Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lesson Notes: Sitting Slow

I've had the past few days off, ostensibly to use up some leftover flex days and work on my master's thesis. I have actually gotten a fair bit of writing done - above and beyond my goal - but I also took advantage of the time to schedule a lesson during the day instead of the evening.

Today's lesson was almost a jump lesson, but the fence in the outdoor needed a new board, so we headed in for dressage.

I waffled a bit about putting the stirrups back on the saddle, at least to warm up, but decided not to. I've been trying to hit up the gym more often and work on the elliptical; the little diagram on the machine says that it works all the right riding muscles. That, combined with a few weeks now of no stirrup work on the flat, meant that I felt more confident about getting through a full lesson without stirrups.

Today was about finding the right balance between forward and too quick. Tristan is naturally a very heavy, behind-the-leg kind of horse. Combine that with the fact that everything we do is a kind of negotiation and it means that I've fallen into the habit of nagging him with my leg instead of being truly effective.

So, L. had me really focus hard on what aids I was giving with my legs, when, and whether they were listened to. He got one chance to respond to an aid, and then I made him listen to it. The internet would have you believe that this solves all problems after a few minutes. Not so for Tristan; we'll have the same problem tomorrow, I'm sure. But concentrating on it at the beginning of each ride will sharpen him up.

He didn't ever listen perfectly; he's still not interested in stepping out smartly only on my say-so. But he did pick up his feet quite a bit more - too fast. Because he's generally so behind the leg, my skill set for riding a quick-moving horse is rusty, to say the least. So ultimately today's lesson became about sitting slow, using my core to get power and length into his stride rather than simple foot speed, and organizing that with all my aids.

For most of the ride we careened between almost breaking and zipping around, with occasional moments of balance in between. By the end of it, though, we'd gotten closer to where we want to be, and I could feel what I needed to be getting at.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Riding at Dusk

Our lesson was canceled last night. I'd had a wringer of a day at work, and wasn't too upset, as it meant I would get home nearly two hours earlier than usual.

I tacked him up (still no stirrups) and we rode in the outdoor ring for perhaps 25 minutes. Nothing terribly complicated, just focusing on softening and stretching and engaging. We had some trouble picking up the right lead again, but got it eventually.

The most productive bit of the ride was at the end, when I asked him for a stretchy trot. Usually he compensates for that by loading up his front end and trotting more quickly. By sitting the trot without stirrups, I was able to really focus on gathering and slowing him through my seat, keeping my leg on, channeling forward but not fast, while keeping him soft through the bridle. It wasn't perfect, but we had several strides at a time that were just lovely.

We rode through sunset and into dusk a bit, which made it tricky once or twice to avoid Hannah & Tucker and the jumps, but in general gave everything a quiet, isolated feel that's really wonderful. I'll happily ride in the dark in the outdoor if the opportunity presents itself.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Hacking Day: Freetown-Fall River State Forest

This winter has been absolutely glorious. Proof that it has been glorious: this past weekend, there was an outdoor jump clinic (will write about that later) and on Monday, Hannah and I took the boys to Freetown-Fall River State Forest.

Hauling out and hacking on February 20. FANTASTIC.

I'm committing myself to being braver about hauling, and Hannah has these wild and crazy plans about doing a Long Distance ride, so we are seeking good, local places to bring the boys to and get in some good hacking. Freetown-Fall river fit the "local" part of the bill (~45 minutes, even hauling) but we were a bit nervous about its advertised motorcycle trails and the fact that it is a hotbed of the Bridgewater Triangle.

Apart from a roving pack of beagles (who were all nice, just very nosy) none of our misgivings came true! Both horses behaved beautifully. Tristan walked right on the trailer - he stopped a few times, but he stepped up when asked, and he never flew backwards. They hauled great. They came off sensible and gentleman-like. They tacked up quickly and easily.

