Monday was the first day without rain in over a week and with a forecast calling for t storms through the next 10 days it was my only chance to ride. The arena was dry enough for an easy walk, trot, canter ride with only one visible puddle at the near side, so I grabbed my bestest mare and tacked up while Dusty grilled steaks for dinner.
Mare is not amused by this ending of her retirement however she looked pregnant and waddling in the video I posted yesterday and needs the exercise.
Now I know Gem inside and out and it’s been 3 months since I worked her in the arena. I knew this ride was going to be bad and planned a no stress no goals 30 minute ride.
Well, of course she had other ideas and it quickly degraded to the usual battle. I sighed. After months of riding sales horses that were all obedient at their core, I just plum wasn’t in the mood for this on a cool and rain free Monday evening.
Still my favorite black tipped ears and the arena is draining super well given the deluge we have gotten all last week. I haven’t messed it up too badly!
I tried to walk, she tried to trot. When I finally let her trot it was two strides super fast followed by two strides at a snails pace then shooting forward the moment I asked her to get going again. The seesaw pace is one I am very familiar with but now that I’ve ridden so many steady horses I just don’t want to any more.
I finally let her canter to stretch her back as she always appreciates that but then I lost all steering because my 20 year old mare is still green to the basics. Or just doesn’t care what I want.
I dismounted after about 20 minutes and looked longingly at Eeyore in his stall while I untacked Gem and headed inside for dinner. He came cantering down the hill for dinner without boots and with no bute on board so I’d say he is 95% back to good. I have to decide what my next step is for him: keep the boots, go with glue ons or stay barefoot and try to toughen up those hinds while the hoof wall grows down enough. I finally got a really good look at his right hind and there is no wall left at all on the inside half of it. No wonder he hurt so bad.
The forecast is depressing for the foreseeable future but that buys me a little time to figure out what I want to do. The vet recommended bare for at least two weeks to let the hoof harden up so I’m not in a super hurry to decide his fate on that.
I really really want to ride him though and while I don’t normally complain of rain as it provides enough grass to not need hay, I want sun for the next week so I can ride.
The FENCE Cross Country outing was an eye opener for me. Prior to that outing I had been riding, kinda hate to admit this but I run an honest blog over here, once every other week maybe once a week if I was lucky.
My lessons were basically the only time I rode and it showed through minimal progress and a tense ride each time. The week of FENCE I had a regular lesson Wednesday then went cross country Friday. The difference in Gem was amazing and not just because she loves being out on course. She was relaxed and settled and a lot of fun to be on.
After that I decided that a change was needed. I don’t have unlimited time. I work 50 hours a week and have a kiddo I adore spending time with and who, at 4 years old, thinks the world revolves around me. A simple switch from going to the Y on Tuesday to riding at home was easy enough to do though. Riding on the weekend can typically happen fairly easily as the kiddo enjoys going to RB to explore the woods and Pokemon hunt. Two rides a week is still a lot less than most people, but it is a lot more than once every other week so I’ll take it.
The first ride I already wrote about and it wasn’t that great. It was tense and rushed and not that much fun, but I kept at it and didn’t let it get me down as in the past.
The second ride that week was on a Sunday and I trailered out to RB to ride in the arena. I was planning on jumping but the footing was very wet from recent rain. Instead I worked on…..the canter! Gem was so relaxed in her trot work that I decided it was time. There is a whole post about this coming up, but I’ll give it away…we cantered beautifully and relaxed on both leads!!! I was grinning like a fool.
The following Tuesday was back at home and Gem was so great. She was relaxed and happy the entire ride. In fact she seemed a little bored if anything. Her halt was spot on. Her transitions both into, out of and within trot sharp and relaxed and our figures looked like circles. I worked on some serpentines and figure 8s as well. I briefly thought about cantering but this was the first relaxed and productive ride at home in 8 months and I didn’t want to push it. I decided to end on a good note.
