Sunday, November 22, 2009

Is it totally cheating to just post someone else's riding notes on your horse? I don't even care, I am so delighted with this, from C., received about an hour ago:

Oh pony was magnificent tonight! After just a wee bit of the obligatory argument he settled right down to work. We did all sort of figures and leg-yielded everywhere. We did stretchy-round-stretchy. We did spirals. Then we had an AWESOME canter. Really! Left we were round (really!) and once we did the canter 20m circle, trot spiral in and out and canter he had this "OH!!" moment. We took a break while he processed it and did it again. I think that is a very helpful exercise for him! Even to the right he got round after the spirals. Then he lost his balance but the effort was there. He must have thought i'd lost my mind cause I was patting him so much!! We quit at the half hour mark as really it wasn't going to get any better.

Good good boy!!!

He has been going similarly for me - really really trying in his canter, and figuring stuff out, and just an absolutely delightful ride.

I could do a whole post on how wonderful C. is too and how asking her to ride Tris one or two days a week was one of the best decisions I have ever made, both for my sanity and for Tristan's training and guys, she's just awesome. I have to get her something amazing for Christmas. Any suggestions?

In conclusion: Best. Horse. Ever.

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.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Weekend's worth of rides, under the cuts.

Took His Highness out back to one of the jump fields with two goals in mind: get him a bit better through working up and down hills, and test out the accelerator and brakes before the hunter pace on Sunday.

Through - and occasionally soft - was much, much better than I could have hoped for. He was able to keep his hind end somewhat engaged both up and down hills, and after 15 minutes or so of warming up, around corners. We played around, threading jumps, up and down hills. He even offered a canter a few times, especially going uphill. On the one hand, it was technically evasion; on the other, he NEVER offers a canter and then actually follows through on it. I let him go, and he came back from it easily.

Brakes worked out mostly well save for one incident. I was trying to confirm a left-lead canter/hand gallop down the long side. His left lead canter has reacted to attempts at being through by not being as expressive as I would hope. Embarrassingly, I'm occasionally having trouble spotting the lead. So I wanted to get a nice transition, then a circle, then send him down the long side to work up some speed. Circle went fine 3/4 of the way around, and then faced with maybe 3-4 of open room left before he would have to complete it, he jerked his head around, pivoted on his hind legs, swapped leads, and BOLTED down the long side to the right. (Picture a circle in the corner, with his option to go down either side.) He surprised me enough that there was a distinct moment of hanging in the air over his left shoulder. I remember quite clearly thinking "What? Huh? Oh, HELL no." Shoved myself back in the saddle, brought him back down, and put him back in the corner. Four more bolts right, kept my seat just fine, and on the last try I made the circle more like 12 meters than 20 and did.not.let.him. even think about going right. He came through it after much fighting, picked up speed down the long side, and I dropped the reins and let him be done. We cooled out with a bit of a stroll through the woods.

Sunday morning I got to the barn to find my idiot horse impossible to catch; just kept walking away. Poor Frosty, who I was also fetching, followed me patiently as I walked after Tristan for about 10 minutes. I put Frosty in the barn and yelled back at Tristan that maybe I'd just take this OTHER, nicer pony to the hunter pace. When I went back out for Tristan, armed with treats, he walked right up to me, ears pricked, even before he knew I had treats. Spaz.

Trailer-loading was...sub-optimal. Swerving, backing, and then as is his wont, one big OKAY, FINE and he stepped up fully and stood quietly for Hannah to do up the butt bar. She remarked that he refuses so completely and vehemently for so long, and then gives over all in one wave and is great after that. He just has to make his case.

Trailer ride however, did not go so well; Tucker couldn't find his balance, and was scrambling badly enough that we headed back to the barn to find he'd cut himself. We called it a day, and while I was helping with Tucker, dumped the hay bag in front of Tristan's stall. Turned around a few minutes later to find that he had upended the entire bag and created his own little buffet in a 5' ring around his stall door in the aisle and was leaning over the stall guard, taking a piece, and watching everything in very contemplative fashion.

I opted for a short dressage school in the outdoor. I had some energy to work with, probably a combination of trailer stress + outdoor ring + neighbors across the street sawing metal. It was great - it's pretty rare that I get to work with jittery energy instead of sluggishness, at least in dressage. 15 minutes or so of suppling and circles and he came through wonderfully. He's not really a horse that gets springy and light; he gets light, but there's *power* behind it, a great big wave of push with each stride. It's really neat to feel when he can put it all together.

So we worked that trot for a while, and then I asked for some canter to play with that energy, and - oh, niiiiiiice. Some of the best canter work we've ever done, heavy as an anvil on the forehand but trying SO HARD, and several glorious strides of that deep in the saddle, sitting with the horse instead of just on the horse connection. Both directions! I was holding him up far more than I'd like, but for him to even let me hold him up - especially in the left lead - was so, so huge. Cooled out with a walk around the big field out back - and a trot through the stream to get there, his first trot through water under saddle - totally unphased! Atta boy. :D