The trails themselves were great. We spent a solid 2 hours walking, trotting, and cantering, and we barely scratched the surface. A fair bit of the trail was hard-packed road, nice for walking but not something I could really trot Tristan on. There were also some lovely technical single tracks, though, and our discovery of the day was a network of glorious bridle trail: perfect springy turf footing that we ran and ran on.

The cutest moment of the day was when Hannah took Tucker for a run up ahead, leaving Tristan behind. Mind, he's not energetic enough to do more than walk quickly when another horse leaves him, but when Tucker passed out of sight and Tris realized he truly was alone in a cold, cruel world, he let out one long neigh of misery. Luckily for all concerned with his general patheticness, Tucker came back a few minutes later. My loner, antisocial mustang betrayed himself there - poor baby.

Tris was definitely quite tired at the end of the day, and glad to be back at the barn. I left out some bute for him to take a bit of the sting out of his feet and the soreness out of his muscles.

Can't wait to get back, and if the weather holds, we may be able to haul and hack out much earlier and more frequently than we did last year.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Ride Notes: Stupid Rain

The plan was to go for a long hack. The plan did not take the weather into account, and it was cold and drizzly when we got to the barn. I'll ride through all sorts of weather, but since getting my new dressage saddle I've become paranoid about my tack.

Into the indoor we went, to share with four other horses. Despite that, it went better than it usually does; all four other riders were pretty darn self-aware, something that can't be said for everyone who shares winter ring-space.

Stirrups are still off the saddle, and we worked on cantering more and more. Nothing really remarkable about the ride. We're trying to find a good balance and straightness in the canter now that I can manipulate it more. Right lead transitions have been getting better, though I lost them for a bit at the end. He was a bit less consistent in the bridle than he has been, which is no doubt due to my insecurities without stirrups.

Ultimately though we finished with some nice walk-trot transitions, focusing on coming up through his shoulders and the base of his neck instead of just flailing into a different gait. ~40 minutes of riding, and then some hanging out during which we discovered that Tris likes cranberry orange muffins a LOT. He'll try anything food-related once, that horse.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Lesson Notes: Goodbye, stirrups

I tried an experiment on Sunday. I was feeling a bit slothful and grody from eating nothing but junk food on the previous day, so I pulled the stirrups off the saddle. I didn't ride for long - maybe about 25 minutes - but it was good. Really good.

So I mentioned it to L. in my lesson on Tuesday, and pulled them for the last 20 minutes of my lesson, and she agreed. Forcing myself to ride without stirrups dramatically improved my balance and seat in the canter, and consequently made him straighten up and pay attention to my aids better. From now on, non-lesson rides will be sans stirrups, and I'll drop my stirrups for the end of the lesson until I can drop them for the entire lesson. It'll be good.

My other takeaway from last night was, once again, that I should resort to leg instead of rein when he gets hard in the bridle. We had a long, intense, frustrating conversation about left bend last night, and the only time I made headway was when I stopped thinking of it as a hard against the rein problem and thought of it as a resistance to leg problem.

In a similar vein, I need to work on my application of leg aids. I have a bad habit of inching my legs up even slightly to cue an aid, and I need to think more long and wrapped around instead of bringing them up to put them on. Granted, when my legs stretch all the way long my heels are below his barrel, but still. If I have to bring them up - even slightly - to put a spur on, they need to go back immediately.

Riding Thursday, he'll get jumped by a lesson kid on Sunday, and then maybe, perhaps, hauling somewhere on Monday? Fingers crossed the weather holds up.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Lesson Notes: Cantering...Straight?!?

Last night's lesson did not start out auspiciously: I arrived at the barn early due to perhaps the best traffic of all time, and then curled up in my car to read for a bit...and fell asleep. Out cold. I woke up to my phone dinging with a text message from Hannah about horsey pun color names, and was totally, completely disoriented. I could not have told you my name, where I was, or why. Then I checked the clock and it was 7:07, aka 7 minutes after my lesson was supposed to start.

