Monday, September 26, 2011

And Canter!

It’s almost the end of September (how?!?) and the temperature is dropping. Miss Sofie is starting to get fuzzy, and she still seems to be enjoying all the turnout. I’ve even seen her outside of the shelters during a rainy spell. She’s still managing to remain fleshy on sparse grass and a bale or two a day (shared with five to seven mares). It’s a good situation for her.

She generally is a little stiff when she comes in (one day she was noticeably off when she first hit the concrete, but she soon walked out of it). I haven’t been trail riding her quite as vigorously, as she’s been having trouble on downhill stretches. So I’ve stuck to the flatter trails. Our dressage has been fairly decent. I still need to work on my equitation, as I’m sure I’m slacking off when I’m outside and don’t have mirrors. But I’m making an effort.

I’ve been working more on having her move off my leg, and she’s doing pretty well. I don’t know if we’re doing any true leg yields yet, but she is more responsive to lateral aids than a lot of horses I’ve ridden, so that’s a plus. She’s doing well with backing up, and I also did some counter flexion one ride, which seemed to help. It’s nice to try different things. In addition I’ve been working more on ground manners, particularly moving over when I ask. Sometimes she can become really obsessed with food and forget to pay attention, which makes me mad.

Um, Sofa, you are not exactly starving here, so you do not need to be obsessed with hunting hay wispies on the floor! Thanks in advance.

The most exciting thing we have going on is that we’re cantering again! She kept rushing into her canter departs after the move, and was just generally so anxious about it that I left it alone for a month or so. Then on a recent ride, after working in the indoor for a while, I went out on a short trail ride. The air was brisk and Sofa was energized and in good spirits, so I decided to try asking for the canter. There’s a super nice, wide grassy trail near the barn that I knew would be a good canter place, and so I asked for the canter as she trotted up a slight hill. She did take a few slightly faster trot steps, but then she went into the canter nicely! She did a good job and seemed to enjoy herself. I asked her twice more, once toward the barn, once away from it, and each time her depart was prompter. We then walked back to the barn, very happy.

I’ve been working on it during each ride, and progress is very good. One day we went down into this nice, thinly wooded valley. Sofa was FORWARD. OMG, she was in her OTTB mode and just zooming around. It’s amazing how forward she can be when her arthritis doesn’t keep her down! She can be pretty hot. Of course we weren’t all that polished, but she did listen to me fairly well and some of her departs were nice. It’s just fun when she’s zipping around like that. I finished up with a short trail ride and then some trot work in the valley, trying to get my point across that we do not always canter! It was a LOT of half halts.

The next time I was out I rode her around the perimeter of the property, and she was quite hyped up. Her mind was just not all there, and she was very inverted and rushy. I managed to not remember the previous ride when we were cantering around like crazy, so I was a little annoyed with her for not settling down. I did a little canter work in this circular area carved out of the woods, and it was pretty much all over the place. Some of her departs were okay, other times she rushed off. And in the trot work she was very anticipatory. Once again, a lot of half halts. We ended up back in the front yard, and she was more relaxed there, but I was glad to get that ride out of the way.

The last two rides have been a major improvement. The skies have been overcast, and both times I thought I might get stuck in the indoor, but the rain held off and I was able to have a lovely ride outside. It’s been cool, such nice riding weather. The time before last I hacked her over to the neighbor’s outdoor dressage arena to do some work. She was so much better than the previous time, no crazy rushing at the trot. She was much more reasonable. After a short warm-up I did a little trot work and then started with the canter transitions. Her departs were clearly improving. Except for the occasional rushing off or slight delay, they were really nice. I just did straight lines and worked on her response. I had to work on her anticipating in the trot, which got a little frustrating. Eventually I just let her go forward and she improved. She wasn’t round the whole time by any means, but it still felt much more disciplined and it was a huge improvement.

Afterward I rode her down to the valley, where I did some walk-trot work, as well as some backing and turn on the forehand. Ugh, turn on the forehand was rusty. She wanted to just blow through my aids and not remain in place. I don’t think her mind was totally there. The trot work was pretty decent - some of it was really nice, and other times she wanted to rush or drift or whatever. Eventually I asked her to canter, and she rushed off (she was going down a slight slope, and I don’t think she felt balanced) so I took her back to a walk and got her settled, then put her back into the trot and asked again in a more level spot. That time she nailed it! The transition was so sweet. Big pats for that, and we went on a nice trail ride in the woods before heading back home.

