I’m in the midst of packing to move apartments, which is just another in a long list of reasons I haven’t been riding at least 5 days a week. I’ve also, for the first time, been kind of bad about bringing my outside-of-the-barn life into the barn. It usually parks itself at the door with no effort on my part, and my hours with His Poeness are this happy, separate little bubble. Lately I’ve let all the little worries and uncertainties buzz at the back of my mind while I’m working with him, and that has to stop. Note to self.

For the second week in a row we also completely failed at doing Wednesday night jumping. I did get on him on Wednesday, but we just puttered around doing a little flatwork. We’re both a bit sick of dressage, I think, so last night I stole a page from Lennie’s book and focused on fitness — mostly my own. When I first started riding, way back in middle school, my instructor was a half-seat tyrant. For years I didn’t even know it was possible to sit the canter. After those early lessons, my sister and I would come home, prop our feet on the coffee table, and watch our legs shake. I’ve never been able to drive myself to those extremes of muscles exhaustion without an instructor’s prodding, but last night I reintroduced the half-seat to my poor unsuspecting legs. I just floated him the reins and let him trot and canter around at more or less his own pace, and focused on my balance.

Turns out Poe’s idea of the right pace is a pretty good clip, and we both enjoyed him cruising along in that mile-long stride. It was exactly what I needed to shake the packing blues, and something we’re going to keep in our regular rotation for the rest of winter. And come spring, I definitely want to get back to working on his brakes in the back field so that I can safely let him out. He’s an absolute blast to gallop, but he also has the tendency to accelerate joyfully off on his own volition, and that is a definite no-no. I want him to know that I’m the number one authority on go and woah before letting him have some freedom with it.


We’ve had a howling beast of a winter. Snow and snow and more snow and interminable stretches of sub-zero. But this past week we’ve finally gotten our first sweet whisper of spring. We’ve gotten up into the 40s. The sun feels warm and bright again; everyone’s waking from their long winter grumps. And on Monday? On Monday I rode outside.

The days have been getting longer and I got to leave work a little early, so when I got to the barn the sun was still peeking over the trees, glowing orange and promising pink. I gave Poe the most cursory brushing ever, chucked his saddle on, and we wove through shoulder-high snow drifts to the outdoor arena. The top of the three-step mounting block was peeking out from the knee-high snow, so I lead him over and hopped on. He marched right out into the drifts (which in half the arena were up to his knees too), ears pricked, happily checking everything out. I may have mentioned it before, but: I love this horse.

We weren’t out for long — after 10 minutes or so of wandering around in each direction I brought him to the indoor so we could do a bit of real work. We were in there for maybe a half hour, doing the same-old: connection, leg-yielding, a few canter transitions. The footing’s gotten pretty greasy in spots and he slipped a little while cantering, so we went back to just trotting. Plenty of work to be done there.

Yesterday Lennie and I started talking about the season’s competition schedule, which is both exciting and extremely nerve-wracking. I can’t wait for spring, but that first outing is coming up awfully fast…

Gold Star

Poe and I had a lesson tonight. We’re on a sort-of every-other Thursday schedule (sometimes we go every Thursday, just depends on how things are looking for me and for the girl who I alternate with). We’re working with Laurie, a new-to-us instructor — she’s my third in the last two years, since the first started wintering in Florida and the second is headed to Australia to train for the Polo World Cup.

My experience so far has been fantastic! We’ve only done flatwork; I really feel like we’re on the same page with it. Everything she’s suggested has made sense, and she immediately picked out a few little things for me to change that have made a huge difference. Like, for instance, not chucking my outside rein at him in the canter transitions. THAT was a revealing lesson. She hopped on him — I believe it was my second lesson. I love having my trainer ride every so often, so that they can get a better idea of what’s really going on. Sometimes things feel WAY different under saddle than they look from the ground. Anyway, she hopped on him, and he completely lost the ability to pick up his left-lead canter. I have no idea what crazy thing I’d been doing to get him into it, but he didn’t at all understand the idea of the rider maintaining outside rein connection while he picked up the left lead. I’ve been mostly leaving the canter alone since I started back in serious work. Most times I ride I’ll go a couple times in each directions, but I’ve felt like my time has been better spent concentrating on getting him connected, supple, and balanced at the walk and trot. The canter will come.

Anyway, in my last lesson two weeks ago we worked a lot on maintaining the proper flexion on circles, smooth changes of bend, and leg yielding. It’s amazing what a difference the leg yields can make in his trot (when I can keep them held together properly). So that was my homework over the last two weeks, and that’s pretty much all we did. Lots of working on accepting the contact, changing bend, and leg yielding. I had some really fantastic rides and some really crappy rides, and missed two days I’d planned to work this week because it was just too effing cold. Our indoor arena is heated, but I’m a wuss and I’m iffy about riding when it’s single digits — and Tuesday and Wednesday this week were both below zero when I left work.