The new riding schedule seems to be working well to keep Gem in a working frame of mind. She is easier to catch in the pasture as well. She was getting really bad and making me chase her instead of her usual stand and wait for me technique. Since I started riding twice a week she has returned to her easy nature. I’m thinking she is liking the new work load better too.
I’ve put my husband on the task of figuring out a way to get a few lights out there for when daylight savings time ends so I can still ride during the week. Trailering out after work is really stressful and makes for a super long day and just isn’t realistic frequently so I need a plan B asap.
Between all the rain, the hay growing to a point where I couldn’t use the field and then wanting time in the arena to practice course work and our dressage test, I haven’t ridden Gem at home in well over a month. Maybe closer to two.
Monday night I dressed her up in the dressage tack and wanted to work on using my inside leg for bend and re introducing the canter. It ended up being one of the most frustrating rides I have had in a long time.
I kept all of Trainer’s words running through my head as well as the advice from Emma’s great post on auditing the clinic (read it here) and chose every step that I wanted Gem to take. I sat up tall, tightened my core and was greedy with my position (something Trainer is always after me about). I used half halts. I breathed deep and relaxed.
I was therefore a little lost when Gem basically just gave me the horsey middle finger and raced around the field at her best endurance trot not heeding my aides at all. Trainer has also gotten after me about being too lenient with her – if I ask her softly and she ignores me I need to get more aggressive. I did. She still blew through me deciding it was more fun to do whatever she wanted to do.
At one point, and I’m not particularly proud of this but I like being honest, I was full out hauling on her reins while sitting deep and tall, tightening my core and keeping my legs on and she still would not halt. Pulsing the request to not allow a full out pulling war was useless. I was beyond frustrated.
When I asked her to walk, she would either jig or break to trot. Halting was a nightmare. I don’t know what bee got up her butt, but neither of us was enjoying this ride. Still, I couldn’t just quit. I’ve done that before and all it does is teach her that acting that way gets her out of work.
Instead I chose a straight line along the short side of the field and made her walk. If she jigged or broke to trot she got halted. Sometimes nicely and sometimes aggressively. Once we reached the end of my line, we turned and did it again going back the other way. Over and over and over. We did this for 30 minutes before she settled and actually gave me a flat walk.
Then I asked her to trot. Maybe I should have called it a day once she gave me the flat walk, but it had only been 30 minutes and I wanted to work on our canter. I asked her to trot and she immediately zoomed away. No, that is not the right answer. So we worked on trot walk trot transitions although “worked on” is being a little nice about it. Basically I asked her to walk at a very definite spot and she told me where to stick my walk transition instead.
I was out of ways to improve it. I sat tall, tightened my core, had my shoulders back, breathed in and sat down in the saddle to cue for walk. She stared off into her pasture at Pete. I used more rein. She flicked her ears back and gave me the finger. I used more rein than I am comfortable using and she still didn’t give a crap. I turned her in a tiny circle and she finally walked. Repeat time and time and time again. When she finally walked for me, I let her have a break.
At this point I was on a mission with her. She wasn’t in pain. She wasn’t confused. She wasn’t afraid. Now I know that most times it is the rider’s fault and I think I have been more than willing to take the blame each and every time, but Monday night boiled down to Gem just not wanting to work at home while Pete was watching and grazing in the next field. She both knew what I wanted and was more than capable of performing a simple trot to walk transition when asked in a fair and consistent manner. Gem just didn’t want to play.
Asking for any sort of bend was completely out of the question. Any slight touch with my inside leg just sent her more forward and she kept ignoring my half halts prior to using it as Trainer has taught me to do. I gave up on those making a note to have Trainer out to my place again instead of trailering to her so she can help me when Gem decides she has no interest.
