Work to Ride

The past two weeks have been a killer. Work, work, work. All work. No riding.

It was mildly acceptable due to the constant raining and cold temps, but now it’s sunny and warm. I don’t want to work after quitting time. I want to ride!

I wish I got comp time for working over time.

Hell, I wish I got paid for over time. I might actually be able to afford vacations.

I need a lesson. Badly. My riding has seriously degraded the past year and some months. I need someone to correct the bad habits I’ve picked up. I don’t know who to go to though.

Reasons why getting a lesson from current trainer is hard:

  • The current trainer leaves for Florida in a couple of weeks,
  • I don’t know if she even has a lesson horse I could use,
  • Joy isn’t ready for a 4 hour (round trip) trailer ride
  • Joy isn’t fit enough for a 45 minute hard lesson (lessons cost a lot, so has to be worth while).

So who else do I go to for help? It is not an option to go back to old trainer. She was good instructor-wise, but people-wise not so good. There are a few trainers within an hour of me that seem to do well on the rated circuit. They have students that seem to do well also.

Every time I try to email my trainer with questions on how I can get lessons this winter, all I hear in my mind is:

“Hi Current Trainer! Who can I go to for lessons half way across the state from where you live? Because you know every single trainer in the entire state, and exactly where they live in proximity to me.”

“Let me use your horse to take lessons on, while I accidentally whack him in the mouth and poke him in the ribs.”

“Why do you have to go to Florida all winter! I’m paying you $80 a month for lessons!!”

Pander to me, Dammit!!

I feel like a trainer/instructor is a resource that you don’t want to annoy with a bunch of inquires on how you can ruin their horse or give other people your money.

I’m going to post a video later tonight/tomorrow. You can see my new saddle and bell boots. ūüôā ¬†Plus, I can show you what I’m having issues with now (on Joy). Maybe one of you kind souls will take pity on me and offer some position fixes, or point out where I’m going wrong.

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Whip ’em

It was chilly, windy, and overcast this evening. I decided I’d better ride tonight though, because tomorrow its going to rain all day.

I tacked from the off side. I’m still working on that. She’s getting better. She only jumps once, the rest of the time she just flinches.

Such a drama queen! Haha

Today I took the dressage whip with me to the arena. She’s still a bit unconvinced she needs to move promptly off the leg. I wanted some back up to my leg aid.

I’m always nervous riding a horse with a whip for the first time. I made sure to check Joy’s reaction to it from the ground several times first. Joy doesn’t care. She’s not scared of it.

Again, her basic training has been fantastic. Kudo’s to her former owners on that.

I was still a bit nervous, and over cautious, though. I’m a worrier.

The wind was blowing everything around. The pine trees sway and make crazy screeching and cracking noises. The leaves are falling from the tree’s and now the cars going by are visible from the arena. Everything is moving and swaying, creaking and growning.

Joy was was very Up, very distracted. I was having difficulty letting off her mouth. I kept reminding myself to loosen my arms, give/release. Those releases didn’t last very long, and I was back in her mouth again. I hate when I do that. I needed a ground person to yell at me today.

We spent most of the time at the walk. Some for focus, but mainly I was having issues with bend. It was either too much neck, or the bum was skiddering off to the outside, or I lost the shoulders, or… I was having all kinds of issues.

We did the square, then circles and serpentines. Lot of circles. One side of the arena is uber scary. She’ll go there, but I really have to finesse her into paying attention to me and not the scary cars flying by.

My current favorite exercise is spiral in/leg yield out.  It’s easier to do in my miniscule arena than leg yields are.

Once she was listening better, and more relaxed, I worked a little bit on shoulder-in and haunches-in. I picked up the whip for this part to back up my left leg.  I did have to touch her with the whip twice to convince her to move off my inside leg (just light), but once accomplished she gave me two really decent shoulder-fore’s to the left (the hard way).

The haunches-in (or the facsimile we do) was okay, but mainly I was very pleased that going to the left I was able to get her haunches over with only one small tiff over the right leg being on. She likes to really swing the haunches against the leg. A couple of weeks ago I was lucky to get one step of haunches-in, today I got almost the entire length of the short side of the arena.

There are still a lot of pieces to put in there to be real haunches-in and real shoulder-in’s, but as long as she gets the idea then I can build on it gradually.