Tonight the arena was empty when I went down there, and Poe was kind of a pain in the ass when I first got on him. He wouldn’t stand for love or money (so much for my previous post about having cured this problem). We had a five or ten minute argument about it (probably it was more like five; felt like an hour), where he tried to walk off and I stopped him, and he tried to walk off and I stopped him, and — yeah. He finally — Finally! — gave up, and sighed. I couldn’t completely tell if he was on board with me or just suddenly interested in watching the door, but I snatched the opportunity and got to warming up. Whereupon he informed me that along the north wall? that wall there, the one we’ve been riding by with no trouble for the last, oh, year? Well, along that wall, there is a very – scary – horse-eating – shadow – of a horse.

Like I said. Pain. In. The. Ass.

Sometimes, though, these pain-in-the-ass days make me man up and ride much tougher than I usually would — and, lo and behold, he comes to work for me and we make real progress. That’s what happened tonight. When he finally tuned into me he forgot about his oh-so-scary shadow and tried his ass off. I probably didn’t give Laurie much hope when she asked how he’s been doing since our last lesson and I first told her about all the days I hadn’t been able to ride, and that we’d been, you know, working on stuff, and it had been okay. On days when the leg yields are really not working, we start with turns on the forehand, graduate to the walk, and only then move on to the trot — but tonight I was already trotting, so I blithely said we could try starting there, and always dial it back if need be.

Well, he was awesome. There’s still a lot of work to be done, particularly to the left (moving off the right leg), but she said we obviously really HAD done our homework, and we were so much better than last time, and I refrained from actually doing it but in my head? Total fist-pump of victory.

After that we did a pretty cool weird-figure-8 exercise, where we tracked left, then turned up the center line, changed to right-bend, leg-yielded a few steps to the left, then turned right. Using the center line gave us lots of room and time to establish the new bend and get him moving off the inside leg into the outside rein. We’re trying to teach him to balance and support himself on his inside hind when he turns. Awesome to the left, less awesome to the right. I think it’s going to be really good homework for us over the next week or two.

And then — AND THEN — the canter work. I’ve spent the last few lessons quietly muttering that I don’t do sitting trot, my sitting trot is a disaster, and pretty much just ignoring the idea of doing the sitting trot before canter transitions. I’ve gotten away with it because we haven’t worked much on the canter and when we do there are other, more glaringly obvious problems. Well, Laurie forgot that I don’t do sitting trot, and told me to switch to sitting trot to prepare for the canter transition, and I once again said I Don’t Do sitting trot — but this time I then shut up and tried it. And it was not comfortable and I felt like an uncoordinated monkey but damned if we didn’t have some Nice canter transitions. Way nicer than the ones I get posting in. So, more homework. He got his left canter lead every time tonight, but it was always either late or unbalanced, so we’re also going to work on getting crisp, balanced transitions to the left.

I hopped off him right away after his canter work — he really was trying his guts out — and he was quite sweaty, so I walked him around the arena a while. The horse-eating horse shadow returned and he pretty much jumped out of his skin trying to escape it. Way funnier when you’re not in the saddle.

Over Fences

Last night I met up with my friend Lennie at the barn for a little jumping. I need to do a whole post some time on support systems, on Team Poe if you will (I totally want Team Poe t-shirts; maybe I should add learning to draw/design to my to-do list?). Anyway, for now: Lennie is awesome and is always ready to remind me to breathe and stop being an idiot (two very useful pieces of advice for working around horses and for life in general), and also knows how to set appropriate grids. Yet another thing on the to-do list…

So! Last night was Jump Night, the first time Poe or I have seen a fence since October. We’re signed up for a two-day jumping clinic at the end of March; I dropped my entry in the mail on Monday feeling woefully unprepared. The feeling carried through last night as I was warming him up — a little walk/trot/canter, me preoccupied with how strange my shorter stirrups felt; a little work over some trot poles; and then up the quarter line to our first little cross-rail, me feeling (and riding) like a particularly inept, drunken monkey. By the end, though, we breezed through a two-stride vertical combination, the last fence 2’9″ but feeling like nothing, and I could not have felt better about our prospects for the clinic. We still need a lot of regular work between now and then, but it’s completely do-able. We’re going to have a blast.

I feel like I should say something about our jump work in light of Poe’s age. There’s quite a bit of controversy in the equestrian community about the proper age to start horses, about the type and quantity of work that’s appropriate for young horses. The Dude’s birthday is May 17; when I got him (he passed his vet check December 28, 2009) he was just beyond three and a half. He’d been professionally started under saddle the previous summer, as a three year old. The earliest work was done by someone who starts babies, and he spent a month getting some trail training with a western guy; the rest of the work was done by (or under the supervision of) a professional jumper. She started him over fences, and I jumped him over some baby stuff when I first tried him, to see how he went. The first five months I had him we did nothing but flatwork: steering, relaxation, rhythm, ground manners. I took him over some jumps on his fourth birthday, and the rest of the summer we jumped once a week at most, in very short sessions. He has always been happy and interested in it, and usually calm (he does really love it, but the excitement of Mr. Poe is not like the excitement of, say, an off-track Thoroughbred). He’s a big dude (16.3hh) with jumping bloodlines and nothing I’ve pointed him at has felt anything like work for him. He has a great mind and I am so, so grateful for his professional start.

I think I’m doing the right thing integrating small amounts of over fences work into his routine now. He feels mentally and physically on board for it. I plan to spend the season at BN, and see where that takes us. I have to admit I have my fingers crossed for a 2012 move-up to Novice…

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