Finally, after 45 minutes of this crap I got Gem in a nice trot that was a good pace and not strung out. Trainer has scolded me for allowing Gem to canter from a bad trot, so I worked hard on getting the trot good before asking. Once I asked Gem picked up a lovely left lead canter and we floated over the ground. She maintained power steering and it was soft and light. Perfection really. I never wanted to stop. Eventually I asked her to trot again and she did without fuss, so we ended there on the only good note of the entire hour ride.
She got a good cold hosing afterward as she was really sweaty. She was angry with me and let me know it. Part of me wonders if she isn’t a bit bored with all the walk trot we have been doing and just wants to stretch her back and canter. However, I can’t allow her to canter when she is a zooming and strung out race car, so she needs to figure out that she gets to do the fun stuff only when she is listening.
It seems like the spring rain is finally drying up a bit and the next cutting of hay won’t be for a while, so I should be able to get more frequent rides in at home to work on this. Trainer has been out of town doing Pony Club ratings, but I have a lesson scheduled next week. I’m debating on traveling there or having her come to me. Traveling there allows me to work on things better as Gem is in a much better frame of mind, but that doesn’t really help me when she checks out at home. It just feels like a waste of $55 when she comes to me and all we can work on is getting Gem to walk for the hour versus going there and working on bend, geometry and the like. I don’t know, I’ll have to think on it.
For Mother’s Day I only wanted one thing: to trailer to the equestrian park and practice my dressage test. Dusty was all for it and we ended up bringing Pete along too.
I had two goals for this ride:
Practice my warm up
Run through the test and see what we still need to focus on
If endurance only taught Gem one thing it would be how to travel. She unloads and immediately gets started eating and relaxing and doesn’t fidget while I tack her up. After a quick moment to get her dressed, we wandered up to the dressage arena to get started.
It has been extremely wet down here this spring. The puddles made for good practice getting Gem to ignore everything but me and the work at hand. Also, I was wishing there was a small dressage court to practice in, but we made do in the large one.
For goal #1, I had a plan of action: work on a million halts to get her understanding that I really do want her to stop moving until otherwise instructed and then work on rhythm. It can be a little frustrating riding Gem at times when she seesaws between over reactive to the smallest leg aide to sluggish and needing a dressage whip. Each ride is different, but with enough warm up time, I can get her moving in a much more steady manner.
She was skeptical as to what I had planned and I believe she was pleasantly surprised that all we did was halt, walk and trot.
I got to work on halting first and began down the long sides asking her to halt at each letter which helped give me a visual as to where we were and how long it took to get her halted properly. She was really responsive on Sunday and it didn’t take very long to get her stopped exactly where I wanted with less and less rein. So much better than any prior ride!
Then I moved her out to the quarter and center lines and that wasn’t so great. She still halted, but it was really hard to keep her square and not shove her butt around. A continued work in progress.
Once we had done a dozen or two walk-halt-salute-walk transitions I asked her to trot. Mare wasn’t in the mood to work any harder than she had to and began in a lovely western pleasure jog. It took several demands on my part to get her moving forward and then she began to get racy and braced. No Gem, that is not the correct answer either. Tone it down. Eventually she settled into a decent, although still lacking much of a spark, working trot.
Having found a rhythm I could work with, I began to fiddle with bend. Neither of us are particularly good at bending although going right is coming along nicely. My main focus in the circles was shape, size and consistency which are all things I can control to gain points on the test. I’m not naive enough to think I will fix our bending issues in the next two weeks, so my focus is more on what I can control: shape and size.
After that is was a run through Intro B. The first time through was pretty nice. Gem was relaxed and played along with my requests and I rode decently enough. I found that it really helped to speak out loud to myself (not something I can do during the actual test): start looking ahead, sit up taller, ask now for walk, turn your whole body etc… It made me quit focusing on the movements so much and just ride my horse the way she needed to be ridden.
Dusty wandered over at that point and I asked him to grab a video as we ran through it again. I immediately wished that I had him secretly doing it the first time because as soon as I knew he was videoing, I got tense and began to ride like crap. Sigh.
