Honest question: Is there anything more terrifying than going to fetch your horse from his or her field, only to find it empty?!This is the situation that greeted me yesterday: gate closed, halters hung up neatly on the fence, horses AWOL.
“Schmoodle?!” I called in a panicky voice. A tumbleweed blew across the empty paddock.*
[* Not really.]
FINALLY, after calling for him a couple more times, Schmoodle and his two friends poked their heads out from behind the little run-in shed at the very far end of the field, behind which they had all somehow been completely obscured, thank god. Then Schmoodle actually came galloping right up to me! Like Black Beauty! So tender.
It was hot as blazes and buggy again, but I didn’t care, because it was flat lesson day! Like Erin, I have to say flat lessons are my jam. Schmoodle was kind of distracted, resistant, and tough in the mouth throughout. This always makes me feel like an idiot in front of my trainer, especially since last week and the week before, he’d been so lovely in the contact. But on the other hand, what better time to take a lesson than when your horse is giving you trouble, right? My ego will just have to take it.
We started with flexions in and out on a 20-metre circle (where Trainer M had me carry my inside hand much higher than I wanted to and really draw back the elbow while not getting rigid), then haunches-in to test my theory that he’s reluctant to load the right hind as much as the left (M’s conclusion: it’s possible, but it also may be an imbalance I’ve caused. See below!) We moved on to shoulder in, then half-pass in trot (which I never do when riding by myself; the pseudo-dressage rider in me feels like if we don’t have a reliable shoulder-in and some degree of legitimate collection, half-pass probably won’t work.) But M’s half-pass exercise really worked: we would move across the diagonal first in leg-yield, then change the bend while still moving laterally into half-pass. After a break, we moved into canter, changing the flexion on the circle, and spiraling in and out while maintaining first true flexion, then counter flexion. We added in a couple of counter-canter circles, then finished on a few lead changes, keeping them relaxed and forward. And then we laughed about how much fancy flatwork we were doing with our hunter whose “real” job should consist of bopping around on a loopy rein.
Man, did I need that lesson. M had a lot of corrections to make on my hand position and on my left leg. As I noted above, Schmoodle was being very yucky in terms of staying round and engaged. When taking and giving with the inside hand to help get the roundness, M wants me to resist for a few strides at a time before relaxing the hand and allowing Schmoodle to follow the contact down. I’ve always been taught to vibrate the wrist and “shake” the horse off the contact when they get heavy, but M thinks this is too unstable. I found this SO hard to implement so we definitely have homework to do in this regard.
My left leg is also apparently really weak, and tends to get drawn up under me, especially when asking for bend or lateral movement. This was painfully evident in our canter circle work, where we ended up with a beautiful quality to the right, and a horrible four-beat thing to the left when I tried to spiral in without letting Schmoodle lean on my leg. Apparently I need to use more of the front of my calf and less tension in my hamstring. Who knew! This is probably contributing to the unevenness I’ve been feeling. This is the problem when you’re the only one on your horse 99% of the time, especially when most of those rides are unsupervised, right? Your problems become their problems.
M also zeroed in quickly on the fact that, even though I can get Schmoodle’s neck and shoulders moving independently where I want them quite nicely, the resistance remains in his rib cage, especially going left. I will be able to fix this in part by rejigging the way I use my left leg, but the leg-yield-to-half-pass exercise will also help a lot. I also have to be careful not to let my shoulders and hips inadvertently interfere with getting the shape I want: they have to stay square with Schmoodle’s!
All in all, this lesson reminded me of how much riding is a game of inches: tiny adjustments lead to such big difference in the horse’s feel. I guess that’s why I love it!
We need to do a bit of an equipment switch-up, to wit:
- I need to find one of the multiple (sigh) dressage whips I’ve lost this summer. I tend to either accidently drop them, or get rid of them while cantering when Schmoodle gets strong. Two of them are somewhere out there in the grass ring. Anyway, I need to be able to instantly reinforce that left leg, especially, when Monsieur gets lean-y.
- Unfortunately, at M’s suggestion, we need to do a couple of draw rein sessions. Schmoodle is really getting away from me in the upward transitions and needs a refresher that he can’t just flip me off and evade the contact. I’ll try to do a long-and-low relaxing session with them on Saturday, then a real flat school with them on Tuesday. Hopefully that will put us on back on track. As I’ve said before, draw reins do feel like cheating to me, buuuut I think I’d rather throw them on for a couple of rides than continue to struggle with the same resistances. Amateurs are allowed to cheat, right? 😉
M reminded me that the university team will be starting back up at the barn this week – so I think my next post will talk about my awesome university riding experience!
[Commence real-world, politically charged topic here – stop reading if you must.]
Do you ever find it hard to reconcile your focus on riding with your other, more worldly concerns? I know I do. All summer, but particularly this week, I have been increasingly horrified and saddened by the ever-growing influx of refugees and migrants streaming towards Europe in search of a better life. I can only hope that this week’s images of three-year-old Alan Kurdi may have galvanized some sort of movement to find a solution to this crisis.
If anyone is interested in how we, so far away, can help, you can find a helpful list here.
And if you want to read a moving and arresting poem that sums up my feelings on the subjects better than I could ever do myself, here it is.