Thursday, May 19, 2011

With Great Strides Must Come Great Bends

Yesterday was riding lesson #2, and as is to be expected, it was significantly less eventful then riding lesson #1.

I stopped by McDonald’s for a $1.39 bacon cheeseburger (I can afford the calories, as they’re all worked off in the first 10 minutes of the lesson), and made it to the barn by 4:45 pm. Not too shabby, and it was the best I could do. Moon’er was waiting out in the field and after bringing all my gear in, I went out to greet him.

I’m not 100% sure if it was him or not, but there was a loud nicker when I walked up to the herd…hmmm…

I stopped to place the new post caps on the jumps I had made, and then went back to grab him. As his usual himself, he followed complacently and I had him tied and groomed in no time. He’s dappling out beautifully, which a google search and a conversation with Coach W told me meant he was healthy. Well of COURSE he is!

He’s got a small chip out of his front right hoof, more on the surface then anything. Ger. They’re getting pretty dry as well, since there’s hardly any standing water anymore. Of course, there’s rain for the long weekend, which means an end to that.

Loving him dearly, I pulled out the finishing brush I bought earlier this year, and went to work. In no time, he was SHINING like crazy, looking probably more beautiful, stud-ly and showy then I’ve ever seen. He’s sooo attractive, though unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture!

T and M showed up, commenting on my shiny boy, and then we watered the horses and threw some hay. Into the trailer Moon went, like an absolute gentleman. The haul out was uneventful, and just good conversation between T and I. Arriving at Coach W’s, we pulled in and off-loaded, Mr. Moon being well behaved and not nearly as worked up.

Into the cross ties, and he was quickly tacked up. We spoke a bit about his ‘estimated height’, W thinking perhaps 15.1hh, and my guess was 15.2hh. He’s nearly a pony!

Out in the ring, he was a misbehaver again while mounting, something I’m losing patience on. W held him still and pushed him over as needed, and off we went. She said our walk was much improved, which is a difficult gait to change.

He was calm from the get go, and we started working on our trot bends some more, which are less spectacular. Add in that my right leg tends to move forward to a ‘couch’ position and my toes curl out on that side. Both Moon’s and my bad sides are on the same side, though watching us for awhile, W thinks that I have a harder time maintaining good position on that side, b/c Mr. Moon is bracing or leaning on that leg. As we improved him, we saw some improvement in me as well. It really is difficult and strange to change you body position. She had me reduce my huge posting rise, which I knew looks exaggerated. Again, his tight muscles make the momentum greater, forcing my further from the saddle. As we worked on him, we saw an improvement in me.

I have to really focus now on bringing my leg back, turning my foot inward and also, to not rise so high.

Add to that, Mr. Moon REALLY needs to be told to continue in a gait until asked to stop, since I was having to put my leg on at every post beat. W said this is silly, since there’s no reason to work this hard. It should be like cruise control, once I set it, it stays there. What does that mean? No more letting Moon get away with changing the gait without my permission.

We worked and worked and worked. To the right, he falls in and leans, so I need to use my outside hand to draw him back out the rail, while staying with the inside hand to keep his bend. Because he braces against the bit at times, it’s important to never maintain solid contact, but rather play with his head and mouth. She encouraged using and elevated rein so that the bit doesn’t put pressure on his sensitive tongue, encouraging him into it more.

Oh, and do all this while pushing him out with my inside leg, applying leg pressure when he braces, and posting at a correct height, maintaining rhythm and impulsion, and winding up with something half decent. We tried.

Looking back at the video, it certainly wasn’t exactly what I imagined (his head wasn’t as low as it seemed), but we did alright. Learning curve…

Somewhere around this point, Coach W asked if I’d mind if she rode him. Got a feel for how he’s moving and why and where he’s resisting. I was totally game, as I want him to be comfortable with other riders, and also because she’s very capable. That’s valuable insight into him, especially coming from a professional trainer and coach.


I’ve never believed that horses have any real preference, trust or relationship with other people in their lives. I thought it was a novel idea, sweet, but really? Even the nickering thing, I thought was an imagery from books and movies, meant to capture people’s hearts and dreams. When I *thought* I heard Moon nicker at me, I scoffed. Wasn’t him or wasn’t specific to me.

Now, sitting on the sideline, watching him go around the ring with W, I started to second guess my beliefs. His mouth was gapping open, making him look like a rabbit as he pulled his top lip back, exposing ‘buck teeth’. His head was high; very high for a dressage or even QH.

Granted, he opens his mouth or raises his head for me as well, but it was more of a constant with W on him, then with me. Add to that, he started throwing a bit of a temper tantrum, calling out to the other horses in the area (and the geese!), refusing to move or listen to W’s cues. Now, she’s a pro, which meant she kept on him, working hard to get him to listen to her and really accept the cues and pay attention. After 10 minutes or so, she had him going nicely in both directions, and I’d argue she had him moving and lowering better then I did. But he still threw the occasional fit.

Both W and T lamented that he goes so much better for me, trusting my presence. An interesting concept, one I’ve moved over onto the fence about.