For her part, Gem began to anticipate what was coming and tried to bulldoze through me. Me being tense and braced through my lower leg didn’t help matters at all, but I was a bit frustrated that she couldn’t just do the thing since she had just done the thing and did it well enough. Apparently, she figured we could be done a lot quicker if she just raced through it and she knew better than I did.
If you feel like watching paint dry isn’t boring enough, you can watch me ride Intro B like complete crap for just over 3 minutes below. Its riveting stuff for sure. There is a lot to pick on although I’d be happy if I could just relax my upper body and release those elbows. This is just suck a different picture than pre lessons it is almost unreal.
After that we were done. Gem tried hard for me and was such a good girl overall. Light years from where we were before and given how infrequently I ride (1-2 times a week) our improvement to date has been pretty awesome. I really wish I had a before video to show, but it was so ugly I didn’t want proof of it. The mere fact that we haven’t gotten in a real argument in months is testament enough.
Wyatt jumped on Gem then for a few circuits around the arena and afterward it was time for Pete to have some fun.
Pete hasn’t been ridden off the farm in three months, before that it was about 18 months. He walked right onto the trailer as if he did this weekly. He is such a good boy.
Dusty mounted and they walked off no big deal. If I hadn’t ridden Gem for that long and took her someplace new she would be a freak. Different horse, but annoying nonetheless.
Dusty headed up to the jump arena and I dropped the rails as low as they would go. I was surprised to find that the lowest is 2′ which means that the vertical I did last week was 2′! Not a major deal to some but a big huge deal to me!! It didn’t even look big at all. Hopefully that means that the 18″ cross rails at the show will look tiny.
I missed their warm up due to playing with Wyatt but did manage to catch them jumping. Pete adores jumping. It is his calling in life.
I tried to convince Dusty to sign Pete up for the jumping tests at the show. They are only $25 a round and I figured they could do one or two but Dusty isn’t interested. Mostly because he owns even less show appropriate gear than I do and has no interest and buying any.
We left the equestrian park with two very good and happy horses and it was the perfect way to spend Mothers Day.
Towards the end of my lesson on Sunday Trainer had me run through the Intro B test a few times to see what issues popped up. There were plenty, but it was really interesting to run through it. More for my sake to look back on than anything, I’m going to run through the test here and add Trainer’s comments in bold after the moves.
Enter at A, working trot and turn down center line: we majorly failed at this the first time mostly because I didn’t get Gem deep enough into the corner and she couldn’t get all her legs sorted. She got all jumbled up and nearly fell on her face which granted us a start over. Use the corner to my advantage, make sure I start looking at my turn well before, turn a few strides too early and leg yield over after the turn if I have to. It’s better than shooting past and swerving in. Sit up super tall and tighten my core to prepare for the turn and help Gem balance herself.
Halt through medium walk at X, salute: The start of Intro B is rough for us. Gem down transitioned to walk ok but would not halt. It is a known issue. Once she did she decided to swing her butt around so we were facing 90 degrees away from where the judges would be. Not good. Would we even get a 1 for that? This earned us a break from the test and 15 minutes of halt transitions randomly throughout the arena. We then started over from the beginning again. Only let her do 2-3 strides of walk prior to halt so that the walk is more of a prolonged down transition leading to halt versus a true walk. This gives me more time to get her halted. Keep both legs on evenly to keep her straight during the halt instead of throwing them off her like I tend to do. Do not salute until her feet are done moving no matter how long it takes. It is worse to salute while she is still moving than to take a few extra seconds to fully halt.
Working trot to C, track left: this we could do! Gem transitioned up to the trot from halt sharply although she sorta western pleasure trotted to start. I gave her enough warning to make the turn at C and carried on our way. Get her into her good trot quickly not the crappy western jog she tries to get away with when bored. Use the corners to my advantage and get her all the way to the rail before turning. Make the corners round and purposeful.