I sprinted inside, apologized profusely to L., and somehow managed to get on horseback by 7:25. Tris came out quite well, though we did not warm up at the walk for as long as I usually like. He was a little stiff and hard through the bridle as a consequence.

In many ways, the lesson was unremarkable. L. was after me not to get sucked into leaning forward, to sit on my outside rein, and to really connect his hind legs through to the bridle.

Our big breakthrough moment, however, was in the canter. I was having serious trouble softening him, per usual, and L. shouted for me to try a little bit of a counterbending feel. And I thought, that's a terrible idea, usually when I add in too much outside rein we run into walls, but I trusted her so I put my outside leg on, HARD, and asked for some counterbend and - WHOOSH. Tris straightened and all of a sudden I was sitting on a rocket, tapping into a whole world of power straight from his hind end. We had maybe a circle and a half like that and then I brought him back to the trot and tried to put together the assembled pieces of my brain.

L. explained that my habit of overbending in the canter to try to get some kind of suppleness was letting all the energy and push from his hind end shoot out his outside shoulder, and by straightening him up I was channeling that power more effectively. True to form, after tasting it once Tris was adamant that he wanted nothing to do with it for the next 20 minutes, but we fought through. (And unfortunately I do mean fought at times...he has been flubbing his right lead transition and it is driving. me. crazy.)

We finished with a really lovely trot, and quite a bit of walking around and cooling out, because between channeling all that new power and fighting my outside aids, he was puffing pretty good, even for only a 40 minute lesson.

Next ride, Thursday, probably a long hack, since I have expectations of getting to the barn while it's still light out.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Lesson Notes: Outside Aids, Use 'Em

Because I was traveling on business, I didn't ride at all between last week's jump lesson and this week's flat lesson. C. took him out a few times, which I knew meant I would get a much softer, looser horse than I usually do, but I didn't know how our absence from each other would go.

Answer: not too bad! He came out soft, and loose, and giving, and more or less willing to step up when I asked. I was cruising around, head up in the clouds, sighing happily and comparing the horse I was sitting on to the tight little rubber band of resistance I used to have...and then T. let me know that my horse was tuning me out and trit-trotting around and could I make him do stuff already?

Oh. Right. That. Fortunately, throwing stuff into the mix worked immediately, and I could tell that it worked immediately. Leg-yields, spirals in and out, baby shoulder-in, teardrops off the wall, 10m circles off the long side, in the middle of the ring, etc. Yeah: there's his hind end.

We did the most work on the canter, because I was trotting around and thinking with amazement, I am not entirely sure what to fix next. There wasn't, in that moment, a whole lot to fix - things to improve, always, but at that moment in time? Nothing really broken.

So I tried some canters, and broke stuff, and then got my kick in the pants. New and emerging problem: my bad habit of collapsing my right hip and shoulder in the canter transition is interfering, badly, with our right transitions. It's offloading him onto his right front, and hitching up my outside aids, and it means that we are getting a whole lot of mixed signals about that right lead. So I have homework: deeper in my outside leg, straighter on my inside, stop screwing my horse up. (Though the very back of my brain is a teensy bit worried - hocks? I will put it out of my mind and work on balance, first.)

Left lead strikeoffs were just fine. In the canter itself, and really throughout my riding, is my bigger homework assignment: outside aids. Nail them down. Keep them deep and supporting and get him into them. Sit down on my outside rein in the canter, really commit to it, don't just wiggle it now and then and then clamp the aids on in a panic when he zooms to the wall.

Small secondary problem addressed as well: cantering down the long side, Tris drifts in. After one or two huge struggles to keep him straight down the line, I asked T. to watch and analyze. His answer as that Tris is offloading onto that inside shoulder to avoid striking off properly with the outside hind. Answer, as always: more inside leg to outside rein. Like, a LOT more. Way more than any other time. So I did one or two long side canters focusing hard on the balance between those aids, and presto. It was not clean and straight, but I kept him in line.

Next ride: Thursday, some ring schooling and maybe if it's not raining and/or semi-light, a short hack.