If I was a horse…

I would be the hottest Arabian or Thoroughbred that you’ve ever met. Let me explain…

To begin my daily anecdote, I should preface by describing just how excited I was to ride today. I spent around an hour or so this afternoon watching instructional dressage DVDs. One was from dressageclinic.com and featured Steffan Peters schooling one of his Grand Prix mounts for 30 minutes. The other DVD was a super old school (and pretty hilarious, but also useful) one called The Classical Seat. In any case, after watching these videos I was really pumped for a good lesson tonight. I was ready to try out a few minor adjustments to my seat and posture to see how it would impact Gordon. However, all of my excitement disappeared when I walked into an incredibly windy arena tonight. The arena walls were swaying back and forth and the wind was whistling as if it was mid-winter.

As those of you who have been following my posts will know, Gordon can be spooky sometimes – particularly in the last few weeks as his grain has been upped to give him more energy for long show days, but he still isn’t getting ridden enough by his owner and I combined for the upped ratio – however, he probably isn’t as spooky as me. In any case, I lunged Gordon first, but as soon as I got on him he felt like a ball of energy. The wind tickled his ankles and he ricocheted out from the arena wall. I got nervous, as I’m apt to do, which never improves these sorts of situations. So I decided to cut my losses and reschedule my lesson for a time when I wouldn’t be a tense ball of nerves. My coach (Gordon’s owner) got on him for a bit and I watched. He only spooked once with her and was really good besides for that. She was calm with him and spoke quietly to him under her breath, praising him for being a brave boy in the particularly scary corners.

Today was just a particularly wuss day for me. Some days I am braver than others. However, in retrospect I feel ashamed of myself for not trying harder to overcome my fears and simply handing my horse off to my coach – she is supportive and does make this option easy though, whereas my Ottawa coach would have convinced me to work through it at all costs (which resulted in my taking a nervous riding hiatus for two months last winter). By the same token though, I am a recreational rider at the end of the day. My livelihood does not depend on my riding skills. I ride for fun and if I’m feeling stressed out by bad conditions around me I’m not going to have fun, and there’s a chance that I might get hurt. So maybe getting off tonight wasn’t such a bad thing after all? I’m still torn about my decision.

What could I have done to push myself through? I should have incorporated frequent soft transitions from my seat into my warm-up, getting Gordon to focus on me rather than on the scary noises around us. I should have spoke to him and distracted him (and myself!) as quickly as possible with some interesting shapes, figures and exercises. This is what I will aim to do next time, on a braver day, when I’m feeling more like a Clyde. Wish me luck!

Happy (and brave!) riding!

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Persevering and Working Hard

As a nervous rider persevering is one of the most important things for me to do. Some days I don’t feel like going to the barn because I worry. Some rides I feel like ending things early because the wind is scary, or there’s no one else around. However, I have to push myself to keep going and to push through my fear because most of the time it doesn’t have a basis. If Gordon spooks once, I don’t need to give up and call it a day, or get my coach to hop on. I just need to push through and focus on relaxing and sending him the right signals.

Thursday I sort of let Gordon’s attitude get the best of me – again. He had a two or three spooks and was really fresh from the get-go, so I didn’t enjoy my ride at all. However, at least I didn’t make Jenn ride. I stayed on and worked my hardest. In the end we had an okay ride, but he never really felt fully relaxed. Our dressage test did improve from the last time in terms of the accuracy of our transitions. I do lean forward too much, especially at the rising trot. It’s not so bad when I’m sitting (at the canter or trot). So perhaps I ought to focus on doing the sitting trot for my upcoming shows, even though Gordon apparently works better at rising (and we have both options available at Training).

Tonight’s ride actually felt pretty good. My boyfriend was out, which gave me more confidence than usual form the beginning. This confidence reflected on to Gordon and he was much less nervous. He is a very sensitive horse that quickly responds to a rider’s emotion, so I need to try to keep my feelings in check (much easier said than done). Anyway, tonight he was pretty calm and had only had one or two very small spooks (mostly in response to a loud car, and since he’s been hit by a car, I think he deserves a little wiggle-room in that department). Anyway, originally he kept wanting to flex out at the gate, but eventually I got most of his focus. I just worry that I was using too much hand and not enough leg to achieve his throughness. This was especially the case during a canter serpentine halt at x exercise I was working on. At first he didn’t want to halt (although I probably wasn’t setting him up properly). As a result, I used more hand than I probably should have. However, he quickly got the memo and became really good at the exercise, and his canter felt way more uphill and together after that point. I really tried to lighten up as he came more together and things felt really good by the end of our ride. I just need to work (as always) on lighter hands and not leaning forward at the rising trot! Hoping to make it out to the barn tomorrow to focus on these issues. Here are some photos from today’s ride:

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Image Sorry for the wonky photo sizes!

