Heat Wave, continued

Yes, I know – if any solitary readers of this blog any of you live in a truly hot climate, our measly 35*C temperatures probably seem like child’s play to you. Meanwhile, we are wilting up here in Ottawa and struggling to move at anything faster than a shuffle. I capitulated to the heat and adopted a fashionable riding outfit of tank top and sunglasses:

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The bug-eyed look. We also decided to forego a saddle for most of this week.

Today saw a bit of rain and slightly lower temperatures, so I planned an actual workout for Schmoodle. After last lesson, I wanted to work on rebalancing the canter on landing from a jump, as well as continuing to insist on a consistently sharp response to my inside leg. Luckily I had this diagram of four-jump exercises in the annals of my computer (provenance unknown):

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The second exercise, switchbacks, is for balance and bending – sounds good to me! (Unlike Bending Bounces Massacre, which sounds terrible.) I set it up with cavalletti as the centre elements and poles as the outside (because, once again, my motivation only extended to moving two heavy cavalletti.)

This deceptively simple exercise totally kicked our butts! It forced Schmoodle to be super respectful of the bending aids from both legs, to keep his engine going through the short turns, and to maintain shape in his topline and body despite wanting to stiffen and resist (given that my exercise was set next to the pile of scary jumps, there was significant resistance away from that direction.) After running through it a couple of times, I added halts after each element (as a “woohoo, I’m up here” kind of deal); next time, I added ten-metre circles instead of rolling back directly to the next element (including a solid correction with the whip which engendered a literal squeal of offense on Schmoodle’s part). Then, I suddenly had a super engaged, straight horse under me, who jumped the shit out of the cavalletti the final times through – really round and using himself correctly. Will definitely be using this exercise again.

(Our only misstep was when Schmoodle stopped dead in horror to stare at the German Shepherd that had wandered into the road from the barn across the street. He is forgiven, as I also thought it was a coyote at first glance.)

I shampooed his tail tonight with a shampoo that smelled like delicious coconut and gave me a visceral longing for pina coladas.

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“For dogs and cats.” Oops. Also, “adds highlights”. Sure it does.

I’m out of town again this long weekend and am taking bets on whether Schmoodle will still have his fly mask on when I return. I suspect it will have been ripped from his face, destroyed, and partially buried in a far corner of the field – thanks, gelding friends.

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Hey, dudes.

(Mostly) Wordless Wednesday: Heat Wave

It felt like 38*C (around 100F) in Ottawa yesterday. Today will be going up to 42*. I’M NOT DOWN.

We went on a bareback jaunt yesterday night, then had a nice bath (I say “we” because I’m incapable of bathing a horse without soaking myself totally.) More of the same on the agenda tonight, I should think. I may even break my self-imposed rule of “no riding in tank tops”.

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By the way, that cutie got into some mischief while I was out of town on Sunday…a good friend of mine took a lesson on him (her own horse is lingeringly lame) and, following a disagreement about a distance (at the horrifying fern jump, wouldn’t you know), she fell off and broke her finger. BAD SCHMOODLE.

Lesson Time: The Dreaded Fern Jump and Other Terrors

Well, I’d say Saturday was one of mine and Schmoodle’s best ever lessons!

Once again, he came out looking for reasons to be distracted. He was a bit stiff on the flat – I felt I couldn’t really get my inside leg into him – but instead of worrying about getting that perfect feel, I simply concentrated on getting him very forward off my leg in canter. I knew the course set up in the ring would pose a challenge, both due to the scary fillers, and to the fact we hadn’t jumped a proper course in weeks; thus, I tried to make sure Schmoodle was in a “Yes, ma’am!” sort of mood.

And it worked! We warmed up over the cavalletti line, at which we’re getting pretty darn proficient, then added in most of the other jumps in the ring as singles. He was very backed off at first, even the plain stuff, and I stuffed him under the base of a good square oxer by being too locked in my elbows – not the most auspicious start. Then, one of our lesson mates had an unfortunately fall in which her horse pulled off and became tangled in his bridle, scaring himself and taking off at high speed around the property, shedding bridle pieces as he went. Of course, this caused Schmoodle’s anxiety to surge – but once the horse was caught, we got right back to it.

