Current Conundra

Oakley was marvelous again yesterday. We worked over canter poles and I learned a few things: first, he has a big step (duh.) Second, he has a hard time compressing it (double duh). Third, he is a real trier: even though he was super tired with sore butt muscles by the end of our ride, he never said ‘no’, tried to be naughty, or simply ignored me. There was a lot of wiggling from side to side instead of rocking back on his haunches, but it was an honest effort. Good job, big man! You’ve earned your day off today, and then some!

I’m really crossing my fingers that Oakley maintains this good attitude as his workload increases – I’ll need to be careful to intersperse with chill days, so he doesn’t start hating his life. Also, it’s nice to have a horse that has all the basics in place in a way that I like, but who needs a lot of finessing through gymnastic flatwork, which tends to be my strength as a rider (jumping is another story, ha.) Poor Oakley, I have many, many flatwork exercises percolating in my brain for him. Though I’m also really excited to pop him over some jumps next week!

Trainer A impressed me once again during this lesson. He thinks that once a month has passed, we’ll be able to see an improvement in his weight and muscle and then be able to make a long-term plan for his progress and maintenance. I think at that point I’ll also have the vet out to look at his pre-purchase x-rays and see if we need any intervention in his hocks right now.

Anyway, herewith are the extraneous issues that are preoccupying me for the moment. Help me, blog readers! Please share your wisdom!

1. My locker: It’s basically a blank slate with a saddle rack in it, and all my crap stuffed in. I have a portable bridle hook hanging from one door right now, but it’s not ideal, as now the locker barely closes. I have learned from my creeping investigations that most people have a series of baskets and hooks installed on the doors and walls – maybe I could also do little portable shelves? Any organizational mavens feeling inspired by this?

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2. Pastern Dermatitis: Oakley came to me with this (better known as mud fever) on both hind pasterns.

mud fever feet and legs

This isn’t him, I was too dense to photograph it myself. Oakley’s case looks more like the left leg in this photo.

I’m not as worried now as I was earlier in the week, as one leg is looking a lot better. My vet told me that the first order of business was removing the scabs before any treatment would be able to work, so my post-ride routine has been to hose them in warm water for a few minutes, scrub with iodine shampoo, cover with Vaseline, and let the legs dry completely. Earlier in the week some of the scabs started coming off, and yesterday and left leg lost its scabs completely. My regimen for the non-scabbed areas has been to rinse with Betadine, apply Hibitane (an antibiotic ointment suggested by the vet), then spray with Aluspray aerosol bandage to seal it off, all while wearing medical gloves to decrease odds of contamination.

A quick foray through the Chronicle of the Horse forums turned up a lot of weird remedies, mostly involving the kind of things that are really embarrassing to buy at the drug store. If anyone has experience with mud fever, I’d love to know what you did about it!

3. Side reins: Trainer A has suggested I longe in side reins a couple of times a week. I haven’t owned side reins for ages (I’m not a big longe-er) – what are all the cool kids using these days? Is it still all about those leather ones with the rubber doughnut? Or solid leather? Or elastic? Help!

Interlude with Schmoodle

Yesterday afternoon came and went without a call from the vet about Mystery Horse’s PPE, alas. My nerves had reached fever pitch by the time my ex-trainer, at whose barn near Montreal the horse lives, texted to say the vet had been waylaid by an emergency call and would have to reschedule for today.

I went to the barn and ended up taking a lesson, if for no other reason than to stop me stewing over the impending vet check, ha. As Trainers M&L are still away at a horse show, they’ve brought in someone else to teach: Schmoodle’s owner, H! H is about my age and is trying to make it as a professional in the industry – she had a very cool job riding young horses for a well-known breeder and GP rider in the Midwest before immigration visa issues sent her back to Canada. I had met her years ago when she was still showing Schmoodle (I even still have her on Facebook) but hadn’t crossed paths with her since.

