Oh Right, I Forgot

You know how sometimes you forget things that you’ve known forever? Or not that you’ve forgotten, they’ve just kinda slipped by the wayside?

I have a couple things like that and I’m trying to focus more attention on them.

Most basic of all: moving forward at the walk. Francis almost always has a super forward swingy walk throughout our rides, so I never really think about it. But as it gets hotter and he gets lazier (yes, it is possible), he sees walking as a chance to amble around like a 32yo school pony. Actually, he walks SLOWER than the 32yo school pony. It’s embarrassing. I need to consciously notice what kind of walk we have and correct if needed to make sure it’s the walk we want.

Also super basic: allowing my horse to turn left. I’m so weirdly crooked in such strange ways that I’ve pretty much blocked my horse from being able to turn left. The only way I can convince my body to straighten out is to think “right hip forward and light.” Because it reeeeally wants to be tilted back and digging into Frankie’s back. So basically I’m thinking I’m telling him “move off my left leg and bend through your body!” but what my seat is telling him is “BEND TO THE RIGHT AND ALSO MOVE LEFT FOREVER.” When I consciously think to push my right hip forward, we suddenly get straighter through his body, smoother turns, better bend, more adjustability, and more lightness in my hand. So yeah. Gonna have to figure out how to just not be a total pretzel at all times so that my horse can do his job. I’M NOT AN AMBITURNER.

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But like…literally.

Still basic: shoulders tall at the sitting trot. I think we’ve got a pretty decent sitting trot- Frankie usually stays pretty soft through his back so it’s fairly comfortable to go with his motion. But I’ve been so focused on my seat and core that I’ve neglected working on keeping my upper body tall. I know I’m capable of putting those pieces together, it’s just a matter of actually doing the thing. We don’t do flat classes or anything so this isn’t a competition goal, just a polish and precision goal.

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It’s happened before, I’m like 70% sure it can happen again.

Less basic: Solidifying my position over fences. In theory, I’m fantastic at this. My trainer and I joke that in theory, I’m an Olympic rider. I know what I should be doing, and I’m pretty good at diagnosing what I’ve done wrong and how I can fix it. It’s just a matter of….doing those things. And doing those things the first time so I don’t have to diagnose and go back and fix and go through that whole process. For example, my leg isn’t staying where I want it and I’d like to work more on an automatic following release. These are tools I know I have in my toolbox, and I need to be more conscious of honing them and actively using them. My position always looks 20x more solid when shit hits the fan- aka massive chip or leaving a stride out- than it does when things are going well. I want it to consistently be solid.

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SOMEHOW MY LEG DOESN’T BUDGE WHEN I RIDE LIKE CRAP WHAT THE HELL

Also less basic: Insisting on adjustability. Frankie CAN and HAS given me powerful strides ranging from 8′ to 18′. The adjustability is there to use if I ask for it. I need to stop settling into a comfortable canter and maintaining that for the whole course- everything comes up so much more smoothly and powerfully when I actively rate back and forth. Collect through the turn, power up to the single, sit  back in the line, push through the combo, etc. There is no magic stride length to get the job done and I need to use the appropriate stride to each question on course.

I can’t be the only one! What habits do you need to remind yourself of? What’s  so basic that you’ve neglected it and now have to go back and fix?

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Back To Basics

We’re gonna keep rolling with the lesson reviews, because I keep rolling with the lessons.

And folks, this was a good one.

Before I get into the nitty gritty, I want to give huge props to my esteemed Daddoo, who very patiently and enthusiastically listens to me minutely describe every stride of every lesson, which helps me organize my thoughts before blogging. Without my dear father, these recaps would not be what they are and I would be lost in a sea of sadness. Dramatic? Maybe. I get it from my Dad.

Anywho, last night we had a lesson with my awesome Assistant Trainer (I’ve sung her praises in past posts and will continue to do so here). Not only is she a genuinely cool person in real life, but she has such a knack for coaching.

