dressage, Riding/Horses

Falling in Love With Gem All Over Again: Flat work

(This post and the following were written and scheduled to go up prior to saying goodbye to my Scrabs. It seems an odd juxtaposition to have such a happy and loving life type post the day after the other published, but in real life this lesson took place on my birthday, the 13th, and we said our sad goodbye on the 14th. I wanted the Scrabble tribute to post first though)

Not one to be overly gushy and mushy, but wow….Gem restored all my faith in her times 1000 and it is wonderful. This horse. She gives me everything she can, sometimes in ways I don’t know what to do with, but she is honest as the day is long and I am loving getting the chance to ride her.

Maybe my little come to Jesus talk with her during our last ride really did the trick, maybe all my lessons have given me more confidence and tools in my toolbox to work with her, maybe the new saddle (did I mention I got a new saddle for my birthday?!? squee!!) worked magic, maybe the new venue changed her attitude, maybe Trainer is just that amazing…or maybe, and more likely, all those things clicked into place to give me the best ride I have ever had on my Gemmie in seven years.

I started off a little worried, then began to smile, then grin form ear to ear, then full on little school girl giggling. I think Trainer thought I lost my mind. Maybe I did. I don’t want it back.

Thorowgood T8 Jump. Adjustable out the butt, fits the hard to fit mare and my butt loves it.
Delicious dark brown leather pared with synthetics so I don’t have to be anal about cleaning it or riding in the rain. I adore it.

The lesson was broken up into a flat work session the first half and a jump session the second. This post would be way too long to write both up, so I am splitting it in two. I learned SO MUCH that keyboard diarrhea is imminent.

I was a little concerned with the fit on Gem. It seemed too narrow at the gullet, but it didn’t rock and the balance was spot on. The panels fit her like they were custom made which was not surprising as the dressage T8 I have does the same. The flocking was a bit much in the rear, but it is brand new and it should settle with use. I’m going to give it a few months of rides and then have a saddle fitter come in and adjust as needed.

Trainer hadn’t worked with Gem since the very first time at my house where Gem was her typical spazzy, tense and not listening oh-my-God-any-leg-means-gallop self. I think she was a bit nervous. We began with walking with a purpose and created a smaller rectangle in the large jump arena. Right way she could see the difference in Gem and I: I asked Gem to do something and expected it to be done and Gem was respondeing by doing it although sometimes begrudgingly.

The angle is helping any but she really has become a little portly. Ignoring that though: look how shiny she is. And dapples!!!!

We began with walk-halt-walk which is Gem’s worst thing ever. She really sees no point in stopping just to go again and Trainer even laughed about it remarking how she could tell that Gem thought halting was something other horses had to do. She could tell Gem was annoyed because she knew we would just be walking on again and what was the entire reason for doing this? For my part, she had me ask in a small series of quick bursts starting small then escalating to let Gem know I meant business but not create a tugging war with the reins. Eventually Gem acquiesced to the request to halt more promptly and we moved on.

The flat work half focused on one thing: adjustability. Gem and I worked hard at home on rhythm and it paid off as she picked up the nicest working trot that was fluid and forward but not braced or rushed. In fact trainer exclaimed that she was very cute when she behaved and had really nice movement. Maybe we wont completely fail at this English stuff after all.

Wondering what new form of torture I have in store for her

We kept on the smaller rectangle in the center of the arena and began to work on that adjustability thing. It was SO MUCH FUN!

Trainer had me think walk and really, really slow my posting down, sit up tall and tighten my core all while not touching the reins at all and I could feel Gem slow down nearing the walk. Right before she actually walked, I was to amp up my energy and send her on in the trot.

My timing was not quick enough in the beginning and we ended up walking a good bit or I would add too much leg too soon and we never really sowed down. It took a few circuits around before we got the hang of it. When we did though: magic. Gem began to really tune in and all I had to do was change my body posture and my energy level and she would slow then speed back up. Trainer then had me work on going from a working trot to an extended trot the same way.

Pretty soon she had usĀ alternate between working, extended and slow trot at each side of the rectangle. It was a blast. Gem was relaxed and thankful that I wasn’t touching her mouth and really listened, coming back immediately and going forward with gusto but remaining relaxed. Holy crap! I didn’t know she had it in her and it was SO MUCH FUN. Have I mentioned how fun it was??? I could have just done that for an hour.

Right before tacking up. The angle makes her look way less rotund.

After we played with that in both directions, we moved on. Drilling Gem is never a good idea. She is wicked smart and once she learns something it is time to move on or she will get bored and find something else to amuse herself with. Typically, I don’t find humor in the same things she does.

