Friday, April 20, 2012

Tell me where it hurts...


I'm not even 30. And yet, by some evil twist of fate, I'm sore.

Seriously, sore.

Last night, I thought my abs were going to be the death of me. Not even my abs. Somewhere behind my abs, where I couldn't even get to massage.

That same soreness left me hanging over my pony's neck, willing the muscle cramping away. Non-riders may think that horseback riding is "easy". "Low impact". Requiring little "athleticism". We riders know better. It's not.


I tacked up Moon yesterday and despite the cool temperatures, strong north-west winds and clouds rolling in, I felt compelled to hack out.

I'm not sure why, but I have some sort of mental "block" when it comes to arena riding. I'm suspicious that it comes to those constricting walls, the mass of solid objects that surrounds the arena, just willing me to land atop, within or into them.

I once rode at a barn where the arena was held up by two MASSIVE concrete pillars. Right in the middle of the arena. Right there. You know, where you might cantering around.

Terrified me. Hated it. Winter riding SUCKED. Walk-trot, sure, fine. But canter? Hello, I don't have a death wish.

Never mind the solid walls just willing to be hit.

Summer was fine. There was a MASSIVE outdoor ring, so large you never ACTUALLY rode along the rail. It was lovely. I hated jumping in that indoor (I mean, even the ceiling was low!), but it wasn't a big deal out on the open green.

I'm still kinda that way. Look down at those solid rails, posts, anything and get a little nervous.

Now, we also know that most horses go better in an indoor arena then outside. Outside is "spooky". Outside has "distractions". Outside has places to gallop away. (well, except those horses that have never seen an indoor...then it's the whole reverse. But once accustomed, most horses are more focused it seems in these confined spaces...or maybe it's their riders?).

Outside WITHOUT any fencing should be worse. There's nothing at all keeping your horse where you want him, but you. Nothing keeping your horse focused, but you.

And since we're headed in 3 weeks to our FIRST horse show, which will be outside with only that pathetic little white planking about a 1' off the ground to keep us within our ring, I knew we best get our booty outside and practice.

Our journey led us about a 1/2 mile up the road to my new favorite spot. That community center I keep talking about. Moon gets his poops out before we even get there, so I don't have to worry about pooping on the field. Plus, they have the soccer nets set up in other fields, so I'm not even working in one that's "in use". Even better, it's on my way home, so if I need, I can grab a shovel and scoop my poop off the field when I'm done. : )

It's a nice spot. Flat and level green grass, well trimmed. The neighboring property has two very yappy dogs, but they're chained and provide nothing more then a distraction. The parking lot is close by and offers the occasional car rolling up. It has "artificial" ring markers on three sides: A treeline, a ditch and a road.

Moon and I started working in the soccer field and I could tell his mind wasn't in it. Everything meant "RUN!" Everything. His head was up, his attention was elsewhere and he certainly didn't think he had to WORK in this field. We play in fields! I never make him work outside.

I tried a bunch of things and wasn't getting anywhere. I did notice that he'd slow down a touch and listen better when I asked for a change in direction, but it was short lived. Too short lived to make a difference...


I made them more frequent.

So I did. We did 10 meter figure 8's, where each loop was a little 10 meter circle. Probably a little less then that, but we gradually worked down.

Boy oh boy. Did he start to come around. I was flabbergasted by my sudden ability to direct him with more leg then anything. I moved into sitting trot and there I was, manipulating him with leg and seat and *just a little* rein, to get a little bend. His head came down, he rounded and we had contact.

My occasional glimpse at our shadow assured me that we hadn't overcome our gaping problem, but I honestly, don't give a hoot anymore. He'll either continue to do it, or he won't. I'll keep doing everything I can to help him correct it, but if he can't, to hell with it. I'm not going to the Olympics. I've got a horse that's soft and bending and rounding. Sure, he's got a vice that most people associate with a tense, bracing horse. But if he's not, then tfb. Judges want to dock us marks because of it? Go for it.