At first it kind of made me anxious to be riding her horse in front of her: she had loads of success with him when she was younger, and has since moved on to jumping big Grand Prixes, attending Young Riders, and generally eclipsing my own talent and experience by a huge margin. But I needn’t have worried. First off, she’s really friendly; second, she knows Schmoodle’s full range of silliness intimately (“This horse sent me to the hospital so many times,” she said fondly the first time we rode with her); and third, Schmoodle and I acquitted ourselves well in both our lessons with her.

When I first brought him in from the field last week and she recognized him, I was kind of shocked by how cavalierly she talked about him, in the vein of: ‘This horse is unsellable, I keep telling my parents it’s only good for glue! Hahaha!’ – but by last night she was stuffing him with treats and had revived a trick she had taught him years ago, whereby you stand in front of him and make kissy noises and he bops you with his nose. CUTE. He definitely remembers her!

It was weird how my feelings about Schmoodle have changed quite drastically now that Mystery Horse is firmly on my radar. I felt almost mournful getting him ready yesterday, because my focus is definitely elsewhere. He had a couple of little scrapes from the field: I doctored them, obviously, but I didn’t obsess over ensuring the hair would grow back in perfectly like I would have as recently as last week. Likewise, we rode inside and were set a tricky exercise of poles:

The three poles are bounces, with four or five strides between the bounces and the single poles.

The three poles in a row are bounces, with four or five strides between the bounces and the single poles.

We did the exercise with the fives very smoothly, but the fours were a struggle, especially to the right: I really had to ride every stride and it felt quite rushed (there were also some undesired lead swaps.) But it rolled off my back in a way it wouldn’t have when Schmoodle was the container of all my horsey aspirations.

Walking him back to his field, I admired how handsome he was, with the first signs of his rich black winter coat coming in, and his sweet kind eye. Whether I end up embarking on my horse ownership adventure now (!!!) or at a later date, I’ll look back on my friendship with Schmoodle with enormous fondness.

In Which the Flatwork is Getting Really Hard…and I Have News

So…the problem with Trainer M is that his attention span is pretty short and in fact could charitably be described as “magpie-like”. (It’s his girlfriend, Trainer L, who is the detail-oriented perfectionist of our barn.) Beware of when things start to get too easy for you and your horse, because M finds that particularly boring. Before you know it he’ll either have raised all the jumps five holes while you’re not looking, or set an exercise with so many striding options and changes of direction that your brain is liable to explode while trying to learn it. He likes big jumps, tough courses, and a lot of adrenaline in his life.

A while ago I told him that, although I’m all for fun jumping times, Schmoodle and I are alone, doing flatwork, 95% of the time, so we should probably do some flat lessons. I just kind of meant getting some feedback on Schmoodle’s connection and shape, bouncing around some ideas for dealing with his tension, and having someone on the ground to yell at me about my hunchy shoulders and wonky left leg.

M acquiesced (“…but are you sure you don’t want to jump the course in the grass ring instead?” You mean the one set for the 1m40 horses, complete with open water? Yeah, no.) and we had a good lesson last week, addressing all those things. Then during yesterday’s lesson, Schmoodle came out feeling great – relaxed, forward, good shape, respectful of my leg. So naturally M upped the ante by taking away my stirrups. That’s cool, I’m all about no-stirrup September. Then he added that excellent exercise, posting while standing for two or three beats, sitting for one. “He looks great,” M said. “This is getting boring, though,” he continued under his breath.

“So just shoulder-in in trot on the long side, haunches-in on the short side, canter an eight-metre volte still in haunches-in out of the second corner, back to trot and repeat,” he said casually. Keep in mind we are riding in the indoor, one-third of which is cordoned off for hay storage, so the rideable space (i.e. the free arena space minus the requisite 5-metre perimeter from all spooky things that Schmoodle contractually requires) is about 20x35m. This was really hard, not least because I struggle mightily in the transitions to keep Schmoodle’s shape, and because haunches-in on a tiny volte is…not something I practice enough. Once we mastered that, we did serpentines with simple changes though walk (“You’re not allowed to touch the reins during the downward transition! Keep the activity in the first walk step!”), then serpentines with flying changes (“Hey, that was front to back! Needs to be more uphill! First step of the new lead should be in leg yield!”). Then: “Canter half pass from F to X, flying change, continue in leg yield to H.”

