These winter nights, when it’s dark and cold, are sometimes hard to face.  After a long day of work, the prospect of carousing around in the freezing dark sometimes doesn’t appeal.   I was feeling tired and sluggish this afternoon – and while I’m truly happy to be back in my riding routine, as the sun sank the prospect of the barn became daunting.

I pulled on breeches, wool socks, turtleneck and fleece, and ran out the door before my darkening mood could sink my plans.

Arriving at the barn, I hot-footed it across the cold parking lot, and into the not-much-warmer barn, teeth chattering.  I realized too late that I really should have added some long underwear to my evening’s attire.  As I hustled around, greeting the mare, setting her beet pulp and alfalfa cubes to soak and fetching my tack, I started to warm up.  Mads was standing by her door, ears pricked.  I pulled her out. scratched her jaw for a minute, and put her in the cross ties.

As I groomed and tacked up, I got warmer, and happier.  I slipped Mads a few extra mints – she seemed pretty happy with the proceedings too.   We went into the arena, and mounted up. From the get-go I had nice contact – none of the hanging-on-the-rein nonsense from last night.  We warmed up, stretching down, flexing right and left, doing a little shoulder fore and some serpentines.  We trotted off, and Mads was simply gorgeous.  Light and responsive, responding to my softening inside rein.  I hopped up into two point and let her cruise for a minute, while I stretched out my hip flexors.  Mads trotted on, ears flopping.

Picking up my post and the reins, we started doing some slightly more interesting work – circles and serpentines in varying directions and sizes.  Mads remained nicely round and on the bit.    We worked on transitions within the gait – I half halted and reduced my post going into the short side, not quite collecting, but asking (and getting) shorter strides and a nice connection.  Turning down the long side, I gave Mads a little cluck, and elevated my post.  Bam! There was my nice trot!  We rolled down the long sides, and she came right back to to me on the short sides.  Good mare!

I was thrilled, and, I’m sure, beaming.  My dark mood and lack of motivation had melted away like the last snow in spring.  It was joy, pure and simple.

At the end of our ride, we hustled back into the barn.  I dove into my coat, and put a heavy cooler on the slightly-steaming mare.  After I cleaned her up, we hung out in the aisle, both pleased with the other and enjoying each others’ company.


Got carrots?

There! That's the spot!

I like you too, Mads.

Finally, a special shout-out to my friend Liz, author of the Loving Cloud, blog, who is recovering from surgery.   Cloud misses you but wants you to know that he’s getting lots of attention, and things aren’t too bad.  Still, he’s like you to hurry back to the barn please.

You're not my Mom, but I see you have carrots. Let's talk.

A forward horse, and an unexpected gift

Maddie, giver of gifts.

As you know, I’ve been working on improving my position in the saddle.  To gear up for riding without stirrups at a pace faster than the walk, Christy’s had me working in the two point postion.  Correctly.   You see, until this week, when I hopped up into two point, I just lifted my tush out of the saddle and off I’d go.   Turns out this isn’t the right way to do it, as I discovered this week. There’s more to the two-point than simply tipping your butt up out of the saddle.

In my lesson yesterday, Christy had me working in two point.  And shortly after we started, I started complaining of nasty pain in my ankles.  The muscles in my lower legs were en fuego.   Which ain’t right.   So Christy suggested that I work on moving the stirrup around on my foot – forward, backward – while in two point.

I stopped what I was doing and looked at her like she had ten heads.

Move the stirrup around on my foot, while in two point? Yes, she said, pointing out that I should be carrying most of my weight on my inner thighs, not my feet.

All righty, then.

I started walking around, trying to figure it out.  Hands braced on the pommel, I posted while Mads walked, trying to get a feel for lifting myself from my thighs.  The mare was confused but tolerant, at times stopping when things got too wriggly, and turning her head to give me a long look, as if to ask “You OK up there?”    When I started to feel it, we picked up the trot.  My inital challenge was keeping Maddie moving – anytime I got too unsteady (in her opinion) she’d drop to a walk.  What good girl she is.

Finally, by the end of the ride, I got it.  We were trotting around, with my hiney out of the saddle,  and I was able to really lighten my foot in the stirrup, carrying my weight on my upper legs, not my feet.

Tonight, I was saddling up as Christy was getting going on her new boy, Remy.  It was close to feeding time, and , my girl Mads was antsy.   We got going, limbering up at the walk, while chitchatting with Christy.  Then it was time to work.  I hopped into two point, giving Mads plenty of rein to stretch.  Round we went.  My thighs were on fire.  I was doing it right.

Panting after a few laps, I decided to relieve the stress on my legs by posting.  I picked up more contact, and started shallow serpentines, bending Mads right and left from my seat.  Clearly, my aids are a little confusing, because Mads – who was already nice and forward – stepped into a right lead canter.

Crap! I didn’t ask for that, and I’ve always been told that you don’t let horses get away with decision-making.  I started to half halt her, when from the other end of the arena came the command, “RIDE IT!” Christy was keeping an eye on us, and I know better than to argue with her. Down my butt went into the saddle, and ’round we went.   We kept going until by mutual agreement we had had enough.

Afterward, Christy reminded me that part of riding entails riding the horse you have at the moment.  When the horse is forward and sensitive, you ride that that horse.  Don’t pick fights you can’t win. Set yourself up for success.

That nice little spontaneous canter was an unexpected gift from Mads – it was a fun confidence builder, and a reminder of the “ride the horse you have” rule.

A good ride!

We had a good lesson tonight, which saw another two firsts – we started to work in a slightly higher frame, raising Maddie’s poll.  And we also had the beginnings of a stretchy trot!  Things were good right out of the gate – it was chilly and Maddie was more forward from the get-go.   She felt great – light, responsive, and on the bit.  I love how supple she’s becoming – I can bend her gently while trotting simply by tightening one hip flexor.  This is useful, because it enables me to quickly flex her this way and that, while staying out of her mouth.   I can also bend her pretty quickly into the outside rein if I need to re-establish contact.

So things were looking good straight away. Even warming up, Mads was steady, even and enthusiastic, before I even asked for much.

Christy took advantage of the nicely forward horse, and we worked on adjusting within the gait, and especially on covering more ground with our “big” trot. We used the short sides to rebalance, using half halts to shorten Maddie’s stride.  Then, on the long side, Christy had me focus on increasing the scope of my post, working in a slight pause at the top of my post.  Doing so, according to Christy, gives the mare more time to cover ground. I think we’re getting close to an extension. Dare I hope?

Developing a reaching, ground covering trot

Christy also had me work on shortening my reins just a bit (I have a bad habit anyway of riding with them too long) and raising Maddie’s front end.  We’re not simply cranking her nose in – I’m working from my seat, and working to create a more uphill frame.   This was the first time in recorded history that we’ve looked this pretty:

Good mare!

Maddie fussed a bit as we worked uphill, and Christy advised me that I’ll need to pay attention to letting her stretch on my terms.  She also reminded me that this work is hard for Mads, who isn’t used to carrying herself this way.  I’m going to be taking more weight in the reins – and I’ll need to hold it.  And I’ll have to work more stretch work into our schooling, to reward and rest my hard working buddy. So, we started to practice stretching at the trot – again, something totally new.

This was a brilliant lesson, and a great confidence builder, moving me out of my comfort zone in terms of riding more forwardly, and in terms of stretching.  I was reminded of  another friend who when working on stretching her mare at the trot and canter was told to “be vulnerable.”  That’s certainly what it feels like to me… but that stretch work feels pretty good.