Happy riding!

Springtime Adventures

To start off, I have a very funny barn anecdote to share. So Sunday was a little messy outside. The weather climbed up to a balmy 20 degrees (although it was windy so it didn’t feel quite that warm). The rapidly melting piles of snow created a sort of mudeggedon situation in my area of Ontario. The mud was so deep and squelchy (I hope you know what I mean by that), that the mud actually sucked off both my boots as I was out to get Gordon. So, I was standing in the mud in my sock-feet, trying to find firm(ish) ground to stand in to pull my boots back out. It was disgusting, but absolutely hilarious. Apparently the barn owner saw everything from a distance, and was sad that he didn’t have a camera or phone on him to record it and submit to AFHV or YouTube. Later that day another horse owner got fully stuck, and it took two other people to pull her out. I think her boots remained in the mud for the remainder of the day because they couldn’t be pulled out. Very messy situation near the gate. If Gordon was my horse I wouldn’t have let him in this for fear of his getting caught and panicking and injuring himself. However, all of the horses seem fine, so I’m glad that that worked out okay.

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Anyway, so after the mud bath I unintentionally took, I had a pretty good ride. I decided to ride in the jumping saddle long and low to avoid some of the heaviness/fighting for the bit problems that had plagued us the previous ride. Gordon was really responsive and calm. I decided to do a small cross-rail and vertical while I was riding in the jumping saddle. At first Gordon was super forward towards the jumps, but after half-halting every stride leading towards the jump (and letting him open only about two strides before), we got some really nice canter and great jumps. However, when I put the height up a bit, Gordon started acting a bit silly. He was pretty much just rushing things and getting too excited – and also skittering away from my left (inside) leg, which he has a habit of doing sometimes. Anyway, in the end things were fine and overall it was a pretty good ride. It was only my third time jumping Gordon and it gives me a lot of hope that we will have some really fun times over-fences this summer. There are three schooling shows happening at the barn where Gordon is boarded, so we might do some fun low hunter courses there just for a change of pace from dressage.

Tuesday I had a less fun ride. Tuesday was close to thirty degrees colder than Sunday (the joys of spring in Canada), and the wind was whistling like crazy. As a result, Gordon was super spooky and was eyeing everything. This made me nervous, which I’m sure he sensed and which probably resulted in his becoming more nervous. We actually had a fairly decent ride though, in that Gordon was way lighter than he was last week. We had some really beautiful moments of trot and canter that felt really pro. However, because of my nerves, for much of the ride I was leaning forward too much, which is something I really need to be cognizant of. A hunt or forward seat comes much more naturally to me than a dressage seat, so I need to always work at this. But concentrating on my eq. too much can sometimes distract me from “listening” to the horse and responding fluidly – so I will really need to work at striking a better balance between these two elements. Anyway, so things ended up okay, but it wasn’t a particularly fun ride because I was nervous the whole time. This got me questioning whether we would be ready for the first silver dressage show, which is coming up May 11th. I haven’t even had the opportunity to ride Gordon outside yet, and I don’t know what he’s like off-property. Maybe I’m rushing things too much and should just wait for the next show in June to ensure that I’m really ready – mentally and physically? Anyway, I have a week or two more to decide, so there’s no big rush there.

The Horse Ruiner

So I have this secret fear that I ruin people’s horses. That I am a horse ruiner. I think this fear stems back to about two years ago, when things started going really badly with my coach’s horse. By really badly, I mean that I had a couple of really bad rides. It wasn’t an ongoing thing, but it was enough to result in my horse getting seriously pissy and me getting injured. Additionally, there was this big drama-filled showdown at my old barn in Ottawa a few years ago, and my coach told me some hurtful info that she had said about me to someone else because she wanted to preemptively avoid another person (who was currently lashing out) to tell me the info, thus resulting in a rift between us. During the time my rides were going badly, my coach had said to the barn owner something along the lines that she was afraid that I was ruining her horse. To be honest, I wasn’t quite ready for Fonz in many ways. It was a big jump between my last horse and him, and had been pushed prematurely due to some joint injuries in horse #1. I think in an ideal world I would have stayed on Duke for another year, building confidence and building my seat, before “upgrading” to the more athletic, but difficult, horse. 

