Posted in Riding/Horses

Gem Can Stay

After the semi ok, but not really great cross country schooling, I’ve had a hard time not thinking about the immediate horse future and the long term goals.

I’m not stupid and I don’t have rose colored glasses. I know Gem isn’t the perfectly right horse for me. I know most would have walked away a long time ago. This is supposed to be fun, so why torture myself?

As Gem ran circles around me Saturday morning in her pasture, the thought solidified in my brain. I’m going to lease her out to an endurance rider for a few seasons. Let her return to the trail. She is way too young physically and mentally to retire, I fully believe she would hate it, yet I don’t really want to do this with her any longer and I can’t return to endurance at this point in my life.

There. Plan made.

But then I got to the show and Gem patiently let Wyatt pick her hooves clean, brush her out and fuss over her. She carried him in warm up with others trotting and cantering by without putting a single foot wrong. She was careful and calm during his class even walking past the scary hay bale jump.

As I stood waiting my turn, she napped. Her head would bob and then snap up as she woke up. No screaming. No pawing. No moving all around. Horses crammed in front and behind us and she didn’t take notice.

In warm up she was relaxed, listened to my aides and popped over the cross rail without hesitation.

In the arena, she fed off my nerves and poor judgement and held me accountable but wasn’t dirty or mean. She got the job done.

I watched all these other people kick my butt on lesson horses. Little 8 year olds in pigtails who cantered the entire course. I thought how nice it would be to have that. To get on my horse, canter easily around pretty much being useless except for steering cuz a monkey could pilot it without issue, and then gather my many ribbons and go home.

Then I went in on Gem and my entire perspective changed. Was it easy? Nope. Did I look like the worlds biggest slow poke idiot? Probably. But here’s the thing. We did it. Together. And the feeling of accomplishment that flooded me when we soared over the final jump in each round is irreplaceable and unmatched.

Sure I would likely be jumping higher on a different horse. Yup, I probably would still be heading to a HT in December. But you know what? My lower leg position wouldn’t be as solid. Gem has taught me that. My hands wouldn’t be as relaxed. Gem taught me that too. My eye wouldn’t be as good at looking for a path many, many strides in advance. You guessed it. Gem taught me that.

I’d be a lot farther in my riding, but I doubt I’d be as good (relatively speaking) as I am currently at it. So Gem stays. For now anyway. Until she pisses me off again. I’ve been threatening to sell her for near on 8 years now. I doubt she believes me any more.

Posted in Riding/Horses

Recent Rides

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.

Doesn’t she looked so pleased to be in her dressage tack after dinner?

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.

Riding at home in the pasture. No matter where we are I still love the view between these black tipped ears

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.

Wyatt was so amazing this day. He asked to ride, then asked to jump. I told him we could walk over the small cross rails but no jumping until he could trot. A few minutes later he was asking to trot which he has been too afraid to do on Gem in the past. Once he trotted a bit I led Gem over a 12″ vertical and she hopped it with her front end then walked over it with the hind. Wyatt was hooked!!! 

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.

Nothing beats a good roll after a ride

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.

Her winter coat is starting to come in already which is really early for SC. Typically she doesn’t start to darken until October. I was so thrilled to see it coming in with healthy dappling throughout. 

 

Posted in Riding/Horses

FENCE Cross Country Outing

Summer is my slow month for surgery. Seems like nobody wants to have elective foot surgery and ruin their entire summer. It works out for me though because that gives me some free Fridays here and there. This past week I took full advantage of one of those slow days and went out to a real cross country course for some schooling.

Can’t be a this view on a work day morning
Better than my paved parking spot at the office

The weather was gorgeous, the footing near perfect and the horse under me was ready to go. She was light, responsive and willing. During our brief warm up, Trainer remarked that it was the best work we have put in to date. We circled and halted and walked and trotted all lightly without any fuss and with actual bend. Gem was tolerating my legs on her and the world was spinning happily along.

