…because I have things to say that I can’t say yet, here you go.
…because I have things to say that I can’t say yet, here you go.
Smitty is getting edjumacated this week!
Last night we did our first jump lesson, which focused on a pole exercise to get his brain engaged and allowed me to work on using the outside aids to make turns and find an appropriate rhythm.
A lot of the evening was of the get-to-know-you variety, so we started over a basic ground pole and added more as we went along, ending up with three poles in a row and 4 options for single rails so that I could continuously change direction and create patterns over the poles as he needed.
This exercise not only got him thinking, but it engaged my brain too, and was really helpful in helping us both relax (but mostly me).
A main objective was asking him to lower his poll and use his back over the rails, and for me to use the turns to establish bend and use my outside rein and inside leg. I also worked on keeping my hands low and trying not to get too short with my reins. I can see that I need to be quieter with my leg, but that is a work in progress for certain.
We eventually built up to going over the three ground poles followed by a cross rail. Smitty basically just cantered over, so I got the added responsibility of “creating flight” by squeezing on takeoff and encouraging him to jump. Guide rails were also placed on the ground to help with straightness and the jump.
Overall it was a good lesson and allowed me to conquer some demons that I had trouble with even the night before. I have the feeling that Hurricane Matthew is going to impeded any other jumping lessons before next weekend, but it was good to get at least one under our belt before the show!
October is officially a big month for Smitty, and last night was the first of several lessons planned before his first show. Sorry in advance for no new media, and for this being a brain dump so I can remember all the things next time.
We rode out in the outdoor ring, which I have been avoiding since my confidence took a hit last month and I’ve been sticking to the more enclosed covered arena. But I want to power through some of my anxieties, and for me that means having an instructor there to get me out of my head and focusing on the saddle. Speaking of saddles by the way, the Amerigo Vega monoflap is officially the winner of the trial period, and though it was odd to have a dressage lesson in jump tack, I’m grateful to finally have a saddle that fits my gangly boy.
We started our lesson by warming up with a forward walk, and getting me to focus on staying relaxed until I trusted that I could really lengthen my reins to a semi-free walk length and allow him to telescope his neck out- a main focus for the next hour. Once I was able to do so without crabbing up, we introduced transitions between medium walk and free walk. I haven’t yet attempted medium walk, as we were focusing on the forward motion of the walk primarily, but it was a relief to see that he seemed to understand the concept fairly readily. For now though, we don’t want to keep him in medium walk for more than a few strides, since it’s hard for him to hold at this stage.
Moving into the trot, again the focus was on transitions. We started asking that the walk to trot transition be from back-to-front, meaning that the push was coming from behind. Again because of the baby status, that meant that it was a small effort, a few small steps before moving into the proper forward, working trot. I now realize that I have been holding my reins too short, and I need to focus on keeping them long enough that he can reach out with his neck at all times. If he comes up in the poll or above the bit, I am allowed to widen my hands to keep the contact with his mouth, but not allowed to shorten the reins in response. Then when he lowers his neck and stretches out again I can slowly bring my hands back together. And if Smitty were to become resistant, or attempt to dive down into the contact and drag me along, it is my job to ride with a strong core and back and lower leg. Then I don’t run the risk as much of being pulled over the handlebars and I can trust in myself to stay balanced should anything happen. Similarly, I need to stay strong and balanced into the downward transitions and keep him marching, instead of going splat into the walk or trot like he wants to do.
our my biggest challenge during the lesson was keeping myself loose and pushing him through any distractions. The outdoor ring is horrible for this, being surrounded on two sides by a trailer park, a third side by a neighborhood under construction, and the last side by a spooky hay barn. I feel like I am constantly watching to see if dogs are going to pop out, or cars, or trailers, or deer… you get the picture. So when one of the neighborhood residents closest to the arena started up his Harley Davidson, and preceded to let it warm up for 5 minutes just out of sight, I nearly lost my shit. Riding can be so much of a mental game, and truthfully, last night I had some fail moments. While Smitty handled it quite beautifully for a youngster, I was a tense mess until the motorcycle left the area and confined us to the furthest end of the arena, clutching my neck strap for dear life. Now looking back on it, I realize that I really need to push through and find some trust in Smitty, or fate, or what have you, and not lose my game face any time the atmosphere becomes challenging. Because as Eliza reminded me, you can’t control the weather, or the atmosphere, or even the footing sometimes, but you can always control or focus on your line, or your tempo, or your bend when those things become annoyances, and that it’s best to just keep riding through.
We found a really good note to end things on, cantering in both directions, and Eliza praised us for our progress with the quality of our canter departs and for the overall picture. It was a good lesson for reminding me of the positives and for getting an outside perspective on myself and my abilities as well as how Smitty actually is a very good baby and that it’s going to take time for us to develop a partnership. Tonight, we squeeze in a jump lesson with a new-to-me trainer. Hopefully I can build on some of this retrospective mental mojo and get some good points to boot!