20 meter circle tracking left at C then go straight ahead: Gem finally got into her good trot and we circled ok. I managed to remember to bend my entire body and we did create a mostly circle shape but it was too small to be 20 meters. Remember to keep Gem looking to the inside of the circle, in a small dressage court I should only be 10 meters away from the end of the arena on either side of my circle and on the rail on the other two. Bend my entire body around the circle, not just my head and neck. Do not start the circle until my body hits E.
Between K and A medium walk: we kind of trotted right through this and walked after A. Not so great. Since Gem tends towards fast, plan to walk at the first letter to give me more time.
Free walk across F to E then track right: yeah so Gem has no free walk. She doesn’t zoom off once I lengthen my reins which is nice, but there is absolutely zero stretching down or ground covering stride. In no circumstance should I decide to follow her head and topple forward. This does nothing for either of us.
Medium walk E-H: I picked my contact back up but outside of that I’m not sure there was any noticeable change. Don’t ask Gem for more walk. We should get a 6 for what we are doing now. Going for more walk may get us an 8 if all lines up, but it is more likely that she will break into trot and earn a 2.
Working trot tracking right between H-C: we had a really lovely up transition here without any jogging steps. In up transitions, don’t ask too early since Gem is typically sensitive and ready to go. Do not ask before my body reaches H.
20 meter circle at B: my circle was still mostly a circle but way too small. Bigger!
Turn down center line at A, halt at x and salute: I got Gem into the corner better but still failed to let her know we were making a sharp turn. She didn’t trip so that was a plus. The halt was much better but then I thought she was done moving and saluted and she moved. Use that corner, sit up tall and prepare her sooner. Wait until she is 100% still before saluting.
We ran through it three times before calling it quits. One big glaring issue came up that needs fixing, but I’m not really sure how to go about it.
During the first part of the lesson, I worked hard to do the things Trainer asked and even began anticipating Gem better: I would half halt before Trainer had to tell me, added some leg here, pushed her out to the rail with my inside leg there. I wasn’t perfect, but I was actively riding the horse I had under me. It was amazing.
As soon as we began the test though, for some reason my brain leaked right out of my ears and I focused so hard on the moves I was doing that I stopped riding my horse. Oh we went through each move, but that was all I did. No more well timed half halts, no more inside leg pushing her out, no more balance and rhythm.
Turn here, trot now, walk now. That’s it. It was like all the lessons were gone and I couldn’t ride. It was frustrating and I am sure Gem was wondering why I abandoned her, got tense and stopped riding.
Not sure how to fix that. I think a big part of it was that I really wasn’t sure of the test itself. I wasn’t prepared to run through it and hadn’t memorized it yet, so I was working hard at just not going off course. Going into it knowing the test 100% will allow me to focus on riding more but I’m not naive enough to think it will fix it completely. I need to remember to ride. Any tips on that from those who have done this before?
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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 us 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.
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.
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:
Gem is a super cute mover when she wants to be
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Traffic can be really finicky which puts me at the barn either an hour early or barely on time depending on if I leave 15 minutes earlier or later from work. Growing up 15 minutes early was on time and anything after was late, so I always err on the side of way too early and Wednesday was no exception. It was 85F and sunny when I pulled into a crazy busy barn and I really enjoyed getting to sit in the grass and watch the lesson ahead of me. They were working on a really cool jumping exercise that I hope to someday be good enough to get a shot at: four cross rails were set creating an inner 20 meter circle. The girls would jump into the circle at the trot, maintain the canter after the jump and circle depending on which direction the instructor told them as they jumped in, and eventually she would tell them which jump to exit the circle on. It was all about maintaining a rhythm and rideable canter and planning ahead. It looked really hard and really fun!
But that wasn’t what my lesson was about.
I tacked up Ralphie, the Welsh-Arab cross gelding I rode the first time, and Trainer J told me we were going into the dressage arena. I was a little disappointed to not get to jump, but that soon evaporated in the lovely weather and good horse under me. Any time spent riding is good by me.
