Heavy Hands, Heavy Heart

I had the idea for this blog today when I had a relatively bad ride on the mare I lease, Katie. I’ve been leasing Katie for over a year and we have a consistency issue, to say the least. Katie is an 8 year old Canadian mare, and like many Canadians she can be quite stubborn. When she feels like evading contact, for instance, she can be particularly adept at avoiding my cues. However, on other days, she becomes light when I use my seat and legs right from the get-go. This blog is basically a space for me to reflect on my rides in the hopes of improving my riding skills for the future (or for tomorrow’s rides). if you’re an amateur English riding enthusiast, you might enjoy following along on my journey!

Today’s ride was particularly stark in contrast to my ride yesterday on Katie. I think the difference was mainly in my use of leg. Right from the beginning yesterday I kept my legs firmly wrapped (almost squeezing) around Katie’s round sides. Lately I’ve found that doing this has improved our rhythm and consistency at every gait, and makes Katie more responsive to my subtler aids. Yesterday I began with some flexion in and out on 20-metre circles in each direction. Katie wasn’t suppling up real well in one direction (I believe to the left), but was doing pretty well the other way. From there I worked on simple walk-trot transitions at every second letter marker, and this had a huge impact. I was using a lot of legs for support and soon I had Katie right between my legs and my hand and responding to shifts in my weight and very small aids. Katie was incredibly light and I felt like I had finally achieved the elastic and stable contract with her that I had strived for for so long.

After getting such a nice quality trot, the canter naturally also was of a great quality. She picked up her leads very smoothly and maintained her canter rhythmically and in a slightly long frame for the whole school. A huge improvement from a few weeks ago when she kept breaking on me because she would go hollow! After the ride, Katie and I had some really nice cuddles and I felt like our relationship progressed along with our ride.

However, today was a completely different horse and a completely different story. Another change from yesterday is that we rode inside, because it looked like it might rain. I also hadn’t rode in our beautiful indoor in awhile, and was craving a change of scene. In any case, from the very beginning Katie was heavy and on the forehand and I just couldn’t fix this issue no matter how hard I tried. We started with some leg yielding from the quarter line to the track and back at the walk. From there I picked up a long and low trot and tried to achieve some sort of rhythm and lightness (she was really rushing today). From there I went on to my tried and true transitions, to try get her lighter and more responsive. However, it really didn’t work today. I became frustrated with this point and started being a little heavier with my hands than I should have been. And then the tug of war really began. When I’m heavy, Katie’s heavy, and then she never lightens and I can’t lighten – and then there’s just this 20 pound weight on my hands for the entire ride and it feels terrible. She is rounded up completely artificially, and is not responsive to my seat cues. So my hands pick up the slack for the ineffectiveness of my seat aids and I begin to turn and stop with my reins – not pretty, and not good for Katie. Especially since we’ve been using a Kimberwicke bit on her lately, as per my coach’s suggestion. My frustrations led to my resorting to an old trick of mine that I haven’t used in awhile – backing up until the horse gets lighter. However, this still didn’t really work for some reason – I have no idea why. Our canters were at least rhythmical, although she was still quite heavy compared to how she has been the past two rides. She also kept spooking at one of the arena, just to act out her frustration, I think. I kept circling her at that end though and trying to distract her until she gradually could circle there without spooking away from the door. She spooked again at the end though, when I was cooling out, due to a huge blast of wind. This wasn’t really her fault though – although I wish she’d get over the noises that our new barn’s arena makes (it’s one of those covered domes as opposed to a wooden arena, and she just can’t seem to get used to some aspects of the arena – such as the noises it makes when it’s windy or covered with snow). In any case, I think the real issue is maybe just enough leg use. I underestimate sometimes just how much leg I need with Katie to get her light – probably because she moves so forward so I forget that she still needs legs for another reason altogether.

A picture of Katie being quite heavy with me last summer (just like yesterday’s ride!)

All in all though I’m quite frustrated with our ride today… things have been going great on the other mare that I’ve been riding though – a little warmblood called Quilla, who I’ve been taking lessons on over fences, because Katie doesn’t jump. Q, as she’s called in the barn, is helping me to regain a lot of the confidence I’ve recently lost (due to a few bad falls), and is making me feel more confident and content with my flat work and rides on Katie. I think this is mainly because when I jump I rely on my intuition, and when I’m working on the flat I over-think. Q reminds me to relax, have fun, and listen to the horse – which, when I can achieve this, leads to the best and most fun rides. In any case, hopefully I can keep improving with Katie… although I’m moving out of town in two-and-a-half weeks and will have to start the journey over on a new horse or horses. That is exciting to in and of itself though. Katie and I don’t always click that well (as you can probably tell from the description of our ride today), so I’m looking forward to spending time with a different horse. We all have different problems on different horses, and I’m pretty sick of the set of problems that I’ve developed with Katie! I feel ready to work on a different area of my riding… but this is not to say that I’ve given up! Katie has taught me a lot about lightening, suppling and the importance of impulsion… but I just feel like it’s time to move back to a more athletic and challenging mount. I first switched to Katie after my bad fall on a really athletic and handsome QH that I was leasing and competing on the hunter jumper circuit. I’m ready to find another horse like him and continue to grow and learn… I now know that I can’t give up when I’m frightened and that if I power through, things will improve with my horse eventually.

Anyway, this was a much longer first post than intended! I guess I have a lot of horsey issues that I need to let loose! Tune in tomorrow if you want to hear how my jumping goes with Quilla!

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