An Ode to the DragonMare

I realized that in so many of my posts, I talk at length about what an angel Addy is. She’s so sweet, what a good pony, she takes such good care of me. And I stand by that. Despite our occasional bobbles, she is a wonderful perfect girl, and I never want her to change.

But she’s also so much more than that. Saying she’s an angel and leaving it at that is doing her such a disservice, so I sat down and thought hard about what makes this horse so special. That’s when I realized what it is: Addy tailors her rides to her rider. She responds differently to each different person on her back, and she does it because she’s just so goshdarn smart.

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Unlike her rider.

On Saturdays, Addy gives a walk-trot lesson to a very very new beginner. She never gets fast, she halts easily, and turns when the reins are pulled in that direction. Even when they’ve given cantering a try, she loped around a bit and then easily came back to a walk. She is supremely uncomplicated on Saturdays. She knows that she’s got a novice rider, and she expects that they will not be tackling anything particularly challenging that day. And so she is a weekend schoolmaster.

This used to be how she was in my lessons on Wednesdays too: I rode very unsubtly, and she was an unsubtle ride. Even over small jumps she was a babysitter. Contrast that to my current lessons on Wednesdays: we try to improve on our lateral work, bending and counter-bending, transitions within gaits, bending lines and rollbacks and all sorts of more complicated exercises. Addy has shifted into a more advanced ride as the exercises have grown in complexity, the jump heights have gone up, and my aids have grown (slightly) more refined.

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One of our first lessons together: loopy rein, barely-there release, and praying mantis position. What a good sport she was!

Our homework rides are no longer me practicing some circles in two-point, but working on collection and extension, lateral work, and moving more on the bit instead of stretched out. As I’m expecting better work from her, she’s expecting better work from me. If I open a rein without supporting with my leg, she will not move in that direction. If I ask for a halt but don’t reinforce with my seat and leg, she will keep on plowing. We have a difficult time walking in a straight line because the beast gets anticipatory and excited. If I abandon her over a jump she will either duck out, pick a hugely gappy distance, or change her pace. She is always good-natured and tries hard to please, but no longer expects to call the shots. She wants me to be the leader I’m supposed to be in our partnership.

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Mahm are you actually paying attention to what you’re asking me to do?? MAHM

The way she goes now is so different: she pushes to speed up at almost all times, likes to have a more consistent contact, prances instead of moving out if my aids are muddled, and jumps with her knees up by her chin (it’s the cutest thing in the world, but definitely jumps me out of the tack more). I am constantly regulating pace, playing with her mouth, adding leg, adjusting my seat, and shifting to stay over her center of balance.

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Yeah, that whole “loop in the reins” is not for us anymore.

Contrast that to a few months ago, where we bumbled around on a loose rein and my jumping position looked like a praying mantis. If she had pushed forward or pranced back then, I would’ve toppled off the side because I was riding so weakly. Once I became a more active rider, she became a more active ride. It has been a very gradual process, but I realized that if someone described her to me as she is now when I first got back into riding, I would’ve been terrified of her! A horse that tends to go fast, prefers some guidance to a good distance,ย  and has all these buttons to push? I could not have handled that. I’m still learning how to work with it!

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Luckily, she has only given me what I can safely handle. Riding her is like second nature now- of course we are going to hold hard around that corner and leg up to the jump, of course we are going to add tons of leg to control our pace, of course I’m going to play with her mouth a little to get her to soften, of course she’s going to peek at the new jump and leap it like a gazelle. And then of course we are going to have fun, because we are partners in this.

I am so far from being a great rider- there is so much for me to learn and build on and get stronger at, so I’ll settle for “decent” until I can become great. And as much as it pains me to admit it, she is not the perfect horse- she’s not the fanciest and she gets heavy and sticky at times. But I am convinced that as she raises her expectations of me, I will be able to meet them. And as I meet those expectations I’ll be able to raise my expectations for her in turn, which she will no doubt meet with ease.

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She has the talent and heart, and I have the drive. We’re just going to keep pushing each other higher and higher.

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Physical Therapy

What’s the best possible thing to do when you have a strained hip flexor?

Obviously, the answer is to definitely ride. And you should probably wear brand new tall boots too.

I managed to tweak my hip the other day because I was dumb and forgot to stretch after spending 3 hours in the saddle, and I’ve spent the last couple days limping around like Igor in Young Frankenstein (Walk this way. No, THIS way). I was not about to let that get in the way of my lesson though, so I warned Trainer that I might be a bit crippled and got Beastly prepped for our lesson.

Side note- Jenn from Stories from the Saddle is seriously an amazing person who is my tack guru/enabler/sista from another mista and sent us this present!!! Isn’t it beautiful?! I’m still absolutely speechless at her generosity and thoughtfulness, it’s perfect!!