She explained the inner workings of the large dressage court I would be riding in which was all new to me having never been in an actual legal size one before and she put me to work riding down the long side on the quarter line, making a sharp and direct turn and back down the opposite quarter line. The goal was to work on straightness. I failed. When I turned down the other short side and headed back down my original quarter line I saw my woefully drunken sailor line I had previously made. Straightness is not my friend. We did it again and this time I worked really hard at keeping my horse between my legs and gong straight. It wasn’t perfect, but it was much improved.
Dusty and Wyatt showed up around the time we began a series of exercises that really helped me 1000% and I actually got some pictures to show you!!!
In order to better figure out both my own and Ralphie’s body, Trainer created a 20 meter circle at C placing a cone at the pinnacle f my circle at the center of the arena (no clue what letter belongs there, but it was a 20 meter circle at C). She asked me how many corners are on a circle: none. Then why was I adding 4? Oh.
It was pretty difficult at the walk to get Ralphie to actually bend and I wasn’t riding it right anyway. I wasn’t preparing far enough ahead and was making more of a flat tire at every single point of the circle.
I’m pretty sure she was about to just give up on me when we started to trot and it just hit me. I began to sit taller, and actually look ahead. Once I figured out to look one full marker ahead of where we were and turn my entire body to reach that point, Ralphie’s body bent around my inside leg and we maintained bend around the entire circle.
It was like a light bulb cam eon and it felt amazing to ride him like that!
She then took us to the very far end and we repeated this going the other way. It took e a few revolutions to get back to where I ended before, but we got it and I saw her grinning just as much as I was. I wasn’t a lost cause after all. We finished this exercise by adding a third circle in the center.
After that was done and we took a short walk break, she had me string it all together in a steady serpentine along those same circles. This was my favorite exercise to date. I’ve done serpentine exercises with Gem, but apparently never really correctly as I always squared mine off. This time I had to keep on those same 20 m circle tracks I made earlier and really plan as they came up quickly in the large dressage court.
We did this at the trot mostly and everything really clicked for me here. I had to be constantly changing the bend n my body to allow Ralphie to bend too and it forced me to really open up my shoulders and relax my body. Trainer was being gracious and mentioned that I try to sit so still to be quiet which makes me stiff. I replied that I am really just that stiff of a person. Seriously, you should watch me try to dance. I look like Frankenstein. Loose doesn;t come easily to me.
I thought we were over at this point having accomplished a lot, but she said it was time to work on the canter. My stomach knotted up a little. I was doing so well. Why end it with so much horror?
We went back down to the circle at C and did a few revolutions (pretty sure that isn’t how you describe it in dressage terms, but oh well) to get the feeling back and then she told me to sit two strides and cue the canter.
And I did. And he did. AND IT WAS AMAZING!!!
We just cantered. Trainer let out a whoop of joy and clapped. WE WERE CANTERING. In a calm, easy and bent manner around the circle while I continued to steer. It was SO MUCH FUN!
Ralphie dropped to a trot without me meaning to and all I did was sit and ask again. No fuss. No theatrics. No taking 3/4 of a turn to do it. He cantered immediately. And on the correct lead. We repeated it the other direction and the wheels fell off a little as he was now super racey in the trot and it took me a while to gather him back up, but once I asked to canter he did again. I was grinning like a fool by the end.
We called it a night after that and I was on cloud 9 the entire way home.
Things that went well:
She didn’t have to tell me to fix my lower position at all. I’ve dialed in what she calls a neutral seat since she had me fix myself two lessons ago and it has already become second nature
My circle were circles and we actually bent around them
Things to work on:
Relax those elbows and bring my arms into my body. Ugh. Will this ever happen?
