It's been a while, so I figured I should get back into things with two fantastic lessons in a row.
I've been working really, really hard the last few weeks to get my legs back and deeper. It's finally starting to pay off - it's starting to feel like a normal place for them to be instead of a painful stretch. The reward is that they're much more solid and effective, and that I can really access Tristan's hind end now, especially that sticky right hind.
In turn, he's never been better. His canter is really starting to have lift and spring to it, and he's flirting with really truly coming over his back in it. He's reaching for the bit, and his trot is just getting superb. He's developed a whole new level of confidence - if you'd asked me six months ago I would've said he was already a supremely confident horse. But I didn't take into account a certain kind of body awareness and confidence in his physical ability to handle the work - before, he was struggling with his own musculature and confirmed way of going, and now that we've eroded so much of that and replaced it with solid, good muscle and stretch and bend, he's starting to enjoy his own body in a way that's really neat to feel. He's still Tristan - he still gets snarky and snotty most of the time when I ask for new things - but that resistance is such a small fraction of what it used to be, and he comes out the other side much more willing to work with me.
So from last night's ride: once again, some lateral work in hand, then a 10+ minute march, march, march in the walk warmup, then collect it together for maybe 5 minutes, then into a loose trot. I really need to stop making excuses for not doing that every time. He goes SO much better and more forward than when I ask for more work earlier. 3/4 of the way through the warmup T. stopped us and said that he really, really liked about 99% of what we were doing with the warmup - we just needed a hair more tempo. I have to balance his tempo carefully in the warmup - too much and he'll happily run around like a lead weight in my hands, too little and he'll happily be all slinky with no actual push. So T. got us to just the right metronome click for his trot, which was indeed only a fraction more than what we'd been doing.
Lots and lots of lateral work in general in the actual ride. I'm flirting more and more with a proper shoulder-in. I can get the angle, and for maybe half-step I can really get the push from his hind end, but I can't sustain it, can't keep him steady in the angle when he adds in that push. We're getting closer and closer, though, and as I get more mobility in my lower leg I'll be better able still to keep the push and the angle corralled together. Lots of leg yield, too, which he is really nailing. He just needs to be kept up in his tempo through that, too - when he is he is just wonderful; when he isn't he chooses the easy way out and zips through his shoulder straight to the wall.
Not much fancy, but just a lot of good, correct work, at the end of which T. was effusive (!) in his praise, saying that my hard work on my legs had clearly paid off, that we had taken it to a whole new level, and he was thrilled with our progress. :D
I have the week off and had asked for an extra lesson, if possible a XC school, and J. obliged by putting me in a noon lesson today. I started off nervous - it was extremely hot, I was running a bit late due to unexpected construction traffic, and the other horse in the ring was a big leggy beautiful Thoroughbred, impeccably turned out, rider ditto. (I found out later they're from the Vineyard, which...made retroactive sense.)
It didn't help that Tris was sluggish to start, wouldn't walk on, and then when I asked for the canter, got hoppy - I'm sure he was a bit sore from last night. I pushed him through into a long rein canter around the ring, got off his back, then brought him back and started over. I didn't get him to a *great* place, but I felt at least a teensy bit more confident at the end.
I completely ate the warmup 18" crossrail, twice, until T. got on me about my leg, and we cantered it, and Tris fiiiiinally woke up. "Oh! We're jumping! Okay, I'll go forward for that." We only did 2-3 courses, enough to get jumping on the brain. I did the same courses as the other woman, who is I would bet running around Novice, which was...intimidating, but a nice vote of confidence. Tris was awesome, of course, even when I saw a long distance, he disagreed and took *me* to the base, and then I gulped, planted my hands on his neck, and leaned like crazy. He propped us both up and over, and I got a lecture about not counting on my horse to save me.
Then, out to the back XC fields. A bit of a run around to warm up, and bless my horse, he was completely unconcerned about the loud mower going in the next field. We played around with some small courses. Tris was, of course, a super star. I ate a few fences, one in the same way I did in the ring (got it on my second try later) and...well...no excuse for the other two.
Tris popped right over the ditch, so our next "just to check in" was to "go play on the banks." Okay. I decided (somehow? why?) to canter off the medium sized one to start off with. My little mustang went "WHOOOOOOOOO," launched into mid-air, and landed bucking to kingdom come. I started laughing too hard to pull him up for 2-3 strides, till Tom yelled "GET. HIS. HEAD. UP." and then I was sent back to walk down the bank many times to think about what I'd done. Tris stepped off quietly and beautifully, of course. Sigh. Then up a couple of times, and then we were allowed to trot down. Good pony. Idiot rider.
My crowning moment, though, was on my last run. I was not doing especially well with the heat, and had been drinking water, but was still getting pins-and-needles in my face and a bit wobbly in my legs and arms. I began to feel better just as T. called out our last run, and - I bucked up and went for it. Sent Tris down the long side in a nice gallop - he was tired, too, and getting a little strong - over the gate, then up and around to the coop. And, okay, first the coop had been tweaking me all day - it is very straight, and decently sized (to my eye anyway) and obviously it jumped fine but every time we approached it all I could think was "big!" and I'd had some wobbly moments with it earlier.
My course was coop to down bank, and the bank was on a slight offset angle from the coop, and in my head as I made the turn I was thinking "stay on the left side of the coop, that'll make it easier to take a straight line to the drop," and somehow on the rollback from the gate that turned into a line that was...to the left of the fence. Tristan galloped past quite cheerfully, then turned quite cheerfully, and then I damn well went over the middle of the fence the next time. (Cheerfully, of course...)
We nailed the rest of the fences, including one that I didn't realize was on the skinny side until I approached it - a sort of garden stand series of steps. He didn't blink at anything, no matter how airy or how reflective or even for that matter, the ditch. The steps were set at the bottom of a fair hill, and he started rushing it a bit, tired again, and not wanting to bring his hocks up downhil, and I stood up slightly, and wow, it was so easy to reach down and half halt through my core, then sweet as you please get back into position, hold him with my hands and bring him up with my leg. It was like some kind of karmic payback for the stupid decisions I'd made earlier: all of a sudden I was making exactly the right decisions, in the 5 seconds or so before the fence, on pure instinct, and my God, he nailed that fence.
In conclusion: best horse ever.