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Use Your Brain

It took me more years than I care to admit to train my brain to not shut off on the flat. I’m still a more reactive versus proactive rider than I’d like, but I’m a heck of a lot better than I used to be when basically my brain would go on vacation as soon as my butt hit the saddle. By the time I retired Gem, I had gotten fairly good at reading her subtle body language cues that informed me she was about to slow down or speed up, cut a corner or hollow and with that early warning system I could then proactively shut whatever she was about to do down and keep us on the trajectory I had planned.

I feared the lesson would be canceled due to soggy footing everywhere, but instead Trainer had me meet her at a local covered for the day.

Eeyore is a little harder for me as he tends to not really pre plan his actions and instead is a tad ADD about the whole thing. I haven’t been riding him for as long and he is a bit more erratic. I’m getting better at it on the flat and am finding myself catching him before he hollows or cuts a corner or slows down or speeds up before he actually does it more and more often these days.

This, however, all flies right out the window once we start jumping and my brain reverts to heading off on the cruise ship to hang out with a martini on the pool deck.

Trainer AB is done with allowing me to do this and so our lesson last weekend was focused on getting me to actually ride while jumping. To this end we began with an exercise that annoys me in its simplicity while being extremely difficult for me to replicate well. A simple set of two ground poles set at 5 canter strides. The goal was for me to count the strides out loud and be able to tell her what I felt and how I countered it after each pass through.

We are trialing a new to us pessoa bit. Trainer AB educated me on her choice of this bit adn I really liked her thinking. Eeyore seems to like it. Nothing magical but it is doing the job we wanted it to.

It was hard. We’d come in too hot and get 4 strides then I’d over compensate the next pass and shut him down to get 6 strides and only realize it after it was too late to make the adjustment between the poles. It was a great way to get my brain functioning though and by the time I was able to get 5 strides both directions, I was was getting the hang of thinking and riding at the same time.

From there we did basically the same thing only with a cross rail 6 strides to a vertical with the same goals: count the strides, influence the horse to make the striding, then tell her what I did. I’ll tel you that the first time I came in and actually felt him being too slow, put my leg on and got those 6 strides?? It felt freaking AMAZING. I was grinning like a fool. I felt my brain kick in, made a decision and got it done. Wow.

After that she had me run through a course twice before calling it a day.

And because I failed yet again to get my Cambox to capture anything but the sky, here is a pic of my two girls snuggling in the sunshine

I learned a lot this lesson. Like A LOT. One of the biggest points for me was to pick up my canter way earlier coming into the exercises/course. I tend to pick it up only a couple strides out because I worry a long approach will allow him to get on the forehand and rushy. However, with only a few strides before the fence I don’t have enough time to get him into any sort of rhythm or balance and found myself fighting to get what I wanted all the way to the base. When I picked the canter up way earlier, sure he could get rushy and on the forehand, but I still had time to influence and change that so we could approach the fence the way I wanted which in turn led to a much nicer effort.

Also, brain – keep working!!!! I generally rode into the exercises way better than out of them. It was like my brain punched the time clock then headed straight to the water cooler to gossip. This perpetuated my feeling of not being in control and that leads to my jumping fears. When I settled down and rode, added leg when I needed or re-balanced and slowed when needed, everything not only rode better but I felt more in control of what happened and that grew my confidence as we went around.

Yet another wonderful lesson in the books and a lot to continue to work on. Hopefully the weather dries out and I can sneak in another lesson soon.

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2020 Baseline

Trainer AB was able to come out over the weekend for my first lesson in way too long. We had others scheduled but it always poured down rain causing them to be moved. This has been a very wet and warm winter so far and while my arena remains a thorn in my side, the footing stays rideable even under 6″ of water which has been my salvage.

There was a lot to talk about since I hadn’t seen her since the last HT. I’ve been waffling a lot about what is best for us as a team – full training, more lessons, her riding him in shows, not showing at all, etc…and trying to really hone in on what I want from horses. It boils down to a few things:

  • Have fun – if it isn’t enjoyable it isn’t worth doing. Scary sometimes, yes. Hard work, for sure. But at the end of it all, it must be fun.
  • Improvement– nobody likes to feel stuck in a rut. Riding the same backwards ways and working on the same issues gets old, fast. I don’t have any bar I’m striving for here. No set height of jumps or level of competition. What I really want is to feel like I’m a better rider than I was 2 months ago, 6 months ago, 1 year ago.
  • Flexibility -Spontaneous plans are the only way I function. I texted Trainer Saturday afternoon to set up the lesson for Sunday. I signed up for the last HT three days before it ran. I don’t have a ride calendar and I don’t pre plan my rides at home. It works for me to decide to enter a jumper show the night before or morning of. However, this means that I have to have a versatile horse who is in shape enough to tackle these last minute shenanigans readily and happily.
Unrelated media. My sister-in-law snagged this photo of Pete while she was in town. I want to frame it and put it in the tack room.