And lo and behold, instead of getting stuck and reactive, I was able to put my leg on, ride positively, and flow forward to each jump – even the dreaded fake ferns that Schmoodle (and I) were so nervous about! Schmoodle gained confidence with each jump, and I have to admit, I was really proud of myself for not getting tense and picking away the canter to nothing while searching for a distance that isn’t there. Instead, I was able to put together solid patterns and focus on finessing the smaller details of line and balance.

Our course is below: a holding ten steps down the cavalletti line; short turn up the fern single; flowery oxer to brick wall in a flowing six; aqua oxer to plank in a balancing three; triple combination (1+2 stride); brick wall to oxer in six again. (Nothing was super big, all between 2’9 and 3’3.)

My Paint skills are pretty non-existent, sorry. Also - next time I should photograph the jumps!

My Paint skills are pretty non-existent, sorry. Also – next time I should photograph the jumps!

Takeaways: when I keep my eye up, my leg on, my elbows following, and Schmoodle’s engine revving, it really doesn’t matter what distance I come to, or even how spooky the jump is: it ends up working out fine. Easier said than done, of course – but today was a big step in the right direction. Good boy, Schmoods.

Homework: After a forward line or a big jumping effort, Schmoodle tends to get a bit heavy and low in his balance. I need to be able to rebalance in the first corner in order to recreate the necessary energy in the second corner. This worked pretty well today, but the balancing could have been smoother. I’ll need to set up some exercises this week to work on this.

Bonus: after my lesson, my best friend KPT and I got to watch a livestream of the individual show jumping finals from the Pan Am Games. The Pan Am equestrian events are being hosted at Caledon Equestrian Park in Palgrave, about four hours from here. Our barn shows there often, and KPT actually showed in their big Grand Prix ring for the first time last month. It made it doubly cool, watching world class show jumping in such a familiar venue.

KPT attended the Pan Am dressage last week and brought me one of the official #RideToToronto shirts!

KPT attended the Pan Am dressage last week and brought me one of the official #RideToToronto shirts! Of course we wore them for our livestream party.

There were some really wonderful horses in the class: I’ll take the stunning liver chestnut Quabri de l’Isle, please.

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Flat Days: Musing on Draw Reins and Vacations

Had a good flat school on Thursday night – once again, Schmoodle came out with ants in his pants, but once again, he settled and produced some lovely work.

I elected for draw reins today as I was encountering some resistance in the jaw and diving in and out with the shoulders that I was finding difficult to correct. Full disclosure, I’m not a huge draw reins fan. I know many people who never flat without them, and honestly, I don’t get it – how do you trust in the quality of your work (namely, hind-end engagement versus headset) without them? (Honest question here.)  That being said, I like them attached to the billets or side D-ring of the girth when I need to emphasize straightness once in a while.

Despite a few struggles in trot, the canter work was very good. I was able to put my leg on and create a forward, round canter even in the ~*~scary corner~*~ where all the jumps are stored. I added in the two cavalletti we worked on in my last lesson, this time upping the ante and alternating between eight strides and eleven strides each time through. Schmoodle was super responsive, not strong after the very flowing eight, and nicely balanced in the very holding eleven. Success!

However, Schmoodle’s coming out tense and spooky two days in a row, after last week being so quiet and relaxed, makes me think I have to integrate more “vacation” days into our regular schooling, as I think he gets sour/bored by too much ring work. Prior to last week, I had spent the last month riding bareback due to an ankle condition that prevented me from riding normally (more in another post.) Schmoodle LOVED this and just generally seemed like a happy horse. He still seems like he’s in a good mood – always very happy to see me and come in to work – but I need to be conscious of mixing in some days where we tool around and have fun, I think.

Or, Schmoodle needs to come to terms with the fact that he basically works five hours a week at things that are pretty easy in the grand scheme of things. Not exactly slave labour, there, buddy.

Loafing in the field: a favourite pastime

Loafing in the field: a favourite pastime. Unfortunately, you have a job, Schmoodle.

Homework:

  1. Body control! I need to be very cognizant of what I’m doing with my body, especially as I ride alone most of the time. I have worked hard on my leg and hand position and am pretty happy at the moment, but I find myself influencing too much with my body a lot of the time. I need to keep my posting very quiet, even when Schmoodle gets stuck and looky; and in canter, not use my body to create the forward or sideways that needs to come from my leg. Shoulders like a princess, hips like a harlot, as they apparently say in dressage world.

