Some very good rides and some “huh?” moments

Although it’s been *&^$) cold, at least it has not been raining. My rule is, in the winter, if it’s dry enough to ride, I ride. So I’ve gotten a lot of riding in this week.

With Fling, I am currently alternating between ” We are going to kick butt at Third level” to “I ride like an overripe rutabaga and should not be allowed anywhere near a horse.” Last week, her canter felt really collected, and her back was really up and I could keep her on my seat while cantering hither and yon around the arena. I even did some large schooling half pirouettes. Sunday I rode and I could not even get a decent canter. And at first, like the amateur I am, I just kept cantering trying to make it better. You know the definition of insanity? Doing what you’ve always done and expecting a different outcome. So finally, duh, I tried to put on my ‘trainer helmet’ and analyze the situation. First, she was not listening to my half halts. The half halts were just not going through. Hmm. So why would half halts not go through? Is she stubborn. No, not generally. Does she not understand? Fling understands perfectly what a half halt is and what’s expected of her. Hmm. Could she be crooked??? Ding ding ding ding ding. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner. Not exactly crooked, but leeeaaaaannnning on my left leg. This is a throwback from her younger years – used to be a huge and ever-present issue with her. And now it had returned. (In my experience, many ‘bad habits’ never really go away – they just go into hibernation!)

So, using one of Jan Brink’s exercise, I did leg yield away from left leg, and then picked up left canter, using much left leg and a few ‘thumps’ with my calf now and then to remind her not to lean. It got better, but I was still not 100% happy. Just not as good as a few days before. Not as reliably off my seat and listening to my aids. Eh. Some days chicken and some days feathers, as my grandma used to say.

On to Faxx, who has ‘stepped up’ to a whole new level the past few weeks.Faxx is over 16 hands (as opposed to Fling, who is about 15.1 and Faeryn, who is about 15.2) and I am 5 feet tall. He’s also a huge mover, and historically has been reluctant to take real steady contact with the bit. That combination has made it tough – he could go in and get a 77%, or he could get 58%, depending on the day. Learning to ride him has been a steep learning curve. Even tho I’ve had many horses, even learning to post his trot was a learning curve. And I have had probably half a dozen youngsters I’ve brought up the ranks, so I’m a pretty experienced rider. But I have never had as big a mover as Faxx. It is absolutely impossible to sit his trot unless he’s 100% through and connected. And he can’t be 100% through and connected unless he’s taking honest contact with the bit. And to do that, his back has to be up. It’s taken me a year, but I think I have finally figured out how to ride him. Not only is he taking steady contact, he’s seeking contact. When I get him balanced at trot, I can give the reins and he reaches for the bit and he gets even rounder in the back. It is an incredible feeling. He is ‘carrying’ himself in balance and connection. He is staying connected even through changes of direction through serpentines and figure eights, and I can sit the trot for longer and longer periods. Even more, he’s so steady now, I can start asking for longer and shorter strides at trot and canter. I can use just my ‘core’ to half halt him and he’s listening. He’s a happier horse under saddle.He’s been one of the most challenging horses I’ve ever had, but hopefully the toughest work is behind us now. Plus, he’s definitely worth the effort. He has a really good brain, is not spooky, and also has a fabulous naturally uphill, huge canter. He reliably scores 8s for gaits when I ride him correctly. I rode him through some of the first level movements last night – the smaller circles at trot and canter are not a problem for him at all. The biggest challenge will be keeping my position – sitting stretched up tall, not collapsing in my core, with my shoulders back – throughout the entire trot work. That is essential to keep him connected and through.

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