Feeling good.

A nice moment with Oliver

My farrier looked at Derby on Friday, and assured me that he wasn’t re-abscessing in his left hind.  He had some minor remaining bruising but said that he was fine to ride.  So, after a few days off due to my dithering and uncertainty, we tacked up and had an easy ride.  Saturday I asked him for a bit more,  getting a little resistance that I was able to overcome. And today, we did even more, and Derby was lovely.

I’m starting each ride with good walk work, concentrating on getting Derby into the bridle.  However, I’ve decided that the warm up routine that works best for him is this: forward walk (no real lateral work) followed by a lap or two of trotting on a loopy rein to during which he sneezes and clears his pipes, then on to good solid forward trot – and then the work can begin.  Lateral work at the walk is best done during walk breaks – which really aren’t “breaks” at all.

Anyway.  Today Derby was clearly feeling pretty good and we got some fantastic work done – he was really round, his back was up, and he was really moving.  Liz was hanging out, waiting for Cloud to dry after a bath, and she watched us, offering some feedback here and there and some nice compliments.  🙂

What was so nice about today is that I was really able to get Derby into the bridle, and once he was there, he felt so solid and responsive.  I was able to regulate his stride easily, and I didn’t have the issues bending him when I had that good connection that I do when the contact is tenuous.  He was also very forward, moving out very well and really covering the ground.  It felt simply marvelous.   We did shoulder-in both ways, and some decent leg yields too.  I was especially pleased because I hadn’t been feeling great prior to the ride – but needless to say my mood was elevated and I felt pretty good when I dismounted.

I wish I’d had a reservoir of energy today, because I just didn’t have it in me to ride Oliver, with whom I’ve been entrusted this weekend while Steph is away.  For fun, I took a lesson on him yesterday, and got a real workout in riding the horse forward into contact.  With Oliver, I’m trying to give him a longer rein, and then invite him to move forward into that contact, filling up the slack.  This is tough, because he doesn’t move forward readily, and he likes to go around with his head up.  Really up!  I was hoping to do some canter work with him, but my agenda quickly refocused –  first and foremost I wanted to get him to relax, and reach for the contact.

As you can see from the video clip below, we got there, but I literally had to manage almost every stride, putting leg on, on more, softening immediately to reward the correct behavior, and continually sending him forward and inviting him to fill up the the reins.  I want him to be the one pulling on the reins, not me.

It was fun to ride Oliver again – he’s got better gaits than Derby and someday is going to be a very fancy fellow indeed.  I’m going to bed early tonight, and hope to get another ride on him in tomorrow night, before my lesson on Derb.  My ride on Oliver yesterday gave me some ideas, and my ride on Derby today reinforced the feelings of gait quality and contact. I’d love to be able to replicate that feel on Oliver.

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!

Whup@ss

At least his back is up, but this is a pretty stodgy trot

I’m taking Derby out to a schooling show next weekend.  We’re not ready for much and are just going to do walk-trot tests.  Why am I bothering? I’d like to take him out and about, and it will be fun to ride in a full size arena.  On the up side, the new saddle is working well for him – he’s not sore and is working comfortably. But we have just two weeks of introductory work, and are just working up to 40 minute rides.   Gait quality is an issue, my riding is still rusty and we both have a long way to go in terms of fitness.

Ugh, we are so not ready.

We’re focusing on getting Derby in front of my leg, gait quality and transitions in my lessons.  The pressure of a show – even a schooling show – is undeniable because I’m a bit of a perfectionist and Type-A sort of critter.  In actuality, this may work out well, because these three things – getting the horse forward and generating quality, correct gaits and riding lots of transitions are exactly what I need to get down to build Derby’s condition and move forward in our training.

But dang, I have a long road ahead of me.

The trot is getting a bit better

For the last couple nights, Christy has had me focus on riding from my core, while also asking for forward, keeping my hands quiet and bending the horse into the outside rein.  This is all basic stuff, and ten months ago, these movements were instinctive.  Presently, that’s not the case.  I feel like I’m multi-tasking and it’s tough.

Christy has been drilling me and man, I am feeling it.  My abs are sore and my legs hurt too. I spent extra time giving Derby a little massage tonight and hand grazing, because I bet he’s feeling it too.

The instructions come rapid fire from the middle of the ring.  Hold my reins.  Steady my hands.  Close my fingers.  Leg on.  Ask for more.  Make it happen. NOW!  Bend him.  Inside leg.  Come on, bend!  There! Leg on!

Rinse, repeat.

A respectable trot, though I need to sit up straighter, engage my core, and round the horse.

I’m not expecting killer scores.  I’ve decided that I will be happy if my test comments do not include the words “lacks energy.”

Importantly, the urgency of the looming outing is really helping me focus on forward, gait quality and transitions.  Who knows when we will make our recognized debut – that is months and months away – but I promise you, we will be fit, forward and correct when that happens!

Now, off for a warm shower and some advil.  Dang trainers.

*ouch*

The sharper the knife, the less you cry

Cooks have a saying:  the sharper the knife, the less you cry.  Sharp knives are easier to handle and less dangerous than dull blades – they slice effortlessly through veggies and meat.  A dull knife, on the other hand, is more dangerous, because it requires more effort of the user to achieve the desired effect.  And like a sharp knife is easier to use, a responsive horse is easier to ride effectively.

