Thursday, October 21, 2010
October = Awesome
October has been a most excellent month for riding. The weather, Sofie’s soundness and my own mental fortitude have all come together, and I’ve been loving the good fall rides. There’s nothing better.
Last Thursday’s ride was just wonderful. The weather was stunning, and Sofie felt good. She walked and trotted around, occasionally breaking into a lovely canter. She felt soft and willing through various transitions. It was just one of those good rides.
On Friday I went back out to the barn for more fun with the Sofa. She was stiff from the previous day’s ride, but she still trotted for me. Her walk felt good, but her trot felt off at times, and she wasn’t moving as freely forward. After a while I decided to ride her down the road, since she was a little stiff for yard work. She was fairly good on the road, though not without spazziness. She decided that the little-kid noises from the neighbors’ house up the hill were threatening, and insisted on trying to go down in the ditch, where there are holes. Just what she needs, stepping in a hole and straining herself, right? So I worked to keep her straight, and she did her typical continual back-and-forth drift. We saw one little dog who likes to run up to us barking, but she doesn’t go further than the end of the driveway, and Sofie has seen her before and seems to like her. She was more concerned with a man walking out of his garage (the Sofa does not like people who appear randomly. They all look suspicious to her). We made it all the way to the end of the road, even though there were the sounds of logging coming from the woods by the prison farm (Sofie also doesn’t approve of noisy things she can’t see, or anything having to do with tree carnage).
The way back was easier, of course. The neighbor’s German Shepherd was tied out behind their house, but he merely woofed softly three times, and Sofie was in goin’-home mode anyway and didn‘t even notice. Back in the yard, I decided to see if she was moving better, and she was. I did a couple trot transitions heading away from the barn and then headed back around the yard. She wanted to canter in the Scary Corner, but I didn’t let her, since I was ready to start taking a little more control. After turning the corner toward home, I sat and put my outside leg on. She didn’t take the canter, but I was heartened by the fact that she also didn’t kick out or take offense at my use of outside leg, so I turned her around and took her back to the corner (I wanted to start by asking her to canter in a spot where she likes to canter anyway). This time she took the canter, and kept it up when I asked. There was no kicking out, head throwing or ear pinning. I was so happy to have finally asked her to canter successfully. It was a great way to end the ride.
On Sunday Sofie was a bit of a fruitcake in the aisle, staring out the various doors and getting all concrete-necked. She actually turned around at one point, and she knows not to move her feet. On most days, I can drop her lead rope and she will stand during the whole tacking up process, even if I leave her and go off to get something or change clothes. I got her turned back around and made her back up, then repositioned her, and she stood while I cleaned out her feet. After that I free schooled her, and she didn’t have a whole lot of energy in the indoor, although she did canter when I asked (I’ve been working on her free schooling, and she’s getting really good at it). Back in the aisle, she was still kind of spazzy. I didn’t feel how cold and windy it was outside, because it was also gorgeous and sunny and I had warmed up moving hay earlier in the day and apparently not cooled back down. But it was really quite cold and blustery, which explains her silliness.
I mounted up, leaving my whip behind and anticipating an interesting ride. But she walked around quite calmly on a long rein, and we had a nice warm up in the yard. Lately I’ve been riding her down the trail to warm her up, but I opted to stay in the yard for a change of pace. When I started trotting she didn’t move out terribly well, and she got upset when I dared to cluck at her. The Sofa has opinions about what is acceptable for me to ask of her, and although she responds well to my system of voice commands (double click for the trot, kiss for the canter) when I free school her, she tends to get mad when I try to incorporate them into our rides. When we got to one of her canter places, she decided to canter and then started screwing around, even throwing in a little bounce. So she got yelled at a few times, and I had my mom bring me Mr. Whip, since it seemed like Sofie was going to be a beyotch. But soon she seemed to get over herself, and she started trotting with more energy and throwing in canters without drama. She took me by surprise when she cantered while tracking right and took the right lead. The right is her bad side, and she rarely takes her right lead when I free school her (although she will happily counter canter all day long!), so I was pleased to see that she will take the right lead under weight. That should make things easier in the future!