So last night, I finally got to introduce Smitty to one of my A-team. In a borrowed saddle from a friend who also has a rather narrow pony, I had my first lesson aboard my gawky warmblood baby.
My biggest lamentation with Smitty at the moment (this being only 2 weeks into our relationship) is that he is a somewhat lazy fellow. Because it’s important that I establish some basic rules from the get-go, my main emphasis in riding him so far is to get him in front of my leg without getting in the habit of nagging (which I want to do so badly). I’m trying, but I admit this is a lot easier with someone on the ground reminding you to have a hanging leg.
A lot of what I got in my lesson was affirmation of some of the things I’ve been doing, which is always encouraging. Our warm up consists of walk halt transitions, using primarily my weight to halt and keeping the expectation that he march off when I ask, not dawdle in a slowly increasing tempo. Other affirmations include my using the walls as a guide for him to pick up the correct lead, and pushing him forward in the downward transitions (rather than let him collapse and stop like he really wants to do).
Of course it wouldn’t be a lesson if I didn’t learn things, and I definitely learned plenty. I forget oftentimes to use my voice in combination with a leading word- for instance, I just say “trot!” instead of “…and trot” or “alright Smitty, trot!”. It seems silly, but it’s more fair to let him know that something is coming even if it means a bit more nattering to my horse. He’s already picking up on the verbal cues really well, but it’s up to me to continue to be consistent and give him the best opportunity to succeed at what I’m asking.
Position is also something I’m struggling a bit with, since Smitty tends to bounce me out of the saddle with every trot step. My hands like to creep higher and higher with his head, so I need constant reminder to keep my hands low. Physical reminders to do this include thinking about touching his mane with my hands, looping a finger through my neck strap at the canter, and thinking about keeping my elbows heavy.
Since I’m probably boring you guys to death with all this baby stuff, I’m going to throw the rest of my babbling notes into bullet form:
Overall, it was a super lesson, and Eliza really liked and had good things to say about my new youngster. I’m already looking forward to hitting the saddle again tonight and giving some of this new content a go again!
Riley heads back home this weekend, hopefully with a skull full of new knowledge and a much fitter body than when he came to me. Before he left though, I really wanted to get him off property and put him in front of someone who could comment on his progress. Unfortunately it was a bit late and the timing didn’t work out for a show, so I opted to take him to Eliza’s for a dressage lesson.
Riley loaded like a champ, and bar a couple loud whinnies (which is the norm for him anyways, he’s a rather vocal dude), settled in at once.
It’s been so long since I have taken a lesson on a greenie (like, years, since I normally do much of the initial stuff myself), so it was great to get some reminders to set him up for dressage success.
Things like using your weight in each stirrup rather than the reins to turn that might seem obvious, but you can forget when steering is a bit compromised as it is on a green horse finding his balance. Occasionally I didn’t get aggressive enough with this concept, and it turned into a rather hairy moment when Riley didn’t turn quickly enough and attempted cantering with 2 legs inside the arena, and two legs up on the grass level of the perimeter, about 10″ above.
Much like it is nigh impossible to run with one leg in the street and one leg in the curb, this concept didn’t work out too well for Riley. Luckily the husband was there to catch our combined lawn darting on camera, and since we were both OK, in my mind anything worth laughing at is also worth turning into a gif. I really don’t think I had any way of saving this, and since it was just a dumb moment I’m happy to share with you kind folks.
We determined that both of us were fine and I mounted up again. Overall the lesson was really helpful, in that it got me thinking about dressage as a long-term goal, and not just focusing on the immediate result as is the temptation with babies. So things like letting my leg hang now, instead of kicking to get the forward, will help me later when I need a horse that is more sensitive to my leg aids.
Bar a scary 10 seconds, in which I’m glad I did not get crushed under those thunder feet, it was a really great lesson and a good reminder of working towards an end game. Though I’m really bummed to be sending Riley home, I’m exceptionally proud of how far he has come, from pasture ornament to dressage pony in a matter of just over 2 months. I definitely look forward to using the experience and the reminders from this lesson on Smitty, and can only hope he comes along just as easily.
Yesterday I had Eliza out for our first dressage lesson in, oh, 9 months. I introduced her to Darcy, expressing that I hoped to get her a bit more sensitive to my leg (currently Darcy is very much a kick ride) and make sure I was making the right decisions in general.
We talked about setting the expectation to be in front of the leg even from the ground. So walking in hand, I’m now to carry a whip, and Darcy is expected to march along with me, instead of meandering behind. In the walk under saddle, same thing- we march, and I overemphasize moving my hands with the motion of her head to encourage Darcy to use her neck. Moving my hands also releases my hips and further encourages the motion.