Plan ahead more. Quit riding one step ahead and ride three or four. Planning makes everything better
Be greedy with my posture. Don’t let Ralphie pull me out of position in a down transition and don’t throw myself at him during an up transition
My hopes to get a lesson on Gem this weekend didn’t work out: something about Trainer sending her own horse through his first 1* event got in the way. How dare she! 😉 Plan B was to get a sitter and take a date day on Gem and Pete on the trail. Dusty and I haven’t been on a Wyatt free date since our anniversary last October. That got squashed with thunderstorms in the forecast for all day Sunday.
Saturday afternoon was warm and sunny though, so I hopped on up in the hay field to see what I could accomplish. My aim was to work on canter transitions since that is my current worst skill.
I don’t have any pictures from the ride because my phone took a swim in the toilet that morning and was sitting in a bag of rice (useless by the way) until Sunday morning when I gave up and entered one of Dante’s circle’s of Hell…aka Verizon…to see what could be done which was nothing short of paying a crap ton of money and leaving with a new phone I didn’t want. Ugh.
It was warm enough that I rode in a tank top which generally never happens. My blood is like ice most of the time and I rarely go out in anything short of two layers when it is under 85, but it was super sunny and just felt really good. I dragged Gemmie over to the hay field and clambered aboard in the dressage saddle.
Right away things were crap. Gem either wanted to throw her head down to eat or throw it in the air and zoom around tense and distracted. All I wanted to do was walk. For about 5-7 minutes we fought each other. I cursed her name and eventually told her I should sell her to an endurance home and get a horse that can do the simple things I enjoy doing…like walking, trotting and cantering safely and pleasantly at home.
Then I did something I have never done…I got firm. Not angry. Not rough. Not mean. Not unfair. Just firm. When I said halt I meant halt now, not in 20 feet when she decided to. When I said walk, I meant walk. Not jig, not trot, not stop and eat. Walk. Bend. Turn. Simple things that a 19 year old horse, having been ridden consistently and fairly for the last 7 years, should be able to do without issue. She isn’t green. She isn’t young.
I realized, up there on her while having no fun at all in those first minutes of the ride, that I no longer have the same horse under me as I did 7 years ago. She isn’t a delicate little egg that will crack and lose the last 2 months of trust I built up if I do one single thing wrong. She can handle the amount of pressure asking her to freaking halt puts on her without losing it. She just doesn’t want to because she has never had to. And that is my fault. I didn’t make the necessary shift in our relationship when it was time, likely 2+ years ago, and have been letting her get away with behaviors she shouldn’t have.
When I became firm with her, informed her that I do mean what I ask, she responded by fighting a bit but then listening. She halted. She walked off. She relaxed. When I finally decided it was time to trot, she picked it up and went around my 20ish meter circle nicely. If she tried to speed up, my half halt and sitting tall told her to slow it back down and maintain her rhythm. All I had to do was be clear, firm and consistent.
The next 40 minutes were a blast!
She floated around the hay field nicely and while she would get distracted at times by traffic or some such, she kept her pace, kept being relaxed and kept being rideable. We did figure 8s, 20 meter circles and larger circles around the perimeter of the area I was working in. She lowered her head, blew out and was a joy.
Just when I was beginning to think about working on that canter, she began to turn her head and bite at my leg. I asked her to move on, but she was clearly trying to tell me something. I listen to my horse when able and she is very honest about her feelings, so abnormal behavior such as this is typically her telling me something is off.
I hopped down worried that the girth was pinching her and noted that she was slathered in white foamy sweat. If there is one thing that my Princess hates, it is to be sweaty and here she was lathered! I chuckled at her sad expression and disdain for sweat and called it a day. We had been working pretty hard for 45 minutes and were both hot and sweaty. She had been fantastic and I had learned a valuable lesson.
It is time to hold Gem more accountable for her actions under saddle and quit thinking of her the way I did when she was mentally breakable. Being fair, but firm really helped change the dynamic we had Saturday afternoon.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.