I got a real lesson in contrasts today, riding Oliver and Frank. Both are total loves, and both are Thoroughbred geldings, but the similarities end there. Oliver is a green bean, but Frank knows more about dressage than me, having been trained to Second Level.
I rode Oliver first, and was hoping that I’d have a better ride than I did yesterday. Oliver was hell-bent on testing me on Saturday, acting spooky and distracted, possibly because he had a little extra energy since the horses were stuck inside due to some awful weather. I spent a lot of time growling at him, and it took a while for him to settle so we could really work. Because he was being silly, I elected to get and keep his attention by doing lots of transitions and changes of direction. In addition to being silly, Oliver also tried to convince me that he had forgotten everything he knew about transitions downward from my seat. Instead of responding to my half-halts by starting to bring his back up and stepping under himself – as he had been doing sooo nicely last weekend – yesterday he was ignoring the half halt – and the fact that my butt was planted in the saddle – and barreling on.
That would not do.
We did walk/halts (while spiraling in and out) until I got the crisp response I’d been seeking. Then we moved back into trotting. I started out just going down the rail, but wasn’t getting a satisfactory response. Oliver had what Steph calls “OMG ears” and was actively looking for reasons to spook . So I started riding figure 8’s – little ones at one end of the arena, and then larger ones, and then long flat ones, bisecting the arena down the centerline.
Things got better immediately, because I was keeping Oliver focused on me. We worked on walk/trot/walk/trot transitions and he did pretty well.
Today was a different story. Oliver was a total star. We had our best trot work to date – I got him to move out, and we successfully completed laps of the arena trotting nicely both ways. He was relaxed and just rolled along. I also asked him more insistently to reach down, and while I wouldn’t say that he was round, he wasn’t wildly inverted. I was proud of Oliver, and told him so!
We also had some very nice transitions from my seat, from trot to walk, and from walk to halt. We worked on those while we also worked on steering – around the mounting block, figure-8s all over the place, you name it – and Oliver was a champ. I was so pleased with him today! I rewarded him with a hand grazing session (on top of lots of cookies) before I turned him back out to lounge in the sun.
After gulping some water, I went and fetched Frank. My old buddy was feeling really good today, and surprised me by starting out at a smart pace when I picked up the trot after we warmed up. I let him roll, hopping into two-point and getting a feel for this different feeling gait. It has a lot more motion than the jog Frank offers when he’s feeling creaky. He was getting a little strung out, so I decided it was time to help him out. I started posting, took a feel on his mouth … and discovered that he wasn’t going to give it to me. If I wanted Frank to round, he was going to make me work for it.
I was posting out of a half-seat, to stay off his back, and I increased my post, to make more “room” for a bigger stride. I also got busy with my inside leg, engaging my core and making a point of holding my outside rein and asking Frank to soften with the inside rein. Within a few strides, I got results. Frank took the contact, stretched, and the trot started to feel a lot better. I tested my contact by seeing if Frank would follow my contact downward – if he didn’t, that would tell me that he was just going around with a fake headset. I invited a stretch, and got it. I had true contact. Yay! I could feel myself holding him between the inside leg and my outside rein. It’s been a looong time since I felt that!
This was the first ride in a log time I that I had generated proper contact. As we went around the short side, I decided to throw in a circle to give another rider some room to maneuver. And at that point, I got busted by the former school horse, who didn’t feel I was using my inside leg sufficiently, and ignored my inadequate request to do a 20 meter circle. Crap!
I gathered myself and asked for another circle as we approached A. it was ugly, because I forgot to close my fingers around the outside rein as I applied my inside leg (with more vigor this time.) Frank waggled his ears at me (I swear he did!) as he popped his outside shoulder out. Crap!
I sat myself up, made sure my feet were indeed where they belonged (at the girth, not curled back to Frank’s flanks) , held that damn outside rein, turned my left toe outward and deliberately applied my spur while also giving Frank a tap tap with my whip. I got the “yes ma’am” response I sought, and we circled nicely, with decent contact and a quality trot.
We went down the long side, and as we headed into the short side, I gave Frank a little half-halt, to bring him more into hand. We kept the little trot long the short side, then took a diagonal, which went quite well, since I 1) half-halted again down the short side and 2) looked where I wanted to go and 3) actually balanced the horse between my inside leg and outside rein, for a change.
We did another nice circle at C, with no shoulder popping or ear-waggling. And then another down the long side for good measure.
I was panting and sweating – partially because I was dressed a bit too heavily, and partly because I’m in horrific shape after having been sick on and off for months. But it felt great to really ride, even if Frank was channeling Christy and busting me when I got sloppy. We cooled out, and then went to graze.
Two totally different horses, two totally different rides, and a completely satisfying day!