She cantered quite a few times on her own, but I did ask for it a couple times, once while heading right, toward the barn (although it was really not much of an “ask”, she was so primed to canter). Her right lead felt great. She also cantered as I was riding her by the driveway, and I kept my inside rein on a bit, so she was on a slight bend. She didn’t protest, which was really nice (and surprising, since she definitely has opinions about contact at the canter!), and her canter just felt awesome. Whenever she canters on a bend she feels even more collected, and it makes me so eager for the day we can start working on our canter circles.
I wanted to try asking her to canter away from the barn, so I decided to go for it, and trotted her away from the barn, preparing her for the transition. I wound up riding her uphill, since it felt right, and I sat and asked lightly and she took her right lead for a few strides. It was a really nice canter, too. I was so happy with that. It may not seem like much, but with her soundness issues I’ve been letting her decide when and if she canters, and I haven’t asked her to canter in over a year. Over time I really lost my nerve and just seeing or thinking the word canter would make me anxious. Easing into it and stacking the odds in the favor of success has helped me get comfortable with cantering and taking charge again. I’m still not ready to ask her to canter anywhere in the yard, any time, no matter what, and I don’t feel the need right now, with her offering the canter as much as she is. But this is something. I’m more confident, she’s feeling better, and I love what we have right now.
I ended the ride with a short trail ride, and one more canter in the yard (I intended to ask her, but she was too quick to volunteer). I also did a couple halts and some rein-back. She got heavy in one rein-back, bracing against the reins, but when I tried again on a long rein, she responded to the lightest possible touch on the reins. When I went to get off, she nickered at me. It was really sweet.
When I cooled off and realized how cold and windy it was that day, I felt really proud of how good she was. She listened, for the most part, when I asked for transitions. She didn’t rush, and she didn’t drift, and except for those few minutes, she didn’t give me attitude. We rode for an hour, and all the trotting and cantering is bringing up her hay belly.
I didn’t get out to the barn until 5:00 on Tuesday, and we ended up bringing the horses in, so the Big Field was available for our ride. I free schooled Sofie in the outdoor, and she galloped back and forth, occasionally stomping with her front feet or flagging her tail like an Arabian. She also tried a sliding stop, which didn’t work out too well (and looked like it kind of hurt). I think her hocks will need to fuse before her reining career commences. She was very, very “keen” as we headed for the field, and she barely stopped to wait for the gate to open. But we managed to walk around on a long rein, even around the “scary” edge of the field, and warm up without incident. Sofie was eager to canter, but I did quite a bit of walk work to keep her focused and help her warm up further. She held herself together well, and paid attention to me, keeping the drifting and locking up to a minimum. She took her right lead across a hill, and I kept my outside rein on to keep her straight. She accepted it without kicking out or flinging her head, and I praised her heavily for that.
I kept her at a walk and trot for the majority of the ride, trying for softness and focus, but I asked her to canter across the field, uphill and to the right, and she took the canter, accepting my contact with her mouth. She cantered for longer than she does in the yard when I encouraged her to keep going, and the quality of her canter was really nice. Later on, we had another canter on the left lead. She was heading toward the barn, so her canter was a bit more forward, and after a few strides she heard or saw something twitch in the woods and went even more forward, but I went along with her and just enjoyed myself. She came back to me eventually, and I got her to collect a bit off my seat before breaking into a trot. It was so nice to just go for it and canter across a big field. She has such a fun canter.
I finished the ride with some nice, quiet walk-trot transitions, and for the most part she stayed very soft. She held up through all the canter work and hill work and never gave me any trouble. It was another great ride for us.
I’m glad we’re getting to have these rides. I wasn’t sure if she would come back in form after I started riding her again and she remained slightly reluctant, a little off, during most of our rides. But this month she’s on, and it reaffirms my decision to keep Sofie. I love her for the way she’ll stand in the aisle and listen to people talk. I love her beautiful walk and canter. I love her attitude, her unflinching honesty and how she challenges me. She’s my horse. She really is.
I have more pictures to post tomorrow, and hopefully I'll be able to write up a report of the awesome dressage clinic I audited last weekend. I have so much to write, and so many things to get done that prevent me for hunching over my computer. Though that's not necessarily a bad thing.