Bit by bit by bit

Almost square at the halt. Almost.

Tonight I rode one of the tests for the first time, and my first run-through illustrated perfectly (for me at least) the purpose of the tests, namely, testing the rider’s abilities to execute a series of movements – many of which complement each other – smoothly and in an organized and deliberate fashion.

Do you hear that, Self?  Organized and deliberate.

While we had a few decent moments, the downward transitions were a bit of a mess.  Okay, “bit of a mess” is being generous.   They were fifty kinds of ugly, truth be told.

I’m sitting here reviewing my videos (thank you again, Christy, for being so adept at grabbing video as you teach!) and I just discovered a key problem.  My transitions are too abrupt.  I’m not thinking “smaller trot, now smaller, now smaller still, walk!” as I go into the transitions.  And by smaller trot, I mean *half halt* half halt*half halt.  This sequence shows what happens when I transition too abuptly.   Here goes:

Going into the ugly tranistion. Our trot isn't terrible though he could be rounder and more active. But for us at the moment, this is far from our worst.

The ugly transition, in progress. I've started to halt,with no half halts or core engagement to be seen, and I've given Derby about 5 miles of rein.

 Lovely. But wait.  There’s more.

Full on ugly. Gaping mouth, hollow back, and he's on his forehand.Yuck!

How to rectify ugly? Hold the reins and get busy with your inside leg - at least, you can see this approach starting to work for me here.

In literally the next few milliseconds, Derby's back is up, and his mouth is closed. Cue Heavenly host strumming on harps.

Okay, so that save is nice but it doesn’t do much for me in a test, where transitions are scored.  I’m sending a link to this post to Christy and I am sure we’re going to drill this tomorrow.

There were some bright spots in tonight’s ride.  I got some of the nicest trot to date from Derby.  His back was way up, and it felt wonderful.  All of our current problems can be laid squarely on my doorstep.  Derby is a sweet, willing horse and tries hard.   I like him more and more each day and am really looking forward to our journey together!

Stretch goals

Finally! I'm staying out of his way, and presto - the back comes up. Good boy!

Stretchy trot is not a movement I’ve practiced much or ride well.   But as I’ve noted previously, I need to make a point of riding Derby over his back, and stretching into contact, in order to start building correct muscle, fitness, and his top line.  I’m also trying to build my riding muscles back up and improve the independence of my hands.  We focused on these issues in my lessons later this week.

A nice albeit fleeting moment from our lesson 6/22

On Wednesday, Christy had me pick up from my earlier ride on Atlanta, and focus on moving the horse around with my seat, while also keeping my hands quiet.   We had some nice moments but really, the ride was mostly about me trying to get my act together, and continue to figure out what makes Derbyhorse tick.

She had me start by asking Derby to relax and give his neck at the walk.  We then moved into some trot work, starting out on a loopy rein.  I’ve discovered that I have to stay out of Derby’s face, and instead use my seat and leg aids – especially an active inside leg – to generate the results I want.

Which is easier said than done for me at the moment.

Tonight’s ride was better, chiefly because Christy had us do a new exercise that worked really well.  I started out  trotting on a loopy rein, exaggerating the loop to keep my hands entirely out of the picture.

Christy then had me do two things – post from a half seat, staying off his back, and simultaneously move him around without the reins – which is another way of saying “get busy with your inside leg!”

The response from Derby was almost immediate:

Derby stretches on a loopy rein.

Derby stretched down, and stayed there.  We motored around like that for a while, despite the fact that I was dumping him on his forehand.

Christy had me gently shorten the reins a hair,  and focus keeping my hands steady, telling me to think of my hands as side reins.  She also had me close my fingers, reminding me that “There’s no way for you to give with open fingers,” while also telling me to let Derby find the end of the reins and invite him to hold the contact in his stretch.

And that’s when things started to feel pretty good indeed.  Derby’s back came up a bit, and while he wasn’t moving with a big, ground-covering stride, he was holding the contact and keeping his back up – a definite improvement from motoring around on his forehand as we had been doing earlier in the ride.  We were able hold the stretch for as long as I was able to maintain the light seat, steady hands and active inside leg, which as you can see from the video below of this ride is still very much a work in progress.  And while the quality of the trot wasn’t great, in reality, there’s only so much I can do at once. I’ll start asking him for a proper working trot as I get better at holding the light seat with independent hands.  Anyway, for the sake of documentation, here it is:

The good news is that we really got the hang of stretching, and eventually Derby brought his back up, seeking and holding the contact.  I’m really pleased, because after spending the last few months watching Christy patiently build Remy’s fitness, I know that a lot of steady trot work in a stretchy, connected frame is an important building block.  And, at training level, the stretchy trot carries a double coefficient – it’s an important test of the horse’s connection.   Getting good at this is important, but I know I can do this on my own and that we’ll improve.  Tonight was just the start.

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!