Since I kicked off classes last week, I’ve really started getting back into the student-mindset. Despite being out of school for close to 6 years at this point, I found that certain patterns came back as soon as I started reviewing the first syllabus. Almost like a muscle memory.
I did the same thing I used to do in undergrad – mark deadlines on the calendar, build a study plan for each week, go through my checklist of materials to make sure I had everything. I started reading some of the articles and textbook chapters, taking notes and jotting down thoughts where I agreed or disagreed with the conclusions. There’s something refreshing about the expectation of forming an opinion as a student, while the professional world is so much more about achieving harmonious consensus.
I found that this attitude also spilled over into my recent rides with Francis.
Last weekend I had spent a few hours on school-work in the morning, and then took a break to go get some air and work with the Frankfurter. And you would have thought he was a cart horse. Plodding along with zero intention of moving faster than a slow shuffle.
My usual instinct in those situations is to push. It’s time to work, so I need him moving. Sometimes this is exactly what he needs! But I started thinking about some of the articles I had read about conditioning work, some of the conversations I had with some professionals I admire, and some of the patterns that I’ve noticed with Frankie’s work ethic.
And I decided to let him do his cart-horse shuffle for a solid 10 minutes. On the buckle, wandering the ring, no instruction beyond simply moving his body in a way that he felt comfortable. And then we started trotting a little. Still on a loose rein, still making big loops, maybe a few shallow serpentines to help him start bending through his body. Then a few easy walk-trot transitions to help him start listening. Slowly slowly starting to pick up a light contact as he started focusing in on me and the work.
By the time I hopped off, I had a forward fresh horse who had just given me some of the best trot-canter transitions I had ever gotten out of him. Balanced, stepping under, lifted through his back. Absolutely lovely.
And then this past weekend, we had a lesson with AT (who you all know absolutely kicks my butt). She opted to let us warm ourselves up while she observed, just intermittently calling out when she wanted us to do something different. While I do love my guided warmups, it felt really good to tune into what Frankie needed and just focus on that in the moment – tons of figures off the rail, lots of transitions within gaits, slowly picking up the contact and asking for more engagement.
I joked with AT that I probably work harder when I know she’s watching my own work than I do when she’s telling me what to do, since I don’t want her to think I’m slacking. It was really encouraging though, I do tend to be pretty reliant on my trainers and this was a great reminder that I do know what we need to work on and I can work on it independently. I’m glad that’s a skillset my trainers encourage, rather than wanting me to always depend on them for everything.
Frankie was obedient if a bit heavy in our flat work. Several years later he does still think that carrying his own body around is some sort of bogus hard work, but as he gains some fitness back it’s improving. But you know what gets rid of the heaviness and revs the engine more than anything else?
Jumping. It was hysterical – I had a lazy horse who was giving me pretty good work but was requiring a TON of effort on my part, and then we pointed him at a crossrail and all of a sudden we had gas in the tank. It was our first time jumping in the outdoor this season, and he was SO happy to stretch out his stride a bit. I could even feel him think about porpoising a bit! He didn’t because he’s Francis, but I definitely could sense him considering it. I ain’t mad, he was having fun and feeling good.
Our coursework that day was just lovely. He gave me everything I asked for, and for the most part I was had the wherewithal to ask for what I needed. His tendency was to stretch his stride out to monster proportions in the bigger ring, but to his credit he did soften and come back to a more useful canter as soon as I asked. It used to take a long time to make that adjustment and nowadays he brings it under much more quickly. We were able to put some of the jumps up (not huge, but bigger than we’ve jumped in a while) and it just felt effortless.
It does feel that lately I’ve turned a bit of a corner in my ability to think on course. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I know my horse so well now, that he’s so educated, that I needed the mental break for a few months, or a combination of all of these. But I’m feeling much more able to make a plan for my ride and then execute where necessary, while still adjusting in the moment to give Frankie what he needs. I don’t think there’s a super visible change, but it’s this subtle change in my own perceptions of what we’re doing.
At the end of the day, I’m excited to learn new things and pursue my degree, but I think I’m most excited to be back in the mindset of a student and apply that mindset to everything else in my life.