Friday, March 16, 2012

Mixed Messages

Good Thing #1: The saddle fitter returned some of my money - my jumping saddle didn't need to be touched, and the dressage saddle only needed a partial reflocking.

Good Thing #2: I arrived at the barn to see Tris getting the very end of his massage; he was a happy mellow boy. I got to talk to Eva about my concerns, that he had been having trouble with picking up the right lead and that I was getting a bit worried about his hocks. She shook her head quite firmly: his hind end really felt fine, apart from being tight in the hamstrings, which didn't say to her hocks - just general work. His back also felt great for not having been worked on in so long, so more good news there.

She did bring me over to his right shoulder and point out to me that he was really quite sore in the muscle that ran along the line of his shoulderblade there, and felt that that accounted for the problems in picking up the canter. I asked her what I could do to alleviate that, and she said that with the caveat that she is not a riding instructor, she would stay out of his way and not tip forward over his shoulders when he strikes off, and try to let him reach out more freely with his front end. That made sense to me.

I tacked up and did about 40 minutes of interval work, putting him lightly into contact and getting him stretchy at the trot, and pushing him through at the canter. It wasn't terribly hard work, and he felt good: springy, smooth, and he picked up his right lead and held it with no problems. Success on all counts!

I spent a while fussing over him and organizing things after the lesson, and ended up talking to T. briefly about my proposed schedule. I was a little sad to hear that he thinks we should get out more in order to prepare Tristan for a recognized event in the fall. Sad is perhaps the wrong word - conflicted, maybe?

My life will become much easier when I finish grad school later this spring, but money and time will still be tight. I'm going to have to work hard to find creative places to take Tris that don't bankrupt me, or alienate my boyfriend entirely. T. suggested finding places with "structure"; anything where we go and Tris has something expected of him when we get there, meaning not just trail rides but schooling shows. It makes perfect sense, and T. pointed out that he really needs to be on top of his game to get to a recognized, and it wouldn't be fair to him to push him there without the right preparation. Again - perfect sense. But I do wish for once I could take the simpler route with something...

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Lesson Notes: The Thin Line Between Bravery and Stupidity

T. has been down in Florida living the high life and enjoying the gorgeous weather and training, and L. has been teaching lessons. They teach very different lessons, but both very good. I had been without stirrups for about two weeks before leaving them off for an entire lesson with L., and it worked out okay.

Tonight, I brought my stirrups into the ring and put them in a chair on the corner and told T. that I'd been going without them, and to please order me to put them back on if he thought I needed it - if I wasn't being effective. He shrugged and said to go ahead without them.

I warmed up at the walk, and then worked a bit at the trot, and then T. called me down. I realized that my lesson-mate was not going to be coming and that I was going to have a private lesson, and as I realized that, T. said, "Okay, rising trot at this end of the ring until you can get your horse more forward. Rising without pinching with your knees OR your thighs."

I spent the next ten minutes thinking I had done a very, very stupid thing in showing up to this lesson without stirrups, but I was damned if I was going to cave, so rising trot it was. I'm not sure if starting me off like that was a test or just a way to make sure that I wasn't depending on pinching, but he actually seemed pleased with the work, and Tris did start to move out more forward.

In fact, T. seemed pretty darn pleased with my riding the entire lesson, which was really terrific feedback and validation of the no-stirrup work I've been doing. He was happy with my position in the canter, even!

This is not to say I don't have notes. I also have a homework assignment: watch video of Mark Todd doing dressage on Charisma. I explained that I've been focusing lately on not scrunching my leg up to cue aids; when I truly let my leg hang long, my ankles are off his barrel, and I'd gotten into the bad habit of raising my leg an inch or two to cue a leg aid, which was not correct at all. Mark Todd was also too tall for Charisma, so I am to watch and study and ponder.

T. talked me a lot through a truly effective, plugged-in sitting trot as well. Think draping my legs around, think dropping my knees down and lengthening my thigh. We focused most on my core, and he manipulated my body a bit to show me where the power would flow when I really connected the half-halt in through my seat: through my lower back, through my hips, right through to the rein, with no need to lock up my elbow en route. Similarly I am to engage lift through my abdomen and when I really do it right, feel it bump up right against the bottom of my rib cage. For this to be really effective and free, I am to focus on lifting my sternum (my most effective mental picture) and make my shoulders heavy.

I took those ideas out for a spin, and there were whole stretches where I felt more plugged in to my seat than ever before, and as if Tris and I were truly moving together more than I've ever felt. I'm thrilled.

Best of all: I'm not actually all that sore. I've been trying to go to the gym on non-barn days, and have been targeting my riding muscles specifically as well as a general cardio improvement, and it's really starting to pay off.

I also gave T. my proposed spring/summer/fall event schedule, and left a check for the saddle fitter. Tris will get a massage on Thursday, his first in quite a while, and then both saddles will get partially adjusted. Then spring shots next Monday. Our first schooling show of the season is a month from Thursday!