Sunday, May 23, 2010


As the title indicates, I've been enjoying some good progress with the Sofa. She seems to be coping well with her arthritic, probably fusing hocks and the nasty summer heat we're having hasn't slowed her down in the least. And today I FINALLY got to have a lesson with my all-time favorite trainer...not on Sofie, unfortunately, but I had lots of fun and learned several things that I think I can apply to my work with Sofie. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

5/14 My first day working on Sofie with my mom gone on her trip. Grooming and tacking up goes well, even with lots of distraction - another horse coming in and out, a lady showing up to do a saddle fitting, and Judy's shavings trailer arriving. Sofie handles it well and stays ground-tied for the most part. I start out my ride in the indoor and Sofie doesn't quite feel 100%. But we get our warm-up done and then go outside since the Sofa is bored, bored, bored going around in circles. Outside, she has one of those days where she wants to do her own thing and she doesn't want to listen. She drifts in toward her much-loved barn and the right side of her mouth feels like concrete. She spends much of the ride with her head counterbent to the right as I try to soften her mouth. She is not thrilled with this turn of events but fails to "act out". She does become rather barn sour, and tries out balking, but she's not very good at it, so all she does is shorten her stride and invert. I quit when I get a few straight steps heading away from the barn and feel good about how I didn't lose my patience or dissolve into my old mental standby - "I must be ruining my horse, she hates me, I'm a horrible rider, I don't deserve to have this horse".

5/16 For the first time in forever, I have issues bridling Sofie. She takes the bit nicely, as always, but after I fasten the throatlatch and noseband, she nips me on the arm. I smack her in the nose a millisecond later, and she appears startled and apologetic. Well....maybe just startled.

After thinking over the previous ride's issues, I conclude that I was putting too much emphasis on her getting soft on the right rein, and that the real issue was that she was bulging into my left leg. It's called inside leg to outside rein, genius, and it's, um, just, like, a fundamental part of dressage. So I start out in the arena (where she also drifts in, especially down the one long side) and really push her over with my inside leg. She is sensitive and smart enough to get the idea pretty fast, although she needs reminders. Lots of them. Especially when we go outside. She is definitely still drawn to the barn, so she requires a LOT of inside-leg-to-outside-rein. She also requires reminders that no, we don't just pick up a trot when we turn back to the barn, even though you're right, that would get us there faster. She does much better if instead of clinging to the reins and nagging "Please don't go faster, just walk, just walk, no don't speed up" I let her have her head. If she starts trotting and won't listen to a polite aid, then I do pull back on the outside rein, hard enough to get her attention. Then I release, and repeat as necessary.

The Sofa doesn't know if she likes these new requirements, but I just stay persistent since my new requirements are pretty basic and definitely not over the top. She starts to get the concept, she just needs reminders. I don't do a lot of trotting in the yard since I'm still working on getting her straight facing away from the barn at the walk, and I'm avoiding trotting toward the barn. So I take her for a trot on the trail, and she moves out nicely. Wheeeee! I also ride her partway down the road. She strides out with an eagerness that I haven't seen from her since before her hock trouble started. After we reach a certain point she starts to get a little fidgety, so I make her go on a bit longer and then turn back for home. The ride ends up being our longest one in a while (45 minutes) which accounts for her fidgety-ness.

5/18 Even though it is a hot hot HOT day, Sofie free schools energetically, even throwing in a walk-to-canter transition. Then she becomes convinced that the one long side of the outdoor is evil. I catch her and try to lead her down it, which results in her making lots of bolty-spinny circles around me. The second time, she is better, making normal circles at the walk. I quit with that and start bringing her into the barn, and she spooks inexplicably in one of the small paddocks en route. I go into the barn, put on my helmet and gloves, and take her out the one of the "scary corners" in the yard. All the wants is to eat grass. I take her back in the barn to get her ready to ride, figuring Fireball has had her fun and won't come back for more.