I need to add… the SI’s and HI’s are only at the walk still.

Oh, and lately I’ve been playing with trot/walk transitions where you slowly slow down the trot until you walk. I learned this from the David Donnelly clinic two springs ago. You trot normal, then slow your posting until you’re almost at a walk. If the horse is still engaged and with you, then ask for the walk. If the horse starts to fall on the forehand or braces/tenses at any point, then ask for the big trot again. I like it for Joy because I think it breaks down the transition, and half-halt, and staying balanced, into smaller parts that she can understand. Plus, good gymnastic workout and teaches the horse to listen to the seat.

That was it. We didn’t trot much. I didn’t canter at all. Joy was holding it together on the scary side pretty well, and I thought I better end on a positive note.  I tend to error on the side of too little most rides. Which is why I have overweight ponies. Haha

Other than Joy

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Can I come out?

I know you don’t hear much about Ava now. I had decided to give Ava another 6 months of no riding. Mainly because it was really painful for me to ride her. I wanted her to be well. I wanted to do all the things we used to do. I wanted my Ava back!

But she’s not… and she never will be.

I’m trying to adapt to Ava’s limitations, but I get greedy and selfish. Ava will give whatever I ask, even if it hurts her. The problem is she won’t tell you it hurts until it REALLY hurts.

So my idea is… we’ll use the winter to just hang out.

That’s all I’ve got….

I can’t seem to sit on a horse with out pushing the buttons. I’m a button pusher.  If it leg yields, I’m leg yielding. If it doesnt, I’m teaching it. I can’t seem to help myself. This is why I started declining rides on friends horses. I can’t just sit on a horse and walk around… I get on a stiff horse and I have to teach it to bend, or move off pressure, or fix this, or fix that.
I have to fiddle!!!

Which really doesn’t work for a light duty horse like Ava, who has a lot of buttons.

So instead, I sit by the pasture and scratch Ava’s chest while she bops me in the head with her nose. Or I hang out in the stall while she mugs me for treats, then glares at me when the treats run out. I would say I spoil her, but her Highness has never believed we were equals. She’s has only ever allowed me to bask in her presence.

My friend stopped by a few weeks ago. We’re at the fence saying Hi to the horses and Ava is standing in front of my friend. I see Ava’s ears slide back. A brief pause. Then Ava’s nostrils curl. Another pause.

Ava is waiting to see if my friend will notice. I glare at Ava. I know that look.

A few seconds later, Ava brings her nose in close to my friends shoulder and waits. ..

Suddenly, Ava grabs a flap of my friends jacket, we yell, Ava flings her head back and up. I yell at Ava and shoo her off. Ava turns around, backs her butt up to the fence in line with my friend, and cocks her leg in warning. I go after Ava to smack her, but she’s already anticipating that and is moving off before I even get close.

A few seconds go by and Ava’s back at the fence, head hanging over it next to my friend. The ears slide back, the nostrils curl. My friend pops Ava in the jaw without any real force, and Ava gives this look of utter disbelief, takes a step back, and then just hangs her head over the fence for my friend to scratch.

Ava never tried another thing with my friend after that.

This is not new behavior, but Ava’s less mischievous when worked regularly. She’s a bit of a pain when not.

I swear, Ava makes me feel like the worst horse person ever. This is the only horse (out of 6 I’ve owned or trained) that I’ve never been able to train to lunge safely. She’s a jerk on the lunge and I spent 5 years trying to retrain that. I failed.

She loads like crap. Ava decides when, or if, we’re loading. I’ve had three different trainers help me and Ava still determines when, or if, she’ll load. I failed.

And Ava still to this day tests every single person who comes near her. You either pass or fail, and heaven help you if you fail. I have worked on her ground manners for countless hours, for 5 years, and although she is impeccable with me… she’s a down right jerk to anyone new until you pass her “leader” tests.

I assume Ava is an anomaly. Or maybe she needed someone different the past several years. Either way, she behaves (for the most part) around me, but I still don’t trust her around other people.

I want to believe that if I just spend enough quiet time with Ava she’ll blossom into a horse that has one hundred percent trust in everyone. Where she’ll let me approach her and touch her while she’s laying down, and we’ll have this magical transformation where Ava becomes a well-adjusted equine citizen that anyone can handle.