This saying came to mind tonight as I was leading Maddie back to the barn after a lesson, and grinning like a fool because it had been a good ride.    I told Christy that I wanted to work on my lower leg aids, namely, my ability to use my spurs accurately. I had strapped them on last night for the first time in months, and some irritated behaviors from the mare told me that I had inadvertently banged her with them a couple times. While my leg position is much improved, I still revert to my old  “toes out” posture when I get tired.   Developing awareness and acuity with the spurs requires me to continue to improve my leg position and stability.

So as I warmed up, I practiced deliberately putting my lower leg on,  releasing, putting my spur on and releasing.  However, as I did this I wasn’t getting much of a response from the mare.  I was also having trouble dropping my heals and holding a good position – my hips were tight, and probably a bit tired from two strenuous rides yesterday, and my earlier ride today on Oliver.   After promising Christy that I’d continue to work on my flexibility and strength, I took the spurs off.

So the lesson changed course. As we worked on my leg position and aids, which were partly successful some of the time, Christy told me that I was reverting to my bad habit of curling my heel upward, sticking it in the horse’s side and leaving it there.  I focused on being more deliberate with my aids.

However, I wasn’t getting the response I was seeking.  Unsure of whether or not I was eliciting a response because I guess I forgot what a correct leg yield felt like, I asked Christy watch for response while I attempted to leg yield out on a circle.   I got a big  fat nothing. We talked about it a bit and I told Christy that I wanted the horse that I started riding last May.  Mads was so light and sensitive then, and would respond instantly to any aid.  And I’ve dulled her responses.

So we started working on redeveloping a response,  We started at the walk.  Christy asked me to back up any requests I made of the horse with the whip, but advised me to treat any response – a head toss, a break to trot or canter, as good and to praise it, and to ride it.  My first opportunity came quickly as Mads ignored me when I tightened my leg against her.  I gave her a little whack with the whip and she hopped into a trot.  “That’s fine,” Christy said, as I half-halted and brought Maddie back to a walk.  We repeated this a few times, and within a few minutes, we produced a nice little leg yield down the quarter line!

Christy had us move into a trot.  I got the mare moving in a nice forward gait with good contact.  I asked for a leg yield on a 20 meter circle, and didn’t get a satisfactory response.  I gave the mare a little swat, and she propped and swished her tail – and went strongly forward. “That’s fine,” Christy called to me. “You need to get her in front of your leg!”

We continued on the circle at an energetic and connected trot.  “You have her undivided attention now,” Christy said as we breezed around her.  And she was right.  The mare had one ear back on me, and was steady in the bridle. I asked for the leg yield again, and … Maddie floated outward.  There it was!   I was thrilled.

I went to change directions, and as we moved off in a trot, Christy asked me what I thought of the upward transition.  There was no denying it, it was pretty crappy.   We half-halted and walked, and I asked for the trot, reinforcing it with a tap of the whip.  The mare stepped off immediately.   This was better.  We tried it again, and I asked for more enthusiasm, by being a bit more emphatic with my leg aids, but not touching the whip.  She went straight forward, into contact, with no head shaking or nonsense.  “That’s good!”  said Christy, as I let the mare trot on.  “Now, how light can you make your aids, but still keep that immediate response?”

We walked, and after a minute, I closed my legs softly on the mare’s sides.  She struck off in a nice trot right on the spot.

This was a seminal lesson,and an empowering one.  I can fix my forwardness and responsiveness issues if I align my mental intent and my aids, and take care to reinforce my aids with whip or spurs if (and only if) necessary.  I was amazed at the progress we made in one short ride.  I can’t wait to get back in the saddle, and continue to hone and sharpen my aids, and Maddie’s responses.  One thing I need to remember though is to stay consistent.  To do otherwise is unfair to the horse.  I need to ride every transition crisply, encouraging and rewarding prompt response, and reinforcing my aids clearly when needed.

Go forward. NOW.

Well, I got my butt kicked tonight.  And that’s just fine – don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining.  In my lesson tonight, Christy set out to illustrate to me the degree to which I have a lack of forward.   After we warmed up, Christy ratcheted up our trot work, tightening the screws with every turn of the arena.  It wasn’t until Maddie spooked that I got some decent, forward trot.  As I took a quick walk break, Christy pointed out to me how hard I had been working.  “I saw you kicking. I heard you clucking.  You got nothing from her, except ‘the hoof!’ ”  (which is our euphemism for a horse giving you the bird.)

Christy was right – I was working hard to get anything – bend, contact, leg yield – from the mare.  And the biggest problem was the fact that I didn’t have her moving sufficiently forward.  As a result, everything was more difficult.

Panting, we did some more trot work. Mads continued to be spooky and stupid at one end of the arena, so I put her to work, doing smaller, 12M circles and figure-8’s.  As I got after her, I could feel her back come up, and the noises from the middle of the arena took an approving tone.

“There! Nice!” said Christy.  I was remembering to use my half-halt, to balance the trot. “That’s a round horse!”

I was also using the whip.  It’s been a while since I even touched Mads with it.  Tonight, I gave her a couple good smacks when my requests for more forward were ignored.  She hopped forward, and maintained the increased pace pretty well.    But, as Christy noted, Mads has become as dull as a doorknob.   Reminding her that I have the whip, and will use it, will be necessary as we re-establish our forward gears.

Tonight’s lesson was a great illustration of how lax I’ve allowed Maddie to become.   Though we’ll probably have the next few days off due to super-frigid temperatures, I’m hoping to ride Friday, and get back to work.  It’s time to move forward!