Riding — Without Style

I am in that awkward stage where I know a big Aha moment will hit eventually (hopefully soon), but right now I really suck. Here is how my rides have gone lately:

Me: Alright Ava, maybe you could stop making it feel like I’m falling into a hole on the ride side of your body?

Ava: Uhmmm, No.

Me: Fine, lets try leg yielding left to get you on your left shoulder more. (do some leg yields)

Ava: Bring it lady, I can do this all day long.

Me: This is not helping… Ok, lets try haunches-in left.

Ava: Ugh, really. Here’s the slowest haunches-in I can do.

Me: No, go forward while in haunches-in.

Ava: HA. Screw you lady.

Me: thinking “I can fix this. I can fix this”.

Ava: OMG, there is light coming from under the door crack. Spook. 

Me: I’m still here horse.

Ava: Crap…

 

I’m so frustrated with how my rides have gone that I’m starting to think that any other horse discipline might be a better fit for us. Nothing I try helps for more than a second. Half of me is convinced I’m doing it wrong, the other half thinks my horse is pulling my chain (which she has done before). When all of the clinicians you’ve gone to tell you your horse is capable of going Fourth/PSG and your horse is sitting there telling you that First level sounds like a fine level to stay at…. It creates some discordant rides. Add in the fact that I’ve never gone beyond where I am currently at. In fact, right now I have surpassed all previous training I’ve ever had.  I don’t know what I’m doing, where I’m going, or how to get there.

I hate that feeling!

Anyway, that’s where I’m at right now. I have a lesson this coming Friday (it’s been 5 weeks since my last lesson). My only hope at this point is that when we get to the lesson the trainer doesn’t think I’ve completely ruined the horse. I’m just hoping it’s all fixable still. I’ve given up the hope that we’ve made progress and have lowered my hopes to “Please don’t let me ruin my horse”.

 

My mare is a saint to put up with me as well as she does.  I really lucked out finding such a gem.

It’s the Right Leg, Dummy

I had a weird thing happen tonight while riding Ava. Let me back up… at the Goodrich clinic, Pam kept yelling at me for leaning left over Ava’s left shoulder, so I was concentrating on keeping my shoulders parallel with Ava’s shoulders. I couldn’t figure out why I was having an issue with that. I mean, it’s stupid. I don’t even realize I’m doing it. Which frustrates me, because how can you fix what you can’t feel?!?

Anyway, I’m concentrating very hard on keeping my shoulders directly over Ava’s, I’m concentrating on her right ear like Pam told me, and I’m checking that my seat bones are even and stirrups are evenly weighted…. all while Ava’s got her head and neck canted so far to the left that she looks like a U from the top. So I boot her with my right leg to get her ribs under me. Ava gives me the ear flip (that’s the equine version of the finger), and I bop her again with my heel on the right side. At that point Ava responds and suddenly I actually feel her stand up straight. Why could I not feel that before?!

Apparently my left lean is a combination of counter balancing Ava’s weird contortion act that she’s got going on and an attempt to force her to turn left when she won’t turn (which she can’t because she’s all contorted).

Did I mention I ride mostly by hoping and praying something works?

We did some trot work in a longer frame to start with and every time I felt her bulge against my right leg I bopped her. While we were doing that, the whole part were Pam was talking about with me leaning and Ava not straight, etc, etc, really became much clearer. Ava is unloading her left hind at all times to some degree, but it took Ava being REALLY badly crooked before it was bad enough I could figure out how to fix it.

The point being… sometimes things just have to get to the point where the problem is so freaking obvious (if you’re obtuse like me) that the fix becomes a no brainer.

After I fixed it, I could steer Ava from my hips again. She was under me and a heck of a lot straighter. I’d say I wasn’t leaning, but I can’t tell when I’m doing it so I have no idea if that’s a lie or not. All I know is that I felt connected to Ava’s shoulders again and I know I lose that feeling when I’m leaning.

Once that was sorted we worked on shoulder-in and haunches in — with power. Every time she slowed down I would circle her and ask for more forward during the circle and then power on through into the haunches-in. The first few times weren’t all that good, but Ava figured it out pretty fast and the last attempt each direction went great. We still have a ton of work to do with that, but mainly I’m using as a strength building exercise until she gets strong enough to hold a big forward trot all the way down the long side (it’s a very short arena so not that far to go). My ab’s were really hurting from trying to sit the bigger trot. That’s hard work!