Eating. She is a marvelous traveler and never gets excited when she unloads to find herself in unfamiliar territory

I was….nervous but oddly not really that scared. Mostly I was curious to see if she would be as happy to go over these fences as she had been at Riverbend or if we would be fighting the same demons we have in the arena.

Trainer led us down a hill to the cross country warm up area. There were four or five log jumps of various heights set on the only flat piece of land FENCE has to offer. Every single log looked huge.

Trainer: Ok, pick up an even trot, give yourself plenty of lead up and go over the log. If she canters after, use it and let her canter.

Me: Which log?

Trainer: You’ve seen these out on trail. Put your big girl panties on and jump the log on the end.

Me: The tall wide log?

Trainer: Do it.

The log was wider than it was tall, but Trainer told me it was shorter than the coop we jumped before. I still had butterflies in my stomach leading up to it

So I did. I looked up, put my legs on, clucked her on near the base and Gem popped over no big deal, ears forward and super happy. Trainer laughed out loud and praised the hell out of us.

I was grinning like a lunatic. Gem is just such a different horse out in the field.

We popped over that jump both directions several times and each time it was…well…fun. She was easy to ride and always answered yes.

A few times over and we headed back up the hill a ways to an interesting looking question. A log about the same size as the prior one, but flanked on each side by a tall bush. This jump was also set perpendicular to a hill so we ran across it instead of up or down.

I was very nervous about this one. The approach was very different than anything we had done prior and I wasn’t sure if Gem would be put off by the narrow entry. 
Skinnier than the prior log and with a super inviting exit

I was a bit more hesitant on this one. We had never jumped through a shoot like that before, but I needn’t have worried. Gem was on fire and took it no issues. I was riding that high big time.

We didn’t waste too much time going over it since it rode so easily. Perpendicular to this one and up the hill a bit was my nemesis for the day. I didn’t even get a picture because I hated it so bad.

This fence was, darn I wish my knowledge base was bigger here and a google search proved fruitless for a definition, sort of like a massive mounting block with a step up on the front side, then the height of the jump was skinnier than the base and a flat back side. Like a single stair going up. Make any sense?

Well, anyway I believe it was a little shorter but wider than the prior jumps we did and was on the uphill slope. To the right of it and a little offset was a training size hanging log. We came up the hill and I panicked and pulled Gem off it to the right.

Rightfully so, Trainer scolded me. I just taught Gem there was a way out and guess what she did the next time I went to approach it….she veered right. I didn’t yell at her. It was my fault.

I wasn’t even scared of the height of the jump. My issue was that coming up the hill I felt like I had zero momentum and that Gem was just going to splat over it causing us to fall. The answer? More leg. Sigh.

The third time she dirty stopped on me but again it was all my fault and now I was pissed. Did I just break my horse?

Trainer told me to go do the log between the brush again and use that momentum to come up the hill and go over this one. I was actually pretty proud that she let me go over the log all by my lonesome without any advice or words from her watchful eye.

We took the log and I had her canter partly up the hill and put my game face on. I shoved my heels into her and we went over!! It felt like such a big moment.

As we left that behind us and headed to the water complex, Trainer mentioned that Gem is super honest out in the field. As long as I steer, put my leg on and mean it she has always answered YES. This is certainly not her behavior in the arena, but it is outside so I need to use that.

She also asked me how Gem was with water.

No problems there. She goes through anything all the time.

Ha. Hahahahahahha. Ha.

You can see our path through the water here. The center was surprisingly deep and I made sure to make Gem go through the deepest part just because. 

She wanted no part of going into that alligator pit. I didn’t time it, but it took us a good while to get her in and even then she walked so deliberately and slowly it was hilarious.

Once through it though, she became a champ and we worked our way up to trotting through and entering and exiting all over the place. Trainer even grabbed a short video. Please ignore my horrid chair seat. I swear I’m working on fixing that.

We talked a bit as I played with Gem in the water about what challenge the water adds. According to Trainer horses tend to either lose all momentum through the water and it adds drag against them or the love it so much that they see dup and “play” through it. My task then was to get Gem to enter, go through, and exit at the exact same pace without gaining or losing no matter the depth of the water. It was difficult to do, but was an enjoyable break from the excitement of jumping.

