Continuing on my theme of reflection, I’ve been thinking a lot about the changes I’ve seen in myself and Gem since beginning lessons. Eleven weeks isn’t a lot of time and six lessons with probably 4-5 at home rides on my own aren’t a whole lot of rides and yet I have already noticed some major big picture changes that make me excited for the future.
The biggest and most important change is in her level of relaxation. Pre-February she was always high as a kite. Even when I took the two or three lessons with the BO at the last barn, she was incredibly tense, no fun and not enjoying herself in the slightest. Every little thing would set her off which in turn would make me more nervous and tense.
Now? Well, now she is nearly bored. No, she doesn’t have collection and isn’t anywhere close to being on the bit, but she also isn’t incredibly nervous and tense anymore either. She is still reactive to my leg and seesaws between pokey jog and shooting forward, but it is more her not understanding that there is an intermediate response rather than her being a powder keg under me.
What is the difference? Did six lessons really create this? I can’t think of anything else that could have: while she moved home at the same time, her actual lifestyle has remained the same. She still lives with her BFF Pete, still is out 24/7, still has plenty of grass, same grain. I’ve thought a lot about it and I think the biggest difference is all in how I am riding her. My posture is more solid and reliable so she doesn’t have to worry about me. I’m being more firm with my requests so she doesn’t have to wonder what I really mean. I’m riding with more focus and intent, so she is well aware of what I want and when I want it. As Trainer pointed out, Gem really likes fair warning about anything coming up and doesn’t appreciate a surprise so by riding with more intention I am giving her that heads up with my posture.
Also, I’m much more relaxed. Instead of freaking out every time she speeds up or cuts a corner, I now have tools in my box to prevent it. I don’t grab for her face and curl into the fetal position any more. Instead, I sit taller and deeper and ask her firmly yet politely to rebalance, I use my leg to push her barrel where I want it to go, I half halt or ask for more to maintain an even pace.
Its all combined to create a much happier and more relaxed scene and I think we are both enjoying it a lot more than the tense fights we used to get into. In fact, I can’t recall that last time I actually got into a fight with Gem.
This has turned into the next big change I have noticed: more confidence in both of us. Gem is starting to really figure out that I am not going to abandon her and as such she is starting to rely on my guidance a little more versus her own self preservation. In turn, I am learning that I can control her and that there really isn’t much use to getting tense and curling into a ball. Who would have guessed that things would go better when you ride the horse instead of losing your own cool. Interesting.
I’ve mentioned that I’m not really getting into dressage as much as I would have thought and that’s only partly true. When we do something really cool like lengthen and shorten the trot through just my posting, my heart goes all a pitter patter and I get all sorts of little school girl giggly. It would be embarrassing if I actually gave a crap about how I looked to others. Those rides are amazing. The rides like Sunday where we just worked on the minutiae of maintaining pace, geometry and halting well I got a bit bored. And so did Gem. Gem getting bored during a ride is a whole new territory for me.
Are we excelling at this whole thing? No. We still go around with my elbows too darn straight, my legs tend to draw up when I go to use them instead of staying long and once I get off kilter with something my go to is still to be grabby with my hands. Gems nose sticks out a million feet, she goes from pokey to racing, her back is hollow and she has no idea what halt actually means or why she has to do it.
Now that we are where we are, relaxed calm and happy, and now that I am learning how to use various tools to get what I want, I can start to work on those other aspects.
And we are only six lessons in. I can’t even imagine where we could be a year from now. I get all butterfly in my stomach excited to even think about it. The possibilities seem endless right now and that’s an amazing feeling seven years in to owning this wonderfully frustrating mare.
Who knows what will happen in June. I may crash and burn quite literally or we could excel. I could be reduced to tears, although that is unlikely given the fact that I’m not often reduced to tears in general, or I could be filled with joy. Any way it plays out, I’m proud of what we have accomplished this far and I can’t wait to continue on.