Lesson: June 23

I had a really nice lesson last Thursday. We were stuck in the indoor (so much rain); as much as I hate using it in the summer, I do usually get better dressage work there. Fewer distractions for the baby horsey brain. We started with flatwork, lots of changes of direction to warm up, then focusing on good quality transitions. These have improved a lot, but still involve a big element of luck and very precise timing. Unsurprisingly, they’re best when I can get a really good quality gait to start with and stay sitting back while asking for the transition, and keep the bit moving gently with the inside rein. Particularly down to the walk he has the tendency to snatch the bit and do a sort of bad cowhorse imitation, dumping onto his forehand and jamming on the brakes. Both of us are getting better at it, though. Practice practice practice.

My instructor has been talking about doing a bounce gymnastic for a while, and the rainy day was the perfect opportunity. We started with just four canter poles, and started building up from the first element (so we had a little cross-rail followed by three poles, then two cross-rails followed by two poles, etc). He was a really good boy, and I could feel him thinking hard. Every time she changed something he’d come in all Holy smokes something is different! Not bad, just stalling for time. After a couple hairy first trips through I got a little more aggressive and started smacking him when he backed off. WORLD OF GOOD. I do not know why that lesson is taking so long to sink into my brain and actually take hold in my body, but, again: when I ride more confidently and aggressively, he goes better. Funny how that works.

My first fences are pretty much always shit. They just are. Need to work on it, I know. It was nice riding through a grid, though, and getting to focus a little more on my position. (During the three fences after the first, anyway.) I realized the other day that I haven’t actually sat on a really well-trained horse since high school. Some of the ones I tried when I was shopping were further along, but definitely nothing resembling been-there-done-that. Greenies definitely help you improve as a rider, but in a different way. Anyway, I’m (still) looking forward to the day when we can kind of just clock around a course and have a reasonable guess what’s going to happen.

first time for everything

We had our first outing of the season on the 11th: a derby over at Steepleview. It’s kind of a cross-country stadium hybrid, and we ran it last September. Then he was a little sticky then but went over everything, and I was super proud of him:

You can see me pulling him back to the trot after the second fence. The ground was very slick: two horses before me wiped out on the turn between the second and third fences, and there was another fall in warm-up. You can see he was a little leery actually going over the ditch, but I think he’d committed to it before he realized how deep it was? I don’t really remember — the moment didn’t stick out in my mind at all when we were on course. I remember the whole thing felt very uneven; we never settled into a rhythm.

Similar story this year, but worse. He’s been schooling so well at home, and we ended the season so strongly last fall, that it was strange to be sitting on him feeling so incredibly backed-off. I was really proud of him through the water, but everything else felt more or less like a disaster — particularly the ditch, where I took my first tumble off him. I had to fight him a little for the trot before it; I was ready for him to take a good damn look at it and had my leg on. It felt like he was going to go, but at the last second he dropped his head and spun to the side and bounced me right off. Stupid fall — at least I landed pretty lightly! (Didn’t get the whole thing on video unfortunately.)

The video doesn’t have the first three fences on course (I was the first in my division, and they didn’t make an announcement that I was starting) — Poe took a look at them but went. Honestly the whole thing felt a lot worse than it looks (including the drive-by on the ramp; I thought about circling to re-do it, but just was not up for another fight).

So, it was a pretty disappointing day. I left feeling discouraged and unprepared to compete: the XC was a disaster, our dressage lessons at home usually feel like monumental struggles, and our stadium is a mess. I’m still feeling pretty fragile in my personal life, and I need this to be fun. So I have mentally wiped the rest of this year’s competition calendar. We’re going to go school a couple places, see if we can get our groove back, and reassess after that.

Yesterday I took him out in the back field for a little fitness work. I want to start doing trot sets but didn’t have my mp3 player ready, so I thought we’d just do a little introduction, make sure he hadn’t decided everything out there’s going to eat him. He was pretty excited to be out and very, very forward. When I first asked him to canter, he decided that meant he got to gallop at any old speed he pleased — so we had a few discussions about that. He came around to my way of thinking, more or less, and finished his work a happy, sweaty mess.

So much of our work lately has left me feeling like a failure, but just being around him is still pretty damned awesome. He’s been especially cuddly the last few months, so sometimes we just stand for ages with our faces pressed together, or breathing into each other’s noses, and there is nothing else on earth like that feeling. When I am going out to get him I always sing his name as I round the corner, and it’s a beautiful thing to see his face poke out of the shed, ears pricked, before he walks over to say hi.

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