On the far side of the water was an interesting little fence. The fence itself was easy (wait what am I saying??!) but the position with the terrain made it tricky.

Would this be a very small roll top? 
This was super fun to go over. I could have done this one all day

It was set only a few strides away from the lip of a small plateau. From the bottom of the hill, the fence was invisible and you had to ascend over the lip of the hill before you saw it.

The biggest trick for me was not letting Gem either a) lose all momentum up the hill and have to crawl over it or b) gallop wildly up the hill and have to try to package her somehow right before it. The question was pretty fun to play with and eventually we strung the fence and then through the water together.

The last question Trainer wanted to tackle was the bank complex. FENCE has the teeniest little bank to play with and Gem was very unimpressed with it either way.

We started by just walking up it and then trotted. My take away was to stay up in the two point longer than I thought. I tended to sit down once her front end was over, but that was obviously not the correct answer as the saddle would then hit me in the butt.

Going up was fun and I got the hang of the timing after a while.

Tiny little bank just right of the ditch

Going down was another story. It was only about 12″ and Gem is an energy saver at heart so there was no super man leaping off but I couldn’t feel comfortable down it. Trainer told me to lean back and grab mane.

Me: my arms aren’t long enough to do that

Trainer: she has a long mane. You can grab it and lean back just fine

Me: no I can’t. See. I have little T Rex arms. Not going to happen.

Trainer: Just do it.

That’s her answer to most of my complaints. Shut up and go do the thing. It works for me.

Eventually I did somewhat sorta ok but then lost all steering because I’m incapable of doing that many things at one time. We didn’t die though so there was that.

By that point my adrenaline was on empty and it was getting blazing hot. We had been playing around for over an hour and felt like it was the best time to quit. On the way back to the trailer I saw a small ramp and a set of three stacked logs and told Trainer they looked very doable. I was tempted to go jump them (again…what am I saying??!) but Gem had been so good and deserved to be done.

Some day I am going to be brave enough to jump this one:

Probably not any time soon, but I can dream, right?

It was a great outing. Trainer remarked several times how much fun Gem was having and it is great to hear that she is loving this part of her job. We don’t have any plans at the moment to go again, but I hope to get out at least once a month until the HT in December. Trainer wants to see if we can go school at the facility hosting the HT so that nothing is new there once we show. I’m going to do some research on that and hopefully we can pull something together.

Posted in Riding/Horses, Uncategorized

Our First Cross Country Outing- Part 3, Cross Country

Ok, ok..no more dragging this out 🙂 Here is the moment we have all been waiting for…

I followed Trainer out the back gate of the arena and down the grassy hill. I really had no clue what to expect. I had never seen any cross country fences there before and was uncertain what was about to happen.

Gem was obviously happy to be out of the arena and took advantage of the grass to stuff her face because, you know, her crazy owner may ask her to do anything and she needed her energy. My stomach was doing flips that would make an Olympic diver proud.

We stopped in front of a small stone wall. Trainer explained that she typically does not let horses see the jumps beforehand, but given Gem's personality she didn't want her to think she was being tricked and to go ahead and let her sniff it. At first I was like "sniff what? This pile of rocks? What are we jumping?" Then it dawned on me. We would be jumping the pile of rocks. Ok…Gem hates things like this. Like down to her core hates it. With a passion.

I walked Gem over to it with a knot in my stomach expecting her to go sideways at any moment, but she just stood next to it and looked around like "what's the big deal here? Where are we going now?"

I would have been happy to sit there in the sunshine all afternoon and call it a day. Seriously, I'm not brave. Trainer however is and wont take my wimpy crap too much, so she told me to circle around and pick up a steady trot. "Remember to steer and add lots of leg."