In any case, this memory is coming back to me now along with the realization that I think I caused the canadian mare I was leasing afterward to become heavier. I don’t think this was all me, as she went from being a personal horse to a school horse during the time I was leasing her, so there were others doing damage too. But I do remember Katie being a lot lighter when I first started riding her, and gradually becoming heavier and less enjoyable to rider properly. It became more and more of a struggle to get her going nice and through. What before would happen in ten minutes, gradually took quite a bit longer. Eventually this improved when I was riding nearly every day (before the big move) last August. However, there were definitely still some issues there and I would say she still wasn’t as consistently light as she had been when I first started riding her a year before.

And now I fear that I’m doing the same thing to Gordon. If you see my last post, you’ll notice that my coach pointed out to me that Gordon was a lot heavier (she finally had the chance to hop on him for the first time in a few weeks last Monday). I honestly hadn’t noticed a difference until she pointed out – and now it’s all I can think about in the saddle. Today’s ride actually started pretty decently, until I started overthinking things. Is that too much weight in my hands? Is he leaning on me? Let me just give away my outside rein to check. Oh, and I’ll check again. Ok, now he’s definitely leaning on me. This was the type of self-talk going on in my head during my ride. It got to the point that a battle broke out. I’ve never, ever had a battle for contact with Gordon before. Usually a little play and he’s on the bit, he doesn’t fight. Additionally, he felt so heavy in my hands near the end. Things went downhill throughout our ride today – a microcosm of the larger issues that have been happening since I’ve been co-boarding him? Is there something wrong with me that just doesn’t allow for me to properly “listen,” to properly give and take? Is it my lack of coordination? In any case, as you can probably tell from this post I am definitely feeling majorly discouraged. Gordon is a good boy and it breaks my heart that I’m giving him a hard time and sending him confusing signals (although I think he is starting to take advantage too). Anyway, I asked my coach if I could have an extra lesson this weekend as I don’t want to just keep riding on my own and exacerbating the problem. I really hope that this is something I can finally figure out, because I think it will be a major breakthrough in my riding to understand how to ride without “weight” in my hands (which is the cause of my horse ruination tendency, I believe – I like to feel the horse in my hands, to a certain extent. Gordon’s weightlessness in the beginning was off-putting and unfamiliar). Anyway, we will see how this weekend goes if my coach doesn’t kick me off her horse before then to save him from the evil horse ruiner. Until then, be glad your horses and ponies are locked up safe. PS. I know I’m laying it on a bit thick here, but bear with my melodrama as it makes me feel a bit better to try and spin this crappy set of patterns into a more humorous occurrence.

Happy Trails,

Kaitlyn

Harnessing Energy and Lightening my Hands

I was really pleased at the way that I managed to harness Gordon’s excess energy last weekend. On Friday had another solo ride where Gordon was feeling really fresh. Rather than letting my nerves impact the ride, I just worked to push him nice and forward and worked him for longer than usual. It took awhile to get him listening and focussed on me, but eventually I managed to gain his control. Once I gained his attention we ended having a great ride because I had a lot of extra impulsion to work with. In particular, I remember feeling really pleased with some of ten-metre trot circles. He was really lifting, bending and engaging and I felt that I was really listening to his cues and moving with his body. Overall, I finished the ride on a great note considering how much horse I was confronted with at the beginning of the ride. Also, since he usually has troubles focussing when alone in the ring, I was glad that I managed to work him out of his funk without having to rely on having another horse around.

