Once again, like you mean it

This is a better trot.

I really appreciate Christy’s willingness to grab video for me in my lessons.  It’s so helpful to see what I’m doing and what we look like.  My reviews of the last couple nights’ work weren’t terribly encouraging.  On the up side, during the spooking episodes, I could see that my lower leg didn’t move and my position remained solid, enabling me to stay firmly in the tack – which is why I wasn’t bothered by Derby’s antics.

I was able to do a better job of capturing the forward energy tonight.

However, there was a lot not to love.  I am not holding the outside rein.  I’m letting him steal rein length from me. I’m collapsing in my core.  The result – we’re going around in a nose-pokey-outy hunter frame.  This won’t cut it. What energy I manage to generate behind I lose out the front end.

Tonight I told Christy what I had observed, and she nodded in agreement.  She also noted that she’s taking the gloves off because we showed her last night that we’re ready to work harder.  She started us off with an excercise that improved the trot right off the bat – having me do very brief walk transitions, at A and C, which we then turned into half-halts. As we proceeded, Derby became rounder, the contact got better and his responses improved.   This was a fantastic exercise for us. Christy continued to fine tune our work, reminding me to keep my inside leg busy (“Come on hind legs! Tap tap tap with your spur! Tuck that hind leg underneath!”)

Later in the lesson, we took aim at another issue I have – I need to soften the inside rein rather than pull it.  Christy had me make a point of giving the inside rein – and the second I did, Derby rounded.

It was a good ride – the quality of the work improved, and I’m going into the weekend with some tools to use to keep encouraging Derby to work over his back – we need to build those muscles.  Lessons start again on Monday!

Surgery is scheduled

Well, I have some news.  I’m going ahead with the surgery to free Derby’s entrapped epiglottis.  It’s scheduled for Monday. He’ll stay overnight at the clinic, and come home the following day.  After that we embark on a 2-3 week recovery period.  His airway has to stay very quiet during this time.

That obviously affects some of my plans, but still, I’m hoping to have him out at some schooling shows in May.  To that end, we rode through some Intro tests tonight.  I had forgotten them and the first pass through each was ugly.  However, we quickly got our act together and put in some respectable rides, which was encouraging.

We spent some time on downward transitions, maintaining energy and roundness in the walk when coming down from the trot. I rode a couple that I believe were the best I’ve ever ridden, and I had some ‘Ah ha, that’s what it’s supposed to feel like’ moments.  I had to start with good energy at the trot, and then ride very deliberately into the transition. Balancing forward and down is still hard for me.  However, it’s the very beginnings of collection, in which you add energy, not take it away.  So adding energy as you go into a downward transition is a crucial skill, and it’s one I really don’t have yet.  Add it to the list.

I have one more lesson and three more rides before the post-op hiatus.  Boo.  I really wish I could have had this done back in February!  Oh well.  This too shall pass!

Managing details

Today Derby and I worked for about 40 minutes, still focusing on trot work, and still sticking to the compacted footing on the rail.   That limited my ability to do much, so I focused on doing quality work, as simple as it was.  This meant good upward transitions that were crisp while keeping the horse on the bit, working in a quality trot, with the horse round and forward, and solid downward transitions, at the letter and maintaining quality. Essentially, I worked on managing the details, which is a crucial aspect of riding a good test.

I also focused on another important detail, which was steadying my lower legs, by keeping the majority of my weight on my thighs – not on the balls of my feet, or on my butt.   Until I keep that lower leg steady, I’m not allowing myself to wear spurs – when my leg is loose, I inadvertently spur the horse, and even though I use short, rounded, gentle spurs, the last thing I want to do is deaden the horse to my aids.  Even more importantly, I need to have control over my lower leg if I’m going to deliver aids with any sort of precision. I started out in two-point, did some stand-stand-post-post to feel my leg steadying, and then paid attention to where my weight was resting while I posted. I was rewarded with an easy, forward trot from Derby, who is very inclined to peter out as soon as I fall out of my balanced seat.

We get to recommence lessons tomorrow night. I’m glad we’re back to work!

We’re back!

I hopped on Derbs for our first ride since late December, and he felt great. I took it easy – he’s had more than two weeks off, which followed a really spotty riding schedule during the holidays.  We worked for about 25 minutes, but had a good ride nonetheless.

As we warmed up walking, I tested whether or not Derby was still responding to my seat.  As we worked some serpentines and shoulders-in, the contact got stronger and steadier, and we had nice walk cadence.

Moving into the trot I stayed on the rail, where the footing is more compacted.  Derby’s heel bulb is still tender, and  deep footing puts pressure on the sore spot.  I wrapped the heel before riding, and he didn’t take a bad step – but still, I was careful.