That was my ultimate goal for Ava… to be the good equine citizen for everyone, no matter what.

That’s not going to happen though. Ava is a tester of limits, a button pusher, a lady with a need to know who exactly is in charge. Which is probably why we get along so well.

In truth, I love this mare. She may make life difficult at times, but she’s mine and she has a forever home here. Although, sometimes I wish she’d go easier on the stall kicking and testing of the limits.

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Awoken at 3am by a monster

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Mr. Stumpy and Zeus

The monster on the left woke me up at 3am by launching himself at my lower legs.

He’s lucky he’s cute, because he’s an absolute terror. Attacking feet and latching on to ankles. He wants to be a tiger, but he’s trapped in a tiny, deformed body.

These are pictures of Stumpy soon after he was born.

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And Stumpy now:

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He’s surprisingly quick, and very mobile, for only having one full sized leg. He doesn’t know he shouldn’t be able to do half the things he does.

I struggled through my work day, which seems incredibly long when you’ve been up since 3. Always some kind of emergency at work. These critical emergencies always appear 25 minutes before quitting time. I’m supposed to stay until all fires are put out, but ugh… I’m tired.

And feeling under appreciated.

I rode Joy pretty hard yesterday, so maybe a well deserved break today. I hate to bail on riding when the sun is out because this weather won’t last much longer. Soon it’ll be slogging through mud, then slipping on ice, and eventually snow up to my knee’s.

But I’m really tired… and I’m short tempered when tired. Probably best not to ride.

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I love the woods behind my house. It’s one of those places where time disappears. 

….

An acquaintance bought a very well bred dressage horse. Beautiful horse with a lot of lift and bounce to the stride. I watched it bounce around, feeling a bit jealous, coveting this gorgeous athlete. But it occurred to me… it would be pointless to buy such wonderful mover unless I could sit the movement. I am thankful my little gal is very, very smooth. Ava was not… and I hated how much I bounced. I interferred. I limited her because I couldn’t follow well enough. I was always either a half a second behind, or worse, slowing her down so I could keep up. When I looked for a new horse, one criteria was that he/she be smoother than Ava was. I won’t admit that in person, but it’s true. I’d love to be so good that I could sit a big mover, but I’m a desk jockey… and I would need to make significant changes in my fitness levels to be able to effectively sit the movement of a really athletic, dressage bred, warmblood.

I’m thankful I have a very smooth pony.

Although, I really do still need to work on strengthening my core…

Beautiful fall day means trail riding!

I took Joy out on a trail ride with my new saddle yesterday. I am pleasantly surprised by how comfortable the saddle was, even though the seat is smaller than I should have.

That saddle was a life saver though. There’s a small sandy hill the neighbors like to canter up, and Joy gets rather rambunctious about it. Not only does she think this hill is built for leaping around on, but she detests being left behind. Which means pulling her up while everyone else is cantering on ahead is difficult (nearly impossible).

With my new saddle strapped on (and all protective gear securely fastened), we cantered up the hill.

It started out ok. Joy cantered… but pretty soon the strides got bigger, and the back got bouncier, and then the front got alternating bouncier, until we’re leaping and jumping up the hill.

It felt like:

 

I grabbed mane, sat up straight, and we made it to the top without me falling off. Guy behind us said it looked like a bouncy ride. Haha

That saddle is awesome though. I felt totally secure. It might also be the fact that I just spent several months riding in a bareback pad, so knee rolls and stirrups seem like a luxury now.

I wanted to test whether the little bronc bouncing was just that hill, or cantering on sand, or what… so after catching our breathes we cantered down the path quite a ways on our own while the other 2 riders hung back. Joy was a saint. Not only did she leave the group without issue, she didn’t spook, didn’t crow hop, allowed me to rate her speed and she stayed with me the whole time. It was actually really, really fun.

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Trail ride – short video:

 

Tack Room Cleaning

With the help of my hubby, and supervision from dad, I now have a functional tack room!!

So happy!!

There’s enough room available we can stock up on horse feed for the winter. Plus, a shelving unit for bandages, supplements, shampoos, etc. so I can keep those relatively dust free. Obviously room for my tack. I still need to buy bridle hooks.

