My pony. Is probably put on this earth to drive me crazy. He does a lovely job of it, and some days, days like yesterday, I'm left with nothing but a desire to roll my eyes and lovingly curse him. He is so the bane of my existence, the one who pushes me, the one who knows exactly how to drive me crazy.
We haven't been a true partnership for very long, but I'm really starting to learn and understand who he IS.
Yesterday we had our best ride to date. It was nearly perfect. And it was only a week after he was a complete cow (that's said with love!). A week after he made me so irritated with his behavior that we spent 3 hours on the trail arguing. A week after I was certain he'll NEVER learn to accept contact with the bit.
I swear he just never wants to get my expectations of him up...then he might actually have to keep working. ; )
W started us out with an exercise to slow things down. Moon is a rusher. He gets very easily frustrated and decides to either do everything like a wingnut or get cow-y and refuse to listen. So for us, the whole point is to get him having to focus on every little thing that I ask, relax and almost get so bored that he calms down.
He really is an easily frustrated horse. He gets himself so worked up that he just tries to do a billion things at once, hoping that you'll just accept one of them as right and let him carry on. He also has a tendency to run in 'auto-pilot', moving but not actually paying any attention to his rider.
So we started by walking a figure 8, and every time we came to the cross-over point, we halted and performed a turn on the fore. Then walked on, and attempted to leg yield down the long side of the ring.
At first he was all over the place, but as we kept doing it, he started to become a very responsive horse. I'd just lift and give the slightest touch of the rein and leg and he'd take a big step over with his haunches. He began to prepare for the halts by slowing, and in turn we had beautiful transitions.
Never mind that, but W told me to think about doing a turn on the fore whenever he would drift out of the circle or when we started to do the figure 8's at a trot...and THIS improved our change in directions 100-fold!
Why? Because I had practiced the turn on the fore at a halt, I was able to memorize and understand the aids. Those same aids at a trot on the figure 8 gives me the change in bend that I need.
: O ...as we trotted slowly, rhythmically and properly changed directions multiple times without falling apart, I realized we had finally achieved BROKE. This was W's definition, and until today, we just couldn't get it.
I was grinning. We had it. We were finally broke.
And then he amazed me with the most fluid and balanced leg yielding I'd ever felt. THIS was another one of those things I'd struggled with over the years in group lessons. And suddenly, on my own pony I just felt it. I asked, he gave and we danced sideways and forwards across the arena, almost floating.
I was grinning even bigger.
W called out "Trust him. Give him more rein".
So I did.
And Moon brought his head and neck forward and picked up the excess.
Did he just...
...accept and seek out contact?!
Over and over again that lesson, he rode on contact with his neck long and low. He did it while being rhythmic, not rushing, listening to my aids and really engaging.
I was stunned and pleased and flabbergasted.
Last week, this same horse was pawing the air, jerking the reins, throwing his head and being an obstinate cow. Today, he was performing beautiful training level moves, with suppleness and contact with the bit.
Does my horse have a split personality?
No. I think, though the experiment and controls are wrongly set up, that there's a lot of big differences that made this week so amazing. And these things, are my clues and directors to how we proceed with our training.
1) Last week I stopped letting him get his way. I'm sure that our "great debate" let him know that I wasn't going to let him push me around
2) Changing the lesson to be a lot of different requests, changing and requiring more attention helped him focus
3) Practicing and riding in between our lessons. This horse CAN NOT have a week off and WILL forget everything he's learned
4) I cleaned his new bridle on Monday and when I put it on him decided to adjust where the bit lies in his mouth because he was really mouthy when I put it in. He's only been wearing this new bridle for about 2 weeks and I'm a little suspicious that the bit was too high for his liking previously (it wasn't too high by standards, but every horse is unique).
5) Tying back to the bridle adjustment, I noticed he tossed his head when I was doing up the nose-band. So I loosened it to the last hole and he seemed a lot more happy.
While I don't think the bridle adjustments were the be-all-end-all, I think they likely helped us out a bit.
It was pretty hilarious when after a pretty successful run through the figure 8, W had us stop, and suddenly from a halt he sprung into a trot without any request from me, and was trotting all proud around the arena before I reeled him in. He was LOVING this new 'contact' and 'long and low' thing!
How did we end the lesson?
W asked us to try a canter.
We tried, though he had to rush into it (very fast trot) and unfortunately could only maintain a stride or two before falling out of it. Really, on a circle it is very hard for him, and I have to admit that the close proximity of the arena walls leave me a little anxious as well! Cantering in a big open field? Sure! There's nothing to hit. : P
After a few tries we returned to doing figure 8's to recollect his attention and finish the lesson on a successful note. He came back nicely, and we finished with him reassuring me that the lesson was not a fluke. He had it in him, and with continued work, he will become an amazing dressage partner.
W sent us home with homework to practice our canter on a circle, if only for a few strides. This will be hard since we haven't the footing in our ring and I'm nervous to canter in a field without being able to see for holes and other dangers. I have a feeling that canter work may have to wait until the end of the month when we have a nice sand arena to practice in.
And thanks to Julie for the nice blog comment from yesterday. It was the perfect reminder that while we might not have all the perfect gear or the newest stuff, we're wonderful in who we are and how we treat each other. As she says "Just be the happy go lucky, horse obsessed person that you are and I bet people will envy you and your relationship with your pony :)".
: ) We all are pretty special, aren't we? Time to go hug your partner, new saddle or not! : )