Horses I Have Loved: Artus (2008-10)

Last time: Artus and I navigated the ins and outs of our first show season.

Artus (2008-10)

After a year in the 2’9 divisions, it was time to move on up. Artus and I were ready to enter the big ring. (We’re talking B-circuit here, people. The 3′ child/adult ring was where it was at.)

In the meantime, I had acquired a horse of my own: Rosie, a 5-year-old TB, who will be the subject of another post. (You will soon notice that I have a thing for chestnuts, especially of the Thoroughbred variety.)

2008 was, in hindsight, a year I started out feeling really brave. I had a green baby who I did all the major work with myself, and planned to show on my own, with no professional to show her the ropes first. My “big horse” was dear Artus, who I planned to do in the Children’s, equitation, medals, and jumper equitation: still spooky, still not 100% (let’s be real, still only about 50%) on the lead changes, who had more willingness than scope or carefulness. But it was my last junior year (even though I had only become a hardcore h/j rider in the previous couple of years, I realized the significance of this) and I felt like it was all in our wheelhouse.

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Artus and I didn’t set the world on fire, but we made up for each other’s weaknesses. He went bravely to any jump I pointed him at. He jumped from long and short (but mostly long, I have had a crazy eye.) He hacked and flatted with the best of them. He tried to do a lead change now and again, and always kept a smile on his face.

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Check out that jump filler!

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Pony mane!

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4′ – the highest we ever jumped.

Then we literally crashed and burned.

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I remember coming to in the hospital and feeling shame for having let down my partner so badly. I fought until my parents agreed to take me back to the horse show, so I could check on my big red Muffin, who was mercifully OK, save for some scrapes and a chipped tooth. Later that week, I got back on the horse, though I felt fear. But every time I put him into a canter, I took a deep breath, felt the familiar rhythm, and realized I still had some of that bravery in me, because I still had the gift of his trust.

We sat out the next horse show so I could focus on my green horse without the potential Artus-related nerves creeping in. Then, at the following show, we returned to the scene of the crime.

That weekend I came 1-1-1, Champion, in the Baby Greens on Rosie, and 1-1 in the equitation on Artus. It was as sweet a comeback as I could have asked for.

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Throughout the next three years, Artus was a constant in my life despite many other changes. We kept chipping away at it, as other horses came in and out of my life. He became more and more dependable, and started assuming the role of teacher, for younger riders to benefit from what we had learned together. Now, eight years on and 17 years old, he still belongs to my former trainer, and is an invaluable “packer”, though he now prefers the short distance to the long, and comes out of the stall a little stiffer. But his ring presence is still commanding, and his heart is still always in it. (Although he retains, to this day, the habit of craning his head all the way around from side to side while waiting his turn at the in-gate, as if to say, “Is there any way outta this?”)

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Though he now does them cleanly every time, I can’t say he ever really learned to like lead changes.

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2010, our last show together. He was Champion in the Adults with me as well as in the Children’s with his young rider.

Artus, my little Muffin, my horse of a lifetime.

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Flatwork and a small disaster

Schmoodle was clean, shiny and ready for a coat of hoof polish when I reached into the bottom of my grooming box and discovered, to my horror, that my new bottle of Cowboy Magic tail detangler had spilled all over. I mean, the bottom layer of brushes and products was sitting in an inch of silicone. Let me tell you, people: that stuff does NOT come off. I tried hot water, cold water, many different kinds of soap, even rubbing alcohol…no dice. Oy vey. I’m going to be flinging slippery brushes every which way for the next few weeks before it wears off. Also, that bottle was FORTY DOLLARS and my previous bottle lasted me FOUR YEARS. Back to the tack shop I go, grudgingly, because that stuff works miracles and smells great.

If anyone out there is a) reading this and b) has had anything similar happen before – please tell me what you did to get all the slimy stuff off!

Yeah, this stuff. ALL FORTY DOLLARS' WORTH.

Yeah, this stuff. ALL FORTY DOLLARS’ WORTH.

