Note: I wrote this a while ago. This wasn’t last week, but I left it in there for timeline info.
I rode the horse that I’m catch-riding last Wednesday (my last post where i was super excited).
The owner works a lot, so she was having a lady at the barn ride the horse a couple of times a week to keep him fit and to help train him. The other rider at the barn broke her foot and can’t ride for a while.
The owner had arranged to have the lady who normally rides him there to give me a mini-lesson on him. I was warned he’s very tricky to ride. Emphasis on that because I’ve heard that phrase more this week than i have my entire life.
Short back story: I spent several years as a working student for a dressage trainer who gave me every badly trained, untrained, or tricky horse she got in to ride. The ones that reared constantly, the buckers, the never been sat on before, the hot heads, the crazys…. Anything the trainer didn’t want to fall off of, she threw me up on to it (frankly, I loved it!)
So when the owner suggested I take a lesson on him with his other rider, I mentally poo poo’d the idea. However, I won’t pass up help if given. They know the horse, I don’t….
That ride on Wednesday was a horse who was… I guess the best way to describe it (in hindsight) is “lacking forward”. He was always against or behind my leg. Even if I booted him hard it was a subdued response. Half hearted. The most I got out of him with a firm boot to the ribs at a walk was a big “I’ll buck you off if you do that again” message.
It was difficult to keep him straight. I had no outside rein. He escaped out the shoulders on every circle. No real bend. He felt crooked. Like he tilted toward the right. It made me feel like i was slightly off center.
He’d go in “frame” if you placed your hands dead center and didn’t move, but he never felt connected. He never felt like he reached for it on his own, nor that it was there due to energy from behind. It was just a headset. He looked ok, but it didn’t feel right.
The most I could get out of him was a change of direction or a 20 meter circle with lots of drifting (no outside aids to stop it). Anything beyond that was beyond my skill level to pull out of him. I really felt like I could barely control the turns. I almost ran into the other lady riding even though the planned path would’ve given her a wide berth.
He went better with the lady’s suggestions, but I still felt like i was riding half a horse. Half power, not using his body, stiff back, and backed off.
They said they normal wear spurs with him, and carry a whip. I’m not against spurs, but I personally hate wearing them (hurt my ankles, I suck at using them).
I went home feeling defeated and confused, and wondering how I was going to ride him the rest of the week (I barely got him to go last time). I wasn’t sure i could ride him. I wasn’t sure I wasn’t going to go out and end up sitting on a horse that would refuse to move at some point and no solutions. I knew I couldn’t force him to go if he didn’t want to. He made it clear he’d fight fire with fire at one point. And the tips the lady gave me hadn’t made any difference in his response to the leg anyway. Spurs weren’t going on my feet. The whip made barely any effect. Heels were so-so….
I felt a defeated… I’ve ridden just about every type of horse imaginable, and this one, the one that i was so excited to ride, was going to be the one that showed me how inept I was. *hang my head*
Thursday i went out to ride him again. I do have some tricks I can try. Joy had sticky feet when i bought her, and now she’ll go like a bat outta hell if I nudge her. Figured I’d do my best, and if I couldn’t get him to go without kicking every two strides then I’d let his owner know I wasn’t a good fit for her horse (hate to make things worse).
Naive optimism helps me tackle a lot of life’s problems. 😉
So Thursday I start off with some simple leg-yielding along the wall. I normally like to use the box exercise, but that made him die out more. The wall leg-yield started poorly. He gave a lack luster effort. Bare minimum. No energy at all. I was trying very hard to be precise in my aids. Lot of release to ensure he gets the point that when he goes off the light aid then he gets rewarded.
He was tapping out my ability to be uber-precise with leg aids.
He perks up a bit by the 5th one, where I’m being very deliberate in the light aid cue, with a stronger cue to back it up if ignored, then leg off immediately if he responds in the slightest. He starts to feel a bit more limber. A little bigger walk. He starts to feel a little bit more responsive to the aids. Nothing major.
I had just started trotting when another lady comes in.
I look like ass trying so hard to keep him going, so I make a joke about still trying to find his “buttons”. She offhandedly tells me that every time he shows a bit of belligerence, turn him. So, I do… Turn, turn, turn, turn, couple of double taps hard with my heels on his ribs one time when he slowed during a circle once and…
Suddenly i had an engine under me!
A big motor!
He powered himself around after that. We trotted and cantered, did some normal leg yields toward the rail. I could start to half-halt with the outside rein finally. I felt like i could steer with my seat fairly well (he still drifted more than i wanted). He wasn’t exactly “connected”, but I felt like he was more honestly finding the bit instead of just holding his head in a frame.
I dropped him back to walk and I could feel his back swinging under me this time.
I let him catch his breath for a while, then thought I’d try to recreate it again now that he’d rested for a bit.
I asked him to pick up the trot with my seat. He popped into it. He didn’t try to stop at the door like he always does, he kept motoring along under his own.
We had some lovely working trot going. I caught bits and pieces in the mirror, and desperately wished I had someone to video tape it.
So.. What i learned is that no matter the age, size, or training on a horse, the old standby of shifting their weight to move their feet works (maybe a well timed reminder to solidify the idea doesn’t hurt either).
And wiggles, shoulders, and contact issues are almost always a result of lack of true forward. That horse was easy to ride after he was in front of my leg.
I’m going back out tomorrow. I’m more optimistic about it now.
Hopefully i can recreate it again. There seemed to be some discussion amongst the barn riders that one trick may work one day, but not another. Like i said, they’ve told me repeatedly that he’s tricky to ride.
To be honest, after Wednesday’s ride, my only goal was to not make anything worse. I’ve only got this ride for a short period of time. His old riders will be healed up and back on him again soon.
It’s my understanding that the lady who gave me a mini-lesson is able to pull out of him some semblance of First or Second Level work… or, at least, they said they started flying changes with him. As I see it, my only job is to keep him fit and give him some lovin’ until his normal riders are fit again. The lady that’s riding him now (not the owner, but the one that gave me a mini lesson) has shown through Intermediare 2. I’m just a lower level rider. I’ll leave him to the experts once they’re healed. In the meantime, I’ll have fun riding him.