OK SERIOUSLY NOW. When did M become the Dressage Queen of Synergy Farm? What happened to “flatwork is boring albeit necessary”?!

That last exercise was SO HARD, I never really ended up doing it properly. In the time it took me to get the half-pass without the hindquarters trailing; straighten the horse; perform a lead change; then keep moving laterally the same direction but with the opposite bend, we were basically bouncing off the end wall of the arena. I can’t wait to try it again during my next ride (I had an epiphany in the shower later about how to better visualize and ride it.)

The power of positive thinking, eh Schmoodle?

The power of positive thinking, eh Schmoodle?

Anyways, Schmoodle’s and my minds were blown. BLOWN, I say. And I’d wager he is as muscle-sore as I am today. Poor Schmoodle, I think he would like his life of single-outside-diagonal-outside back, please. I, for one, thought that lesson was kind of awesome.

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Schmoodle is on his own this weekend. Because I’ll be on the road trying to find his replacement.

The career and life-stage stars have finally aligned such that I feel comfortable with assuming the financial responsibility for a horse of my own. As much as I love Schmoodle, and thought hard about pulling the trigger and buying him from his current owners, I’ve decided to start with a clean slate and try to find a young prospect.

Schmoodle is a wonderful horse – so much more horse than I’m able to afford to own. He’s imported, super scopey, careful, sound, and fancy, not to mention sweet and personality-plus. Unfortunately his inherent tension and spookiness will never go away, I don’t think – that’s why he’s mine to ride despite having been actively for sale for years. Although he trusts me and we work well together, there is always a bit of anxiety present at the back of my mind with him, especially when faced with a new situation, because you can’t tell if he’s going to have an explosive reaction. I don’t want to own a horse I have to longe and ride down for hours at the horse shows in order to jump around the Adults safely. And I really don’t want to own that horse and be unable to sell him when I’ve decided it’s time to move on. Jackie describes her horse as “[making] me both insanely happy and entirely furious, usually within the same day.” That’s how I feel about Schmoodle, but with a bonus dose of anxiety thrown in, and honestly, that I could do without.

I want a horse that might be able to do a bit of everything: bop around the hunters at a low level, for one, but maybe also school cross-country or even – dabble in eventing? I’d like to be able dip my toe in the waters of dressage showing, as well. Basically, I’m looking for something reasonably athletic, with a good brain, that wants to come to work cheerfully and play ball every day – not the world-beater, and not a bombproof deadhead – just a good citizen.

So if you have one of those in your back pocket, let me know!

And if anyone has any good/ridiculous horse-shopping experiences to share…please do!

Lesson Time: In Which I End Up With Very Sore Leg Muscles

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.

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Juuust like this, only without the feathers

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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? 😉
I want a little less of this

I want a little less of this (ok, maybe exaggerating a bit BUT STILL)

Charlotte-Dujardin-Valegro-passage-9T5U5359-web

And a little more of this. Yes, this is what I want my adult hunter to look like, why do you ask?

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!

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[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.

Lesson Time: Hitting the Gym

Trainers M and L were home for a couple of days this week, so I grabbed a lesson at the ungodly hour of 9:00 this morning. Unfortunately, that meant Schmoodle and his fellow outdoor horses hadn’t been grained for breakfast when I went to get him. He was NOT PLEASED. (Actually, neither was I. I definitely think the girls should have grained them before 8:30, especially as two of them were on the board for a 9:00 lesson. But I digress.)

Additionally, M is our farrier in addition to being our trainer – he does really amazing work, but sadly, as he’s away at the horse shows for so much of the summer, the horses that stay at home fall to the bottom of his to-do list. Schmoodle is about a week overdue for shoes, and has begun tripping quite a bit. Combine that with today’s sloppy footing and humid weather, and I didn’t have a happy horse.

