Thursday night was the first time all week I could carve out time to ride after work. I had two goals for the ride: hold Gem more accountable and practice both bend and straightness, both things I got nailed on during the lesson.
Trainer basically had me doing exercise one for the lesson, so I looked up the third one to begin alternating with number two. It was the perfect post lesson exercise: a long figure eight over a single ground pole. Per the book, the goals are to ride the long diagonals straight, have bend through the arcs and hit the pole on an angle. This would meld everything from the lesson together nicely.
As for my primary goal, I’m very good at being super hard on myself when I ride. I’m constantly checking on my various body parts and internally chiding myself for letting my lower leg slip forward, white knuckling the reins, tilting forward etc…. The inside of my head isn’t the prettiest place at times. What I am bad at is doing the same for Gem. I should be making sure her body parts are doing what I ask. Instead I have a “good enough” approach. I wanted to go straight down a side and instead we weave. Good enough. I wanted to begin my circle here but overshot it. Good enough.
It isn’t good enough. I need to hold Gem to doing the task at hand. So I entered this exercise determined to ride as deliberately as Trainer makes me in lessons.
I started it even in the warm up period before tackling the exercise. Instead of toodling around on Gem as I get myself under control, I immediately held her to walking a straight line. Instead of stuffing her into turns at the last minute because I forgot to plan ahead, I made sure each turn was thought out several strides out and ridden with purpose.
Gem responded by immediately softening and listening. Who would have thought that by giving your horse actual directions to follow that they would become more rideable? *Head desk*
After I did the rectangle a few times in each direction, I headed to the ground pole and picked up the trot. And Gem was amazing. The best I’ve ever felt under me.
She rode straight along the long diagonal as I focused on a specific fence post to aim for. Since she was balanced and sure of her direction, the ground pole was met in stride and rode as if not even there. What really impressed me was that she actually had real bend in the turn. I was working hard to plan the turn several strides out and do as Trainer tells me all the time: ride her like an old lady driving on ice.
Gem is super athletic and can handle being jammed around tight corners but that doesn’t mean it is right to do it plus it kills all momentum and pace. By planning my turns more carefully she can more easily maintain her balance and rhythm through the turn.
Once we went through my planned arc I could actually feel her body straighten again under me as I switched my focus to the far fence line and picked my line down the diagonal and over the pole at an angle. It felt amazing. I’ve never actually felt her be so bendy and malleable under me before.
After 15 minutes I called it quits. She was being so good it felt more harmful than good to keep repeating the exercise. She had this one mastered and deserved to be done for the night. Eventually I’m going to have to stop doing that and ride her longer or we will never gain any endurance back but for now I’m happy to give her a big pat and tell her how good she was.
This ride left me grinning all night long. Hopefully I can remember how much better things go when I ride very deliberately and we can continue moving forward and having fun.