I turned Gem away, picked up a slow trot and prepared to jump it. I was scared shitless. Not gonna lie. I've taken Gem on so many miles of trails and dozens of hunter paces and she has never once liked even walking over anything solid out and about. Jumping a log across the trail was always an impossible feat. Adding to it, the approach was in the shade and had a super long grassy lane leading away from the jump between the trees. My biggest fear out on course is that Gem is completely untrustworthy in big open spaces. She tends to look for monsters that don't exist and spook at random. Trotting through a field has always been a big risk as she zigs and zags and jumps out of her skin at absolutely nothing.

I swallowed my fear like a rock in my throat and pointed her to the rock pile. I'm pretty sure Trainer was holding her breath waiting for a train wreck.

Gem trotted happily and loosely up to the wall, remained steady and even and hopped over it like no big deal. Then she picked up a beautiful canter and floated away. All this with extremely limited input from her rider who was in mortal terror sitting on her back like a useless monkey.

Trainer looked shocked. My jaw was on the ground. No theatrics. No issues. No unsteady "maybe I'll go right, no left, no stop, no forward" squirrelyness. Trainer just said "huh. Um. Well. Ok. Come back around the other direction where you'll be going from light to shadow. Be prepared because the change in light can back horses off. Lots of steering. Lots of leg."

So I did. And Gem repeated her performance of nonchalance professionalism.

My face split in a grin that would make a jack-o-lantern jealous.

Trainer stood there with her jaw on the ground. I could tell she hadn't really planned much more than attempting to get us over the rock wall. I mean, I don't blame her. I would have bet the farm we would have taken an hour to get over one single solid jump. And even then it wouldn't have been that safe or pretty.

"Ok…. I want you to jump the coop into the pasture then. It's narrow and wide so be prepared." It was also the highest I had ever jumped to date.

I brought Gem around and lined up. I was a bit timid. I mean, a coop? Solid triangular shaped wood? And the tallest to date? I put my leg on and Gem took it like it didn't even exist. Holy shit mare. What is going on?

"Go jump the stone wall again"

"But I'm inside the pasture. How do I get back out?"

"Over the coop"

"Oh."

And this is where Trainer's master plan finally came to light. We were now inside the pasture. The only way out was either back over the coop or over a jump I didn't know was there at this point, but would be introduced to soon enough. I had to jump the coop to leave the pasture.

She had me exit over the coop then take the stone wall again this time stringing them together. I was to let Gem canter if she was controlled enough to do so. Honestly at this point Gem began to tell me I was useless in this whole partnership and that she had this. We cantered.

We turned around and repeated the wall to coop to enter the pasture again and I've never felt anything so wonderful in my life. If that is what stadium is supposed to feel like, I've been missing out. I finally understood what Trainer had been telling me all along – act like the jump is just in the way of point A to B and ride it like it doesn't exist. For once I could. Gem just trotted or cantered along and never once even held back. It was AMAZING.

Once back inside the fence, we walked over to two railroad tie fences. On the left was a teeny tiny one that up until that point would have sent me into cardiac arrest, but now looked a bit wimpy. Gem proved me right when we went over it and she barely stepped it.

Given that response, Trainer made us do the larger one next to it. Now this fence gave me some major anxiety. It was really big. Big enough that she couldn't just step over it and would have to jump. My crutch of being able to crawl to a walk and step over it was gone. At this point Gem had begun to think that she knew better than I did (she was probably right) and was just starting to lose her breaks a little as well.

I had wanted a trot which is my other crutch, but three strides out she disagreed and broke to canter then flew over it.

Having yet to expose her to something that phased her, Trainer had us jump out over the coop and then turn left down to the driveway to come at a new fence. We flew over the now easy peasy coop, but then I completely pissed her off when I turned her prior to the stone wall and she had really wanted to go over it.

Seriously I have no clue where this horse came from. Mad that I didn't let her jump? Flying over solid natural obstacles like she was a pro? Huh??!

I got her turned down the driveway and met the new fence: a small but very wide railroad tie at the top of a super steep, short hill. The hill doesn't really show up well in the picture, but the approach was short due to the 90 degree turn off the driveway, headed straight up and then continued up on the other side.