Because out there today, in a wide open soccer field, with no fences, nothing compelling him to listen to me, I had one of the softest, roundest, most attentive horses I've ever owned. Moon WAS NOT the horse I brought to W's a year ago. He was changed.

I didn't want to stop. I didn't. It was too incredible to think that a year ago we never could have done this so fluidly. I never would have been able to so gently coax him back to softness. Attentiveness.

But, then the pain set in.

Apparently, I'd been in the sitting trot too long. Holding my core muscles for too long. To be honest, Moon had worked up a sweat! And I had a major core cramp.

So I let Moon walk and just laid across his neck waiting for the pain to stop. On a loose rein, he just ambled around. We got our nicest free walk to date (with the occasional attempt to trot : P ). Finally it stopped hurting. I mean, it still hurts, but the cramp was gone!

I wanted to try our canter. Canter in the arena is hard. Really hard. But we need to work on the canter cues to make sure he understand what I want and departs properly.

I read a long time ago, and someone recently posted about the value in doing it right. And if it's not right, do it again. Don't just keep going. So, I'd ask Moon to canter, and if he gave me a crummy depart, I'd bring him down and do it again.

We did it probably a dozen times in each direction. Unfortunately, I haven't a frigg'n clue how to tell my canter leads. Seriously. I *thought* I did. I do in theory. But it seemed we were ALWAYS on our right lead, no matter what direction we went in. Except, he seemed to be falling into the circle in both directions! : P

I decided that I'd best just work on asking for now. And perhaps, as we get better transitions, I'll get a better sense of what lead we're on and what I need to do to correct it.  Cause seriously, I don't want to spend my whole riding lifetime walking and trotting. And since I can't even figure out posting diagonals after 10 years of riding, why should I expect Moon to understand leads? : P

As he worked a bit on slowing down his canter (in other words, not galloping : P ), I brought him back to his figure 8's frequently to remind him to stay soft, loose and listening. Not EVERYTHING meant run! : )

When we finally stopped, we were both sweating. And probably sore. But I knew he still wanted his chance to run. Mr. Moon always loves a chance to run.

So we did. I walked him across the soccer field to the longest side and gave him his head.

He surged off and we galloped across the field, the wind causing my eyes to water and I just poised above Moon, feeling the surge of his muscles as his hooves ate up the ground beneath us.

Once we got to the far end, I turned him around and let him gallop back to the highway.

I've come to really appreciate my boy. Yes, we'll probably get all 3's on our dressage tests. We'll probably never jump 3' or win a halter class.

But by-golly, I can point my horse towards a highway, let him gallop his heart out and when we get to the end of the field, sit back in the saddle and feel him smoothly transition back to a walk. All that, in the softest double-jointed egg-butt bit I can find.

And then walk him the 1/2 mile home down the highway, right on the buckle.

And I wanna do it all again tonight. Except I'm not sure my core muscles can handle it.


  1. On your lead your "inside" leg will move more than your "outside" leg. So if you're on the left lead, your left leg will move more than your right. And your right hip will feel a bit behind your left, mirroring your horse.

  2. For the canter departures (and I know it's easier said than done), but try to set Moon up ahead of time so he has a good departure rather than stopping him after you've started cantering. Occasionally you just get an icky transition that you have to fix, but try to help him do it right and praise him when he does. What is he doing in his transitions that aren't right? It's also best to try and make sure he's on the correct lead when you're cantering. I think it'll make things easier in the future for you and Moon.

    As far as the leads go, I can tell which lead I'm on by looking down at Lilly's shoulders. If we're on the right lead, her right shoulder will be going forward more than her left shoulder. So while you're cantering, glance down at Moon's shoulders and see if you can tell which one is more forward.

    Sounds like you had a really great ride, though!! And I hate it when people tell me that riding isn't exercise because "the horse does all the work"... really?! Clearly they haven't ridden our horses! :)

  3. Sounds like a good ride (aside from the stomach cramps).