We spent a looong time on our flatwork last night with a focus on suppleness and control. We did a lot of transitions from counter-bend to correct bend at the trot, large circles to small circles, serpentines, changing directions, and maintaining the power in the sitting trot. Beastly was a little behind my leg at some points and I had to leg her up, but she responded reeeeally well to the counter-bending exercises we did; she was much softer and willing to be led once we loosened up like that. AT wanted us focusing hard on using our outside aids- she said that we want to set the track and bend using our inside leg and hand, but the outside aids need to be present and strong to maintain the balance and create a place for the horse to move into. She was constantly reminding us to keep that feel on the outside rein no matter what we were doing.

Moving up into canter work, we did a fun exercise where we changed seats. After establishing a comfortable working canter she had us stand in our stirrups for a while-  focusing on getting our heels far down and keeping our leg stable- then drop a little bit into a half seat- where we moved our hands low and wide so we couldn’t rely on them for balance and instead had to engage our cores- and then drop further into a more upright and deep “equitation” seat- keeping our legs long and engaged, and our shoulders back.

In all of this there was a focus on straightness- we wanted a gentle bend around the corners but we wanted a perfectly straight track down the long side. She also emphasized keeping our leg on, and said that collecting in a gait takes 100x more leg than extending should because you have to be there to support that collection.

After getting my butt kicked around the ring on the flat, we warmed up by trotting a small crossrail. My job was to create straightness and balance to the jump without rushing and without anticipating with my shoulders, and this went well. We then moved on to some more exercises with the following setup:

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Our first exercise was to trot in to B, turn right and halt in front of E. Getting a halt after a jump is a pretty Herculean effort on Beastly. so AT showed us that instead of just bracing in the stirrups and waterskiing, she wanted me to sit deep, engage my core, and keep my leg on to support that halt. We definitely halted closer to the wall than I wanted, but AT was much happier with our second attempt! She reminded me that on a horse like Addy who tends to get rolling, I have to commit early to any changes in pace so that I have plenty of time to achieve them.

Our next exercise was the bending line from D to E. This was set so that if we came in conservatively and bowed the track it could be a four stride, or a more direct three stride. Hmmm, I wonder what we got?? I was able to get super conservative in with a nice small bouncy canter, but wasn’t able to recover fast enough to get the small strides again for the four. At one point I had set the Unicorn up for a really nice short distance in out of a small canter and she ducked out- AT told me that I had made the right move and that was definitely the right decision, Addy just didn’t want to do it because it was hard. We circled around and made Addy put in the effort from the base. This jump was like 2′ tall, she had no excuse not to.

Next! We went up the diagonal at F and hard right turn to roll back over G on the wall. I was pretty nervous because this closely resembled the Turn of Doom we had such trouble with a while ago, but determined to leg on and make it happen. Our first attempt wasn’t exactly pretty, but we did make it happen! The next time through AT had me slice the jump a little from right-to-left to create more of a space to turn in, sit super deep in the saddle, and use my outside leg HARD to get that turn. And we did it!

After working on all of these things individually, we pieced it together into the following course: A-B-C-D-E-F-G. Canter up the outside crossrail, down the in of the outside line, turn right to come over the plank, down the bending line, up the diagonal stone and rollback over the red out.

This rode really great! We got a little gappy to the crossrail which was totally unnecessary, but got nice and quiet to the black vertical. We could’ve used our space better in the rollback to the quarter line, but this worked out well regardless. The bending line was our best yet- a liiiittle bit more and I think we could’ve fit the four in. The rollback went beautifully- I even cantered in to the diagonal jump and we STILL got the turn without too much fuss (AT had let me trot in before to guarantee a quieter in).

This was such a cool lesson because it was really focused on the basics. None of the jumps were higher than 2’3″ (I’d be surprised if they were even that big) but the exercises we were doing were intended to make our horses more rideable. We worked on our equitation and giving our horses the support they need on the flat and over fences, and we built up our course bit by bit so we could master each section. I was definitely exhausted both mentally and physically after this lesson!

AT had a really good point- we want to get Addy “rideable” enough so that we don’t have to put the Pelham in when we jump. She is not a professional’s horse, she is an amateur’s horse. Her owner did not buy her to go win the Modified Adults at A shows, she got her because she enjoys riding her. My goal should be to get her relaxed and comfortable with jumping instead of hot and excited.

The short version: counter bending and bending, changing seats, leg on, master each piece of the course. Basically, be a better rider.

Here, have a selfie of us recovering after our ride:

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What basics have you been working on lately?