Day Two – More equine angst

We started at 9 a.m. today to try and beat the rain/snow/sleet. I did not expect to be dealing with more equine insecurities today, and especially not with Fling, but she was borderline hysterical at the prospect of having to leave the barn (and Faxx) and go work in the dressage arena, out of sight of any other horses. Just walking her OUT there was a challenge – she just kept trotting ahead of me, circling, stopping, whinnying, etc.  Once I finally got her to the lunging area, I really thought she was going to escape and go bombing straight back to the barn before I could get the lunging equipment fastened on her. She was just unconsolable. It’s behavior I’ve never seen from her before, but I can understand it. Fling is the ‘alpha mare’ at our farm, and as such, she is ‘responsible’ for herd (HER herd!) safety. Most people think this is the stallion’s job, but like many aspects of life, the male of the species gets credit for all the female’s hard work yet again. 😉  Alpha mares are in charge of suveying the surroundings and sounding the alarm if there is anything suspicious. At home, if a car drives too slow (in her opinion) down our street, it is reason for investigation and Fling is on the job – trotting to the fenceline and scoping out the situation. Ditto for people on bicycles, people walking, etc.  Fling is EVER ALERT for any threat, real or perceived.  So Fling was just doing her job, and I was preventing her from doing her job!  After about 10 minutes of wild leaping around and plaintive whinnying, Marta came out to the ring riding one of her Andalusian stallions and Fling settled a little since she now had a ‘herd mate.’  I got on her and she relaxed quickly.

The main message today was to TRUST her. Don’t keep half halting her – let her neck up a bit. If she’s too deep, it puts her on her forehand. She is plenty collected. Now I just need to ride her UP a bit and slow her down at trot.

We worked on basic paces, half pass at trot and flying changes. Her left half pass is quite good. I’ve been having trouble with the half pass to the right, so we ‘diagnosed’ the problem there. She loses bend, and I know that, but couldn’t seem to fix it. Marta said not to be afraid to really shorten my right rein to really get her to bend, then use my right leg more actively to ‘wrap’ her around my right leg.  At first it will take very big aids until she learns what is expected. In the meantime, then I need to do half halts on the outside rein to rebalance and outside leg to encourage her forward. We got a few good half passes to the right and moved on to flying changes. I got many clean ones, but they were happening the SECOND time i asked her, not the first. Marta says she is leaning against my new outside leg (going from right to left lead) and I almost need to ‘think’ counterflex with new outside and strong outside leg.  We’ll try more of that tomorrow. 

Since Fling was such an idiot, I expected Faxx to be bad, too, but he was very laid back. I think the biggest difference was I did NOT turn Fling out after we got to the barn today, so he could not see her. Out of sight out of mind. However, when I got on him, he did whinny and whinny (he could hear her whinnying) and he danced around a bit and kept trying to turn back to the barn. I got him under control quickly, tho and had some really super work today. Marta loves Faxx. He is definitely her favorite. Like any good parent, I try not to play favorites with my children. 😉

She schooled me on the best way to warm Faxx up. She said give the reins, and wait for him to go TO the reins, to help get his neck longer. We want his neck longer because we can always shorten it if we need to later. He needs to learn to go out to the bit. Faxx is going to show First level at schooling shows this year, so we worked on some of the movements from those tests. He has an incredibly balanced canter, and the canter serpentine loop from First 4 that is tough for many horses is a total cake walk for him. People are wowed by his trot, but Marta and i both know that Faxx’s best gait is his canter. and that’s what you want for a horse to move up the levels. Marta is super good at helping school the movements because she is  stickler for preparing for the movement, doing the figures absolutely accurately and telling you the best way to prepare your horse prior to the movement. For example, for the shallow loop canter serpentine, she instructed me to go deep into the corner before, half halt and get him firmly on my outside rein, turn onto the diagonal and put Faxx in slight shoulder fore, ride to X, and then turn as quickly as I could, using outside leg and rein to keep from losing the shoulder and asking him to really turn around his shoulder, and then put him in shoulder fore again for the second half of the serpentine.

Next we worked on getting him to lengthen his stride at the trot. Faxx still just has ‘one’ trot and he needs to learn he can take longer or shorter strides when asked. Marta had me slow him through the corners, then put my hands foward and let him go. He’s a little lazy, and is not self-propelled like Fling, so I just waved my whip in the air to motivate him forward. They never understand at first that you don’tjust want faster – and so Faxx broke into the canter several times. When he did this, Marta had me send him forward in a ‘big’ canter and THEN bring him to trot. She said if I ask him to trot from his tiny little canter, I’ll get a tiny trot. Asking him to canter forward will make for a bigger trot when I do ask for the downward. We schooled this across the diagonal several times, and by the end, he had a few good lengthened strides. Marta also had me just ride him all around the perimeter of the arena, asking him to take longer strides.

So, some good work today. I am hoping for an ‘ephiphany’ for the flying changes this week, but realistically,such ephiphanies don’t happen very often. More than likely, Marta will help me fix the UNDERLYING issues involving the flying changes, and that will allow me to go back home, apply those, and over time, the changes will improve.  Although maybe riding the trained horse tomorrow will be the ephiphany that I am looking for! I am a little  intimidated by the thought of riding such a highly trained horse, but he looks very fun to ride, and what an opportunity!

The weather turned nasty after we finished today – first with sleet, then later in the day with snow. I stopped by old town Tomball for lunch, where there’s a Charlotte’s Saddlery and a cute little tea room. Of course I had to buy something at Charlotte’s. I bought a pink saddle pad and a lovely velvet show pad with gold metallic piping. As I was walking across the street from Charlotte’s to the tea room, a trail ride heading for Houston was coming through Tomball. By this time the sleet was coming down steadily and they truly looked miserable. Well, the ones who WEREN’T holding cans of beer as they rode looked miserable! They will be in downtown Houston by Friday, there they’ll camp at Memorial Park and then participatein the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo parade Saturday. (Ok, I know they call it RODEHOUSTON now, but it will ALWAYS be the HLSR to me!)

I made an executive decision today. I had planned to take Faxx home tomorrow and return with Faeryn. They’ve had such a hard time settling in, I decided it would be counterproductive to bring Faeryn. She is the ‘hottest’ of the three and I doubt she’d settle in to really get good solid work out of her. I’ll keep Faxx here and hopefully they’ll get more settled as the week continues.

It is very easy to see the glass as ‘half full’ sometimes, but even with Fling’s nutcase behavior today, I feel very blessed to have such willing, talented partners. It makes me want to work harder to be able to ride better to do them justice.

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