Saturday, January 16, 2010

Actual riding!

Ah, at last! When I finally got the opportunity to put butt to saddle on Monday, Val had a lot less energy than I expected. I even longed him a bit first, just to see if there was anything totally wacky in there. He didn't even buck once, and after just a few minutes, I hopped on. Things were a bit crazy- the indoor was in heavy use by the lesson kids. My trainer was on one end, giving a girl a longe-line lesson over jumps. At the other end, another instructor was teaching a girl to really sit the canter correctly and to do transitions within that gait, and they were on a circle, too.

When you consider that our arena is 20m wide (about) by 50m long (maybe)... it was tight! The other instructor eventually had her girl leave the circle, but still, 4 people going around a small arena with a big chunk cut off by a longe-circle is... tricky. Especially when Val and I hardly ever just stay on the rail, although we kind of had to that day.

The actual rides on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were all pretty much the same. Val felt like he was rushing and just not really connecting to the bit or softening and bending at all. My bad habits had come back, as they are wont to do after 3 weeks without riding. I was using way too much inside hand and having trouble keeping it from crossing over his neck. Also, I had major "duck feet" going on, as I usually do.

My instructor's instructor, who we'll call D, was in the arena on Tuesday. I could see her watching me and Val, and I instantly got very nervous. In the past, she's watched me and then told my trainer some things, which I don't mind at all. But I feel like I'm a reflection of how well my trainer is teaching things, and whenever she watches me, I feel instantly like I have to do my absolute best. Val MUST be on the bit every single second. We can't be overbent, we can't have too much bend. We can't have a sluggish transition, too much angle in our shoulder-in, not enough crossover in our leg yields... we need to be perfect when D watches us!

Obviously, that's impossible to do. I can't just magically start riding perfectly when D starts watching, and she's going to see our bad moments from time to time. Either way, the only thing she said to my trainer was that I was posting a bit behind my horse's motion. Not surprising, considering how nervous I was.

Anyhow, after those three mediocre rides, I was supposed to have a lesson on Friday. My trainer ended up not being able to be there on time, so I decided to just ride myself, since I was already on Val and I didn't want to sit and wait for what would've been 40 minutes. D was there again, this time riding her amazing old show horse.

This horse, Breeze, is about the coolest horse I've ever met. He's a paint, and he used to successfully compete at Intermediate! Of course, this means that I worship the ground he trots on ;) He's 25, but according to D, he hasn't changed a bit since his competition days. And I have never seen a horse that has a motor the way he does!

You watch D riding him, doing all manner of complicated dressage moves like 3 tempi changes and canter half-passes and pirouettes and you think, wow, he's so controlled! But under that calm facade, he's got a 1200 HP engine. All it takes for him to go from a nice walk to a dead run is for D to stop giving the invisible cue that tells him not to. He never, ever had problems making Intermediate speed, and he loves to run. D says that he was the most amazing horse XC- he just loved it; he never looked at anything and he really relaxed when he could just go out in the open.

Anyhow, the first part of our ride on Friday was just as terrible as the first three this week. D, fortunately, had her attention taken by Breeze, so I wasn't really being watched. Still, things weren't good. Val had PLENTY of energy on Friday, and he was choosing all manner of ridiculous things to spook at. I started just trying to loosen him up, letting him trot, and canter if he wished, on a fairly loose rein, just asking for him to stretch and bend. I then shortened the reins up after maybe 10 minutes and started asking for more roundness. In hindsight, I think he need more "stretchy" time. We were doing a serpentine and had just reached the place where I was going to change bend when he spooked at the door.

It was a pretty hard spook for him; he squirted sideways rapidly and did about a 60 degree change in direction. For the first time, his spook didn't get my heart absolutely pounding. It didn't even really unbalance me at all! We just continued on and made another pass at the door, with me insisting it was NOT scary and that yes, he could trot right by it. That made me pretty proud. :)

He was concerned at two other places in the arena, but he only spooked the once. It was shortly after the spook that D was done warming up Breeze. She was putting him through his paces, and so Val and I just went into the middle and watched him. He is a fascinating horse to watch. After he had preformed his extensive repertoire, including his super-fast run, D stayed on him for a bit longer and I could just see the change... he was calmer now. After they got off, I started riding Val differently.