Back on Moon again, T told me to stay on him (I called it ‘nagging’) as he’s used to bracing against the bit and pushing through, instead of accepting it with soft contact. She suggested really using my hands in an un-constant way, so he constantly has to soften and move. No steady object in his mouth for bracing. It’s a ton to do while riding, but we’ll practice and see how it goes.

Another suggestion she had was to add in turn-on-the-fore in both directions between our bending exercises. Bend right, turn on fore, bend left, turn on fore, at both walk and trot. Fun, fun! We started working on that for the remainder of the class, finding he turns right much better then left for the t-o-f. No surprise.

The COOL thing from the class was as W was working him, she was actually able to get side-passes out of him. And when I got on him afterward, I took got (mini) side-passes. How cool is that?! Since he’s had no previous training in this sort of thing.

She also made a comment, that what we are doing now, trying to bend Mr. SuperTightMuscles, is the foundation to everything we will do in the future. And more then that, we will find that once we achieve this, be it a month or two from now, everything else we learn and build on that foundation, will come faster. A nice concept, though we have plenty of time to get there.

The other thing she mentioned, was his beautiful long trot stride. She's certain that once we really get him loosened up, he'll be able to achieve some lovely movement and really trot gorgeously. Despite his long back and short neck (poor fellow). She added that we need to achieve this softening rather then just push him into fast gaits, as then he'll be moving on his forehand all the time, causing unnecessary stress and potential lameness. We don't want any physical problems for my boy.

Lastly, we had some great downward transitions, and improving upward transitions. He already feels that much better to ride. She also made a great statement about his open-mouth riding, in that some people, many people, would change the bit, or add a drop or lowered noseband, in an attempt to close the mouth and prevent this type of behaviour. However, the bit and the nose band are NOT the issues here. The issue is that he's not accepting and softening, and THAT is what we must work towards. The rest is just a short-cut, and the horse will simply find a different method of evasion and remain tight or unhappy. We want to do this right, not fast. That's important to me.

By the time we finished the class, everyone was sweating. Moon was even getting ‘butt butter’, and was wet under his saddle, down his chest and on his neck. I love a sweaty horse after a practice, as to me, it means we really worked.

W gave us extensive homework on bending and flexing and reaching, which I hope to find a chance to fit in. We NEED to practice if we have any hope on improving in these areas. I want to show improvement!

Oh, and Mr. Moon had some really sweet moments with W’s dog, reaching down and sniffing each other. Totally sweet and there was no fear or concern from MoonSox. That’s special to me.

Groom T (she’s been awesome that way, and I totally want to return the favour), helped me get everything back in the trailer. Including me, who was so tired and mentally focussed on the ride that I walked right into a tree branch.

Loaded great, drove home, and forgot to grab his lead from the truck when I went to grab him. So I just let him hop out, and caught him once he had hit the ground. And then let him have a good roll, as I’m sure he’d been wanting since I brought him in and spiffy’d him up. Typical Moon.

Couple of treats later, a quick brush to remove the sweat stains on his coat (Mr.NoLongerShiny), and I let him go back to his paddock for a drink, second roll and to tell his herd-mates what a terrible day he had. That’s my Moon!

So tonight, no riding. Tomorrow….maybe. I have to drop off some vaccines for T (‘cause now I have to pick them up myself), and REALLY want at least two rides between lessons. Fingers crossed, as the BF really wants to be working on the new camper (so do I, but I’ve only so much time!), so it’ll be a battle. The fun never stops, right?

Hopefully one of these days I can shorten today’s ride on my videocamera, and post it. Certainly an interesting watch.

One more thought, is that I've noticed how desperately people want to rush through their training. Everyone wants to be showing or competing or jumping or winning ribbons. I see it in young children, adults, long time riders and new riders. Everyone. I admit, I'm no better. I dream often of showing MoonSox in a Autumn, or taking him to fancy clinics or competitions. I do. When we're going around the ring at a walk (okay, well then I'm thinking of all the things W wants me to do!), but before the lessons, I'm thinking about how much I WISH today was a jumping lesson! Or we'd learn turn on the haunch. Or canter a lot.

But after the lesson, the practice ride, the video watching, I realize just how important and valuable this 'slow' stuff really is. What is the rush everyone is in? Why is our ability, our talent, our success, all measured by the number or color of the ribbons on our walls? In beating others in the show ring? In jumping higher or faster or sooner than everyone else? And is it the best thing for our horses, our companions, who haven't been given the opportunity to build the balance, the muscle and the skill to perform to their fullest? Under riders who lack the same necessities, yet when pointed at a fence or stuffed in a dressage ring, perform anyhow?

It's not fair. It's probably not right. But it's done. A growing fad, that I wish would slow. Some day, Mr. Moon and I shall jump. Maybe this fall. Maybe next spring. Maybe in 2015 will get to a show. But I can PROMISE that he'll learn all of the basics, he'll be muscled, prepped, and ready, before we get there. He means more to me than any fancy ribbon, competition or bragging right. He's my Moon'er (or "Bucky" as I'm calling him after his open-mouthed, high headed running for W!).

Take the time, for your horse.

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