The course build was ongoing while I warmed up, so I found myself having to stop and start a lot to keep out of the way. Long story short, I never really got Schmoodle on my aids as well as I’ve been doing lately. Sometimes I find in lessons I’m more tentative with what I do in my warmup, when really I should do the opposite – try a bunch of different things and invite critique! By contrast, last lesson Schmoodle came out a bit high, and I knew we would be jumping a course with lots of scary filler, so I concentrated solely on getting him as concentrated and sharp off my leg as possible. Today he lulled me into leaving him feeling a bit lazy, and I paid for it when we started jumping.

We worked on a gymnastic line today, which technically is supposed to be pretty straightforward, as the horse should be doing all the work. I don’t love doing gym lines on Schmoodle because he has a tendency to back off, hang in the air and land quite shallow, making the exercises difficult even though he has a big natural stride. Fully built, the exercise was: canter in over the cavalletti; three strides to the first set of bounces; two strides to the next set of bounces; three strides to the cavalletti out.

That blue splotch is a puddle. The rest are verticals.

That blue splotch is a puddle. The rest are verticals. Three of the orange/brown were initially removed, so we started with cavalletti – 3 strides to vertical – 7 strides to cavalletti.

I had a total Charlie Foxtrot moment my first time coming through: we came off the right rein up towards the ingate, and Schmoodle’s engine totally died as he skirted the big puddle in the corner of the ring and waffled through the corner. We caught the first cavalletti totally underpowered; had to gallop up the three (which was set at 40′, hello, embarrassing) and then keep coming up the seven.

Well, I knew it was a seven, with a gap on the way out. Schmoodle thought it might be an eight, but that either way, he didn’t trust it at all and stopped dead. Ouch! Nothing like a stop at an 18″ plain white vertical to polish up the old ego. I came around again and, of course, overrode the shit out of the three AND the seven and ended up with a VERY strong horse by the end. Not good, Bob.

Luckily, M knows that I have two modes: panic mode and decent-rider mode. He basically just told me to calm down, lighten up and ride like a normal human, trusting my horse to take care of himself. We proceeded to do the exercise successfully a few more times, then added the bounces in really well, too. I managed to sit really quietly and keep my hands forward throughout the gymnastic each time. I don’t know about you guys, but I struggle majorly to not take a feel of my horse’s mouth upon landing. I can force myself not to do, but I have to spend 100% of my mental energy on that one task. #AmateurBrain.

The last few times through, we added in the bending five strides to five strides over the three verticals on the other side of the ring. I gotta say, we nailed it every time, even the time Schmoodle slipped and almost wiped out totally on the way out of the gymnastic and I had to regroup uber-quickly. Our last time through, I found a nice spot at the base coming in, sliced the first five a bit direct to compensate, then shaped the second five so that I had a beautiful identical rhythm all the way through. You know, like you’re supposed to do: no panicking, no hauling on the mouth. Then we quit and headed back up to the barn, with Schmoodle glaring at me balefully, because, in case I had forgotten, HE HADN’T EATEN BREAKFAST!!!!!

Even though the lesson started off a bit rough, we recovered really well, and my horse ended more confidently than he began.

Things to change for next time:

  1. Try to ensure Schmoodle gets shod on time. This is the problem when you don’t actually own the horse: hard to control these things. Less tripping, less sliding will mean more willingness to go to the jump on a big step.
  2. Do a proper warm-up, with a focus on forward! Insist that Schmoodle feel like he is really taking me somewhere. Sometimes I err on the side of ‘not pissing him off/winding him up’ rather than ‘cowboying up and getting shit done.’ Bad choice.
  3. If things go wrong, keep working on not panicking and then overriding. It’s a work in progress, but we’re definitely getting somewhere on this one. Today, once I remembered how to be soft and not feed into Schmoodle’s tension, our result improved tenfold.

    Schmoodle:

    Schmoodle: “No, idiot. What to change: MAKE SURE I GET MY BREAKFAST. That was NOT cool.”

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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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…