Again, my Wonder Woman mare didn't even bat an eye at it. Except now we had an issue. Gem had decided she had no use for me, my half halts or my steering. She galloped up the hill and locked on to anything she thought she could jump. Um, no mare. I'm still the navigator.

I turned her back around and approached the jump going down the hill. This was much, much harder for me. I had to sit way back and wait patiently. Since I tend towards jumping too early, this was an exercise in fighting myself. We did fine over it, but I lost all ability to steer going down the hill and we ended up hitting a tree. Oops.

Back around and back in over the uphill jump and then Trainer had me halt to set up a plan. As I was chatting with Trainer about what we were going to do Gem started to wander, then trot and went right over to the coop in glee and fully intending to jump it. No mare. We are standing still now.

The plan was thus: uphill jump into the pasture, small railroad tie, loop around to the large tie, coop, stone wall.

I came up the hill and it was apparent that I had lost all steering and most of my brakes. Gem was having fun and had tuned me out completely. We barely made the turn to the small tie, which she then just stepped over in disdain, and by the time I turned her back to the larger tie I had lost all control. She broke to a gallop and we were off.

I freaked. I mean, this whole Gem having confidence thing was new to me and I had zero trust that we would make it over and not die. I turned her off it and Trainer wasn't very happy. I explained that I had zero control and felt really uneasy about jumping like that. She was okay with that decision but told me I needed to take control way before the jump or else I'd teach Gem to run out.

Not wanting to end on a bad note, she had me go back and try the tie again, but this time make her halt right after. Well, the halt after took 5-6 canter strides as Gem was locked onto that coop and had no intentions of doing anything but going over it. I did get her to stop though, then picked up the canter and out we went over the coop and ended over the wall.

I forgot to mention that all the times we did the coop and wall I whooped in joy. The first time Trainer, who remained inside the fence, asked if I was ok. I was more than ok. I was elated. I was having the time of my life. I never wanted it to end.

As I loosened her girth and ran the stirrups up, I was shaking. A bit adrenaline, a bit overwhelmed and lot excited. Neither Trainer nor I ever expected that out of Gem. Trainer walked over and exclaimed "You have an event horse!" I think she was as happy as I was.

I have no idea where that came from. She had never shown any interest out on trail before. A log on trail makes her jump 50 feet sideways. She balks in the arena over the smallest fences that she has seen a million times and yet when presented with solid obstacles on varied terrain with wide open spaces or with treed lanes, she took them like a pro who had done it all in her sleep. I'm floored.

I am a little scared of the beast I awoke within her. Trainer said that a lot of gymnastics are in our future to teach her to slow the poop down and wait for instruction. Guys, the future is wide open!!!

Posted in Riding/Horses

Our First Cross Country Outing- Part 2, Stadium

The flat work had gone extremely well and while there is still a ton to work on, the differences were easy to see from when we started way back in February. Trainer was super happy with the work we put it and I was really proud of Gem for working so hard to try to give me the correct answer. I’mm to a point now where I feel like I can start to push Gem a little more. Before she was a little delicate. Too much pressure would send her over he edge and it would take a week or more to bring her back. Now she can take it.

It was time to get jumping though.

More hiking pictures to break up the text. 

The same course was still set from last Wednesday only this time Trainer set up a cavaletti with a ground pole on either side to make it wider.  She wanted to introduce a jump without standards to Gem to see how she would handle it. I hadn’t even thought about that difference in stadium versus cross country.

She first had me take Gem over the cross rail we had been over a dozen times before. I kept my legs on, looked up at the gate opposite the jump and rode towards it. Gem went over but it was hesitant and squirrelly. Trainer just shook her head because she saw me ride it hard and yet, even though Gem has jumped this same jump before, she still got all squiggly before it.

Same old cross rail, same old hesitation

It is a little frustrating when she is all “maybe I’ll go left, maybe I’ll go right, maybe I’ll stop, fine I’ll go over but I’m going to keep you guessing if I will or not right up to the base”.  Trainer remarked that Gem requires steering the entire time including in the air and that makes it very hard. I used to blame it 100% on me and my lack of confidence going towards the fence, but on Friday I had no butterflies, no hesitation and was not backed off at all. Gem was still the same.