We ended with some really nice, lofty trot that was very forward. I still had good half-halt responses from Ava so I felt like the big trot was very balanced and engaged. Ironically, Ava seemed to really enjoy herself once she realized I wasn’t going to slow her down, or clamp my thighs on.  Now I have to get in better shape so I can actually sit that bigger trot without losing my balance.

 

Project Horse

I just started working with an Andulsian/Quarter Horse cross that is at my barn. He’s 7 and has never been broke to ride. He’s a cutie though… standing at about 14.2-ish hands, with a very pretty dapple grey coat highlighted by a dark mane and tail. I like him because he’s fairly calm for as little work as he’s had done to him. And he’s sensible and picks things up fast.

I had to teach him some respect for human’s space though. Nothing worse than working with an unknown entity and have them spook into you (or over you). Otherwise, he lunges pretty well and is okay to handle. He’s too mouthy for my comfort level, but he’s gotten better in the few times I’ve worked with him.

Yesterday I lunged him with a saddle again, but this time added stirrups.  I think I should’ve done a few more days sans stirrups first. But he’s such a mellow fellow that I was thinking it wouldn’t be too big of a deal for him.

Boy I was wrong.

He was fine at the walk, a little tense at the trot but coping, and then boom…. the most massive bucking fit I’ve seen in a while. When the saddle started slipping I freaked out. He’s built like a round barrel and I hadn’t wanted to crank the girth up overly tight. That saddle was slowly working it’s way around to the other side….

I very calmly asked him to halt. He’s still mid-throws of his massive buck-fest. I ask again. He looks at me, then walks two steps and halts. Just staring at me…..

He let me fix his saddle, tighten the girth. I gave him a pat and asked him to walk on. He walked calmly forward.

We had one more short burst of “OMG I’m dying!”  when I demanded he not stop at the door, and then he walked calmly around the circle for another several minutes. Tonight we’ll try the saddle without stirrups again and see if we can get a quiet lunge session again. I’ve been sacking him out with a saddle pad, but he doesn’t blink an eye at it.

I need some long lines for him. I definitely need to teach him steer and stop before I try getting on. I’d be happier with a round pen too, but that’s not going to happen.

Any tips for someone who hasn’t broken out a horse in 20 years?

P.s. I swear I’m being careful Mom. I’m even wearing my helmet while lunging. 🙂

Up’ing the Stakes

My last lesson with Roz, and also in my last lesson with Pam, I was told repeatedly to increase the level of difficulty on Ava — greatly. That we need to be working at a much higher level than we are. So lately I’ve been trying to abide by that. It’s hard. I get stuck in ruts, or I can feel Ava is crooked but can’t fix it and end up stuck on 20m circles the entire ride. I know that isn’t the answer, but sometimes I just get sucked back into the same pattern I’ve been stuck in for the past couple of years.

This week I have a new focus on changing up the exercises, working at a higher level, and focusing on keeping the horse energetically forward through the movements. Monday, after the warm-up, I worked on haunches in and shoulder in down the long side.   They were setting up jumps in the arena, so I used those as points for 10m circles. And on the last quarter, or half, of each 10m circle I made sure I asked for more forward into the haunches-in or shoulder-in.

After I had good forward on those exercises, I worked on half-pass across a short diagonal (trying to avoid jumps). I’m not sure if I had quite the bend I needed for those. During my lessons both Roz and Pam said I didn’t have enough bend in the half-pass. It felt okay to me, but I’m not sure if it was correct or not. The problem I did have is that I should’ve used more half-halt on the outside to help her stand up better. We had some balance issues and I think that would’ve helped. I didn’t think of that at the time though.

They weren’t the best half-passes I’d ever done, but I was happy they were pretty forward. At least they were much more forward then the one’s I had been getting previously. And from everything I’m learning, the entire exercise has to incorporate enough forward in order for the gymnastic benefits to really be seen.

Also during the last lesson with Roz, she had me focus on the quality of our canter/walk transitions. Right now they are on the forehand and floppy. We’re focusing on encouraging more engagement in the downward transition. She also had me ask Ava to back up  until I felt her hips tuck and back lift. I’ve had to be careful about it so Ava doesn’t associate it with some kind of punishment, but I think it’s helping. We had two really good canter/walk transitions, but also her trot started out more engaged after the few back-ups we did.

Ava’s really been improving drastically since June. The middle of this summer we couldn’t even do a few steps of half-pass at anything close to a working trot. We snail crawled across the arena.

I have my last lesson with Roz November 1st, and then she won’t be back in Michigan until sometime in spring. So I better make the most of October as I can.