Thursday, March 3, 2011


Every ride is a collection of moments. Good and bad moments, moments of breakthrough, moments of failure. Moments of connection, softness, bracing, struggle. It’s all just many moments, and you can choose to align them many ways in your head to determine the outcome, or your attitude towards it.

Each ride lately has been different. The things that happen well and the things we fight for always differ. Sometimes a ride stands out clearly in my head as “a good ride”, with no need for dissection or second guessing. Other times our successes are not so clear, and the feeling I got during the ride varies so wildly that I go back and pick it apart - “This went well, but that wasn’t happening, and why did I do that?”

The last few rides in February were somewhat mixed but in no way disastrous. On the 22nd I started our ride outside, where I tested our steering capabilities as I maneuvered Sofa around the little patches of ice out in the mainly melted-out yard. The ground is still too hard for real work, but it was okay for some trotting. I worked on trotting her toward The Place Where We Like To Canter, as we need work on not drifting and listening to my half halts. She wasn’t listening, so I had to get up in her face and at one point she completely set her jaw, developed a raging case of Concrete Mouth and Brick Wall Neck, and threw her head to the side with her mouth open against my hand. It’s going to take some work to get her listening out there at the trot and eventually the canter, but we did finish with improvement.

In the arena, our rather intensive bending-to-the-right session seemed to have been advantageous, as she continued to show improvement tracking right. She was softer and more willing to flex at the poll, which was promising. Her left side was actually worse at times. I worked a bit on flexing and trot circles but didn’t drill it too much. I also worked on the canter, and I kept her going all the way around the arena for the first time. She needed some encouragement to keep cantering through the corners, and I resorted to nagging to keep her going, but it was a good start. She tends to fall in when left to her own devices, and some support with the inside leg, as well as my keeping contact with her mouth seemed to help her negotiate the corners. It was fun to canter all the way around the arena instead of just down one long side. Sofa didn’t quite share my enthusiasm…

The next couple of rides were unfortunately tainted by my inability to deal with some major, seemingly unrelenting stress (NSR - Not Sofa Related). I was just way stressed out, and I took it out on Sofie. The first ride wasn't too bad, we just struggled with bending and flexion, and cantered around on our forehand, and I spoke sharply a couple of times. The next ride, though, fell five days into my week from hell. And I didn't free school, because someone was in the indoor, and by the time they got out of the indoor, I was already tacked up. And Sofa hadn't been exercised in two days, so she was understandably energetic. I knew I was worn dangerously thin, running on nothing, and I knew I had been lashing out at anything or anyone who remotely annoyed me. I knew I needed to watch myself. And I actually held it together really well for most of the ride. We walked on a long rein, played with flexion, trotted and cantered. The canter was awesome, holy crap. She just had so much energy that had not been expended by racing around the arena on her own, and she barely even thought about being mad or reluctant. We cantered all the way around the arena, and it was just awesome, so nice and forward, uphill and bounding. It was FUN.

After that, the ride took a bad turn. I didn't want to overdo the canter, as she had been feeling a little off in front, and I also mistakenly thought I'd been riding for longer than I had. So I tried to wrap things up with some walk/trot transitions, and she would not walk on contact. She kept breaking into the trot, over and over, and I got frustrated. I muttered negativities to her, and twice I jerked her in the mouth (once while yelling at her). It was not good, and there's no excuse for that. Ever. The only good thing I can say about it is that I really don't think I'll do that again, because it made me feel like shit for days afterward, and as soon as I got off her I cried. Our relationship isn't ruined, and she's still there for me. She's so good that way.

After my little outburst I attempted to wrap up the ride, and succeeded in getting some nice trot work where she was experimenting with a lower head carriage (even going behind the vertical at times, which made me nervous). Eventually she did walk on a long rein, and then on contact, which was a small positive. I was feeling horrible about how I treated her, and I was also anxious about her going behind the vertical and losing momentum in the walk. But it was over, and we had other chances ahead of us to do better.

Our last ride was really good. I was relieved that she didn't seem to hate me or even distrust me. She got to run around in the arena, and buck and try to kick me in the head (from far away, mind you, and she got growled at for sure). We had a nice walk warm-up, and I did a little work on serpentines to get her loosened up and bending. We went to the trot and worked on softening, and she was good, inverted at first but tentatively responding to my hand without my having to resort to head-pulling-around tactics. The canter was okay. She was a little reluctant to go into it, and a little pissed off. But we cantered to the right (still not on the right lead, ergh), and even tried counter-cantering through corners, which we managed handily. We went around the arena to the left, until she thought about bucking, twisted her front end and aggrivated whatever vague front-end issue she has going on. She was off for a few strides, but she improved. I chose not to canter her any more that day, and worked on the walk and trot instead. And she was great. She maintained her gait with my legs loose at her sides (the same was true in canter) and responded to light finger pressure, flexing and coming round. She was just really, really nice and soft. It was pretty freaking great.

She was still a slight bit off, so I ended the ride and took her outside for a little hack around the yard. She walked around on a long rein, relaxed and happy.

So it's always interesting, never perfect. But I think we're on the right track. And I think we're getting somewhere.

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