Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Long time, no post. My usual pattern.

In quick updates:

Tris is gaining in strength and finesse almost weekly. T. is really, really pleased with him overall, which is great to hear. I was peaking nicely in my riding, but have slipped a bit - relying a bit too much on my dressage saddle to do the work, and less on my seat. Namely, I'm getting caught up in bracing a bit too much in the knee rolls. Need to keep my leg further back.

We're working on a couple of things: introducing a half-halt from the seat in the canter is my favorite. Last night I cued for what I thought was a down transition...and he collected instead. Okay, then! It wasn't perfect, by any means, but it was a lighter, shorter-strided canter with more suspension. And I had no idea how to stop it, because I didn't want to ruin it, but I really had planned for a trot there instead.

Our next big project is transitions. He's a difficult horse to keep consistent in the bridle in the first place - he's always, always looking for his out - and triply so during transitions. He seizes on them as moments of opportunity, roots out and down, hollows, and generally comes completely disconnected in the 2-3 strides of transition, no matter how nice the gait before and after. I felt like my efforts to keep him with me were too fussy, too handsy, but T. and I talked through it last night and for now, too much may be what Tris needs to get it out of his head that he can do that. I should be careful of not relying on that, but for now, not giving him a moment's peace through the transition might keep his mind away from being bratty.

I'm itching to get out and school in the field again, but will settle for the outdoor. We were there on Saturday a bit, and Tris pretended the (slightly deep, slightly mucky) sand was actually secretly quicksand. Why that meant he could either slog along at a dead walk OR gallop is beyond me. I talked him into a little bit of stretchy trot against his better judgment. We'll work on that more Thursday night. He got spoiled by nice, springy footing in the indoor.

I'm continually rethinking any showing this summer. Too many variables to count - time, money, energy, his training, my confidence, my internship, on and on. I sincerely hope to get out to two, maybe three schooling events and all the cross-country schooling and trail-riding I can handle, but...I just don't know yet.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Couple of really nice rides to talk about.

First, jump clinic on Sunday again. Two weeks in a row definitely did really good things for both of us. Apart from some difficulties in getting Tris to wake up (he even planted his feet when he saw we were going in the ring! Hannah had to smack him on the but!) I feel like there was a great deal of improvement all around. When he really gets into gear going around he's a *fun* horse to ride over fences - he's always great, really, but having him take me to the fences instead of booting him over them is a very different thing!

I feel like I had some personal riding success in a couple of areas. I was able to make some progress on slowing things down in my head. T. talked to another rider in my set about using the circles (this was a land and rollback jump set) that he had mapped in after every jump to get space and get a better canter. He pointed out that circles are, in their most basic form, lateral work, and that you should use that lateral work to supple the horse back up in time. So I was able to take that a little bit into my riding. I think we used the circles effectively, and that I was catching him when he wanted to quit. I was quite liberal in my use of the crop, which helped.

Only other thing was a moment when I spun Tris a little too hard toward a jump placed on the center line, and he really dug in and turned on his hocks, and T. observed that he's a catty little thing in corners when he wants to be. Which I interpret in two ways; first, yes, he is, he's very clever about his footwork and he's small and compact enough to get away with it; second, I should let that be my safety net and not my default, as in, how lucky are you that your horse is so catty, otherwise you would've eaten that fence.

Dressage lesson on Tuesday, first one back with T. in a looooooong time and it felt a little bit like boot camp. I haven't been riding much, so I was letting him get away with a little too much, being a little too gullible about the don'wannas, and T. snapped me out of that in the first half of the lesson. The second half went much better, and we even got some nice canters in, and then a really nice reachy trot at the end. We're back to the "expect more of him earlier" mold, which is a sign that we're on that climb up the plateau. At least, I think, we've stopped sliding down, and a lot of the work we did on the descent should start to pay off now.

I also tried a minor innovation for the dressage lesson: put my spurs back on. My leg is so much better, and combined with my wonderful new saddle, and Tris's stickiness in the jump set, I felt like it was time. In the past I've avoided them because I didn't like the way I rode while I was wearing them. They felt like an easy place to go when I was frustrated, and I could feel myself becoming a kind of rider I didn't like. Plus, he got dull to them very quickly, and had I let it spiral further it would've become a nasty little arms race. So: back to spurs, and it was I think a success. I posed the question to T. at the end of the lesson and he emphatically agreed that I should stick with them.

Wednesday afternoon I managed to get there just after he had finished his massage. T. told me that massage lady said that he might be a little behind the leg because of the massage, and we both had a good laugh about that. Yeah, that's my pony. Any excuse he can get.