One note that I thought was interesting in the walk was regarding leg cues. In general, at all gaits, I am to keep my legs very quiet and hanging along her side, then lightly ask for a forward response- if I don’t get it, then I quickly ask strongly with both legs to get a reaction. At the walk though, using both legs isn’t as helpful, and it was in Eliza’s opinion that especially on a mare, squeezing with both legs creates more of a negative response. Instead, I am to alternate left and right leg aids for a few strides to encourage her to walk forward.
Also of note was our discussion around sitting the trot. Darcy’s a round girl, and rather bouncy to sit her working trot. She can also tend to tighten her back when you sit, which makes for an even bouncier experience. So I am to practice sitting her trot, but not until she is truly pushing into the contact. Continue to sit even if she tightens her back and in Eliza’s words “until you have improved the trot” before posting again. This really only happens over a few strides, but ideally eventually I’ll be sitting more and more. It’s a good tool to have in our pockets.
Overall Eliza was impressed with Darcy, and everyone who sees her go ends up grinning and saying just how cute she is! She’s definitely a different kind of ride from Foster, but in Eliza’s opinion is a great horse to make me a more well rounded rider, and I couldn’t agree more.
It’s been a couple weeks since I first got back in the saddle, and since then I have been able to ride almost a dozen times. While the main candidate right now for saddle time has been Bob, a few times I sat on another horse, and success on both horses has been across the board.
Once upon a time I was very much in the habit of riding and adjusting to new horses, thanks to that being the founding concept behind intercollegiate dressage. But that was now several years ago, and since then the majority of my riding has been geared towards training Foster. I set out goals from the start with Foster to ideally be the type of horse that I personally like to ride- which is to say about 3-5 lbs of contact in my hand, forward thinking, and responsive to the leg and seat (but not so responsive that the horse would explode from underneath you if you sat really deeply and drove). The horse that I have now I think is a mixture of his own preferences in how he likes to go and my own preferences/training philosophy.
So far I’m reasonably happy in being able to figure out these horses as I ride them, though their own quirks and preferences are so unlike Foster’s. Bob for instance has a beautiful floating stride with a ton of suspension, but easily gets behind the leg and curls. Riding him has definitely strengthened my calves and is teaching me to feel when he is truly coming through from leg to hand versus when he evades behind the bit. He also shows me my own weaknesses- like my sad left leg, my desire to pitch forward when I am really having to use my leg, and occasionally a loss of balance. But each ride has gotten better and better as I both get stronger and more in tune with his way of going. The learning opportunity (besides the benefits of not losing my mind) has really been a great one.
The other horse I sat on a handful of times has been a mixed bag of success and absolute failure. Knowing that he is a tricky ride that others have struggled with, I was at first thrilled when we were able to get through movements the equivalent of a training level dressage test without issue. Well, a training level dressage test without the left lead canter, that is. After cantering left the entire ride fell apart each time, dissolving into an unhappy mess for both the horse and myself. I have been able to find a good note to end on, but this one in particular makes me wonder. Another learning opportunity though to be sure, and I hypothesize that my own crookedness (weak left side and very strong right leg) is what causes us the trouble.
This weekend I’ll have the opportunity (if the rain will let up) to get on a third horse and (dare I say it!) have a dressage lesson with Eliza. I’m excited to bring some of my newfound insight into the world of left-leg-decrepitude to her and hopefully learn how to adjust for my weaknesses. I’m fully expecting a tough but interesting and probably humbling lesson, but I’m looking forward to it nonetheless!
While I can’t wait to be back on my own pony, having the opportunity to ride other horses is a definite silver lining. I can feel that the experience is making me a more well-rounded and correct rider (I hope!) and I have faith that Foster will benefit as a result. So until then… bring ’em on and saddle up!
This didn’t get out Friday because I got caught up at the barn, trying to assess whether Foster is still sore from our jumping last weekend, or if there is something shoe-related going on there. I won’t even consider that it might be something else until tomorrow. *Sigh* Anyways, until then, here are the rest of our brainy break throughs (part 1 here) from the week of lessons.
Effectiveness of the Seat
To be a dressage queen is to have a good seat. But the seat is also important in jumping, as the rider has to make decisions about two-pointing versus sitting versus sticking close to the saddle (the last is BC’s phrase, used before XC fences). In dressage, I am really focusing on using my weight properly in the half-passes. I’m also working to fight against my own natural confirmation, the dreaded hollow-back ghetto booty combination, that makes it hard for me to stick with the full circle of movement my hips should make in the canter. For showjumping, Bobby emphasized a lighter seat and as previously mentioned, moving from galloping position to sticking “closer to the saddle” upon approach. One seat, used lots of different ways!
