.  Yesterday, the highlight was more canter work – transitions on a 20m c ircle.  We had a couple crap transitions that I knew were my fault, not Derby’s.  So I put him on a circle, got a nice, balanced trot going, and then rode some transitions.  As long as we stayed organized, they felt effortless.   Clearly, I need to work on managing and maintaining quality and balance through and between gaits – obviously, since this is really kind of a key component to a successful test.  I’m really happy with the quality of the gaits recently.   My rides this week have been really fun – it’s tough to get on a plane to leave, even if it is just a short trip.

The end of the week

After three great rides, I was hoping to keep the momentum going but Derby was feeling the effects of the stepped up work ( at least that’s what I’ve concluded, and I had overdone things in a workout earlier that day and had almost zero in the tank.  Our work was OK, and we got the canter both ways, but Derby was resistant and registered his discontent with a little buck.   Friday the horses were back outside (the icky weather kept them inside for a couple days earlier in the week) and he had the day off.

We started today with a set of new shoes, but Derby was still a bit uncomfortable for the farrier, and I had to free longe him to loosen up his back end so he’d tolerate getting his hind feet trimmed.

Our ride – my first on my own since the clinic – was pretty good.  I worked on lateral work, especially leg yielding the trot, and did some canter work both ways, and his attitude was much improved compared to Thursday’s as well.  Overall the contact was pretty good, as were the quality of the gaits.

After we rode, I put him on the longe, for the prescribed longe work.  He was swapping leads pretty badly earlier in the week, but today I got good quality work both ways.  I do hope we’re well along the road to recovery and loosening (and strengthening) those big muscles.

Mind Over Matter? Maybe?

I’m not sure why this is happening, but I’m riding better now than I have in a very long time, maybe ever.   And the fact that this is coming after the horse and I both had two weeks off is especially confounding. But it’s undeniable.  We’re better. The horse is forward, the contact is better, the gait quality is better, and – amazingly – I’m doing a pretty good job at sitting my transitions, and the transitions (especially upward to canter) are prompt and greatly improved.  To wit:

Two weeks ago:

Respectable trot, in an intro/training frame

Last night:

His face is nicely vertical, he's tracking up and his back is up. Much better. Best of all, Derby is offering this, and I'm taking it (instead of throwing the reins away and dumping him on his forehand.)

The canter work is even more significantly improved.

Two weeks ago:

This effort is probably described best as "trying not to fall off the damn horse."

Last night:

I'm so proud of us. Round, good contact, quality gait, and I'm sitting nice and tall. Go us!

I’m not sure why we’re suddenly producing better quality work – and to this degree.

– It has been cool and breezy, and a little wind under his tail might be propelling the Derbster forward.

– Along the same lines, I’m wearing larger spurs to better make my point, and Derby, to his credit, is getting good at saying “Yes, Ma’am!”

– We’re in a different bit and he is definitely taking stronger contact on it.

– I came home from the Dover clinic motivated and educated

– Christy is also similarly motivated and told me “It’s time to demand more…”

– The vet says I gotta do it.

I’m sure these are all contributing factors, though none explain my new found ability to sit my transitions.  I guess I’ll quit ruminating and just take it.

So tonight Derby really worked.  We started with the longing program prescribed by the vet, and then had a lesson about 45 minutes later. We took advantage of the empty arena to really encourage Derby to move out, both at the trot and canter.   Leg yields and trot quality were the focus of the first half of the lesson.  Christy had me ride the arena like a rectangle on the quarterlines, cutting straight across the short end and yielding out on each side.  As we went through the exercise, Derby got more and more connected, which really is no surprise, given that I was half halting him through every corner, and again as we started the yields.  Feeling the contact get stronger and his back come up up up was really cool.

For the canter work, the aim was to ride more forwardly and let Derby roll around the arena.  However, we were both starting to run out of gas toward the end.  We did get some nice quality work, though not as big and forward and rolling as I had hoped.   We’ll give that another shot tomorrow!

After the ride I made a big fuss out of Derby, plying him with carrots, cookies, peppermints and an alfalfa mash.  I think we’re friends again (he wasn’t thrilled when I saddled him up apres longing) and I’m looking forward to tomorrow night!