I woke up my riding muscles with a couple laps in two-point, and then alternated standing two beats, and posting two beats.  That exercise reinforces my balance and helps steady my lower leg.  Because we weren’t doing anything off the rail, I simply did some half halts into a smaller gait, and then asked for more trot down the long sides. I wasn’t wearing spurs or carrying a whip, but Derby complied willingly.

As we finished up, I dropped my stirrups and worked on transitions to halt, half halting and holding my core as we halted to invite Derby to stay on the bit and round.

His back was up and the contact felt really good.  We’ll do a bit more work tomorrow, and will have a lesson on Monday. Yay!

There’s always something

A nice moment. We're working a small stretch, he's staying uphill, and that inside hind is engaged.

Christy and I had an interesting moment tonight, as I was working on developing and keeping Derby really engaged on a circle.  She started talking about softening my aids, specifically my spur.  Huh?  I wasn’t spurring and said so.

Diplomatic silence from the middle of the ring, accompanied by a raised eyebrow.

Crap.

Well, God love her for having a high enough opinion of my riding to assume that I am in full control of my extremities.  Sorry to disappoint, Christy.  I’m not.   We stopped what we were doing and zeroed in on my leg.  It turns out that I’ve been egging Derbs on with my spur almost constantly, when I was happily under the illusion that I was keeping my aids quiet and deliberate.

Um. Awesome.

Looking at the videos, I cringe. I’ve got my spurs in Derby’s side more often than not.   Sure, they’re rounded, but they still don’t feel good.   The last thing I want to do is make him dead to my aids, and it sure looks like I’m on my way to desensitizing him to my spur. Yikes.  I’m putting the Tom Thumbs back on.  Developing a steady leg capable of delivering ONLY deliberate aids is now job one.

The posting-with-too-much-weight-on-my-foot problem still persists, and it’s contributing significantly to the unsteadiness in my lower leg.  It’s not reasonable for me to think that this issue would have been fixed a scant week since I started tipping my butt up into two point, letting my stirrups rattle on my feet as I hold my weight with my thighs, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying.

My review of tonight’s ride did reveal a couple bright spots.  For the most part, my posture has really improved.  I’m keeping my hip angles open, and doing so is now coming more easily.  I don’t need to constantly catch and correct myself, at least, not to the degree I did even a week ago.  That’s a step forward.

This sort of moment gives me hope, He's really moving, he's uphill, I'm sitting straight and am keeping it together.

In other good news, Derbs is over the muscle soreness.  He was moving out well and evenly tonight.  We cantered on a circle both ways,  and the quality of the canter was good – he held the leads and was stepping under himself – so clearly, the soreness is abating.  Canter transitions on the circle are at the top of our homework list – they’re great work for his hind end, and require me to get our collective ducks in a row – forward, contact, bend, sit sit ask – and give me the time I still need to organize everything.

So, overall, a good night.  Problems persist, but that is no surprise.  There will always be something to work on!

Putting a few pieces together

Derby looks smashing in bright red, but I think we may be over-doing it a bit with this ensemble.

Riding bits and pieces of tests – a little stretchy trot here,  free walk there, etc. – is far different that putting a whole test together.I’m just barely starting to string together movements with deliberation.  Tonight we had a couple important firsts.

The big news was that I actually rode a canter transition.   I had Derby in a really nicely balanced canter – he was on the bit and it felt great.  As we rounded one end of the arena, I closed my fingers, half halted, engaged my core and kept it together as Derby transitioned to a trot.  I kept the trot going, and it wasn’t a bad trot – he was still on the bit, in fact, the contact was really good.  Still trotting, I decided to test my contact.  I fed him a little rein, and a little more, and still more.  Stretchy trot! Legit stretchy trot with contact! I rode half a lap like that, then picked him back up, and then invited him to stretch again.  Wow.  That was a great moment!

I also watched some video Liz shot a couple days ago.  She quietly got about three minutes of trot work that I didn’t know she was shooting.  We had a few nice moments but watching that video, I can clearly see that I”m still closing my hip angle.  I have to sit up and engage my core if I want that horse to move!

So, a nice win tonight, but much remains to do.

Two steps backward, one step forward

I’ve had some interesting rides recently – not great, but interesting and productive.  The good news is that while our canter work lacks grace, I’m growing more and more proficient in that gait. It’s comfortable, I no longer need to work myself into cantering, and I’m starting to actively manage the gait, asking for more a more forward canter, and correcting Derbs when he breaks to a trot before I ask for the downward transition.

