For the past several months, the very thought of riding H’Appy brought about much trepidation. Bringing him in from the field was never an issue, much unlike his predecessor who hid behind trees on the regular, but once in the cross ties a fight to keep all my appendages in functioning order and attached to my body would ensue.
He would paw. He would eat the cross ties. He would whip that big orange head of his around and try to bite me. He would weave side to side trying to squash me against the wall. He would try to step on me. Tightening up the girth was an adventure always leading to pinned ears, angry faces and homicidal ideations on his part. You can imagine how that set the tone for what was to come on both our parts.
Last night was the perfect night to ride. The day had been sunny, warm and dry. The arena is still partly under water from the deluge earlier this week, but it was workable. I wanted to ride. It gave me pause though because the timing was not right. I’d have to bring them in for dinner and let the others out while I tacked him up. Or I could bring only him in and tack up before feeding but then the others would be hanging by the gate. The last time they did that, H’Appy started rearing in the cross ties so bad I threw him in his stall.
But I wanted to ride and a quick check of the weather showed rain today through the weekend. This would be my only chance this week and Hubby had agreed to cook dinner so I could ride. I drew in a deep breath, changed into riding clothes, grabbed his halter and decided I was not going to tip toe around his schedule. I was going to ride.
And you know what? He came up to me in the pasture and led in quietly. He stood int he cross ties while Gem and Pete stared into the barn feeling starved and deprived. He let me brush him all over with a cocked hind leg. I grabbed the saddle and he looked at me, but didn’t move. I tightened the girth and saw nary an ear flick in my direction. We waked off to the arena, through the gate and past his friends, and he never once planted his feet, pinned his ears or tried to eat me.
This was the third ride in a row where he was a GOOD BOY.
I went into this ride wanting to work on the canter. I hate the canter. My entire riding life has lived in the trot and I am very comfortable there at 12 mph flying down twisting, single track trails, up and down hills and over streams. I’m not so comfortable at a 6 mph canter in a flat arena. Time to fix that. He was already in a listening mood, so I worked a while at the walk to loosen us both up and working really hard on my seat.
My seat has two modes: rigidly braced and loosely driving. Neither are good. I really want to correct this and focus on a light, following seat at all gaits so that I am more neutral in the saddle unless I am asking for something instead of either blocking or yelling. So at the walk, I really concentrated on this. I’ve gotten pretty good at not being rigid and braced at the walk, but it has recently swung to me trying to move for him and that drives us both crazy. Last night I really allowed my hips and lower back to relax while sitting tall and sucking my navel in and just moving with him.
This will be super shocking to you all, so brace yourselves here. By doing this, H’Appy gave me a wonderful forward, marching walk that was in front of my leg without me forcing it and he even began to stretch down into the contact. It was a baby stretch down, but man did it feel good! I completely messed it up by not having contact to reach into, but baby steps here folks.
After a brief trot tour to see how he was going to react to transition work, a bit of head tossing but nothing major, and it was on to the work of the night: the canter.
His canter button is really amazing. Sitting a few steps of the trot, bringing my heel ever so slightly back and a light graze on his side and he is off! I focused hard on having a quality trot before asking for the canter and some times managed it and sometimes not. Over all though he was ok. I forgot to steer the first few times and ended up nearly plowing into the arena fence, but he was game to keep trying. I worked him left and then right concentrating on forcing myself to sit deep in the saddle versus being braced and rising ever so slight out of the saddle, lowering my hands that want to come up to my chin, letting my legs hand loosely but on so as not to nag him…oh and that whole steering thing.
I’d give myself a B- overall. Nothing horrendous happened, we picked up the correct lead every time, and I managed to keep his flubby body in the canter until I asked to trot at which point he told me to screw off and halted instead. Steering needs a lot of work. Sitting deep needs a lot of work. Not letting him plow onto the forehand or go flying off into the distance needs a lot of work.
But I kept my head screwed on, thought about my position, planned somewhat ahead on my track of progression and had fun.