We came at the jump again and this time I booted her pretty good right before it to make sure she kept up her pace and went over. Well, this caused her all sorts of confusion and she lost track of her legs and tripped right in front of the fence. We managed to make it over, but it was ugly. The third time was decent enough for Trainer to set us loose on a small course.

Carrying over from the flat work, Trainer set up three small fences: the cross rail, the cavaletti and a vertical. She told me the order to jump them, but that was all. I had the entire arena to do my thing in and she wanted to watch my decisions as I made my way around the course. I could trot or canter depending on how balanced Gem was.

And this is where I got sorta frustrated. When I very first started jumping with Trainer, she stressed allowing for bigger and deeper turns to give Gem more time to notice and realize the plan. So going around the course that was my thought. I made big sweeping turns, got deep into the corners and chose to overshoot and come back rather than turn too early and lose my rhythm.

Trainer kept shouting out to steer, turn and better prepare. I told her what I was thinking, but then when I went around again and made my turns sharper and didn’t overshoot I got told I needed to give her a better set up. I honestly didn’t know what the correct answer was as either way seemed to be wrong. I was steering and I did have a plan, it just never seemed to be the correct one.

My little guy is growing up so fast. Not only is he getting tall, but he has lost all remnants of his baby body and is looking like a little man

For Gem’s part she jumped as she always does: needed more leg support than I have access to, required precision steering and would duck out or stop if given the smallest opportunity. Thankfully, I didn’t give her the chance to duck out and kept my legs on her blocking the path, but she never felt locked on or enthusiastic about the whole thing.

After a few trips around, Trainer ran out of the ability to stall any longer, said it was time to leave the arena and begin work in the wide open over solid obstacles. Honestly, I’m convinced she was nervous about the two of us. I mean, in the arena we pretty much stink and I had been pretty vocal about my concerns on cross country.  For my part I was on the verge of telling her never mind about the whole thing. We had already been riding for an hour, it was getting really hot out and I was chickening out big time. I didn’t let the inner voice win though, and nervously followed her out the back arena gate….

Posted in Riding/Horses

Our First Cross Country Outing- Part 1, the Warm Up

Yup, this is going to be in multiple parts because, well, there is a whole lot to say. Also, limited media because I was alone.

Okay, lets back up shall we?

The original plan was to have a group outing at FENCE, a venue about an hour away, Friday at 9 am. I was super excited for not only our first cross country experience, but also the first group lesson we would be involved in. Trainer also had plans to put one of her students going for her A pony Club rating (basically professional level) on Gem during the outing.

But then this exchange happened Thursday evening:

Trainer puts up with my sense of humor

I admit to being really bummed. Pretty much everything I was excited about had evaporated and I briefly thought about canceling. I had taken a day off work for this and was thinking maybe it wasn’t worth the time away from the office anymore. In the end I decided that any lesson was better than no lesson.

Instead of riding pictures you get some shots from the hike Dusty, Wyatt and I too at Ceaser’s head over the weekend.

We started with a warm up in the jump arena. Trainer gave me the reins (hahahahahahha funny pun) and told me to warm up on my own while she watched so she could see what I was doing. I started off by working on those slow, purposeful turns maintaining rhythm and trying to achieve real bend at the walk. She had good things to say about my posture, my elbows being fluid and unlocked and my attempts at bend although my turns could have been planned even earlier.

Then I picked up the trot and Gem was floating and light. She really is liking the Baucher quite a lot. I think she needs the stability it gives her plus I am riding a million times better and more steady myself which helps create the balance we are looking for.

Devil’s Kitchen.  Wyatt overheard the Park Ranger telling us about it. As we walked up to the area, Wyatt was walking really slow. Then I heard “I hope he isn’t home. I don’t want to make him mad.” Poor guy has really scared that it was a real devil.