After I recovered from the shock horror of my grooming box mess, I had a pretty good flat school, though Schmoodle came out high as a kite for some reason. Was it the cold? The mooing cows down the street? The approaching storm clouds? Unsure, but he was way more tense than last week. Despite this, he gave me some good trot work as long as I thought of pushing forward into the bridle. He was tense in the jaw and ribcage in canter and I had to really get after him to get him to unlock laterally. The horse who would, last week, lengthen, shorten, and yield side to side at my slightest thought was not present tonight, but he definitely could have been worse.

I set myself up a circle of death with cavalletti at 12 and 3 and poles at 6 and 9 [because 12 and 3 were located closer to where the heavy cavelletti are stored. Lazy girl problems.] I walked a normal five between each. We rode the four elements in all kinds of permutations and Schmoodle was quite good, if short in the neck and tense at first. When I got seven strides from pole to pole the first time through, I knew I needed to GO MORE FORWARD. Eventually we progressed to slicing from cavalletti to cavalletti in four strides, which worked out quite nicely in each direction. I reeeeally need to get 100% comfortable with riding with lots of pace and continuing to come forward until I see a distance, rather than waiting and letting the canter get smaller and smaller.

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My circle of death. Those clouds do look ominous.

We also worked on small turns on landing, following our slight issue with that last lesson. I had to bring Schmoodle back to walk and correct with the whip a couple of times to get my message (“don’t dive into my inside leg!”) across – he is very whip-shy so if I hit him in canter, we tend to teleport halfway across the ring, accomplishing nothing but more tension. I also focused on getting the lead in the air without twisting or leaning. Overall, a good performance on Schmoodle’s part: I was able to work off a big canter and bring him back into balance on landing without a big production.

I rode without spurs (my normal ones are small roller balls) to make sure the response to my leg aid was quite sharp. Tomorrow, we shall use draw reins to the billets to re-emphasize the need for a long neck and uphill balance (with spurs, because as my trainer M says, “Using draw reins without spurs is like going to the bar without underwear: you’re just asking for trouble.”)

Dumb horsemanship move of the night: As I was walking Schmoodle out, he stopped next to one of the “scary” jump fillers set up in the ring. I let him sniff it, but he decided to instead take a bite of the plastic ferns and pull the whole gate down on himself, scaring the crap out of himself and thus completing his self-fulfilling prophecy: That gate is scary and if I approach it it will bite me.

Horses I Have Loved: Artus

This weekend, I got sucked into the wormhole of looking at old horse pictures on my computer. In most many of them, I could find something to shake my head at: I’m crooked asking for the lead change. I’m staring at the ground. I’m jumping ahead. I’m jumping ahead again. I’m…still jumping ahead. Judging solely by these pictures, I definitely wasn’t the hotshot I may have thought I was at the time.

But as much as there is a lot to wince at in these photos, one thing set my mind at ease: invariably, my horses have happy looks on their faces. Their eyes are soft, their ears are pricked, and they seem to be up to the challenge, despite whatever the hell the jockey’s doing up there. It makes me think that we were doing something right, at least. We didn’t win all the time – but we also didn’t pound the horses into the ground chasing points, lunge them to death in search of the perfect hunter round, or bit up our 3′ jumpers to facilitate turning and burning. (Sadly, there were a lot of those things on display on our show circuit every summer.)

We did love the heck out of our horses, who in turn rose to the occasion time and again. For me, that all started with…

Artus

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When my trainer in Montreal bought her now-barn, back in January 2007, it was an eventing barn, complete with a cross-country course, and a fleet of cute eventer school horses that we inherited. For the upcoming show season, I had my eye on a young mare to do in the 2’9 classes. We worked our butts off all winter and spring, until one day, the ex-owner of the place showed up and decided to take her to his new barn. Suddenly horseless, I was left with Artus, who seemed like a good boy and all, but very spooky and without a clue of how to do a lead change. Nonetheless, it was Artus or bust, so we stuck him on the trailer that weekend for my second-ever  hunter/jumper show.

