Two firsts in one lesson.

We got some really nice work tonight.

We had such a fun ride tonight.  Going into my lesson, I mentioned to Christy that I wanted to work on “forward” first, because it’s dang hard to connect a horse that isn’t moving.    Once I had warmed Derby up and trotted a few laps, we cantered a few times – just a lap or so, because neither of us have an excess of fuel in the tank.  However, Derby still wasn’t in front of my leg, so Christy had us work on some exercises to get us there.

First, on a circle, she had me do trot-walk transitions, only walking two strides before picking up the trot again.  Initially, the transitions were mushy – indistinct and not prompt.  Christy had me remedy this by *requiring* a crisp, “trot NOW” transition.  Derby replied enthusiastically on our next attempt, stepping straight into a canter.

Not the prettiest moment in equitation, but I like how he's stepping up underneath himself.

Okay, so our first walk-canter transition was an accident, but it felt awesome.  I allowed Derby to roll for a minute, because an enthusiastic forward response is a very good answer.  The last thing I needed to do at that moment was to jerk him in the mouth and punish him.    From there, quickly tallied our second “first” of the evening.  Christy had us do trot-canter-trot-canter transitions, with just a few strides of each gait – and Derby responded with alacrity.  And after that, the overall quality of our work improved.

Best of all, we were able to get the transitions both ways. I still need to work myself into balance going right, but I’m able to get there, and able to generate good work that direction.

To wind the ride down and let the horse stretch (he’s been stuck in his stall for the last two days due to torrential rain and thunderstorms) we just trotted some laps – but I was asking for a big, reachy trot and also asking Derby to work over his back.  Building top line is still a top priority, and this is a good way to do it.  I was happy with his responsiveness and overall, it was a fantastic ride.  We need to keep him in front of my leg but we really are making progress.  He’s a good boy!

A fun (and successful!) first show

Red ribbons for me, and a giant bucket of cookies for a very deserving Derby.

Today was my first outing with Derby, and though we didn’t produce the best test we could, the day was an unqualified success. And I had a lot of fun!   I really couldn’t be much happier.

The day started in the wee hours, before sunrise.  I rolled into the barn and surprised a dozing Derby when I pulled him out of his stall for a mane braiding session.  My fellow show-bound riders Liz and Cassie showed up, along with our dressage trainer, Christy, shortly after I started on Derby’s mane.  All the horses were clean, polished and booted when the trailer pulled up at 6:30.    I was totally thrilled with how Derby loaded.  After enduring some hair-raising episodes with other horses, I have to tell you, my favorite moment of the day was when Derby stepped up onto the trailer and quietly started nosing his hay while I hooked the trailer ties.   He unloaded easily too, once we arrived, and was unruffled as we walked around the facility hosting the show. I didn’t care what happened at that point.  I was really happy with him.  What a cool customer.

Soon it was time to tack up and get going.  The warm up was busy but Derby didn’t look at a thing.  We stretched a bit and trotted around, but I wanted to conserve our energy, so I didn’t do much.

Heading down the center line for the first time!

The tests were being ridden on a dressage court just outside the big indoor where we were warming up.  We walked out of the indoor and down to the court for our test, where things got momentarily interesting.  A horse was unloading in the field adjacent to the dressage court, and a mini-donk on the property started to welcome the new arrival at the top of his lungs.  EEEE-AWWWW EEEEEE-AWWW!  At that moment, Derby noticed the people under the tent we had walked by and around just an hour ago.  He shied and suggested that we turn around.  I disagreed, and put him to work with a few circles, bending etc.  In just a minute we regained our composure (and our marbles), greeted the judge and scribe, and then we were on our way.    Derby was still a bit tense but was otherwise as good as gold.  I didn’t push it and rode conservatively, but it was still good enough for a 60.5% and a second place riboon.

It’s been a while since I was in the ring, and I won’t kid you – I went to this show without having even ridden completely through one of these two tests.  (Reference earlier comments about not being entirely ready …)  And after my first test, I was struck by how quickly the movements came.   I knew I hadn’t done a great job of setting myself up for subsequent movements – a fact that would later be borne out by the judge’s comments.   We went back to the warm up (my next ride was scheduled for just 20 minutes later) to think about things. The next ride was better.  I rode Derby a bit more forwardly, and was faster to make adjustments and corrections.  Our score crept up one percentage point, my rider scores were better, and our efforts garnered us another second place ribbon.  It’s not terribly exciting, but here’s the video:

A nice moment, right in front of the judge. We got a 7 on this circle. Yay!

I took Derby back to his stall, untacked him and took out his braids, while simultaneously feeding him cookies, brushing him off, and telling him what an awesome boy he was.  I left him to chill with a big serving of soaked beat pulp and alfalfa, and went to watch the others ride and to hang out with our friends Sue and Brittany, who came along to offer moral support.

It was such a beautiful day. My grape Gatorade tasted like champagne. All of my friends had nice rides – Cassie and Coda brought home two blue ribbons, and Cloud and Remy were both much cooler on their second outings, and both turned in very good performances.  We all went home with ribbons that were either red or blue (except Christy, who rode HC but was thrilled that her green bean was awarded two 8s!) and once again, the horses all loaded and unloaded with minimal-to-no fuss.

Once back in the barn, Derby donned his bug gear, and he and Remy headed out to their paddock to roll and doze in the sun.  Christy, Brittany, Liz and I went and grabbed lunch, recounting our successes making future plans.  I’m just thrilled to bits with Derby and can’t wait for our next adventure.   What a fun day!

Good boy!

One week

Derby and I have been working really hard recently, and we stepped it up this week.  The quality of the work we’re doing has improved almost exponentially.  We have a long way to go, but progress is a great motivator.  I feel like we’re really starting to generate some quality movements, and I’m finally, finally starting to ride.  I’m not saying that we’re there.  Not at all.  But we’re better!

Six days ago:

Last night:

And a special thanks to Christy, who’s been tireless this week!

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!