Once again, she threatens to bite after I tighten her noseband, but backs down when I raise my hand. As we get started, it's clear that the moving-off-the-leg lesson has sunk in. She moves off my leg very well in the arena and stays on the rail better than ever before. Of course, after a couple minutes of this she reverts a bit to her old ways, but I'm excited to see a glimpse of what could be.

Outside, we make a circuit of the yard, do our shallow turns and straight lines, and work on our inside-leg-to-outside-rein connection and our basic obedience. For too long, I kind of let her do her thing out in the yard, first because she was so much fun to ride, and then because she was so sour that I had to use the magic pull of the barn to get a trot transtition without theatrics. I was afraid of her at that point, so I did not insist on obedience and my control was kind of questionable. So the Sofa probably wonders why I'm now insisting that I pick the pace AND the direction. She complies with my new demands, albeit sometimes lacking a smile on her face. But I understand that she's not always going to like what I have to say, and the important thing is that she complies and is rewarded for trying.

I decide not to ride her down the road as I'm concerned that Fireball might make an appearance. Instead, I ride her down the trail, picking up a trot over the best footing. I decide to go all the way down the trail. There is a huge tree limb over half the trail, so I try to leg yield Sofie over. She decides she would rather push through it, so the branch gets hung up on my leg for a sec. Sofie continues on, and I give her a pat, knowing that many horses would probably freak if a huge, like, tree thing seemingly grabbed at them.

5/20 I arrive at the barn late on what was supposed to be a hot day. It is pleasantly cool at the barn, so nice that the horses don't want to come in, but we bring them in because it's not too horribly early (5:00) and I want to ride Sofie in the gelding's field. The Sofa is miffed that she doesn't get to go in her stall like everybody else, so she is a bit of a handful when my mom longes her out in the yard. She moves great, though, showing a nice, forward trot and canter. She even canters on the right lead (partly because she was falling in on the circle and couldn't hold a counter canter on the smaller circle she was making). She reeeeeeeeeeally wants grass, so she attempts to grab some while cantering. She almost gets it, but the clover she went for just wasn't quite tall enough.

I figure out, while talking with my mom, that I was tightening Sofie's noseband one hole too much. Not exactly crank noseband territory, but the Sofa is very sensitive. I adjust her noseband correctly, and she makes no move to bite me.

I ride her for like two minutes in the boring, dusty indoor, then head for the Big Field. We walked around it to finish warming up and then started some trot work. We trot down the field, up the field and across the field. I weave her through some bush-things that were growing in different places, ride her up little hills and slopes, down little hills and slopes, work on having her move off my leg - occasionally it feels like she actually starts to cross over a bit. I also move her off my leg in the trot. She is more confident going away from the barn, and she keeps a nice, steady tempo going toward the barn - no rushing, just nice and soft but not too slow. She flexes at the poll at times, rounds her back a couple times (and NOT because she was pissed off and thinking about bucking!). That field is sooooo good for doing LONG straight lines in all different directions, and the hills really help her engage her hind end.

There's one fenceline that she decides she does not like to go down (coming up it, she's perfect) and this was the only "ugly" part of our ride. She starts trotting and drifting away from the scary fence with the trees all in shadow, so I really open my outside rein, keep my inside leg on her, and try to keep her from drifting too badly. I'm sure it was NOT pretty, but at least I kept her from totally leaving, and the second time was better. Ah, Sofie and her "problem areas"! We end the ride with some leg yielding, then a lovely, flexed-poll, correctly-bent few steps of trot away from the barn. So much fun.

So there you have it. I'm SO happy with the progress we're making. I really feel like I can deal with my horse now...we may not fit into someone else's definition of perfect, but we don't need perfection, we just need progress, and eventually we will get there. Where is "there"? I have no idea. But dressage is a journey, and that journey is all I had in mind when I chose Sofie, my project horse.

Next time, I'll write about my first "real" dressage lesson in eons, and what I will hopefully be able to transfer to Sofie when I ride her later today.

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