Finally forward (update + video)

A better canter is easier to sit on correctly. My posture looks much better.

Today temperatures got back up into the 90’s, and Derbs was sweating just standing in his stall.  Because he’s often at his laziest on hot days, I was curious to see if last night’s focus on ‘forward’ would translate to tonight’s ride.

It did! Right off the back Derby stepped into a good trot, and he didn’t require any sharp reminders with the whip.  I didn’t have to do any Pony Club booting either. We had a really nice ride.  I was thrilled.  Importantly, I think I can perserve these forward gears.

I was motivated by watching some recent videos and not being happy with how we looked.  When Derby is behind my leg, I have to work hard, which is totally exhausting, and it’s terrible for my posture. When I’m trying to push him forward, I essentially push with my whole body – tipping forward and closing my hips, which puts the brakes on Derby’s forward gears.

The quality of his gaits improved across the board.  We have a legtimate, swingy medium walk, a very nice free walk stretching into contact, and a rhythmic canter.  When he’s behind my leg, his canter gets lateral. It’s awful. Tonight, it was pretty nice.

I’m hoping to work another lesson in tomorrow. I want to keep this momentum going.


Here’s a clip of our canter work.  I was thinking about last night’s ride again this morning, and forgot to add one more observation – that a more forward horse is in steadier contact.  Anyway, in this clip I’m starting to influence the canter here and there, getting him to lengthen stride and round (albeit sporadically, but it’s a start!)

Fixing my “Go” button

No, we’re not schooling Spanish walk. He was stomping a fly.

It’s become painfully evident to me that Derby is dead to my leg.  I’m not willing to escalate, and buy a longer whip and sharper spurs.  Ideally, I’d love to be an effective enough rider with a responsive horse to not require either of these accoutrements.   So in my lesson last night, we made getting rid of the whip in one week a goal.  When that happens, I need the horse to be pretty hot off my leg.  Otherwise, we’re going to get nothing accomplished.

Christy has ridden Derby for me, and has dealt with the deadness by insisting that he GO FORWARD NOW.  In all her rides, this insistence has elicited a buck from the protesting equine, but then, magically, the ride improves.  He goes forward.

Last night, I told her that I’d man up and get it done.  Tonight I got to work.  We started out in a nice marching walk, but Derby soon wanted to peter out on me.  I squeezed my legs.  Nothing.   I gave him a good Pony Club boot with both heels.  Nothing.   I took a deep breath, and repeated the Pony Club boot, and applied a simultaneous crack with the whip.

He bucked, and then went forward.  In fact, it was what Christy experienced.   Apres buck, I had a very motivated horse.  He carried himself and was in front of my leg (finally.) The buck was rideable, and frankly, the forwardness was worth it.  I have another lesson tomorrow.  Hopefully the boss will approve.


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.

Reinstalling Go.

Got cookies? Yes, I see you do.

The chief culprit to my recent difficulties seems to be back soreness, so Derby has had the last few days off.  I got on last night, and we had a much better ride.  We’re clawing our way back but he’s still a bit resistant, and my riding needs to improve.  However, I do have some hope that we won’t embarrass ourselves too badly this weekend.

While the soreness was causing the resistance, Christy observed that I also have problems with my “go” button.  As in it needs to be reinstalled.   Derby does not motor along at a consistent pace – he stalls out and slows down, and this is my fault.   Maintaining pace is a primary responsibility of the horse.   So I paid attention last night and issued corrections (in the form of a good old Pony Club kick) when Derby stalled out.   He got the picture quickly and did a much better job holding his pace, requiring fewer reminders from me.

This problem isn’t solved by any short stretch – I also need to get and keep him in front of my leg when we halt because he’s actually starting backing on me which, as Christy puts it, is a serious offense and doesn’t lead to anything good.  Last night he was doing this and I booted him forward.  He leapt into a canter, and we stayed there for a while (it’s important to not shut them down when they offer a forward response, even if it is more enthusiastic than what was requested.)  And after that, we seemed (for the moment at least) to be over the backing nonsense.

So, backing issues not withstanding, we’re heading back in the right direction.  5 more days.  Awesome.

What’s wrong?

So we’re T-minus 7 days until our first show, and my last two rides on Derby have not been good at all.  He’s been very resistant, not wanting to bend, and not wanting to go forward.

