Two very good rides this weekend, despite the pre-winter bluster.
It is now well and truly dark at 4:30, which means I had about an hour of daylight in which to ride after work on Friday. When I drove up, Heather was tacking Bunny to do the short road loop. She invited me along, but you know I'm kind of anti-road-loop since our last experience.
I had been wanting to try the arena exercises from Heather's lesson last Sunday. I did my best to listen to the instructions while I was taking pictures, but I have not had a moment to ride in between. This was a week of chaos and overtime on the work front (especially disappointing since Heather's husband just added some stadium lighting to the arena so we could use it at night).
I've been reading one of my TTEAM books again too, and had decided to try some bridleless work with the neck ring if there was time for that. I made time by multitasking—I decided to use the neck ring for warm-up. So we toodled around the arena at a decent walk with me not touching the reins at all. Blue did fine. It wasn't the miracle of human-horse synchronicity that Linda makes it sound like in her book, but it was good to know that I have another exercise in the toolbox.
In the lesson last Sunday, Anna had Heather ride Bunny toward the corners and concentrate on stopping her straight by lifting the reins straight up (rather than pulling). Anna's on a real "independent seat" kick right now, so her focus is very much on helping her students fight the urge to brace against the horse's mouth.
Blue and I have been working transitions the last couple of weeks, and I have found him heavy and awkward on the forehand. He never stops neatly on the first try, and when I release, he practically falls flat on his face. So imagine my surprise when he stopped neat and straight every time I lifted instead of pulling. It is a lesson in humility that he was more than happy to whoa when I stayed out of his mouth. That means I am the problem in this case. Sigh.
This is going to be an extremely hard habit to break. "Pull back for whoa" is pretty much the first thing you learn about riding. They tell you that one at the pony rides at the zoo, for heaven's sake!
This is more a trust issue for me than anything else. The idea that I could safely stop my horse on the trail with just a lift of the reins and no additional contact goes against every self-preservation instinct I have.
For now, I'll keep working it in the arena until it feels natural for both of us.
The second exercise from Heather's lesson was a bit more involved. The idea was to walk the horse straight down the long side of the arena with his nose tipped to the outside. While I have read a lot about using the different parts of the horse independently, I haven't had a ton of luck with it in real life. The idea here, as I understand it, is to begin introducing the idea to the horse in a very logical way. Yes, I can face one way and walk another.
Going clockwise, nose tipped left, he got it pretty quickly. He was soft and not too crooked. He was moving off my leg and seat. I felt optimistic that this was an exercise we could master. And then I turned him around.
Counter-clockwise was a fiasco. "Stiff" doesn't even begin to describe his reaction. I kid you not, he could barely walk. He pulled and fussed, stumbled, swished his tail… and then grudgingly took a couple steps. The only time he really did it well was as Heather and Bunny were coming back up the driveway. Then he bent and looked right at them as I drove him down the arena. Of course, when we got to the other side and he had to face away from them, the whole thing fell apart again.
<Note: Heather told me Bunny was trotting a solid 14mph, and actually passed a slow tractor out on the road. This jives with my internal clock. It seemed like she was back almost before she left. I have a feeling Heather will be a force in LD in the coming year, but I think Blue is going to need another year of nutritional recovery and conditioning before we consider getting competitive, let alone trying for tractor-passing speed.>
Anyway, the fact that Blue was able to do the exercise counter-clockwise when there was something he wanted to see off to the right makes me believe that there is a mental component to the stiffness. I will try a combination of TTEAM and April Battles' methods to release any lingering tension, but then it might just come down to insisting.
We went back around the "good way" to end the training session on a high note.
On Saturday, I woke up late to roaring wind and ominous skies. I discovered that I had slept through the first half of the crucial/stressful college football game (Go Huskers!—eventually!). Laying there on pins and needles at the thought of another embarrassing Big 10 loss, I imagined riding at Madame Dorion—the howling wind sandblasting my eyes while I desperately tried to make myself as visible as possible to the hunters—and I was overwhelmed with laziness. Brian and I spent most of the day sprawled on the couch. He played xbox. I watched.
But I regrouped 24 hours later. Heather and I had planned a lake ride for Sunday afternoon and no amount of wind was going to keep me from doing at least a little conditioning. So although it was still very gray and blustery, we decided to brave it. It seemed like a safe assumption that the wind would be less offensive down in the woods near the lake. That was 100% true. It was almost—dare I say—a pleasant day out of the wind. Plus the lake was nearly deserted because of the iffy weather, so we could keep up a good pace without worrying too much about trampling pedestrians.
Blue forged the entire time. And I mean literally every stride was clack, clack, clack, stumble, clack. I shifted my weight. I two-pointed. I dropped the reins so he could find his own equilibrium. Nothing was working. Coming down the switchbacks on the far side of the dam he stumbled so hard that I was sure he was going down and taking me with him. He crumpled forward on the downhill, half righted himself, but tripped again as gravity and momentum threw him forward. I threw him the reins and sat still to give him every chance to recover (and give me every chance to bail if I had to). It took a momentous effort, but he hauled himself back up and continued as if nothing had happened. Disappointingly, our little brush with mortality didn't seem to make him more careful. Clack, clack, clack, stumble, for another 6 miles.
Don't get me wrong. His behavior was sensible and forward overall. He even seemed downright cheerful on the single track through the tall grass (Hello, HOTR!). He didn't do anything ridiculous all day other than being a little "looky" when we went by Dean's horses. But his forging made me cautious when I probably should have been more encouraging. He went roaring down a couple of hills in what would have been an exhilarating trot minus the forging. The speed and rhythm were there. The grace was not. So I was checking him and trying to get him to rock back and use his butt. No dice.
Jeff the farrier is coming tomorrow, but Blue's feet aren't particularly long or too far out of whack to the naked eye. I suppose he could be a little thrushy from the sudden change of weather. Everything else seems normal. Is thrush all it would take to disconnect him so completely from is own hooves?
I guess we'll just have to see what Jeff has to say about it.
PS: If you haven't been following Aarene's Endurance 101 online clinic, go now.