Smiles for days over here at Team Eeyore folks. Smiles. For. Days.
Last night was my preemptive make up lesson for missing next week. I debated not even going. Eeyore had been stalled for the day Wednesday for the chiro and then again Thursday for the farrier. By the time I got home from work and loaded him straight from his stall, you could see the devil in his eyes.
The beginning of the lesson sorta went how I imagined it. He was doing his utmost best to behave. You could tell he was repeating the mantra of “Need to be a good boy. Good boys don’t buck. Need to be a good boy” over and over in his head as we worked through the warm up. In fact, I could feel his energy vibrating underneath me. It is a bit unnerving. I know he won’t do anything stupid under saddle, but I can also tell he really, really wants to.
After a little while she suggested we lunge him. Her theory on lunging is pretty simple. Let the horse be a horse. Let him get his sillies out on the line where he can safely. If he wants to gallop – gallop. If he bucks – laugh. Because we know Eeyore will not translate that under saddle, we can let him get the wiggles out on the line. And boy did he! He threw in some impressive bucks, snaked his head in glee and galloped around that circle with his tail flagged high. When he told her he was done, she asked him to trot 5 circles around nicely and then switched sides where he didn’t buck but he did kick up his heels into another nice gallop before saying he was done and then trotting 5 more circles.
When I climbed back aboard it was onto a completely different horse. He was calm, listening and steady. He was no longer vibrating underneath me and was instead able to listen.
But this wasn’t the break through. This is the lead up.
We worked for a while in the front half of the arena starting work on the 20 m circle of doom. She even made me do the sitting trot. A lot. It hurt. It was a bit hard on him due to his very awesome most amazing stop button which I have no intention of training out of him. HA! It was next to impossible to comfortably sit his zoomy, endurance horse impression of a trot on the circle, but when I’d ask for him to slow way down, lean back and really press my hips into the saddle to sit – he would halt. Which, yay!!! I love a good set of breaks. But it did make trying to keep him trotting slow enough to sit it a bit more of a challenge. We did get several circles both directions that pleased Trainer AB and she gave me a ton of insight on the 20 m circle of doom that really helped ease both of our obvious tension with it. More on that in another post because that still isn’t the break through.
We stood in the arena chatting about everything we had done so far – the use of the lunge to get his sillies out, her theory on lunging, the 20 m circle, some things to help my sitting trot improve, etc…and I thought we were done. It had been over the 45 minutes we usually ride and we had accomplished a good bit. I gave him a pat and told her that I was happy to work on all that homework and she looked at me like I had three heads. “Oh, we aren’t over yet.”
She had set up two ground poles 42′ apart down one of the long sides and I began by doing the simple change of bend trot exercise from a couple lessons before. Trot over, turn left, turn right, represent over, turn right, turn left, come back over. Easy peasy at this point. Then the real fun began.
SMILES FOR DAYS FOLKS.
The exercise is meant to be ridden over at the canter in 3 strides. She was beginning to teach me striding!!!! You’d think that with all the other lessons I took, this wouldn’t be the first time anyone has specifically discussed striding with me, but it is. She talked about the feel of it. She talked about looking at the dirt just in front of the ground pole where I want his front feet to land before going over. She talked about the landing, counting the three strides, feeling his front feet hit, his back feet hit, the take off and the landing again. She discussed the theory of knowing when to ask for more to make the 3 and when to hold back and wait for the 3. She talked about how early on in a course horses tend to hit long spots but by the end they are feeling full of it and you have to wait to get hit your strides.
So there I was walking and listening to her. She wanted me to get the canter left and present to the exercise.
And here it is folks. My major breakthrough.
The canter has always been my down fall. It isn’t so much riding the canter that has always turned me into a rigid beam of fear. It was the transition. Gem had a horrible canter transition mostly because her trot was always too rushed, a little too flat and a whole lot too fast. Plus her canter felt like a washing machine and I rarely spent much time in it. Eeyore has a lovely canter transition and since my homework has been working hard in the canter, I’ve been playing around with it a lot. Every stadium round I’ve ever watched has had me super jealous of one thing. Not the jumps. Not the course work. It was always sitting there watching people nonchalantly enter, pick up a stride or two of trot and immediately float into a canter and go do the thing. It would always take me gulping down big breaths of air, sitting up, organizing my reins and body and then saying a silent prayer as I asked for the canter 15 circles later. How did everyone else do what they did??
Ok..back to last night.
So there I was walking down the long side at the far end of the arena tracking left and she told me she wanted me to canter into the exercise being aware that the first time through he would likely get a long spot.
I was already halfway down the long side and still at the walk. Space was running out. I picked up the trot near the corner and then without even thinking about it a stride or two later asked for the canter, got it, and proceeded through the exercise.
I WAS ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE!!!
Trainer AB thought my fool’s grin was about how awesome Eeyore went through the poles. We hit 3 strides exactly, he wasn’t rushing and he wasn’t holding back. Really, the exercise was fantastic. But at that point he could have tripped and fallen on his face or grown wings and flew over the poles and I wound’t have cared.
I cantered without fuss, without needing 15 minutes to gather myself. I just….cantered. Like a normal person.
We repeated this several times. The next time through he rushed and we didn’t get the 3, so then we presented again and this time I used my brain (which was still celebrating my win over my canter issues) and held him back through the line to get the 3 and she was so so so excited for us. We switched to the right lead and by this time both Eeyore and I were very tired so we flubbed it a bit more, but in the end got two great trips hitting the 3 each time though once required me to push him up to the 3 and the last holding him back for it.
For the first time in the three years I have been playing at this new sport, I finally feel like a real jumper. Sure it was just ground poles and not a jump or a course, but I finally feel like I am working on real jumping things. I’m learning striding! I’m learning to count the strides, to plan for it, to hold him back or push him up to get what I want.
SMILES FOR DAYS.