Christy has had me work on the response to my leg, both in terms of lateral response to calf pressure, and forward response.  Both are marginally better but still not fantastic, though with a lot of work last night, I was doing trot/canter/trot transitions on a circle pretty easily – meaning that I didn’t have to ask emphatically, and that Derby’s response was swift.

However, the real resistance is to rounding.  He’s going around braced against the reins, with the muscles on the underside of his neck bulging.  He will round and soften momentarily when I really get busy with my inside leg, but then he pops right back into bracing.

Christy and I discussed this resistance at length after my lesson.  I had gone over his back before and after, and there was no soreness either before and after the ride.  So what’s going on? Derby is generally a pretty uncomplicated horse, and is pretty willing. I recalled how we had a terrible ride last weekend when I tried a thicker pad that combined fleece and memory foam.  I had no go button and lots of resistance.  I went back to my usual fleece half pad, and had two nice rides on Monday and Tuesday.  I’m going to remove the fleece pad for my ride on Saturday, and will go with just a saddle pad.

Hopefully this simple equipment change will solve the issue!




Managing details

Today Derby and I worked for about 40 minutes, still focusing on trot work, and still sticking to the compacted footing on the rail.   That limited my ability to do much, so I focused on doing quality work, as simple as it was.  This meant good upward transitions that were crisp while keeping the horse on the bit, working in a quality trot, with the horse round and forward, and solid downward transitions, at the letter and maintaining quality. Essentially, I worked on managing the details, which is a crucial aspect of riding a good test.

I also focused on another important detail, which was steadying my lower legs, by keeping the majority of my weight on my thighs – not on the balls of my feet, or on my butt.   Until I keep that lower leg steady, I’m not allowing myself to wear spurs – when my leg is loose, I inadvertently spur the horse, and even though I use short, rounded, gentle spurs, the last thing I want to do is deaden the horse to my aids.  Even more importantly, I need to have control over my lower leg if I’m going to deliver aids with any sort of precision. I started out in two-point, did some stand-stand-post-post to feel my leg steadying, and then paid attention to where my weight was resting while I posted. I was rewarded with an easy, forward trot from Derby, who is very inclined to peter out as soon as I fall out of my balanced seat.

We get to recommence lessons tomorrow night. I’m glad we’re back to work!

Momentus moments.

I can die happy. A moment of suspension, on the bit. Thank you, Lord. And Derby. And Christy.

Tonight as I warmed up for my lesson, Christy and I talked about what Liz had captured when she shot some video (unknown to me) a few nights ago.  For your reference here it is – three minutes of fairly uninspired riding.

A few things are apparent from this video.  First and foremost, I’ve lost the position I’ve been working on – my hip angles are closing a bit, and I’m pitching forward, which on Derby is like stomping the brakes.  Secondly, the contact is really inconsistent –  we’re only round and on the bit oh, maybe 30% of the time. At about 2:00 I do manage to correct myself (somewhat) but at this point it also becomes apparent that I’m acceptng a pretty ho-hum trot from Derby.  Forward is still an issue.


So Christy set some new priorities for us, starting with forward, which will help with both the consistency of our content and gait quality. She also threw trot poles into the mix, to encourage a more dynamic trot.   We got some good work going to the left and got some fancy footwork over the poles. Then we took walk break, talking through a few things, and I picked up the reins to go back to work.  Derby, on the other hand, was checked out.  He was done, or so he thought.  Bless his furry little soul, he was wrong.  We still had a good 20 minutes to go in our lesson.

To say that forward was a problem would be an understatement. After getting no response when I asked him to move forward, I booted him into a canter.  As you can see in the video above, I had to pop him with the whip a few times to keep him going.  After that canter interlude, however, we got some really good work, right before the 3 minute mark.  From that point onward, I was able to keep Derby forward with consistent contact.

Uphill trot.

What was different?  A few things.  First and foremost, I rode proactively, making corrections, half halting – essentially managing every stride. Secondly, I really tried to maintain a balanced position.  And finally, I really kept my core engaged.  Wow, what a difference. Around 2:55 in the video, we start to get some of our best work ever.  Derby is uphill – we even generate some suspension.

“THAT is your working trot!” Christy exclaimed. “That’s the show ring trot!”   I have to make this the new normal.

PS: This is for those who say that riding isn’t hard work. Look at the steam roll off me after living through my lesson with Christy!