Monday, November 9, 2009

Skating this one in just under the wire before my lesson tonight.

Tris started off loose and limber, but balky. He hopped in the trot, so I pushed him in the canter, and T. got on me right away about how my position goes all to hell when Tris is so behind the leg like that. It's a chicken-egg scenario: Tristan gets hollow and stiff and resistant, so I tip forward, drive with my seat, and scrunch my legs up in the mistaken belief that putting my heel halfway up his belly will push him forward more. That *does* get a temporary burst of energy but it's never any good, and in a stride or two he reacts by getting more resistant.

So: staying deep and long and wrapping my legs around even in the first "canter or die" work. Then we worked the trot for a long, long time, still concentrating on bringing him up in the base of his neck. It's funny how things I would have been ecstatic about two months ago have quickly become our new plateau: he'll soften and chew and reach with his hind end quickly now, but already I can feel what's beyond that. We're starting to tap into real *power* from that hind end, instead of just cooperation; a stride or two at a time, maybe, but it's showing up more and more frequently.

Our big breakthrough of the evening was in the canter. We worked it longer and harder than we ever have in a lesson, and I made some good breakthroughs about the way I ask for and then ride the canter, following along with our first obstacle of the evening. I need to sit back even more than I think I ought to, so I allllllmost feel like I'm behind the motion, and let him rock me, following more softly with my hips, keeping the front open and easy to let the energy go through that way. That makes *him* work harder, and it helps me to be in a better place to cue him. I don't *need* to vice grip with my legs to keep him cantering - he's fit enough to canter a few 20m circles by himself, thankyouverymuch.

T. talked a lot about the things our horses trick us into. In Tristan's case, he makes me think that he can only get a canter after nagging and speeding up the trot, then can't hold it unless I hold him up, luring me into driving with my seat and scrunching up my legs. It's a lot easier for him than pushing with his hind end and lifting through his back. Ironically, I had watched L. on her lovely flashy paint make my exact same mistakes in her lesson not twenty minutes before - and T. called me on it exactly. I also used the mirrors to good effect for almost the first time while cantering, and I could see instantly that what I felt like was leaning waaaaaaaay back was actually sitting up straight. Funny how our bodies lose their sense of center like that.

We had probably the best few strides of canter we've ever, ever, had, and T. even said he'd never seen Tristan move like that. \o/ Now, we're at the point where not everything has to be perfect from stride 1; Tristan knows his job, and I am to shove him through, God help us both, because on the other side there's finally something good waiting for us.

Two observations; first, that I had forgotten how helpful group lessons can be. I had private lessons for so long at Coach's that I got out of the habit of working things out on my own. There's something to be said for that much attention, and I'm sure there are some riders for whom it works better, but my riding has improved enormously from the sort of "directed practice" portions of a group lesson. When T. works me hard for 5 minutes, then I go to the other end of the ring for 10 minutes, and he gives occasional pointers, I add a piece to my intuitive understanding of what's right.

Second: I think even with all the good work we did, my favorite part of the lesson on Tuesday was how often T. and I started praising Tristan at the same time. I've been riding for a long time; I know what feels right, and I know when to praise a horse. But this is more subtle than that. I'm catching the split-second moments and encouraging them, and stretching them out longer, than I ever have before. That makes me a better rider - which is what Tristan deserves, someone who can help him learn with a minimum of flailing around. I'm trhilled to death that I'm finally starting to get there.

After a week of no riding time, I think he'll get ridden every day this week, which is excellent; he was stiff for C. last night. He's turning 15 in the spring, and I need to start to be more aware of his body and the suppling work it needs.

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