With the Big E side lined for a bit (he is feeling much better in his new sneakers up front and hopefully will get back to under saddle work with the boots on shortly) I figured I was out of luck riding wise. I mean, I could ride Gem, but the last time I pulled her out of retirement she was highly offended and it wasn’t worth the effort just to fight with her for 30 minutes.
Never fear though, Trainer wasn’t about to let me wallow in new-horse-can’t-be-ridden self pity and kept my lesson slot for last night. She offered up her wonder pony Misty for the night and I was…well…still not feeling it but game enough to go. I had ridden Misty once almost two years ago and the only thing I could remember from the ride was that she was hard to get going, couldn’t bend and it was a bit of a struggle.
Except none of that was actually true. What really happened was that two years ago I was still on Gem full time and couldn’t ride properly worth my life so Misty responded in kind. Last night was a true testament to a whole lot of things.
We started on the flat and I commented on how I’ve been working hard with the Big E on using my outside aides in the turns instead of pulling on that inside rein. She smirked and said “Great! I have an exercise for that!” When will I learn to keep my mouth shut??
We started on a 20 m circle counterbent. It was hard for my to conceptualize this since I tend to be way too handsy and I was like “If I’m using the left rein to bend her left how do I get her moving right?” The key here was to really use that outside rein to keep her looking left (we were going right) and my outside leg to push her right. I had to keep my body turned slightly inside to look around my circle. It took a few circuits but eventually it all clicked and my grin was from ear to ear. Once I had established that I was to bend her properly to the inside, but was not under any circumstances to pull on that inside rein. I needed to keep the feeling of her bugling into my left/outside leg and rein.
First time experience #1: really feeling that “filling of my outside aides”.
It felt amazing. I’ve never truly had real bend before and certainly have never had a horse go in an actual frame and wow. Just wow. Trainer was a little shocked at how well we went around and I got the most praise I ever have from her. Misty looked like a real dressage pony and I have never, ever been able to do that before. Certainly not the last time I rode her.
From there we worked on the same concepts at the trot. I have a harder time convincing my legs to work at the trot which stems from me weighting them too much to post, but we worked on this and since I had that feeling from the walk to strive for it got better and better. We worked on the sitting trot a bit too and I think Trainer was surprised that I actually can sit the trot pretty darn well. Spend enough time jigging down the trail and you learn that skill. Ha!
And since Misty isn’t Gem and tolerated my leg aides, I got to play around with when to use them. Trainer had me apply inside leg on the rise of the post and then at the sit and call out to her what I felt and how the response differed. It was a lot of fun and really eye opening to get to play with the aides like that.
Next was canter work. Misty is a great pony to learn to canter on mostly because she doesn’t like to and uses any excuse to drop back to a trot. I have the tendency to lose my legs at the canter and each time I did so, she tattled on me by dropping to a trot. This reinforced a better lower leg position and also gave me plenty of opportunities to work on sitting deep and cueing for the canter.
First time experience #2: having a flowing canter seat.
Cantering always made me tense and while I can blame some of that on Gemmie my tenseness only made her worse so it wasn’t a good cycle. Misty is so well behave though that I felt super comfortable really sitting and driving her forward.
With that I thought we were done. It was still 90F out at 7 pm and both Misty and I were drenched. Nope. Trainer pulled out a bucket of ice water to sponge Misty and then set up a cross rail. Time to get jumping! Besides the one foray out xc schooling with the Big E I hadn’t jumped since the schooling rounds with Gem in February. Its been a while and I was a little nervous. Especially since she set the cross rail at 2′ and from the back of a 13H pony, that looks even bigger. I haven’t jumped 2′ since last fall and that was only one time with Gem in a schooling jumper show.
But none of that matters when Trainer tells you to jump.
The first time sucked. I was defensive and nervous and Misty noped right out of that heaping mess. The second time we made it over, but I was again defensive and chicken winged my arms, pulling them up to my chin for no reason, and it was ugly. The third time I actually rode to the fence aggressively, put my darn legs on and released and it was so much better.
Then I thought we were done. Nope.
My biggest issue with jumping, aside from confidence issues, is in my approach. I suck at it. I get so focused on the jump, my stomach knots up and I stop riding which generally means we motorcycle around a turn, lose our rhythm and then plow towards the jump hoping for the best. And truly this wasn’t all my fault. Gem hated jumping and it took an act of Congress to get her over anything so my nervous focus on just getting to and over the obstacle were well earned. It still wasn’t helpful or proper though.
To work on that Trainer set up a 2′ skinny vertical with a short approach off the rail. Any hope of making it over required setting up a solid, balanced turn and keeping the momentum flowing. I admit to being skeptical that I was ready for this, but I gave it my best bet and we managed to get over fine although not pretty. The second time around something clicked in my brain.
First time experience #s 3 and 4: Jumping a skinny vertical and not focusing at all on the jump.
I stopped caring about the jump and rode just like I did when we were flatting. I balanced her in the turn with my outside aides, I kept my leg on and played with them ti get her moving forward out of the turn, I looked down my path focusing in the distance and let the jump come to me rather than string it down and freezing.
The jump itself became the non issue Trainer has been trying to drill into my head for near on two years. It felt AMAZING. And freeing really. I finally felt like I was riding the horse under me for the first time ever.
So then guess what? I thought we were done. My confidence was about the highest it could be and well why not stop there?
Trainer added another 2′ skinny vertical one stride in front of the other. Gulp.
We approached. I did not let myself freak out and instead focused on the flat work. We approached. She took the first one fine but then the distance wasn’t right and we took a flying leap over the out. I slipped my reins and stayed on which was about the best I can say about it. Trainer laughed and told me I did it like a cross country rider.
We came back around after she slid the jump in a little and took it again. It was ok. I didn’t die nor was I feeling like I was going to puke. But it also wasn’t all that great either. I was being way too mobile with my body through it and trying to almost force it. Trainer explained that I needed to stop sitting so early and instead to maintain the two point allowing the motion of Misty’s body to open and close my hip angle.
We came again, my brain was working so I actually listened to Trainer and it felt like I was flying.
First time experience #5: jumping a one stride 2′ skinny line
What an amazing night. Of course we couldn’t be done yet. Trainer never does anything with a single fence without building on it and that original crossrail was still hanging out there. The last exercise was taking the skinny one stride then cantering out over the cross rail.
I approached, focused on my turn and rhythm, held the two point and let Misty come up to me and then we cantered towards the cross rail. My brain focused, I sat deep in that canter and pushed her forward, I made the nagging fear in my head shut the heck up and sat back until that fence came to us then flowed with her and over we went.
Trainer was shouting she was so happy. It was the single best fence I have ever ridden and it felt so fantastic I can’t even explain it.
This entire lesson was so eye opening for me and so addictive. I can not wait until the next one.