I’m so excited!

When we first moved in, you couldn’t get to the tack room due to all the junk piled up around the door. Once we had cleared enough to open the door, I discovered the room was packed floor to ceiling with stuff. Most of it consisting of empty barrels, old tools with broken handles, old motors, etc. There was even a truck bed tool box in there.

So finally, nearly 7 months after we moved in, I can actually use the tack room as a tack room!

Woo Hoo!!!

I didn’t get before pics. I wish I had. Just take my word that it was an overloaded mess.

After Photos:

This is the back half. No more cobwebs all over the walls. You can see the floors!
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And front half.
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Hubby fixed the hole in the floor and did all the heavy lifting. Thank you, Hubby!

While we were at it, we switched out the round table for the rectangular one by the main door. It uses the space better.
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Do you see the cat door? Hubby put that in last week. Now the cats can stop digging under the sliding door (jerks). And even the feral, “Hate All The Humans!”, cats have figured out how to use it. Yay!

Shot of the stalls…
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When I came inside after a long day of cleaning and moving stuff, I found the couch stolen! AND they took my new blanket!
The audacity!!
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This is what I do for fun on Saturdays. ; )

Saddle for Joy

We finally had a few extra dollars available for a saddle for Joy. ¬†I knew I needed a very short (lengthwise) saddle for Joy. There’s hardly¬†any¬†room between the back of her scapula and her last rib. Neither of my dressage saddles were short enough.

Saddle sellers never list the overall length of saddles. It’s¬†seat size, tree size, gullet size, and flap length. Nothing ever about the length from pommel to cantle. And asking a seller to measure the length of the saddle gets some strange results. I had checked out all of our surrounding area’s tack shops, and none of them had anything short enough for Joy.

I scoured Craigslist. I could barely¬†get a tree size from CL sellers, so that didn’t go so well.

My husband suggested a Wintec, which I promptly scoffed at because no true dressage rider would put their derriere in a Wintec, am I right?

After exhausting all other avenues,¬†I bought a Wintec 250 Pony Dressage saddle. It has a 15″ seat.¬†I have some bum cheek spill over on the sides, but surprisingly it’s rather comfy. The saddle is made for a child. The flaps are extra short. Its the first saddle I’ve owned where my lower calf isn’t hitting saddle flap. ¬†Other than the fat spillage in the seat, the flaps are perfect sized for me.¬†

What I like the most is the changeable tree/gullet width. I had to change it to a wide, but it fits pretty well¬†now. Length is good, the saddle is little so it doesn’t look like its engulfing Joy like regular sized saddles do.

Stock photo of saddle:

Wintec 250 Pony Dressage Saddle Flocked

The picture doesn’t really give an accurate representation on size. This thing is¬†small! Plus, it’s¬†very¬†light weight.

It’s so little!!

Also, another bonus… because it’s synthetic, I can use it in the rain. And since I don’t have an indoor anymore, and it rains constantly, this means I can still ride without worrying I’m destroying my saddle. ¬†(I have to remove all potential reasons not to ride, or I won’t ride.)

I also bought Joy a pair of bell boots. Big Thank You to my Mom for these. She gave me an amazon gift card for my birthday, and I had finally decided what I wanted to use it on. I bought the Professional Choice¬†bell boots that are supposed to stand up to close range rifle fire or some such thing. I don’t know. They called it ballistic material.

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Professional’s Choice Ballistic Overreach Bell Boots

I’ve never actually used bell boots on any horse I’ve owned before. Joy’s the first one I’ve had that catches her fronts with her hinds. Luckily she’s never hurt herself, but I feel better knowing she’s got some protection. Especially because I want to start working on her go forward buttons. I was afraid the “get up and go” I wanted would have her striking herself.

Now all I need are those nifty white, fleece dressage boots, and Joy will be rocking the dressage look. ūüôā

Speaking of the dressage look, I think I’m over-compensating trying to fit in with the dressage crowd¬†because I don’t feel like¬†Joy is¬†really a proper dressage horse. Not that I’ve ever owned a proper dressage horse, but I’ve been extra insecure about it lately. ¬†I think if Joy were horse height it wouldn’t bother me quite as much, but because it’s a combo of her being a¬†non-traditional breed for dressage¬†AND¬†a pony, I’m feeling like I’ll be judged unsuitable for dressage before I even step foot in an arena. ¬†Like I’ll be dismissed without even being given a shot.