With all that in mind I have decided against full training for Eeyore. It isn’t needed for the above and goes against some of them directly. Trainer and I talked and I do want to keep showing. I like the challenge and I find it mostly fun. My confidence stems a lot from knowing my horse will do the thing. To that end, I am officially signing Trainer up to ride Eeyore at Windridge in February. Seeing him tackle all three phases with her will help me realize he can do this and that will make me a lot braver in the saddle.

For the lesson itself, it was pretty eye opening in all the ways I never expected it to be which is pretty par for the course for Trainer AB.

Farrier came out on NYE which meant that I could be there for the first time in a year. I loved the look on Eeyore’s face as the hot shoes were placed.

Right now the focus is on getting Eeyore to carry his own head and to understand that rein aids can mean a lot more than “slow down”. A lot of the flat work goes like this:

Eeyore pick up your head. I’m not carrying 1500lbs in my hands

Oh, you want me to slow down, I’m down with that

No, I want you to balance upfront and continue to move. I’m not talking to your feet.

Oh, so this is hard. I’ll just curl behind the bit and suck behind your leg. Then you can’t yell at me because I’m still technically moving and I’m not leaning.

Nope, you can’t do that either

It is hard work for him and me both as it requires my body and mind to do 1000 different things all at once and after just a few circuits around a 20 m circle I find myself out of breath. I will say though that it is getting easier and better for both of us and we are able to get some really good circles before it falls apart. The canter was the most balanced it has been to date as well.

My homework since the last lesson has been to sit up. After hearing trainer repeat “sit up, lean back” a million times in one hour, I declared that she would never have to tell me that again. Or at least not so much. As such, I’ve been working diligently on my upper body not only being more upright, but also being independent of my lower body so that when I give a cue I don’t tip forward. The hard work paid off as not only did I not have to be told to sit up one single time, I also got a lot of praise from Trainer for my stability and position. Wahooo for little wins!!

We finished with the flat portion of the ride and I thought we would move on to jumping, but Trainer had other plans. Remember the whole “needs to be fit and healthy to do the spontaneous activities I get us up to?” part of my life with horses? Yeah…well I’ve failed him miserably on that score and Trainer has a plan for me to fix it. My biggest pasture is pretty perfect for conditioning work. Not only is it plenty big, but it also slopes from right to left and from front to back. She wants me to work up to 10 minutes of canter work up and down that pasture after each ride.

She also snapped this beautiful shot of Waggy

To this end, she had me spend the second half of the lesson out in the field. As soon as we left the arena I tensed. Eeyore can be a giant asshole out in that pasture. It is the only time I have fallen off him – when he lawn darted me at a walk in that field. Trainer gave me a look like “grow a set and go do it” so I set off to trot up the hill. Eeyore immediately had an epic hissy fit. He bucked. He reared. He attempted to bolt away. He went sideways. He jigged. He did everything but be polite and follow directions.

Ah…so now she saw this side of him. She told me she was happy to see this because then she could be there to help me through it and better understood my anxiety about her conditioning plans for us. She set me on a small 15 ish m circle around the water trough to the left. Eeyore bucked and insisted that he would rather go in the barn where Gem and Pete were. She told me to a ) actually sit in the saddle instead of being tense and hovering and b) make him do it even if that meant he went around with his nose touching his butt the entire time. When we went towards the barn, he would speed up. When we went away, he would slow down and try to turn back towards it. I was to ignore all of this and make him do what I wanted. It took about 25 circles before he started to listen and then we repeated it to the right. it took less time and then we did a huge circuit of the entire pasture with her walking beside me. She got her steps in that day.

We manged to finish on a good note with instructions to begin with 5 minutes out in the field at the end of every ride. Once he behaved at the walk, introduce the trot then the canter then work up to 10 minutes. I’m not sure how long that will take, but I will do it.

This horse has opinions about everything

You know, I’m not sure what Trainer thinks of Eeyore. I’m not sure she would ever tell me to sell him, but I also don’t think she would be all that sad if I did. Her biggest issue with him is his lack of obedience. His opinions that turn into action. While we were fighting over working in the field, she told me “He doesn’t get to have an opinion about this. He needs to learn that when you tell him to walk or trot in the field, he just does it. No questions asked. No temper tantrum thrown. If he wants to squeal under his breath, fine, but he does what you say”

It is something she has told me before and something I am working on instilling in him, but this too will take time. For now, I have my homework and will work hard at it until I get to set up time with her again.