Getting the horse forward and into the bridle is still a work in progress.  The key here is getting Derby in front of my leg.  I know that I need to stay on this and not accept a sluggish response.   Today I felt the canter petering out, and reached back and gave him a crack with the whip.  He surged forward, I said “Good boy!” and stayed out of his mouth, letting him go on.

We had kind of a crappy ride in my lesson yesterday – Derby was dull and almost rank – he felt very resistant and we had numerous discussions – about walking, about halting, about transitions.  We abandoned work on transitions in favor of working on getting the horse forward. Christy had me reinforce my aids with whip and spurs and pretty soon, I had some good responsiveness.   But, across the board, the ride wasn’t great.

Today was much better.  Whatever was stuck in Derby’s craw yesterday was absent today.  We had a nice ride, he was nicely in the bridle, and we drilled trot-walk-trot transitions with good results – the horse stayed round and connected.  We also had  nice canter work both ways, and high-stepped over poles, staying round and without ever trying to add a stride (seriously) between poles (a symptom of his being behind my leg, I was told.)

Derbs earned himself a couple days off.  We have family coming over tomorrow and Friday.  It’s going to be warm and sunny, and the paddocks are full of lovely squishy mud that I”m sure I’ll have to chisel off on Saturday.  He’s earned it however.  Good boy!

Tearing myself away ….

Just when things were getting really good, I have to take a (very) short break from riding.  Short, as in two days.  And really, I’m only “losing” one day, since Derbs gets his fall shots and dentistry on Monday, and would have the day off due to the vet work, whether or not I was in town.   That said, the day is dawning sunny, and promises to be warm (for November.) It would be an awesome day to ride, but I’m on the way to the airport this morning.

While I don’t want to give the impression that all of my problems are solved – far far from it! – it has been a gratifying week.   The work we did in my lesson (see “Tightening the Screws“) awakened me to the fact that I have been letting Derby steal rein – when I’m not just flat out throwing the reins at him – and I was putting him on his forehand.  Since that lesson, I can feel when this is happening, and while I still need a few strides to organize, think, take hold, half halt and close legs and engage core and hold contact and go now, horse! go! …. the good news is that I can get remedy the situation.

Our last couple rides have been really nice.  On Friday, the highlight was a nice, relaxed, rolling canter that felt balanced, and that I was able to influence.  Yesterday, the highlight was more canter work – transitions on a 20m c ircle.  We had a couple crap transitions that I knew were my fault, not Derby’s.  So I put him on a circle, got a nice, balanced trot going, and then rode some transitions.  As long as we stayed organized, they felt effortless.   Clearly, I need to work on managing and maintaining quality and balance through and between gaits – obviously, since this is really kind of a key component to a successful test.  I’m really happy with the quality of the gaits recently.   My rides this week have been really fun – it’s tough to get on a plane to leave, even if it is just a short trip.

Ask and you’ll receive

Nice contact, going right, in a bigger gait.

We’ve been working on establishing a better quality “default” working trot – specifically, tracking up and staying in front of my leg.  And overall, we’re doing much better work, and I’m able to generate good quality gaits  pretty much from the get-go.  There are two keys to our improvements – my staying balanced on the horse, and insisting upon a good forward response when I ask nicely.  Tonight a few other things happened – as the quality of the trot improved, I could feel Derby’s back come up nicely, and the contact really improved.  And watching the video after the ride, I can see that his mouth is a bit quieter and he’s a lot steadier in the bridle too. Best of all, however, I could feel Derby really engaging his hind and pushing forward.  That feeling of power is amazing.

Speaking of the video, here it is.  We were working on a few things – maintaining the quality of the gait, while also keeping Derby (and me) balanced and not falling inward – at one point you’ll hear Christy say “shift out” which means she wants me to get some weight into my outside stirrup and push the horse outward.  And late in the video you hear me say “Boosters!” – it’s at that point I felt Derby finally start to push.

We drilled big trot / little trot and then did some canter work that wasn’t fabulous.   I need to work on staying balanced in the transitions, and also reinforcing immediacy with Derby.  This will come.

LIttle trot. His back is up and he's holding the contact nicely.

Now I have something else to confess.  Last night I rode Tucker, the very fancy, very small (15 h) Quarter Horse.  Tuck has a ton of training and is light and responsive to his rider’s shifts in weight, balance and posture, and aids.  He was the perfect mirror for me last night, and the reflection wasn’t pretty.  It took me a while to figure out how to ride him – his short legs move a lot faster than Derby’s, and the tempo of his trot is a lot faster.  At first it made me laugh but within a few minutes, I apologized to Tuck for laughing at him, and asked him to please stop humbling me.  I want to do a few more rides on him because he forces me to stay very quiet – and makes it clear when I’m not.

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!