Joy, Pain & the Outside Rein

Today was truly a day with ups and downs, starting right off the bat with a text from the barn – Derby had been kicked.  It wasn’t an emergency, but he did have some scrapes and the location – the lower part of his chest – isn’t ideal.  The barn owner and her daughter (an ER nurse, and a nurse-to-be) did some triage and cleaned things up.  He’s tender but sound.  Happily, Derby and the other low man in the group who also gets picked on a lot are being moved tomorrow.  This is a relief to me – clearly Derby (and Remy) weren’t in a compatible group – and horses can be tough on each other.

I did an easy ride on Derby tonight, wanting to be sure he was okay after his ordeal this morning, and he was.  We rode outside and he was moving well and willingly.    It sure felt better than yesterday – I had a hideous ride, due (I’m sure) to the lingering effects of the weekend.   My riding muscles were screaming, it was hot, and I think we lasted about 20 minutes.

Today was decidedly better, but I still wasn’t terribly happy with myself.  I could feel myself tipping forward, and letting my leg curl back, so I did some laps in two-point and also did a good exercise Christy taught me – standing two beats and then posting two beats, over and over.  It helps build balance and steady the lower leg.  We did these exercises with loop in the rein – I wanted to be sure that I didn’t accidentally pop him in the mouth if I bobbled.

After we had been moving around for a while, I worked on Derby’s responsiveness to my leg.  I’m still wearing tiny spurs (until my legs are stronger and steadier) but a larger pair have been purchased.   For now, I have to turn my toes all the way out and poke very deliberately if I want to put some spur on.  Which I did, when Derby declined to heed my request (delivered via the inside leg) to step his fine self over, and fill up my outside rein.  He bent outward, effectively counterbending a bit.  I turned my heel in and *poked*.  A ha!  He stepped over!

I’m being very, very careful not to nag with my aids.  My legs are either on or off at the moment – I’m trying to avoid grey areas.  And after a few pokes with the spur, Derby stepped nicelyunderneath himself, and somewhat  into my outside rein when I asked with just some calf pressure.  I say “somewhat” because Derby resists contact a bit, but I’m pretty sure it’s partially a  training issue but primarily a rider issue – he’s better when he’s 1) warmed up and 2) I really ride.

I finished the ride practicing working from my seat – steering Derby with my leg and seat aids, and halting from my seat.  It’s all a work in progress but this sweet boy is a quick study.

After I put Derby away, it was time for my lesson.   Cathy is away this week, and has handed me Atlanta’s reins.  After a rough patch this spring with sore hocks and some farrier issues, Cathy has gotten to the bottom of Atlanta’s issues, and the mare is going magnificently.  I had such fun riding her, and can’t wait to get back on tomorrow and do more.

Christy had seen my ride yesterday which I know wasn’t pretty, and asked me what we were working on tonight.  I told her that I suspected it would be more of the seat and balance issues, but once we got going  … well, things went pretty well.  It was great to ride a big, proper trot again, and while Christy agreed that my stamina has waned, she told me that my form was looking pretty good.  Hooray!  I don’t suck after all!  After hearing that, as I cruised around on Atlanta, I felt nothing but joy.

So the focus turned away from my postion, and instead to the outside rein, and moving the mare around with my seat.  We did an exercise I remember doing with Maddie, when Christy needed to get.me.off.the.inside.rein already.  She had me bend the mare to and fro, from just my seat, keeping my hands still.  Then – and tonight with Atlanta – the effect was immediate – the mares both softened and stretched into the contact, backs up and engaged.

We also did some transition work, because I forgot entirely how to ride a graceful downward transition.  By half-halting the mare as I posted, and gradually slowing Atlanta, I was able to produce a nice, smooth, relatively engaged transition. This will be a particularly good exercise to work with Derby on as he gets stronger – half halts are an area of communication we need to improve.

Speaking of Maddie ….

We got some exciting news this weekend about my former mount, Maddie.   She and Heather (her new owner) competed in their first HT this weekend – a rated show up at Silverwood.   They went out at BN (Maddie is just learning to jump) and … they won!  Heather is clearly the perfect person for Mads, who looked enthusiastic and happy in the videos I got to see.  It was thrilling watching my old girl out on XC and in the stadium.  I’m so proud of her!  Congrats to Heather on a job very well done, indeed.  🙂

Meet Derby

Our second ride, first time outside, cantering to the right

Big news, folks – there’s a wonderful new horse in my life! Meet Derby, an 11 year old OTTB that moved in this week.  I’m doing a lease-to-buy on this nice boy, and I have to tell you, I’ve fallen hard for this one.  I knew after one ride that he was the horse for me –  I felt happy and confident when I went for the test ride.    He arrived on Tuesday, and we had our first ride last night – which was totally uneventful.   The strange indoor arena didn’t phase him in the least.  Tonight we rode outside, and once again, Derby was a total star.

Working a stretch

Christy took some video of the ride, which, frankly, I’m embarrased to share with you.  I’ve been riding so inconsistently lately that my strength and balance are pretty much shot.  I feel like a flopping fish and don’t look much better!

Some nice bend

Derby also needs to get in shape.  He was on vacation over the winter, and while he’s in good condition and weight, he needs muscle.  So, we’ll spend the next few weeks doing a lot of conditioning work.  I also need to regain my independent seat and steady my leg.  Happily, this is a horse I can see myself doing a lot of no-stirrup work.  However, before we go there, I want to get Derby’s top line built, and find a saddle that I’m sure fits him well.

I’m still feeling very out of synch and discombobulated with Derby, but we have had some nice moments that leave me eager and impatient to get over this conditioning hump and get my riding legs back.

I also need to figure Derby out.  He has a lot of training but is very resistant to contact.  You can’t just push him into the outside rein and get to work.  He needs to warm up on a loopy rein.  Actually, given the current state of my riding, this isn’t a bad thing.  Riding with pronounced loop in the reins forces me to use my legs and seat to influence the horse. And once I put him to work, Derby is much better about accepting contact.  I’m pretty sure that once I get my strength and balance back, my hands will be steadier and more independent, which will help Derby too.   For now, I love the fact that this is the sort of horse that can go around on the buckle in a new environment.  He is the very soul of a good boy, and I’m crazy about him.

Cantering to the left.

Before my energy totally waned, we got some nice canter both directions, but not before I had to send Christy back to the barn for a whip.  Derby is very responsive to voice aids – a chirp will send him forward, but I’d like him to be lighter and more responsive to my legs and seat, and I’ll be making that a priority over the next few weeks.

We finished up the evening with another grooming session, hand grazing and cookies.   I’m beyond thrilled with this sweet, fancy horse.  Next ride should be on Saturday.  Stay tuned!