Thinking about the Landing
How many times have I heard this one? Probably a bajillion times, but it really resonated when BC asked us to halt in 5 strides after the gymnastic. That shit is hard. And why is it hard? Maybe because my horse is not used to expecting something to happen on the landing. Halting after fences is one of the big take-aways from our showjumping lesson, and a wonderful exercise for getting a horse listening. In the June Jump lesson, we did something similar in making small circles after landing from a fence before continuing on to another element. And guess what- in dressage, you know what is a great way to get a horse focused on you and “keyed up to your seat”? Transitions. Forward, backward, halt, etc. Never should we just careen around the arena without a plan, and that was the point I’ve finally figured out this week.
It’s going to take real discipline to remember all of these, and surely there will be times when I forget one or more of these major points. On the flip side, I really do think that if anyone can master all of these issues they would gain major ground in becoming a better rider. And that is, of course, what I aspire to be.
3 trainers, 8 days. Information overload? Just a little.
In many ways though, the lessons do overlap, even though each trainer had different ways of communicating the same things. Here are some of the theories that I’ve noticed transcend two or more of the lessons in just a short time period.
Response to the Aids
Foster should always be listening (ideally), and always waiting for the next cue. We’ve been together so long that sometimes I fall into being repetitive or allowing him to be ho-hum, which makes communication when I really need him a challenge. In our June jump lesson, the trainer had us do canter walk or canter halt transitions and incorporate turn on the haunches or turn on the forehand to keep him thinking about balance and reactiveness. In Bobby’s showjumping lesson, we focused on halting after fences or a line, to keep him coming back to me as the source of instruction. Both accomplish a horse that is listening and reacting quickly to my aids.
Tomorrow- 3 more things that have been beaten into me this week…
Sunday morning was cool and lovely, which was a relief after having survived the massive storm the night before, complete with intense lighting
that almost made me spill my red wine into my lap and even a tornado watch.
The facilities at Winterbook Farm are immaculate, but obviously cater to a crowd much more experienced than Foster and I. Anything that was below Novice (as in 3 Novice fences) was placed in extremely technical positions (like after a one stride up a hill from the biggest freaking ditch you’ve ever seen in your life), so warming up was somewhat interesting.
Just like the day before, Bobby wanted to assess my position before actually jumping anything. Apparently I fooled him once again into thinking my leg was solid, but he encouraged me to press my knuckles into Foster’s neck and stay there between fences. As obvious as this is, it’s hard for me still, as with dressage and showjumping I am ever seeking that straight hand-to-bit line and in XC this makes my hands float around in the atmosphere.
From there we warmed up over the one baby fence a couple times (NBD) and then aimed at a solid Novice coop, to which I asked for a flyer distance and instead got a shitty chip. Hello, confidence problems. I revisited the coop and told myself not to be a pansy, and it went much better.
The one thing I told him I wanted to look at was Foster’s launching off of banks and issues with drops into water. So we started with the bank complex, and discussed really sitting up straight and slipping the reins at the top- to which I nodded, yes, I’d heard that plenty of times. However, it turns out in execution I have come to expect a big move, which causes me to clutch at the top of the bank, which in turn makes Foster feel like he can’t use his neck and therefore he launches himself. How bout that perpetual cycle? Immediately when I actually slipped the reins and sat back he dropped very casually. We ended that segment by going up a steep hill, one stride to a down bank, then 2 or 3 strides to another down bank. Beautiful, done.
We popped over a couple ditches and Foster confirmed that ignoring all else, this horse is not ditchy. So we moved on to the water complex. Foster had trotted through it for warmup, so we started by jumping a small fence coming out of the water up a small hill. He did this fine, so we reversed and jumped the fence back into the water. Enter my commitment issues, stage right. While he scooted over it, I got some very stern words about being confident about it and so we went back through a few times, getting better and better.
When on our third attempt he jumped it boldly, we moved on to dropping off banks into water.
Ugh, water drops.
I’ll be completely honest, the trouble lies with me. I feel Foster debate the obstacle, and I hesitate. My hesitation turns into him stopping, and us dancing at the precipice of the bank with no clear way of getting down but to re-approach. With lots of coercion, we finally got in, and then repeated the process until it was coming easily. But when we moved on to a higher bank and included a super long approach, I had the exact same issues. Again on re-presenting we made it happen, but I need to be in the habit of thinking “do or die” rather than waffling. You don’t waffle over cross country obstacles.
We ended on a good note, but I’m eager to repeat the process until that cross-country grit comes back. I’ll be coming back to Southern Pines in a couple of weeks to try again, and I’m hopeful that in turn I will become bolder for the experience.