And you know, he was, but not in his usual way. His usual way to be behind the leg is because he's convinced he'll DIE. This way was more the way I feel after a really good hot bath, or a perfect amount of sleep - lazy and comfortable in my body and kind of slinky and liquid. So in some ways stuck, but in others, wow, was he all supple and loose right out of the box. It was really great to feel. In a 25 minute ride I had him WAY more over his back and reaching for the bit and tracking up and bendy than I'd had him in his hour lesson the night before. Which no doubt was a result of that lesson too, but wow, it felt great all around. Nothing earth-shattering, just a really pleasant soft ride. Then I put him out in his paddock for about 20 minutes because he hadn't had any turnout b/c of the massage, and he was a bit forlorn that I hadn't left him with any hay. Poor darling. So abused.

Hack on Saturday, and then school on Sunday; probably poles with Hannah. Maybe a fun exercise, or maybe just a few raised poles to work on timing his canter and getting more jump.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Eventing Nation linked to Phoebe Buckley's video blogs, and I've been watching a few of them on my snow day. I was incredibly struck by the first video here, about getting on a cold-backed horse. Two things: first, I love watching really competent people handle the tools of their trade. That never gets old for me. Professional musicians handling their instruments, carpenters slinging hammers, and in this case, Phoebe handling her tack. It's that self-assured way that experts handle tools, like they know them inside and out instinctively.

I also really, really love her clear respect and love for her horse. She talks the viewer through every step she takes, and she notices all these little things, not every single one of which I picked up on. It's that same instinctive awareness of everything around her.

In my own riding, Tris and I have been doing well. I'm entering my second straight week of no weekday riding because of the #@$#@ weather, but mostly taking it in stride and enjoying the time I spend with him. Last weekend we went for a trail ride in the huge drifts on Saturday - in spots, nearly up to his chest - and he was just thrilled. That's something I really need to remember: the clear pride and joy he takes in mastering natural objects. I see the same thing in him after he's climbed up a tricky, rocky bit of hill. I'll never forget the trail we were out on when we came across a sheer rock face that I would've thought about climbing on my own two feet. I asked him to go around, he said no, and charged up with not a single slip. When we got to the top he paused, sighed in a very contented way, then turned and kept going on the trail. He LOVES those kinds of problems. When I think about how solving dressage problems in the ring is nearly the polar opposite of that - it reminds me to be better about presenting the puzzles to him.

Jump clinic on Sunday, in which we needed to work on a few things. As always, I need to get better about keeping my weight in my feet and balanced, but I think I'm progressing well on that. We're also really starting to figure out the pieces of getting the canter we want. It's not a fancy canter and won't be for a long time, but at least taking it apart, looking at it, and beginning to understand what we need more of, is a progression. It's a cycle, too: you always want the right canter, and once you get there...the right canter changes, because you're aiming higher (figuratively and literally!).

What we weren't clicking on was in keeping up impulsion and rhythm, especially through the gymnastic line. Bless my wonderful horse, because even when I can't help him keep the motor - or do something that kills it entirely - he still heaves himself over the jump as long as he's presented to it. He jumped the last oxer from a near-standstill at least once or twice. When he runs out, it is always entirely my fault. He is honest nearly to a fault. But I need to be better about keeping weight down through my leg, which will let me keep my leg on, which will let me really remind him that we need to keep that canter we're getting better at *through* the jumps, not just on the 20m circle in front of them.

The second piece that I don't entirely know how to fix yet is that I need to make things slow down. I was talking to Hannahabout this. Right now, jumps come up fast and I react, instead of thinking things through as I ought to. Every time I jump, it's incrementally better than it might be otherwise, but I am at the point where I really need to make it slow down even more. I need to be more aware of each second, each stride, and what I'm doing in those seconds. It's a problem throughout my riding, no doubt, but when jumps are coming up fast and furious in a course, I find it especially difficult to hold everything together and really, really focus and slow it all down in my head. Because if I could do that, instead of reacting down the gymnastic (Tris lands from the first jump, leaps over the pole, my leg slips, I forget to bring it back and put it on for the second, so now he's lost a bit of impulsion, and the landing is a bit harder this time, and my reins have slipped, and he feels me tuning out and gets a case of the don'wannas, and there's still another jump, and by this point he just heaves himself over it, and now I'm entirely out of my stirrups and down on his neck or way in the back seat), I could plan it out and make minute adjustments in the second they need to happen.

I suspect the ultimate cure is nothing more fancy than "do it 10,000 more times" but I'm going to start experimenting in riding on the flat with slowing everything down and breaking it apart into smaller groupings. We'll see how that pans out. I might also pull T. aside and talk to him about it a bit. I'm sure he'll have some good ideas.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lesson report!