Saturday’s ride was even better. There were other two horses in the ring, and because I rode Gordon for so long the night before, he was much more focussed and less flighty/rushy. I enjoyed the ride thoroughly and finished with a really nice, balanced canter on his weaker side. He is getting so much stronger and is able to canter for much longer without breaking. Further, he is really starting to muscle up again with the combo of being ridden more and having his grains “upped” a bit. However, I did chat with his owner (my coach) about how much she is able to ride him. She’s been super busy with all of her kids, students, clients, and a recent sickness, and as a result hasn’t been able to ride Gordon much lately. I mentioned that I couldn’t make it out more than three times a week in crazy April, and that it would it be nice if he could be ridden a bit more – especially given the fact that his grain portion has increased, and he has a lot of excess energy. This conversation seemed to work because she’s ridden him more since, and we’ve talked about reducing his grain just a bit until he’s getting ridden six days a week.

In any case, I had two really great rides and I was feeling awesome with our progress. I had a really good bonding night with Gordon on Friday too, and had fun taking some cuddle selfies with him:

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So, as a result of these great rides, I went into my Tuesday night lesson with a really great mind frame. I felt sure that Jenn would see some improvements and would be happy with how things were coming along. However, this wasn’t really the case. Jenn had found the time to ride him the night before, and found him much heavier than he had been the last time she’d ridden him (it had been a few weeks). This made me feel a bit discouraged. While many elements of “us” as a team are improving – our transitions, the quality of our gaits, etc., – I was unhappy that I’m regressing his training. I think the reason for this has to do with the fact that I’ve ridden a lot of heavy horses in the past, so I’m accustomed to feeling a lot of weight in my hands. I’m accustomed to supporting the horse I’m riding a lot more than I should. Also, Gordon has been so uber-forward lately, that I think I have taken to pulling him back a bit because of my own fear. Now that Jenn pointed this out, my new number one riding goal is to always make sure I’m not supporting Gordon too much. I’ll do this with lots of halt-halts, and by giving away my outside rein from time-to-time to ensure that he’s not letting me hold him together.

Besides for this unwelcome realization, the lesson was actually quite nice. We worked on making sure I wasn’t supporting him and he felt much lighter by the end of the ride (although sometimes to the point that he was sneaking out of frame). We worked on some full-school canter and had some really beautiful transitions downwards and upwards. His right-lead canter wasn’t as balanced or nice as it was on the weekend though. Lastly, we did a serpentine exercise where we crossed a pole at x during each loop. Gordon was very careful during this exercise and did not stumble at all. He was easiest to bend when I played a little with my inside (bending) rein, and supported with the outside leg. It is easier for me to turn him going left, although I might rely on too firm of an inside rein (rather than a playful rein) at times. In any case, I’m still really happy with where we currently are. Things have improved drastically in the past few weeks. I just need to stay focussed and keep my goals in mind – specifically riding with more seat and lighter hands!

Different Day, Different Story

So I had another set of back-to-back rides that reminded me –very strongly – about why I created this blog. These rides were as different as night and day, despite occurring less than 24 hours apart.

Last Friday I had a phenomenal ride on Gordon. Despite green horses, super loud scary winds, and other shenanigans, Gordon remained calm and super attentive to my cues. We had some great moments and I really enjoyed myself.

Saturday night, however, was a totally different story. Gordon was super high-strung and flighty. Part of this, I suspect, is due to the fact that he was alone. I almost never ride Gordon alone and he is very herd-oriented. This is definitely something I need to work on. I think it’s also caused by the excess energy that he has from his new summer diet (more grain) and warmer weather excitement. Despite this set-back, I was proud of how I handled the situation. I had to lunge him twice, but after getting a bunch of the jelly beans out, our ride finished decently – with him not running away on me and listening to my cues. Part of this might have been because another rider came into the ring at the end of the ride, but nonetheless I worked through (what I find to be) a scary situation without losing my nerves. That is progress.

On Tuesday we had a lesson that I was quite happy with. I got Gordon to do some of the movements from our Training level tests. He picked up the canter both ways right when I asked, and didn’t break like he used to. He also stayed in frame – even on his weaker side! We also worked on 15- and 10-metre canter circles. I had a harder time at this because I kept wanting to use my inside rein to turn at this faster gait. I need to play but not hold, says my coach – something to prioritize! We also had some really nice moments of extended trot – our best yet. This was achieved through using a bit of shoulder-in and strategic half-halting. My coach did say at the end of our ride that she thinks we have all of the right tools to be able to compete on schedule – May 11th! One month! As a result, I purchased my provincial memberships tonight and am super stoked to keep working towards our goals! It’s going to be an exciting summer. 🙂

Happy riding,

K.