Honestly, the flat work was boring simply because it was so darn good. Gem was listening and while we are still fighting a lot of the same things, each time I can feel it improving.

A serious Wyatt surviving the Devil’s Kitchen

One of my (many) flaws in riding is lack of preparation. Gem can turn on a dime, but that doesn’t mean she should and it also kills off any momentum we have. Trainer is working hard on the training pyramid and we are just now beginning to get the whole rhythm thing down so we can begin to work on relaxation more. When I stuff her into corners or turn her sharply, it ruins everything. Plus it can’t be that comfortable for her.

So we worked on lots of changes of direction focusing on planing well ahead, giving Gem plenty of notice by using all my aides and turning like an 80 year old driving on ice. My main task was to keep the exact same trot pace and rhythm through it all. No slowing, no speeding up and maintaining equal weight on all four feet. No more motorcycling around turns on two wheels.

And….we nailed it!!! I started planning well in advance and it felt like we were barely working at all even though I was doing way more while riding than ever before. She turned here, she turned there. I made her go past all the scary objects that she was trying to spook at, I changed diagonals, I let go of one rein to give her a scratch on her withers.

Through it all she remained steady and even. My half halts were being listened to, my posting speed was getting through and we floated around like magic.

I didn’t think my smile could get any bigger.

And then……

Posted in Riding/Horses

Riding the Horse You Have, Not the One You Had

At what point do you let bygones be bygones?

This is an issue that Trainer brought up in my last lesson. We were just starting the jumping portion and I did what I always do: got defensive in front of the jump and completely took my leg off her. This gave me the same response I always get: Gem stopped and refused to jump. Not her fault, since I was telling her loud and clear that I didn't want to actually go over it. Now, a more forgiving horse would have jumped it anyway since she was clearly pointed right at the middle of the thing and knew fully well what my intentions were. But she isn't a forgiving horse.

At that point Trainer piped up. While Gem isn't a forgiving horse, she is an honest one and was telling me three strides out she needed more support to go over it. Even then she kept going up to the base asking for help which she never received and finally at the last minute she politely refused. No buck. No dropped shoulder. Just a polite "well, if you don't want me to then screw it I wont".

My defensiveness stems a long way back. When I first got her she was a witch. A little bit mean, a whole lot obstinate. Back then she would pull dirty stunts at the base of a jump even when I had my leg on and was fully committed to making it over. Heck she would pull dirty stunts just about anywhere anytime. She would act as though she would do the thing and then drop her right shoulder, spin 180 degrees and bolt. I ended up on the ground more times than over the jump. This behavior taught me to be scared, timid and not 100% committed to going over.

But that was years ago. She no longer acts like that. Sure, she doesn't go out of her way to help me, but we came to the agreement many years and many miles ago that she would do her job and I would do mine and we would stay out of each other's way as much as possible. The mare hates it when I nag and I hate it when I have to.

The problem is that I am still riding her like she used to be instead of the way she is now. My defensive riding has no place in her non aggressive behavior and yet I am still holding on tight to past grudges. I know that when I ride her more assertively towards a fence, that she will go over it. In fact, she has yet to refuse any jump that I am committed to going over, even if it is attached to a train.

Once Trainer demanded that I ride the horse I currently have, Gem moved around the course like a dream. She locked on to the jumps several strides out and pulled me towards them. She didn't balk, she didn't hesitate, she just soared over and went where I directed her to go.

It is a seismic drift in our relationship and way of going and one my body and mind has been slow to adjust to. The issue is that now I am beginning to punish her for her kind behavior by being restrictive and tense. Sure, she taught me to be that way but now she is trying to teach me to be trusting again and I haven't been listening.

It is going to take more than one good lesson to release the years worth of defensive tension from my muscle memory, but I could start to feel it ebb away by the end of it and hope to continue being a more willing partner moving forward. Well, as long as Gem holds up her end as well and continues to be a trustworthy mount.

What about any of you? Was there ever a point in your partnership where you had to let go of the past and move towards the future? What helped you make the transition from riding the past to the present?