Add in the fact that I picked her out as my mount… I have no faith in my abilities to pick out a horse. So, if Joy is deemed totally unsuitable, then it proves I suck at picking out horses suitable for dressage. Which I already know I suck at it, but I hate being proven right on that point.

Oh well.. I’m just pondering why I feel this strong need to dressage Joy up as a dressage horse, and look the part, when there’s NO ONE around me that gives a shit what Joy looks like. It’s idiotic. I’m being weird and I don’t like it when I’m irrational.

….

Joy’s been interesting to own. Unlike Ava, Joy lays down quite often, and she’ll let you walk right up to her and pet her. ¬†I still, after 5 years, have never gotten close enough to touch Ava when she’s laying down.

It’s¬†been fun to be able to do these kinds of things with Joy. She’s such a loving little gal!

 

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Joy (laying down) and Jessie (in back). They take turns standing guard over each other.

Today I get to clean out the rest of the trunks and stuff¬†from the tack room so that I can start using it to store extra grain and bedding through the winter. I’m trying to figure out the best way to organize it. It’s kind of neat to have my own tack room.

 

Stretching Daylight

It’s getting darker earlier. Sunday, when the sun should’ve been at it’s highest point,¬†the quality of the light had an early evening feel to it. The leaves are turning colors and falling. Winter is coming. Eeeeekkk!

I may almost be ready for winter¬†this year. I have insulated bib overalls, a heated hoodie with adjustable heat settings, a big winter coat, and nice thick socks. I’ll probably still freeze, but hopefully not the second I walk out the door. Then again, I probably won’t be able to walk out the door with all that stuff on. I’ll have to roll down to the barn.

The Good:

I’ve been surprised by¬†Joy’s progress the last week or so.¬†She’s no longer actively fighting the contact (usually). The only time she really resists the rein is when she’s too busy looking for ghosts to spoke at.

The occasions where she’ll reach for the bit are getting more frequent. ¬†Twice this past week I was able to get almost half a circle of some¬†stretchy-like trot with a cadenced rhythm. It seemed like one day I got on and she she was like “I’ve got this!”. ¬†And suddenly she’d reach for the bit when I let the reins out. Of course yesterday we reverted back to not knowing how. I had to pull out every trick in my book to get a tiny bit of reach from her, and she’d only hold it for a few strides.

The pictures are from yesterday:

This is one of the rare moments she really reached for the bit. I’m leaning forward too much, which was probably why she wasn’t able to stretch down much.

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I like this picture. She looks more front-to-back balanced then the one above (I’m still leaning forward).

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Not stretching, but I like that she’s more open through the throat latch, and her neck appears to be arching from the withers rather than having that dip right there¬†that she normally has. Plus her hind leg is actively stepping forward into it.

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The Bad:

It seems like I vacillate daily between feeling like I’m doing an¬†okay job of teaching Joy the basics, and feeling like I’m completely ruining her. ¬†Today, I’m convinced I’m ruining her. One day I think I’m not asking enough of her, the next day I’m convinced I’m asking for too much.¬†She’s not going forward enough, she’s too forward and racing. She’s not bending enough, she’s over bent. She always has her head too high, she’s rooting the reins out.

I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING!!!!!

Dressage is a masochistic discipline.

The Canter:

I’m not sure how much cantering under saddle Joy did before I purchased her. Part of me secretly thinks she was 100% solid in the canter, and I’m just being a big baby about cantering her. ¬†Or, worse, I’ve regressed her training by 10 fold (<– probably that).

I remember the prior owner saying something about her being a “drunken sailor”, but I’ve got video of him cantering her, and I cantered her a bit when I test rode her, so she’s at least been cantering some before I bought her. However, she still canters like a drunken sailor. And sometimes I’m a bit concerned we’re not going to be able to turn.

Plus, the “arena” I ride in is on a slope. Going uphill isn’t too bad, but coming back down makes me grit my teeth and want to close my eyes.

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I secretly blame every problem I have on the slope. If the slope ever disappears then I’m screwed. I’ll have to admit I suck.