Next was canter work though and I immediately lost all my zen and relaxation. Trainer saw the response in Gem and asked me what happened. I told her I got tense. She told me to relax.

Part of my canter issues comes from my own misunderstanding that canter = faster. Since I can go a million miles an hour at the trot, I don’t really want to go any faster in the canter. Trainer is working hard to break this thought process and for me to think of the canter as shifting to a new gear, but maintaining the same speed. It is helping…a bit.

All my prior work at getting Gem desensitized to my leg cue for canter has paid off though. She can be cued with the outside leg without completely losing her head now. We picked up the left lead and while we did canter and I didn’t pull her face off, we also completely lost any steering we had.

When Gem canters, she just goes wherever she darn well pleases, bulging out a shoulder here and her hindquarters there. Trainer told me to put my outside leg on her and prevent the bulging out, but when I did Gem went wildly careening at a million miles an hour. Or so it felt. Trainer understood my dilemma. Gem is hypersensitive to the leg and believes it means go faster at all times. We have come to terms with this at the walk and are beginning to understand it at the trot, but the canter is currently in the crapper. It did improve a bit and we went both right and left, but it is going to take a long time before it is pretty. Or rideable. We will get there.

The mare likes selfies as much as I do

And that was the first half of our lesson. I was so proud of Gem. She came ready to work and while she was still highly opinionated and her typical self, she was honest and tried hard for me when I did my part and rode correctly.

Trainer had a lot to say about Gem as well. This was only her second time seeing her in action. Her thoughts:

  1. Gem is a super cute mover when she wants to be
  2. She is really sensitive to my leg and we need to work on getting her to understand that I can touch her and it not mean forward
  3. She has a massive canter stride. She was really impressed with how much ground the mare covers in her canter and mentioned it a dozen times during our canter work. Maybe that also plays into my canter issues.
  4. Gem doesn’t like to be surprised by anything. It is up to me to give fair warning about a change like in a transition or direction to let her know what is coming up soon.
  5. Gem is very in tune with me. If I’m tense, so is she. When I relax she will too. I have to be better at controlling my own self before I can expect her to do the same.
  6. Gem likes being in charge. When I get firm about one aspect, say pace, she will try to take charge of another, say direction. This was most prevalent at the canter when she picked up the gait and lead I requested, but then decided she had all the say in where we went. And I let her because I get all flailing and forget how to ride when I canter.

Things I did well:

  • She didn’t correct my position at all. I did ride with less leg than in my prior lessons, but she soon learned why and we are compromising at the moment. She stated that my leg position was perfect for where Gem is at right now and will take time to be allowed to bring it back and around her without causing tension and anxiety.
  • My elbows were the best yet, still need work but I’m counting this as a win because she only had to tell me to bring them back half as much as before and the alterations I made were minimal versus massive.
  • I rode my mare off my seat. BIG HUGE IMPROVEMENT FOR US!!
  • I used circles correctly like I learned last time out. Gem actually bent around the circle and it helped to rebalance her.

Things to improve:

  • I need to begin to work on getting my seat completely independent from the rest of me. Currently its not so much.
  • Continue to improve in my transitions. Don’t throw her away going down and don’t run her into it going up.
  • Canter work. Lots and lots of canter work. Transition, speed, steering. All of it. One big thing she told me is to never let Gem canter from a bad trot. This sets up a bad canter and then I’m immediately having to correct it.
  • Keep Gem focused. She tended to get bored and look around for something to do. I have to keep her mind busy, but not overwhelmed. This is hard for me as I tend to either drill or let it slide.

Up next…the jumping half!!!



dressage, Riding/Horses

No Rhythm…The First Lesson

Gem hides behind Pete to get out of work. Sorry, girlie..but I can still see you…and now I am the hand that feeds you too!

Once we were settled into the new place, I started searching for a trainer who would come to me. I could travel, but that adds time and money and was a last resort if I couldn’t find anyone willing to come to me. Thankfully, I didn’t have to search far before landing on someone who was not only willing, but fully capable of helping us out. Plus she had a great sense of humor and a willingness to think outside the box, both attributes I love.

My new trainer (you guys don’t even know how awesome I feel to even be able to type that sentence. I’ve never had a trainer before!!! Squeee!!) was slated to come over at 4:30 pm Sunday and I planned on getting on Gem a bit early to warm her up. It was a good thing too as I watched Wyatt come running over with his helmet in his hand and big grin on his face, ready to ride. At first he climbed up with me (he can go faster when he rides with mommy), but since I had tacked up with the dressage saddle instead of my endurance one, it took all of 3 minutes before he said “Mommy, something in this saddle is hurting me”.