I loosened the reins again and I absolutely insisted that he stretch. We worked on that until he was stretching and bending. Then, I did a walk to canter in one corner and rode several circles, working on him being forward and up. He was happy to oblige. Then, I just let him go. He did a couple laps of the arena before he was done, then we came down into a nice stretchy trot and took a bit of a break. He was no longer constantly hopping in the trot, trying to canter. He didn't feel like he was all pent up.

Then, we shortened our reins back up and we worked. We started with another walk to canter on the other lead and did one more lap of the arena, then I collected his canter back and he just did it willingly. I put my reins in a bridge and I refused to pull my inside rein over his neck, which also helped.

We started doing one of my favorite things- walk to canter serpentines. He's just so good at them; he comes down to the walk without a fight and he takes only the softest cue to pick up the canter again. While D was riding Breeze, they worked on canter halfpasses. Val and I can do okay halfpasses in the walk, iffy ones in the trot, and we'd never tried in the canter. We tried today.

We recently got mirrors on the small side of the arena, so you can now see yourself in them head on when you go down the long side. I got a nice, collected canter from Val, and then I just asked him to do a canter halfpass to the right. Imagine my surprise when he did! I could see that he really was maintaining his right bend in the mirrors, and although he didn't have huge crossover, he was bring his hips and shoulders together, not just oozing to the right with his shoulders. Not bad for a first try!

We played with that a bit the other direction, did another walk-to-canter serpentine, and came down to the trot and had a bit of a break. We went back to work and used the mirrors to do haunches in both directions. Then we did some leg yielding and picked up the trot. I asked him to be round and forward, and he was. We did some transitions, and then I let him really stretch down. I gradually slid the reins and he just followed the bit until he was doing our best-ever stretch down trot. I'm usually lucky if I get his poll level with his withers- he held the stretch below his withers for a bit! D actually saw us doing our stretch down, and she commented on how nice it looked. :) My trainer came in toward the end and also saw some of the work and said it looked pretty good, too.

After that, he got huge loves and was done. I walked him for a while so he wouldn't be too sweaty, then I got off. It was definitely our best ride in a very long time. We have a lesson later day, and I've got a feeling that will go well.

Overall, I've learned how important your mindset is. As soon as I decided that yes, he was going to be a dressage horse today and I was going to do the right things with my hands and shoulders and legs... things just fell together. Positive mental attitudes are difficult to beat! I just hope we can summon that feeling for our first real dressage test of the year...


  1. I love watching advanced riders, you can learn so much (if you know what they're doing!) but as you saw in my latest post, it can be so frustrating because they look so good!

  2. What an exciting ride! It sounds like you gave your horse a lot to think about and he relished it. I find this to be a great cure for spooking. How neat it is to step outside your more practiced exercises and find that your horse is happy to offer a new one. You are a very smart rider!

  3. I always love being able to watch riders do their work. It's just such a great way to learn. One of my favorite things to see is my trainer working a horse or my horse and narrating everything she's doing and the reason for it and theory behind it. That's always fun! I kinda feel more hope that frustration- just knowing that one day, if you keep at it, you can be that good too is a nice thought. :)

    It definitely was exciting! Yeah, he's usually a very obvious spook- you can feel him getting tight beforehand and his ears point straight forward and you can feel a split-second before he does it, but you can convince him not to sometimes if you can keep his focus off the SKEERY thing. Sometimes he's just gonna do it, though, and there's nothing to do to stop him! Thanks, I really enjoyed doing some new thing :)

  4. I know how you feel about being intimidated when Donna watches you ride! She intimidates me every dressage lesson we have! :)