Joy got overly ambitious about the canter depart here. ūüôā

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I think, next ride I may focus on prompt response to leg aids. She’s too lazy off the leg to get her to push into the contact. It’s really odd to me that she’s not more forward thinking. I know she can be, but she’d much rather whoa than go. I thought the Morgan/Welsh breeds were a bit more energetic. More like an Arab than a QH. Yet, Joy is a conserver of energy. ¬†Her happiest riding moments are when¬†we’re standing still.

Anyway, long story short… some good and some bad the past week. I learned I should never quit my day job to become a horse trainer, and if I ever need to show Joy in an arena with a slope then we are so going to nail that test.

 

USDF Platinum Performance JR/Yg Clinic

I audited the¬†USDF Platinum Performance Jr/YG Clinic yesterday. I had high expectations for the level or riding and quality of the horses, but this blew my mind. These were fantastic riders! The horses were the best I’ve seen in MI in a long time (granted, I don’t get out much). ¬†But… Wow. I wish I rode as well as those young riders rode.

The clinician, Charlotte Bredahl-Baker, focused on the basics for every rider/horse. I watched 6 rides, and the overall theme was developing more bend through the body. That seemed to be a consistent problem with each horse/rider pair.

I thought it was ironic (and timely), because the last year Ava was competing that was my focus, and with Joy that’s been my main focus <– since I got it wrong on Ava until the last 6 months of training. ¬†So to see how developing more bend increased the quality of the gaits in these horses was really eye-opening to me. ¬†It was also really educational to see the nuances of really good bend versus decent¬†bend. It was very apparent in the half-pass, because you could see the horse struggle to bend around the riders leg . I could¬†also see it in¬†varying degree’s in the shoulder-in and haunches-in, but at first what I first thought was “enough bend” became “not good bend” as soon as Charlotte had the rider supple¬†the horse up enough for “Good Bend”. ¬† Which ultimately made a HUGE difference in the quality and bend of the half-pass. You could see the overall quality of the gaits and the movements increase significantly. It was really neat to see.

I also picked up a good exercise for the very start of introducing the idea of counter-canter to a young/green horse. Mainly, it’s used to get the horse to think about re-balancing itself in the canter when crossing the diagonal. You don’t actually counter-canter at all at this point, but it makes the horse assume that a diagonal means “re-balance”. Which was an area I had significant issues with Ava when I first introduced counter-canter, because Ava would get so nervous about making it around the corner in counter-canter that she’d rush the diagonal and lose her balance. Anyway, the whole point was to canter (say left lead) on the correct lead around the short side and then start across the diagonal. At the first quarter line, do a 15m circle and once you were back at the quarter line (where you started) go back to the wall on your right.

Example:

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I’m excited about this because this is something I can start with Joy long before I even need to¬†think about¬†introducing the counter-canter. And this exercise is adaptable.¬†¬†You could ease into the shallow canter serpentine once the horse is easily doing this exercise, or you could up the difficulty level of this¬†exercise¬†by placing the circle at X instead of the quarter line, or you could add in transitions or leg yields to solve different problems, or pretty much mix and match whatever is needed prior to ever asking for a single step of counter-canter. And by the time you do ask for counter-canter the rider will have the ability to regulate the horse’s tempo/speed, and the horse will have the balance needed to¬†be successful at it.

Another thing that Charlotte had the riders work on is lengthening the frame prior to asking for the¬†lengthen, or medium, with the horse. She stressed you wouldn’t do this in competition, but for training purposes it puts the horse in the correct frame prior to the lengthen/medium. Of course not a single rider had an issue with achieving this (because they’re freaking talented), so I don’t think I can replicate this on my own at home. I’ll have to¬†see if my trainer¬†can help me with this next year. ¬†Hopefully we’ll be ready for lengthening’s by next spring.

Overall, it was a neat clinic. Charlotte talked a bit about her background, and the horses that she’s trained. She’s a very likable person, down to earth with a good sense of humor. ¬†She’s one I would definitely ride with if the opportunity ever came up.

Oh, one last thought. The last rider I watched had this cute¬†grey horse. It wasn’t a horse you’d normally go “Wow” over, but this girl rode him so beautifully, and so tactfully, that it was poetry in motion. ¬†It was really neat to see.