Artus and I were deer in headlights at that first show. I had no idea what anything meant (Open card? Schooling class? Ticketed warm-up? What do you mean I just jumped three rounds and none of them counted?) and was plain overwhelmed…a feeling he shared. Artus had been to some horse trials before, but I don’t think they had compared to the utter chaos of this horse show. Picture it: four rings, one big warmup next to a cornfield. Horses galloping willy-nilly, trying to catch the warm-up jumps. Everyone amped up and fresh, as it’s the first show. To make matters worse, Artus had fallen in love with his neighbour, La Senza, on the trailer ride over, and as soon as I got on to try to negotiate the chaotic warm-up, he began screaming for her…and didn’t stop for the next half hour, as they each circled the warm-up at opposite ends, craning their necks and rolling their eyes towards each other, convinced death was imminent and they would be better to face it together.

On our way to the warm up, Artus is saying,

On our way to the warm up, Artus is saying, “I think we should NOT GO THAT WAY. Where is La Senza?!”

We made it through the show alive, barely – we showed in the New Junior division, 2’9, for riders who had less then ten shows under their belts. I had been riding for years, had shown at lots of unrecognized shows, and counted myself pretty knowledgable. Of course, I got my ass soundly handed to me by ten year olds on saintly ponies, as my old-style, timber-racing-built TB and I careened around the course at Mach 3, no lead changes in sight, frantically whinnying every time we passed the ingate. So it goes.

Artus:

Artus: “This is terrifying!!”

As the season progressed, we started to get our shit together. We figured out how to warm up without melting down. We won a lot of hacks and flat classes, and when we landed our leads, got a piece of the over fences. We qualified for the finals of the Modified Medal (of course, the test was multiple lead changes. Damn it. We didn’t make the callback.)

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That black pony used to beat us all the time. Curse you, Blackberry!

That black pony used to beat us all the time. Curse you, Blackberry!

Most importantly, we learned that this horse showing business was kind of fun. I bonded with my barn mates and Artus remained obsessed with his own barn mate, La Senza. We mastered rollbacks, and sitting trot, and how to hurry up and wait, and the difference between an open card and a ticketed warm-up.  And I fell in love with my cresty-necked, fuzzy-maned, bulging-eyed chestnut muffin, Artus.

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Then we went home and worked on our lead changes.

Next installment: Artus and I move up to the big-kid classes.

Mental Game

No point in hiding it: I’ve always been a bit of a nervous rider but I’ve gotten worse in the past couple of years. I had a fall with Schmoodle last year that freaked me out a bit: he jumped a new jump, then spooked hard on landing and scooted off right, I went left, and he whacked my wrist with his foot as I went down. End result: one broken wrist for me.

I truly love Schmoodle: he has a great character, is really athletic and fun to ride, and is good eye candy to boot. His weakness is his unpredictable spookiness, which can be quite explosive. That day was the only time he’s ever gotten me off, the only time I’ve ever even come close, and really the only time he’s pulled that big-spook-on-landing move; still, though, I have a hard time trusting him over fences. I’ve gotten better: we’ve had a lot of really good lessons together and jumped some courses that scared the bejeezus out of me at first, and aside from stopping and staring at terrifying flower decorations a few times, he’s never really let me down. He has a tendency to back off scary jumps, then jump them very hard, and it jumps me loose sometimes; but again, nothing bad has ever happened as a result – except that one time.

Come on, mom. I said I was sorry.

Come on, mom. I said I was sorry.

I try to mitigate my nerves by setting myself up for success: working on the flat so that I have a great quality canter, focusing on adjustability so I have options to get out of trouble if we run into a bad distance, working on ratcheting down his reactions to spooky things. But at a certain point, I have to just trust him: ride forward to the jumps, follow his mouth instead of bottling him up and making him nervous, and believing in him a little more. He deserves it – he’s given me a whole year of good rides; I’m pretty sure he likes and trusts me; he’s been a Junior hunter and, briefly, a 1m35 horse, for goodness sakes. He can handle my 3′ courses just fine, and intellectually, I know I can handle him if he does get out of hand. So I guess I also have to believe in myself!

But ah, to be an anxious adult amateur. My motto should be “Cowboy Up, cautiously.”

Blog Hop: Everyday Fail

So I have discovered blog hops. Cool! I started reading Nicole’s excellently-titled blog, Zen and the Art of Baby Horse Management, and she’s called for the worst and most absurd riding pictures in all the land. This she will have!