Last ride she looked stiff in the aisle, and had another new scrape on a hock (she loves to get superficial wounds). I gave her a massage and went on a short trail ride to start things off and get her loosened up. She seemed happy to be out there, and was quite forward, but she kept tripping. Her mind was clearly elsewhere, or she just didn’t feel like picking up her feet. I practiced leg yielding on the trail, and she did quite well with it. Eventually I picked up the trot for a bit, and then worked on halting when she was all “Are we gonna canter? I KNOW we’re gonna canter!”

I was going to ride either in the front yard or on the wide grass trail, but as I was heading that way I saw an opening into a field the barn owner is developing. So I went “Hey, why not?” and turned her in that direction. She was kind of distracted by the neighboring horses at first, but I walked her around a little and then asked her to trot. The steering needed a little work, but it wasn’t too bad.

I asked her for the canter heading toward the barn, and she went right into it. I let her stay in the canter for almost the length of the pasture, and it was just freeing to canter across that wide open space. I haven’t cantered her for any real distance in a while, and it was exhilarating. The wind was roaring even! When we got near the end of the field I gave the tiniest half halt and she came back to me instantly. I would’ve loved to do that some more, but the trainer in me felt a balance was required. So I walked her briefly and then asked for the canter going away from the barn. She rushed forward (the only time she did that during the whole ride) so I brought her back and tried again, and that time she took off promptly. She was, however, not straight at all, almost counter bending and drifting away from the fence. I tried to get her to move over and was only slightly successful. She broke to the trot, and I quickly did a refresher on moving OVER.

The low points of the ride were occasional rushing, occasional not moving over and most of all, not going straight! I tried to work on her staying straight on a loose rein, and I don’t know if I’ve been neglecting that aspect or what, but she was just terrible. She just pinball-machines back and forth. It’s a long-standing issue, and it’s one I’d like to correct as it drives me nuts, but I’m not quite sure how to make real progress.

Other than that, the ride was quite good overall. The canter work and moving off my leg were the major high points. I even attempted a canter circle, and I think we actually sorta managed it! I’m sure it wasn’t geometrically correct, and the thing was HUGE, but we actually got some bend and we kept going even though we were bent! She got much better at moving off my leg, and we did some really awesome sweeping turns up and over hills. It felt like she was really engaging and she was nicely round. Her canter departs, except for that one time, were just bang on. She was super prompt and lifted into it like she has in the past. Obviously backing off was the right thing to do.

Toward the end of the ride, I did another away-from-the-barn canter. She went into it so beautifully, then of course she flung her body to the right. But I put my leg on, and she moved over! Like, way over, where she was supposed to be! It was such a response, it just made me so happy because she was getting it! She drifted a couple more times, but each time she moved right off my leg. I was super pleased. After that I did just one more canter transition and then went for a walk around the field. I worked a little more on going straight (grrrr) and then did a little trot work in a far corner. She did a lovely little canter transition from an outside “Okay, turn now!” aid (grin). Eventually I ended it with just a little more trot work. I try to finish up with her listening to me, being round and NOT flying around and over thinking it. She wasn’t perfect, but she had some really nice, round stretchy moments and wasn’t too racy. I was proud of her for working so hard and never being grumpy. Lately she’s been a lot more generous and temperamentally sound than I have. I’ve been getting frustrated at times, and sometimes I allow stress to make bitchy. Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing the right thing by training her, if I can’t always keep my emotions out of the way. But I think it’s good for her to have boundaries, and I honestly don’t want her racing around all the time. I don’t think that would do us any favors. Of course I should do better, and I should not become frustrated or discouraged when I’m trying to train her, but the beauty of it is that she is always there, and she doesn’t keep an inventory of my mistakes like I do. Whether or not I deserve it, she always gives me a chance. And I’m finding I don’t need everything to be perfect. All I need is to feel moments of progress. Even if we’re still kind of a mess, those moments are the fuel I need to keep going.

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