Horse Life

“Don’t Sell This Horse!”

Saturday came and the urge to head to crossfit for the partner workout was strong…so strong. I go to CF at a minimum of 5x/week, 6x if I have that Saturday free. So not going for an entire week (and especially after eating as much apple pie as I have), was really hard. So when I woke up on Saturday and felt pretty fantastic, I was super tempted to head to CF before my lesson at 3. But not wanting to tempt fate, I forced myself to stay in bed until 9:05, when it would be just too late to go.

Luckily we had family coming over for brunch so there was plenty to do (cleaning-wise, I’m not allowed in the kitchen if other people will be consuming the food) to distract myself until it was time to head over to hook up the trailer.

Pilgrim knows the sound of my truck so I felt eyes on me as I pulled around the driveway and hooked up the trailer. He stood at the gate and stared as I loaded the trailer and walked down to his paddock to get him.

Then we loaded up- I seriously need to get a video of this horse loading- and headed off. It’s about a 35 minute drive through a lot of back roads, but the farm was so nice. It’s all huge pastures lined with white board fencing and 3 meticulous barns. And an indoor! With mirrors!

So I unload Pilgrim and he came off snorting and prancing- very unlike my normal chill guy whose been off the farm dozens of times this year. I could hardly saddle him up and forget bridling. So I walked him into the barn to bridle him and he refused to go into the barn. I had to drag him in there and then he spooked at everything. So not how I wanted this to go, especially with a fragile back.

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Finally I’d had it. He wouldn’t stop dancing around in the grooming stall, so I smacked him pretty hard on the shoulder and semi-yelled “pull yourself together!” and he stopped and just looked at me like, “whaaaa??” and then stood there while I finished strapping the bridle on.

We walked into the indoor arena with Trainer J, and she asked about where he and I were at and what we’ve been doing, then had us warm-up like we would at home. So I tried to keep his attention on me (mostly unsuccessfully) and we w/t/c around the arena. He could not get over himself in the mirrors.

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So Trainer J just watched our warm up and when we were done, had a few remarks.

“He’s got an 8 walk, a 6 trot and a 9 canter. I buy a horse for its walk and canter- mostly its canter- because there are a lot of tricks we can use to make the trot better.”

“We’ve got to start working on the trot now because in BN and Novice, the dressage tests are mostly trot.”

“Even though he’s obviously spooky, he’s got the most pleasant expression on his face while he’s spooking.”

As I explained to her, I really beat the forwardness out of Pilgrim with my confidence issues. Trotting and cantering, I would practically slow him to a crawl because I was so afraid. Now that I’m not nearly so scared, we’re slowly having more and more moments of forwardness and good impulsion.

She really pinpointed, almost immediately, the issues I have with my hands and trying to force Pilgrim into a frame, or to put his head down. Pilgrim used to have a tendency to hold his head higher and higher and then suddenly flip his head upward and bolt forward. He knew this unnerved me and so would pull this every time he thought the work was getting to be too hard. So trainer PW would have me “put his head down” by wiggling the bit back and forth. Not see-sawing, as I would definitely never do that, and P will put his head down, but he’s not really connected or working through his back. Looking back, the only real thing that it’s accomplished has been to make him open his mouth- a total no no during a dressage test.

So Trainer J had me work on upward trot transitions without touching his head before the transition. I didn’t even realize I was doing it until someone was telling me not to…and I feel like an ass for that.

The entire lesson we worked on w/t and fixing his shoulder bulge. Asking him to go to the left, P really wants to drop his shoulder so he’s pointing to the left but he’s still going right. She had me only use my outside aids to steer (tough!) and save the inside aids for suppling. Going to the right is my harder direction, so she had me step more into my left stirrup because when we track right, I lean to the right. I was feeling like I was going to fall off to the left and trainer J goes “Ok, NOW you’re sitting balanced.” Yeesh.

Some more words of wisdom that I don’t want to forget:

“So many riders focus on the ‘bend’ of their horse, but it’s all about riding your horse straight. Especially on circles.”

“Don’t focus so much on controlling horse horse’s haunches, focus on his shoulders.”

“In the trot we want the horse’s back to be uninhibited, so I rarely practice sitting trot. I want my horse to always be using his back when I ask him to trot. I spend maybe 5% of practices doing sitting trot, I save it all for the arena when the horse is so used to using his back in the trot, the fact that I’m sitting doesn’t change that.”

“A 5 year old horse is kind of like a 13 year old boy. With all my young horses, I always swore they were up for sale the majority of year 5. Making it to 6 years old with a horse is a big accomplishment.”

“When you started out 40 minutes ago, his trot stride was teeny tiny. Now you can see in the mirrors that it’s long, sweeping and he’s tracking up. This is such a nice horse.”

When I told her about the person who asked if P was for sale :”Don’t you dare sell this horse! That person has a great eye because this horse is incredibly fancy. You two will go as far as you want to.”

“Since you stopped worrying about his head, he’s giving you more uphill transitions and his mouth hasn’t opened.”

“When you ask for the downward transition, don’t let him be lazy, ask immediately put your leg on and make him march.”

“To ask for a more forward walk, alternate squeezing your legs and as soon as he’s where you want him to be, stop nagging.”

“This is your homework. Don’t work on anything harder for a week- just focus on quality transitions without worrying about his head and only being concerned about where his shoulders are. Just practice straightness. And forward. Yes, forward and straight. It will change your life.”

I wish I had the lesson on video so that I could remember everything. When we started, I told her I was concerned about my leg- that it crunches up in upward transitions and gets so far behind me, especially in the canter, that if you took the horse out from under me, I would fall on my knees. When we were done, she said my leg is fine, but my saddle doesn’t fit me. Ugh, I knew that, but having it confirmed reinforces that I need to do something about it. She said that the length from from my thigh to my knee is very long and the permanent knee blocks get in the way and push my leg back. Grrr. First the jump saddle needs to be repaired, then I can start thinking about a new dressage saddle.

Yesterday I wasn’t able to ride because we headed to the mountains to get our Christmas tree with friends and of course today is raining. But rain is no excuse- I have at my disposal a small indoor arena that is PERFECT for the homework exercises we need to be doing. Then onto crossfit! Oh weightlifting, how I’ve missed you.

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