My favorite view blocked by my favorite head

So, I hopped down and gave him his room. He wanted to trot so badly, so we started off. Gem is great at being trotted on the ground (thanks to endurance) and we went back and forth a number of times helping Wyatt by telling him to sit up tall, grab mane and grab the saddle. He did really well and laughed the entire time.

My loves all in one place

But…this isn’t about that.

Trainer J showed up right smack on time and I clambered aboard Gem. We had the big field to work in and we got right to work. I loved J right away when she told me that she loves dressage because any horse can do it. She didn’t make any snotty comments about me being on an Arabian, or my cheaper saddle and didn’t even mind the fact that I was in a biothane bridle. She just got busy putting us on a 20m circle of death at the walk and really grew in my estimation from there.

We began at the walk and I told her my #1 problem as I saw it: Gem’s answer to any question she doesn’t understand or doesn’t want to do is to go faster. My answer to her going faster is to think of my imminent death and clench with all body parts. You all know how much that helps.

She just laughed and said we would get there.

Shedding season has begun

We didn’t do a whole lot of interesting things. Basically we stayed on that 20m circle at the walk, then the trot, then did spirals in and out, then did figures 8 at the walk and trot. We worked on our horrible halt transitions mixed in there too. While it seemed boring from the outside, I can tell you that I have never worked so hard while riding my horse in my life. I’ve had a few spattering of lessons here and there and always left them feeling like I could have just kept riding forever. Not this time. When she called it quits, I was elated. Everything hurt and I wasn’t sure I could have gone on.

Instead of a blow by blow I’ll break it down into what we did right and what needs some serious work.

Me: “Gem, you are a dressage horse. Gem: “Meh.”

What we did right:

1.) She loved my lower leg position. This is a really big deal for me because I was taught a chair seat when I very first learned english and I have been fighting that tendency ever since. I was so worried going into this lesson, that she would think my position was crap.

2.) She praised Gem’s movement. She said she tracked up beautifully and moved out really well. Once we get going, she thinks we can do quite well at dressage.

3.) She praised us both for a willingness to learn. While I made my fair share of mistakes, I did my best to listen to her and make corrections as I could. Gem was trying her best too as she always does and she could tell Gem had a good mind and was very intelligent.

4.) I look where I am going. She never once had to tell me to look up.

5.) Spirals. Gem did some great lateral steps as we pushed in and out. My right leg is stronger than my left, but we managed to move n and out of the circle easily both direction.

What needs work:

1.) My natural tendency is to throw away my nice position and ride defensively when things begin to unravel even the slightest bit. I’ve fallen off this mare too many times and it just happens naturally. She told me to be really greedy with my posture and not give an inch to Gem. I can ditch steering and pace, but I am to never give up my good posture.

2.) My elbows are as stiff as boards. I need to follow through more and RELAX. Once I was relaxed through my elbows, Gem was much lighter in the bridle and more flexible around the circle.

3.) While my head moves nicely to look where I am going, I keep my upper body perfectly straight and that keeps Gem from bending. I need to swivel my shoulders as well which changes the weight in my seat bones and legs. It was really an awesome feeling when I did this and Gem bent around me so much better.

4.) RHYTHM. We don’t got any. This was the main focus of the entire hour. We would walk then piddle out, then I would put my leg on and she would scoot forward into a trot then it would take me a full circle to get her back to a walk which would last a half a circle until she petered out and then repeat. Gem is very reactive/sensitive and we were working hard on finding the correct balance to keep her even.

Things I learned:

1.) Bend those darn elbows!

2.) Swivel my shoulders as I turn, not just my head. This changed the pressure in my seat as well as slightly changing my leg position relative to each other and allowed Gem to actually bend. Instead of being as J called it ” a large surfboard”.

3.) Quit giving up my posture. I’m not going to die riding at a walk on a 20m circle in my front yard. Quit acting like it. Sit tall and steady no matter what Gem decides to do underneath me. As J put it “make it really uncomfortable/hard for her to do what you don’t walk ie..trot when you want a walk. Don’t reprimand her, but don’t give in to her either”

4.) Ask nicely, but if she blows passed me being nice even when repeated, then make her know I mean business.

5.) Set her up really well by asking her early. if I am going to turn, start a few strides out of the turn instead of running her right into it then asking. This set s up so much better.

Just as pissy after as she was before

I was sooo happy with this lesson. J explained things in a way I could make sense out of it, never once yelled at me, and gave me lots of praise when things went right. I can’t wait to lesson with her again. She works out of a nearby facility too and I may trailer to her every other time or so. That way I have an actual physical space to work in so that my geometry can be worked on. It is really hard to make a 20 m circle in 6 acre field with no boundaries. She is also on board with me doing a dressage show in the summer or fall which gives me something to work towards.