Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Things I've learned

Three days until my first lesson on the horse I'm leasing!!!  I have my first real ride on him on Friday and I've arranged my coach to give me a private lesson. I'm hoping this will help get me started on the right foot and give me some confidence that completely left me in the test ride. I still find it interesting that I completely blamed myself for the test ride not going super well.  While I think it's important to always look to how I am influencing the behaviour of any horse I ride but I also think it's important to be able to recognize when it's something else. It's not always a good thing to blame yourself when it means that you are missing what is really going on. Food for thought.

I had another "duh!" moment last night in my lesson.  The horse I usually ride, the beautiful black gelding, has a very hard time going round. I have learned that I have more success when I don't even think about that at all but just ride him as best I can. Of course, that makes sense because if I am riding properly, well balanced etc., it makes it easier for him. Still, he rarely is truly round but I wouldn't say he is hollow either. Last week, we had some moments that I felt were truly indicative of progress in this regard. We were both so much more balanced and soft. Then, last night, I was having difficulty with a particular exercise. We were cantering 10m circles and then through poles set up in a half-square. The circles were ok but I just wasn't getting the square as balanced as I wanted. He even broke to trot once. Eek.  I stopped to re-group and talk to my instructor. I was asking about my legs, I suspected that was where things were going wrong.

You know how sometimes the things that people say in passing actually ends up being spot-on?  Yeah. I had asked about my outside leg and my instructor commented that she wouldn't use outside leg because that would be confusing to the horse. Oh. ... OH!  I realized I've been way too active with the outside leg. It started because this horse is so long and stiff he tends to bend with his front end only, so I do a little extra stabilizing with the outside leg to keep those hips from swinging out. But there is a big difference between a supportive leg and an active one! I didn't even realize I had started to over-use it. We did the exercise again and it was so much better.  I felt pretty stupid and I am actually a little embarrassed to be admitting it on the internet :)  But what the hell, it's all about improvement, right?  I wish I had photos, but my husband (aka photographer) is out of town again. Oh well, we are back in the indoor and photos don't look very nice in there anyway. A very worthwhile lesson, I'd say.

I also never followed up with some thoughts about Edgar. It's quite simple really. So simple, I didn't really think that it would be something to pass along. Edgar is pretty green and doesn't work under saddle very often. Therefore, he is still learning to balance a rider. On top of that, the riding area is a field with uneven footing. So it's important to go slow and build his balance and strength.  Occasionally at the trot Edgar will start to lose his balance which is evident by the way he starts to rush and get even more on the forehand (yes, it's possible, lol). In the very beginning, it went from increasing speed to bolting pretty quickly. I think the bolting was mostly an evasion of sorts - he would get unbalanced and anxious and bolting was a way out.  (Side note: he also used bolting to try to get out of work. I noted the difference back in the spring but didn't blog about it specifically. You might remember when I made him keep running after a bolt, beating him at his own game, if you will. I didn't do that until I was sure he was simply being a brat, as opposed to me pushing too hard, and I think that is why it worked so well. That was the last time Edgar bolted with me. I do not think it would have worked so well if I did that while the balance was still the root cause.)

All that to say that you need to be patient. I did a lot of walk-trot-halt transitions, varying the order and duration of each. I had worked up to short canter sessions just before I broke my arm. I always made sure to transition down from canter while he was still balanced so that he could stay calm and build both strength and confidence. I suspect that the riders his owner had out to replace me weren't as patient and likely rushed him to trot and canter when he wasn't ready and/or balanced. So, he bolted with them. I honestly think it's that simple. Of course, part of it could have just been his Fjord brain knowing what he could get away with ;)

I also think it's interesting that he didn't try anything like that last weekend, even though I hadn't ridden him since early June.  I was also (again) careful to pay attention to when he started to come undone.  Hmmm, I guess I'm not terrible at distinguishing some rider issues from horse issues. Then again, even my husband could tell when he started to come undone, lol.

Well, that was much longer than I intended!  Tonka has found the container of catnip and is batting it around the house. Guess I'd better give him a little. Off to "drug" the cat and walk Hazel.


Anonymous said...

Those "aha!" moments are very valuable - nothing to be embarrassed about. Your analysis of Edgar and his bolting made a lot of sense.

RuckusButt said...

Thanks Kate. I love those "aha" moments! The hard part is waiting to ride again to experience the differences with my new found realizations.

Once Upon an Equine said...

Sounds like you and your instructor work really well together. It's great to get an "aha" out of a lesson. Congrats on the lease and good luck with your lesson.

Ah Edgar...he an Marley are two peas in a pod. And Marley has a terrible time with balance and being super heavy on the forehand. Does Edgar trip easily? Marley trips a lot...partly because of his built and partly due to laziness.

RuckusButt said...

You're right OnceUpon, we do. It isn't the first time I ask a vague question and end up with a completely new understanding :)

Surprisingly, Edgar doesn't trip very often. I mean, he does trip occasionally but not as much as you might expect, especially given the uneven footing. Maybe it's because of the footing - he had to learn to watch those feet? When he's off balance he's more likely to drift sideways, falling in a LOT on one shoulder.

Also, his version of on the forhand feels different from any other front-heavy horse I've ridden. He is somehow heavy on the forehand yet quite "up" in front at the same time or something. Is Marley like that too? I think it's the wedge neck, I swear that thing is like half his body weight, lol.

HorseOfCourse said...

A very good description of the benefits of riding for a good instructor!

And I wholeheartedly agree on your tactics with Edgar too.
Balance is the main thing.
I would also work a bit on flexibility in the neck. As the neck is short and strong the Fjords often need that to loosen up through the body.