About six months ago, after riding Derby for me while I was away, Christy commented to me that he “felt just like Jag.” We train our horses every time we ride, and it stands to reason that they quickly reflect how they’re ridden in how they go. In this case, Christy was saying (among other things) that Derby wasn’t terribly responsive to aids, because I wasn’t requiring immediate, crisp responses.
I’ve ridden enough different horses to know what she’s talking about. Generally speaking, horses that Christy has trained (like Liam and Maddie) are unbelievably fun to ride – they are so light and so responsive that that it almost feels like they’re reading your mind. They respond immediately to the the most gentle of aids.
On the other end of the spectrum are wily lesson horses and horses ridden by beginners. These horses are good at defending themselves against inconsistent riding, unsteady hands and other rider errors that are uncomfortable for the horse. They aren’t terribly fun horses to ride. You have to really work hard to get them to relax and work correctly. In my case, I dulled Derby’s responsiveness and dialed back his forwardness. I’ve been working on improving my riding – and what upping my expectations of him.
Today we had a fun ride. Christy and I met at the barn in the morning, to ride before going to Lamplight to watch the freestyles. It wasn’t terribly hot, so we took advantage of the weather and rode outside. Keeping my lessons in mind, I focused on keeping Derby on the bit, and holding the contact in order to define clearly where I wanted him to go. Over all, he made me work here and there but it was a pretty decent ride. We rode pieces of patterns and transitions, and I was getting nice work and good responses. We also had some good canter work, doing 20 M circles and then laps. And during one of those canters, I decided to apply what I’ve been doing in the trot – closing my fingers and closing my legs to hold the contact and encourage the horse forward. And for a moment – a fleeting moment, he rounded and his back came up. And that fleeting moment, felt great. I’ve not been working much at all on the canter, and it was neat to influence the gait.
We cooled out a bit, and then I took Derbs in to untack. I bent down to remove my spurs before taking him to the wash rack … and found that I’d forgotten to put them on! His responsiveness is absolutely improving. That was a nice ride, especially without the added emphasis of spurs.
Christy is going to get the chance to get on Derby again in September. I hope she can feel an improvement in him this time around!
Separately, the show was interesting. We watched a number of rides, from First through Fourth, and then a couple FEI freestyles. As is always the case with a rated show, everywhere you look you see serious equine eye candy. But only a scant handful of rides showed real connection and throughness. We saw a lot of leg movers, gaping mouths, tense backs and lateral walks (a serious fault.) Sure, when you’re watching, you have no idea of the extenuating circumstances the riders are dealing with when they go down the centerline. I get it – a lot of horses (Derby included) are far different at shows then they are at home. Still, we saw a lot of upper level and pro rides, and we could see the problems that stem from not really having the horse through. Tempis didn’t have jump, extensions didn’t have reach and thrust. Obviously, I’m light years from riding these movements, and I’m not saying this to impugn the riders I saw today. But I did come away from the show with a new appreciation for how important connection and throughness are for a good ride.