This is going to be one of those rambly, half-venting, half-whining, self-pity filled posts so don’t say you haven’t been warned…
Monday was the first day I was able to ride in the trial dressage saddle and so I got to the barn before lessons started and hurriedly tacked up. I always tighten P’s girths a few holes on each side one at a time (and he gets a “girthing carrot” to distract him and make him breathe) and as I was finishing tightening one side, I found myself holding a buckle in my hand. Ummmm.
Because I wanted to ride, I decided to just ride in my jump saddle and figured I’d order a new dressage girth and email the saddle people to see if they could extend the trial a couple of days. So I tacked P up in our jump stuff, THEN thought about “what if they say no?” so I called the local tack shop and they had ONE dressage girth in his size and the owner said she’d stay late so I could get there (shoutout to Jayne’s Village Tack Shop!) So I ran and got the girth, and headed back to ride…during lessons now.
The ride was terrible. P was spooky, tense, unfocused and I wasn’t sure if it was the saddle or just because he’s P and this is how he is. Tuesday was the same. Yesterday we went to dressage trainer J’s so she could evaluate the saddle and he bolted with me at the canter because he saw a dog running. This was definitely not due to the saddle (which was deemed a fairly good fit, but slightly too wide), because she had me try out her Passier dressage saddle. which was a perfect fit.
Note on the saddle: I emailed the shop to tell them it wasn’t working, and it turns out they sent me the wrong saddle. I had requested the Medium and they send me a MW, so they are shipping the correct one out at no charge- fingers crossed it works!
Yesterday afternoon we had our 2nd jump lesson with trainer D. Lots of traveling for P and I yesterday. It went terribly. Like, I was in tears, it was so terrible. Trainer D had to get on him, it was so terrible. Just terrible.
I couldn’t let go of him. At this point, I’d had 3 consecutive rides where he spent the majority of it bolting and spooking. I held it together until the 3 canter poles and he was nose diving through them and then dropping his left shoulder and taking off and I just couldn’t do it anymore. Trainer D kept telling me to sit down in the saddle and I tried, really hard, but I just couldn’t. Not out of fear or anything, I legitimately couldn’t sit down while he was cantering. We moved on to jumping and she set up a small gate. P refused because I slowed him way down and then tipped forward. We tried again and he landed and took off. We did it another 4 times or so and he was just such an ass, that each time my reins got shorter and shorter because I KNEW he was going to land and take off. So Trainer D asked to get on and I gratefully got off.
She kicked his ass around until he lost the attitude and then cantered the poles, effortlessly sitting in the saddle and keeping the canter for 5 laps each, then jumped him around and while he refused once, he was generally pretty good towards the end. So I got back on and we jumped a bit more (2’6″, which looked small…small victories, you guys), but in general, I just felt awful about the whole ride. She asked if I practiced jumping at home and I said I hadn’t been able to since the last time she saw us because I can only ride during the BO’s lessons and the ring is too small to jump in if others are not jumping, so she asked if I’d be interested in sending him to her for 5 days of jump training to get over this phase and get him jumping without making a big deal of it.
I’ll be honest. When she asked that, it felt like a slap in the face. Rationally, I know it’s because she wants him to be comfortable with jumping and doing it one hour every 2 weeks in a lesson isn’t enough. But still. He’s MY horse. My ONLY horse. And if he’s gone, I lose out on riding time. But that also got me thinking about my home rides with him.
It became very apparent that I am not comfortable in the canter. I literally could not sit my butt in the saddle for longer than a few strides. Looking back at our home rides, I spend the most time in the trot and the walk, throwing in a circle or two in each direction at the canter which amounts to maybe 1.5 minutes total of cantering each ride (I’m not counting the bolting as cantering). So guess what needs to change?
Switching directions, I’ve been doing crossfit for the last 2 years and 4 months. I had never done anything like it previously, my only sports aside from riding being volleyball and cross-country (running, though it’s MUCH more fun on a horse). So I spent the 1st year learning the weightlifting movements and on my mobility and getting into some semblance of fitness. The 2nd year it became clear what I was good at and what I wasn’t. So I spent year 2 strengthening my strengths and half-assing my weaknesses. I would scale or skip those movements. At the start of year 3, I hadn’t progressed on my weaknesses so I was talking with my coach about it and he said I needed to “attack my weaknesses until they became strengths.” I like that and I’m going to apply it to riding.
My weakness is obviously the canter. I have very little control over P in the canter because I’m so busy trying to figure out what the hell I’m doing. Which makes me not WANT to canter, since I don’t want to lose control. If P spooks in the walk or trot, it’s whatever, I can control my own body in those gaits. So I need to canter. And canter. And canter, until I can sit my rear end in the saddle.
Today marks day 1 of cantering boot camp. I’m going to don my stopwatch and canter for as long as I can to get a baseline. I’m going to start today with sets of 1 minute at the canter, 2 at the trot, repeat ad nauseam. And I’m going to do it for 1/2 an hour. Then I’m going to go into the indoor and set up a small jump and we’re going to jump that sucker on a loose rein until P settles down over it, alternating with trotting poles still on a loose rein on the other side of the indoor. And we’re going to do THAT for another 1/2 hour. Tomorrow we shall repeat, but in reverse order.
Saturday we have an xc lesson with Trainer D. This was the last weekend she has available before my HT on the 30th and P has not seen an xc course since November. I’m hoping to hear “sit down in the saddle”, “let go of his mouth”, and “sit back” less often.
I’m still on the fence about sending him to jump training. I know it’s just 5 days and I also know that all horses would benefit from professional training, but I’m not 100% convinced it would make that big of a difference. When I can sit down and ride him comfortably at all gaits, that’s what’s going to make a difference. Pre-ankle break, I could do that. I’ve been back to riding for about a month now and I still favor my ankle and can tell I ride more timidly- I REALLY don’t want to reinjure it, that was such a pain! BUT I need to suck it up and fake bravery until it comes. I don’t think taking more time off riding is going to help him or I. Trainer D’s job is to ride horses. My job is to run a non-profit organization. I spend about 50-80 hours per week doing my job, and around 5 per week at riding. Trainer D spends probably about 40+ hours/week riding horses. Guess who’s going to be better at it? I kick ass at my job, even on days where I put up blog posts in the middle of the workday, because I spend a lot of time doing it. So the problem isn’t really Pilgrim- he’s feeding off of me and my nerves and he’s still green enough that I frazzle him. The only thing that will help me and my nerves is to do it until it’s boring for both of us. And I think we can get back there. I just need to attack my weaknesses until they become my strengths.
Wish me luck. Or wish P luck…he’ll probably need it more.