The reason for this recent push to find more coaching is that I purchased a truck!
The lesson at the first barn was a bit of a bust. Tango was a nutcase. So bad - it was embarrassing. He was tense, freaked out, refused to canter without swapping leads, bucking, or running about like a bat. He's never been so bad off the property.
Kat was Kat, a bit spooky and hot but generally well-mannered outside of that.
Takeaways from this lesson:
- When thinking about lateral balance through the shoulders, don't always focus on lifting the heavy shoulder up, sometimes you can think about actually moving that leg out away from the centerline of the horse.
- Remember to keep my elbows soft for a more following rein
- When I offer a rein release, make sure I take a breath in the release - I like to offer a rein forward for sub-two strides, whereas this trainer wants me to let the release really happen, let the horse relax into it.
We did a pole bounce exercise on a circle, five poles placed on the circle, and Kat really struggled with it so I'm looking forward to incorporating more pole work into my work at home. This trainer talked a lot about increasing complexity with poles and keeping fence heights down, which I definitely agree with and enjoyed talking to her about.
I also jumped Kat over a very skinny jump and the first time up to it she tried to quit on me pretty hard but I remembered how legs work and rode her over it. It was UGLY but we made it over. We repeated it and really should have done it a third (and probably fourth) time but we were already making instructor late for her next lesson.
Two days later I loaded my geese up for a lesson at another new stable.
Upon unloading, I already knew Tango was in a better state of mind. He didn't do anything differently, he just felt more calm.
We warmed up on a long rein at the walk and trot, and unlike at the first stable I was actually able to ride him softly off the leg at the trot. At the first barn he acted like I was electrocuting him every time I touched him with my leg.
We did lots of serpentines and circles around all the new jumps. When we went to canter I tensed up a lot and snatched at the reins because the memory of my porpoising, bolting, bucking nightmare was still fresh on my back's mind. Despite me, he picked up the thoroughbred equivalent of a lope. On a light rein. Wtf, where did you come from, dude?!
N had us trot and canter over a single pole, and encouraged me to do nothing to fix our distances at the canter. "It's just a pole," she reminded me, "this is part of educating the horse."
Uggghhh it's VERY HARD for me to just do nothing when I see a bad spot. So she worked on me. Shoulders back, upper body back, hands level, heels down. By drilling me on improving my equitation and continuing to loop over the pole, we got to a point where Tango was cantering forward in a nice open stride but at a steady and quiet tempo.
I've never really felt like I was riding a ho-hum lesson horse with Tango, but this lesson made me feel so good about him. I really was able to work on me and just let him do his thing, and it made him go much better.
Then we progressed to quietly trotting/cantering a small x with a flowerbox, mostly working on making sure I'm riding well and letting him sort himself out.
We progressed to trotting in and cantering out through a line, trying to help him jump out a little father away from the base of the fence because he like to jump out from underneath the base of the jump. And then helping him be calm about that slightly gappier distance, because he gets a bit nervous about whether his legs are doing the right thing.
Anyhow, Tango was so good. The jumps were seriously small, but the height has never changed anything for him. I loved her feedback on making him responsible for more things, she had a great game plan for making him more rideable in general, and I especially enjoyed the fact that she didn't let me get away with any sloppiness in my riding. (Okay sloppiness existed but she really was drilling me on things!)
I had a harder time riding Kat. Kat was super well behaved and I couldn't ask for her to be better (except maybe picking up the lead I actually ask for, that'd be nice) but I think I was distracted by how happy I was with Tango and my back was getting a little sore. N laughed that I need to remember to use my left leg, "it works better when you ride with two legs" and I seriously biffed all the bending line work we did.
|This when I forgot to use said left knee and rode a violently direct line down what should have been a sweeping bend (thank god for my amazing horse)|
N put together this very fun and challenging course for us filled with bending lines. I really had to think about placing each stride where I wanted it, as well as trying to remember to sit back and y'know, ride the dang horse.
|N commented that I have a very good release about 70% of the time and therefore she wants me to not do it at all anymore because that other 30% is awful. Hands on the crest, we're going back to the basics. My hands are out of control.|
N suggested, just like RB did, that Kat is much greener over fences than I treat her. She and I can make it over most anything and we sort of enable one another in this half-way, almost-good-enough style of jumping. N wants me to set jump courses of just poles on the ground and get to the point where even without the face of a jump to make Kat pay attention, I can ride with an adjustable canter all the way around. If I want four strides, I should get four strides. If I want five, that should be possible too.
|This jump was... uhhh... challenging for us.|
N gave me some good exercises for this, reminding me that at this point there is no such thing as a "hey, you awake?" half-halt. If I use my aids, she needs to respond without a 'warmblood delay.'
I also noticed that as Kat tunes in and starts listening better to me, I need to get better at becoming quiet more quickly. I stayed too brash with my aids, resulting in us actually trotting fences when I wanted a smaller canter. N joked that this was my own 'warmblood delay' and while it was an off-the-cuff comment, it really made me examine some of our rides of late and I came to this realization:
Kat and I work pretty well together. It's not always great, but she trusts me enough to not melt down with me on her back, and I know how she moves well enough to not get tense whenever an antic appears. We are making steady progress; our lead changes are improving in clarity, she's traveling straighter and more balanced in our flatwork, lateral work no longer produces an immediate camel. I can ride in shoulder-fore in all three gaits without Kat trying to guess what I'm after and actually getting more crooked.
This does not mean that I am adequately thinking about my riding. This does not mean that we are even working on things that make sense to work on. Many days, of late, I am giving her exercise rather than schooling her. We had nearly meteoric improvement when we were training for Vegas, and I think my disappointment from that debacle made everything with Kat seem somewhat waffle-y and unimportant until "show season." Not having a trainer has allowed this blase attitude to persist for much longer than it might otherwise have.
|But this jump rode consistently nicely|
Anyhow. I had a lot of food for thought and came home with lots of homework for myself and my horses. I'm not going to be able to make it back to her farm until mid-March, which I'm pretty bummed about, but with Twin coming up I suppose I have enough to focus on.