I started off with an experiment: longed him for about 10 minutes, w-t-c both ways. He was a perfect gentleman about it, which was a huge relief given it's been 18+ months since he was last longed, and I always have flashbacks to early days when I longe him. (Because you haven't lived until your horse has reared, struck out at you, landed, bolted, and dragged you across the ring on your face as you frantically try to dig the longe line out of the skin of your hand...)

He was in fact well-behaved enough to sometimes respond to half-halts by stretching into the bit, which is an encouraging and heartening new development since the last time he was longed. Overall, I think the longing accomplished its goal: warm him up a little bit, loosen him up, etc. And he did indeed start out much MUCH more supple than on Saturday. Which is not saying a whole lot: the changing temps and cold snaps have regressed us about 6 weeks at least in that department. This too shall pass, I suppose.

In the meantime, we focused a lot a LOT on not getting into fights with him. It's one of those lessons I need to re-learn every couple of weeks, it seems. He is a past master at tightening and turning into a brick wall and ignoring any semblance of softness I try to create with the bit. L. worked very very hard on me to keep my elbows soft, my shoulders heavy, my core engaged so that I could simply sit securely in my seat and guide him firmly but not get caught up in his drama. Every single time we started to get pissed off at each other, and flail stiffly through a turn, L. called out for me to soften my elbows, and I did, and he gave with a disgusted huff. So.

I also dropped stirrups for about the last 15 minutes and worked really, really hard on bringing him up through my seat in the sitting trot, and keeping weight through my outside seatbone and leg in the canter and transitions. HARD. But really rewarding, and I kind of love feeling my abs and core engage like that through the sitting trot. I'm even much less sore than I had imagined I would be!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Okay, new year, new habits, right?

Saturday's ride: not so good. He came out tight and less than enthused. We had no bend to speak of and I couldn't keep him consistently in the bridle. Winter blahs all around, and I got a little peeved at him and his impression of a brick wall. Kept him going longer than I should have - forward was for once not really an issue, but any kind of suppleness was. He was breathing pretty hard when we finished, and took quite some time to walk out. On the one hand: definitely too long. On the other hand: building wind and valuable lessons about who decides when and how we work. Still, I would've liked to learn those lessons in a session that was actually productive.

Today, we just went out for a hack, which turned out to be a great decision. (I'm trying hard to fix, or really upgrade, my decision making on horseback.) He was tight and sore for the first 10 minutes or so, and then started swinging and reaching. I rode in jump tack, and just kept the lightest of possible touches on his mouth, asking him to soften his jaw occasionally, bend a bit for me, move away from a leg here and there. We had a couple of very short trots on the trails asking him to stretch, which he did beautifully, and then some VERY nice circles in the back field, reaching for the bit and springing through from behind.

It figures too that after such an angsty post as my last one, today at the Flatlands party I was awarded most improved boarder. :) T. said that the progress we have made as a horse/rider pair was fantastic, and that you wouldn't recognize Tris and me now if you put us beside our work of a year ago. So that was a really nice ego boost!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I am struggling a little bit with mom guilt.

Intellectually, I can look at it like this: I was running on fumes at the end of the fall semester. The last three weeks have been a welcome recharge of my batteries, with time to have dinner with friends, indulge in a bit of television watching, crochet more than I have in months, and generally accomplish things without feeling a sword blade at the back of my neck. I am comfortable in my budget and write off his expenses without a second thought as long as I economize like crazy in the rest of my life - which I'm used to.

He's going better than he ever has before, he's happy and relaxed and well cared-for. He will be those last things regardless of how often he sees me.

Emotionally: I am riding three days a week max, and feeling like I'm letting my horse down. I'm guilty about the money I spend on him, which I could be saving for a mortgage, or using to finish grad school with no debt. I feel that to justify that money and to do right by him I should see him more often, should put more into making our dressage better. There are many dedicated, accomplished riders in my life that I admire tremendously, and though I can on one level acknowledge that I have many other responsibilities in my life and cannot make my riding and Tristan's improvement as a riding horse my priority - I still think I ought to do better. I am a competitive and driven person. It's in my nature to always think I can do better.

This, too, shall pass, but a strong wave of it was just triggered by making the decision to meet my undergrad advisor - one of my favorite people in the whole world, who I haven't seen for over a year - for coffee tonight instead of heading down to ride.

I wish...many things. I wish the barn were closer and I could make a trip to ride in 2 hours instead of 5. I wish I were in Vermont where I could spend less money on him - I wish I were at the place in my life where I could keep him in backyard.

Anyway. Here's to 2011. I'm going to try to post more about our rides, in the hopes of making the time that we have resonate more.