Wednesday, November 2, 2011


If I could unscrew my tired, worn-out legs and pop on a fresh pair halfway through the day, it'd be great.  I'd get so much more done!  A modern day "Mister Potato Head", so to speak. 

My first horse to ride for the day was BB, the ride was great and uneventful, we just worked w/t on leg yeilding and staying more connected to my hands.  He's very irregular in his rhythm and bounces on and off of contact with the bit a lot, so I work on communication through my legs and seat to settle and regulate his stride a little and then I can sometimes have a more stable contact with his mouth.  Sometimes.  We have a long way to go but he's really doing awesome. He experimented at times with seeing how deeply he could get a stretch through his topline, which I rewarded generously.  I love seeing his confidence growing.  At the trot, I also insisted on him giving to my leg before I "helped" him over with the reins, and he responded to the insistence easily, without frustration. 

I rode in the dressage saddle and I had pulled out a very old pair of full seat breeches and thought I'd give them a go.  I haven't really fit into them since I was 19 or 20.  They were snug but they were snug back then, too.  I bought them when I showed Blazer in dressage back in the day, I remember just about passing out because they were so stiff.  Then mom accidently bleached them shortly after the show, leaving large "white" blotches on the khaki, so I never wore them much after than.  Then a kid and, well, seven years later...

I usually ride in knee patch or just plain tights which have plenty of slip in the saddle, but these things were like velcro in comparison, and I found myself "stuck" at times in a wrong leg position and would have to pull my leg off and away from the saddle and re-place it back where I wanted it to be.  It was a little awkward readjusting to the sensation. 

Next I rode Sammy.  Sammy can be a total champ at times and at other times he can be a real pain in the butt.  He is kind of a very hyper-sensitive personality and over thinks everything.  He already knows what emotional state you are in, even before you do.  He is literally anywhere between one to ten steps ahead of you, at any given time, so it's really hard to get him "with" you, he doesn't particularly love being directed on every footfall, he likes to get around quickly and efficiently, which isn't always the beautiful way.  I have to work very patiently to get him to settle down and relax so that he can really "float", and using strong aids on him, even when he's deliberately being a turd, makes him get all worked up and then really bull-headed and headstrong.  It's hard to decide which approach works better on him, if I back off and let him re-settle, or if I ride him strongly through until he softens and submits and then release my aids.  I have done both and both have worked at times, and neither have worked at times. 

For instance, if you point him towards a jump, you'd better be serious because whether or not you're ready, he's going over it, with or without you.  I don't like it when a horse decides he wants to charge the fence going 90mph and then take off 11 feet in front of a crossrail.  No, I would much rather regulate the stride, and take off at a reasonable place.  So we have arguments about how to do the fence, or the canter circle, or the shoulder-in... again, the horse is extremely powerful and bold and I am in awe of him when he can just muscle over a 4x4-ft oxer with another 12 inches to spare in height clearance, he's incredible.  But on how to approach that same fence, I'd like it a whole lot better if he'd listen to a few of my ideas.  So we go round and round.  He really doesn't like flat work all that much but I am making him do it because I want him to have a basic understanding of what my aids are and how I want him to respond before we go flying through a cross country course, which is what I'm working him up to be able to do, since I know he'd absolutely, freaking love it.  I just want to have some reasonable control. 

So back to today, it was one of those days I decided to ride my aids through to the other side and wait for him to be the first to give.  We leg-yielded a bunch and I waited every time for him to drop his nose and lift his back, to create a rounder frame than the hollower one he prefers to travel in.  Then when I picked up the canter, I did not take my seat out from his back in a half-seat like I sometimes do, I kept my inside leg on him and waited until he backed off my hands and lifted his inside shoulder around our circle.  It took a while.  He drug me around for a while like a freight train but I waited until there was something.  When I get tough-love on him like this he starts getting real bullheaded, dragging the reins out of my hands and the likes.  And then when he does finally stay behind my hands, I have the distinct feeling he is locked up and holding grudges, not moving freely and relaxed, like he cannot wait to get out of that arena.  It's hard, I've only gotten just a handful of really "together" rides, on which I lavish, lavish the praise and we both feel sky-high.  But even then the very next day he can be a hardhead again, taking advantage of my niceness.  Then after a few frank discussions for a few days he will one ride give me everything in a very valiant effort to be straightforward and honest, allowing me to help frame in better in all the gaits and transitions... and around and around we go. 

Either way, knowing he's holding out on me even though his body 'might' be doing what I'd like, I gave him a big head hug back in the barn and held him there until I could feel him soften. For as much as I can "push", I can only to as far as to the extent he knows I believe in him. 

Then after lessons, I rode Drama and had a very productive ride with him.  We pulled his shoes a couple of months ago after I learned some new information from the AANHCP (American Association for Natural Hoof Care Practices) and I was struggling with him and Bird with lameness and laminitis issues.  I took a clinic with one of their certified practitioners and began to see real healing in all of my horses after trimming them a new way, so Drama is still working out his sensitivity as he grows accustomed to being barefoot again.  He is sound and his feet are in SO much better shape than they were, but he still has a slightly shorter stride length and is very sensitive to the ground surface being uneven.  I usually try to ride him at the beginning of the day when the arena is freshly raked, but this morning he was taking a snooze in the sunshine out in his runout, so today he was the last to be ridden. 

I try to get him stretching and using his back with as much engagement as I can, but he still can't quite put the "push" from behind with those long, reaching strides quite yet.  I really am just focused on helping him use his back and use it consistently, because the horse is like Jello and can wiggle and bend every part of his body in almost any direction he chooses, except for the correct one.  I am distinctly aware that even if I were a spider, I still wouldn't have enough limbs to help frame him correctly.  Drama's willingness to try is as large as the ocean is vast, he is too innocent to be purposefully dishonest in any way, and he will give you 110% anywhere you ask for it, any time, but he doesn't always do it right, so when you try to help him correct himself, you have to be careful on how you approach it with him or he gets defeated and depressed. But boy, when he knows he's nailed something, you can absolutely see him beaming.  Whenever you scratch him with your fingertips on his withers while you're riding, he shakes his head as he glories in the praise.  He is a riot.  Even though he has an 8-year old body, do not be fooled, his brain is still only 2, and he's quite happy to stay that way!    

This is why at the end of the day my brain sometimes hurts more than my body.  I am so keenly aware of my own inadequacies as a rider/trainer/instructor every day, and I am far harder on myself than I am of any of my horses or students.  I often re-ride things in my mind and over-analyze them to the minute degree, picking apart the why's and wherefore's of each problem.  I get so bogged down with all my analysis that I have to really make an effort to try to keep things light, on myself, my students and my horses, or we all take a plunge into the abyss of hopelessness. 

Anyhow, now for decompression time, I'm going to go to the gym to go swimming.  And I think the hot tub is calling my name. 

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