In looking through the photos I have saved on my computer, my only regret is that I didn’t scan more of the many, many hideous pictures taken of me in my riding camp days. I mean, I’m sure I wasn’t riding terribly in all of them, but they were certainly a fail from a fashion standpoint. Observe:

Those chaps. That hair. That SADDLE PAD. Cute pony though!

Those chaps. That hair. That SADDLE PAD. Cute pony though! Also, this one is kind of a riding fail too.

A more recent goldmine were the pictures from the year I had my green TB mare, Rosie. In 2008, I showed Rosie in the 2’9 Baby Greens, a class that was 95% professionals, and it freaked me out. I mean, the look on my face in most of the pictures is one of total intimidation.

Am about to throw up off the side of this horse

Am about to throw up off the side of this horse

Accordingly, we barfed this distance!

Accordingly, we barfed this distance!

But my favourite picture of Rosie is this one. The file name is “Destroythis.jpg”. I’m glad I didn’t take my own advice. Nice release, self.

That leg though.

That leg though. Also, someone else is photographing this jump from the other angle. I must find that picture and destroy it.

But the best fail pictures come from the incident below, with Artus, my children’s hunter, in 2008. No worries, I escaped with mere facial lacerations and a concussion, and poor Artus chipped a front tooth but was otherwise OK.

THAT WAS NOT THE DISTANCE WE AGREED ON

THAT WAS NOT THE DISTANCE WE AGREED ON

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He sure is shiny.

Poor guy :-(

Poor guy 😦

Ouch.

Lesson Time: Precision

My trainers M&L are back from a few weeks of horse shows, which means – lesson time! This summer, there is no assistant to stay home with the few of us clients who get sadly left behind, so I spend the majority of my time chipping away at things on my own. That means lessons serve as both instruction and report card on the work of the last little while; today, we passed with flying colours!

Not today, but you get the idea.

Not today, but you get the idea.

Schmoodle has been in a pretty quiet and obedient mood lately (maybe because he’s just happy for an excuse to get out of his field, where he’s plagued by bugs and three geldings who tend to get all up in his business?) and has been feeling quite good through his body, which M was happy to see. He set us a pattern of cavalletti: a nine-, ten-, or eleven- stride line down the centre of the ring; a flowing four-stride on the diagonal; and a shaping nine-stride bending line on the other diagonal. The name of the game was being able to get the numbers as smoothly as possible while working off short turns into each of the lines.

I know cavalletti are not the most exciting thing around but I seriously love these lessons, as they’re challenging and testing without having to also focus on actual jumps. Schmoodle flatted beautifully, despite staggering down to the ring half-asleep and almost falling on his face during our first upward transition. Wake up, sleepyhead! We got nine (a little flowing), ten (basically normal but a bit quiet for us) and eleven (very steady) strides down the centre exercise pretty easily each time. My first time adding in eleven, I reverted to my perennial habit of too much hand, not enough moving elbow. Seriously, I can just hear my old trainer hollering “Following elbows!!!” at me at my first horse show with my old horse, in…2007. Talk about old habits dying hard…

The rest of the lesson, though, I was actually proud of my body control – I kept Schmoodle active in the short turns, worked out the numbers early, set up the leads in the air and basically thought about what I was doing rather than panicking when, for instance, we got in deep to the flowing nine and had to work it out (admittedly, nine strides is a lot of room to work things out). Amazing the results you get when you use your rational brain instead of reverting to (bad) instincts…

The other thing I was glad about: we only got one swap off the canter lead in the whole lesson. Generally, Schmoodle will take any excuse to merrily swap leads: long one, short one, weird thing sitting by the side of the ring, thinks he’s turning left, thinks he’s turning right… Anyways, today I actually, you know, treated my courses like flatwork with speed bumps and used my shoulder-fore when shortening for the eleven steps. Magic!

Takeaways:

  1. Our ring is really big. Eleven strides is a lot of strides in one line, even when the jumps are tiny.
  2. The only place where Schmoodle was dull to my aids was the short turn to the right off the centre exercise – I really had to hold outside and leg really hard inside to prevent him from diving in. To school this week!
  3. My focus on adjustability in canter is paying off. Schmoodle is feeling very well-broke indeed: sharp off the leg, soft in the mouth, attentive to half-halts. The quality of the canter was evident in the short turns where we had to keep balance and engine to give us options into the lines. Keep working on this – and keep those elbows soft…