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You can’t see Addy’s face, but she loved it too

So, once we were decked out like absolute freakin’ ballers, it was time to hop on in the new boots. I had hacked around for 15-20 minutes on Monday in them and even managed to hang on when Addy took off (for all of 3 strides before she remembered I was there and tried to apologize by giving me a gorgeous round collected canter. Apology accepted, that was fancy as hell), but this was my first “official” ride in them.

The boots were fantastic! Trainer commented that she definitely likes the look of them much better than my old boots, and she was very impressed that I was able to get my heels down already. Man I was forcing them down HARD, but the ankle fits super well and the leather is soft, so it wasn’t too terrible. I’ll save you the suspense and just tell you that these boots are amazing, comfortable enough that I wore them to turn Addy out and run errands after the barn, and nary a blister to be found. I’m in love.

Back to the riding. I skipped out on the no-stirrups part of our warmup because I’m a lazy asshole I didn’t want to push my hip too hard, but we got some nice WTC, extended and collected canters. Addy got a bit snorty and prancy when I asked for the collected canter, but gave me some great work.

We then warmed up trotting over a crossrail, which Addy launched over like it was 3′ tall. I focused on holding her straight and steady to the base, and she slowly realized that she has jumped this same jump roughly 817 times and it has never once changed height WHILE she was jumping it.

Then we moved on to a super cool gymnastic exercise with some cavaletti, set up as follows:

jul1_cavaletti

To start out with, we did ABC. Trot in over the cavaletti, bend left over the crossrail, then bend left over the last cavaletti and continue going left. It was set for a quiet 4-5 strides from A to B and a quiet 3-4 B to C.

So of course on our first trip through I did a raging 4ish from A to B and missed C completely because pshhh why would I steer with my leg??

The 4 from A to B was quieter on our second try, but Beastly leaped the crossrail super big again and that ate up our 3 strides to the cavaletti. We went through it once more to get the 4 and 3, and then took a breather. We also did it the other way and even managed to get 4 from C to B once, so I was quite happy that she was settling into our work a little better.

Addy was puffing pretty hard, and trainer remarked that my girth looked super tight. We loosened it a little and I took Addy for a walk to catch her breath while the other riders went through the exercise. Is Addy getting fat? I mean, Carol Dean-Porter did just call her “well-fed“….

Anywho, we caught our breath and came back in for the next exercise: ABC, down the diagonal D, halt in the corner if needed, then back down CBA, and up the diagonal at E to halt in the corner.

Addy had totally gotten the measure of this exercise and went through ABC beautifully, and then we got a really nice quiet pace to the base of D. I chose not to halt after this because she was being so soft and quiet through, so we cantered in CBA. She did rush a little through this, so I balanced up to get a quieter distance up to E and halted in the corner. I may have used the wall to help us halt, but why not use all the props you have?! Addy was very good about listening and waiting for the closer distance for me, I was very happy with it.

We ended by doing D-E-F-G to test how the gymnastic had helped our adjustability. We took a bit of a flyer to D but nothing terrible, I ended up legging up a little to a distance at E, and then came in quietly for a beautiful flowing 3 strides F-G. Fun fact: every other horse in the lesson did that in 4 strides. I came in quietly and half-halted, and that was a really nice quiet 3 for us. Beastly just eats up those lines! D’Arcy has a theory that because Pretty Girl jumps so powerfully, she lands further from the base and that eats up some of our line before we even take a stride. I think that makes sense.

I was very happy with how Addy listened and rocked back when I asked her to throughout this whole lesson- she wasn’t having a quiet and lazy day, but she still behaved like an absolute lady. She got a nice cool bath to get rid of some of the dirt, fly-sprayed all over, and turned out to play with her buddies all night. Where she promptly rolled and covered herself back up with dirt. I finally managed to get this on video though! I’ll post it on my Instagram so you can see this gigantic creature kicking her heels up.

I then insisted that D’Arcy document my #rootd for posterity because I thought I looked cool: new boots, burgundy Pipers, $5 tshirt from Target, and my beloved Pony Farm hat.

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Boots half-unzipped because my calves like to breathe on occasion.

Getting pumped for this weekend- I’ve got a pool party and a Foo Fighters festival I’m going to, and it should be totally awesome. What are all y’alls 4th of July plans??

What’s your favorite way to use cavaletti? Do you have any favorite exercises to get your horses adjustable and listening?

PS- in case you haven’t wandered over yet, D’Arcy now has her own blog! She’ll be doing some lesson recaps as well (including yesterday’s), so you can totally call me out when we tell different versions of the same lesson. It should be pretty cool.