Wednesday, September 28, 2011


On Monday I went out to see Sofie after her weekend off, and she was agreeable to coming in. It looks like the mares are getting more hay now, so I have stopped feeding snacks/feeling sorry for her (not that she was being neglected in the first place). She’s standing better in the aisle and not being obnoxious about looking for food, and her latest hock scrape was healing up just fine. She didn’t seem overly stiff, so I pretty much just groomed and tacked up. The sky was rather dark, but I ventured outside anyway, walked her over to the mounting block…aaaannnnd it started raining. So, we turned around and went back inside. I threw down a few poles, pretty much just guessing at the spacing, and got on. I started out with the usual “Excuse me, stay on the rail” reminders as she worked out of her little stiffness. Once she moved out of her slow, creaky warm-up walk, she stretched down nicely and seemed to be moving well over her back. She felt very loose and relaxed, with a little bit of power behind the movement.

After I picked up some slight contact I started working on leg yielding, which has become my new favorite thing to do. She moves over easily tracking left. Sometimes she is a little stiffer tracking right, but she’s learning, and once she gets the idea she can go back and forth quite easily. So I worked on moving her off my leg in the walk, and it went well. She’s not doing a true leg yield yet, as I suspected (I had a ground person there to confirm). There’s no crossover, and she’s not quite straight - she’s leading with her shoulders. I might be overbending her neck just slightly and letting her fall through the outside shoulder, I’m not sure. But, even though it’s not technically “correct” and wouldn’t score well, I feel it is a good training exercise and a positive start, since she is moving off my leg, and she understands the basic concept, which will make things so much easier. And it really improves her suppleness. I could see a few times in the mirror when she was bending beautifully throughout her body. It really is more productive than riding circles, and probably less detrimental to soundness (not to mention, constant circling is BORING). I think it’s great for our connection, as I’m now getting her bent around my leg, rather than “hand riding” mainly with the inside rein. It really is a nice feeling, and maybe if I keep working on it we can eventually do real leg yields! Wouldn’t that be nifty?!

I’ve also been moving her off my leg slightly before asking for the trot, just to help with suppleness and connection. Our trot work was pretty good, somewhat mixed and needing relaxation at times, which I think has something to do with her anticipating the canter. So there was some trotting with her nose stuck out, which was fairly correctable and I managed to get her “Sofa round” at intervals, at least. I practiced moving her off my leg in trot as well, with mild success. I’m happy with any kind of response at this point, since she’s just getting the concept, especially in trot. Everything is harder in trot. I did pretty much no circling, just straight lines, “leg yielding” (add dramatic air quotes there) and serpentines, which were pretty nice. It wasn’t perfect all the time, but we established decent relaxation and lightness.

Of course once I had that I had to work on the canter and pretty much let it all go, but I wanted to see how the canter would be in the indoor. It was actually much improved from where we started with her getting extremely nervous, rushing horribly in the trot and just flying around. She was still a bit unsettled, and the head did come up, but she was so much better. I think we blew maybe one or two departs and I had to just bring her back, but the rest of them were pretty decent. She didn’t quite lift up decisively at the instant I asked like she has been able to do outside, but she took only a few faster steps and her canter quality wasn’t bad. She was a bit fast in the canter, and she tended to break to trot before the corners (probably because she was already rushing and didn’t want to have to turn at that pace, reasonably enough), and her canter-trot transitions were pretty rough. Her head was waaaay up, but she came back to me pretty rapidly, and I was able to get her at least somewhat relaxed and round after each canter, which was all I wanted at this point. She did get a little crooked sometimes on straight lines, but I was able to correct it somewhat with my leg.

I did do one canter to the right, and it was actually the best depart she did all day! It was just super nice, prompt and lifting rather than flattening. Her canter quality was really nice too. She even looked pretty in the mirrors! Wrong lead, of course, but damn, our counter canter is nice. Maybe it’s because of all the suppling work I’ve been doing on the right side?

Towards the end of the ride I did get her to canter through two corners. She was going pretty fast, but reasonably balanced and not leaning in horribly. It’ll be nice when she’s able to canter relaxed corners and circles in there (the arena is so huge, we should be able to circle as large as we need to). She just needs more time to get comfortable with the surface, and not worry about it so much. She’s trying, and I’m very proud of her.

After the canter work, my main goal was to get her to relax again as she was somewhat spastic in the trot - tentatively relaxing and half halting, then speeding up and getting tight because she was over thinking it. I pretty much tried to leave her alone as much as possible, half halting when she got too fast, and rubbing her neck to try and reassure her. It took a bit of repetition, but she eventually relaxed (or realized she was kinda tired) and went around at a trot, at a nice, easy tempo, very round, needing hardly any aids at all to keep her there. I trotted her on both sides and did a few easy turns before stopping and getting off.

I also did some work over the trot poles at random intervals during the ride. I actually got the spacing right for once, and she did very well over them. She was a little wiggly on the approach - poles are not her favorite thing ever. But they did make her use herself and look pretty, so I think we’ll keep using them! She only tripped over them once, near the end - just pure error on her part, she didn’t pick up her feet enough so she about fell on her face. After that she was more careful.

The rain hadn’t really come in, so I took her on a short hack outside. She was bad about heading out - just very drifty and not listening, so she got a few thumps and definite half halts. She got better, though. We enjoyed a nice canter along the fence line and then headed back. She got her face brushed, liniment on her hocks, a brief massage and then she helped me put the poles away and clean up poop. Then I took her back outside. One of her “friends” gave her trouble at the gate, so poor Sofie was caught between a metal gate, a bitchy Mustang and me yelling (at the Mustang, but Sofie still worries). Once I got her successfully inside I took off her halter and went after the Mustang, who actually turned and ran, making me feel quite superior (I have always dealt with bitchy dominant horses this way, and they learn that you Do Not mess with me, which makes things a lot easier).

I went back to Sofie, who seemed grateful that I’d rescued her from her friend (she’s smart enough to realize these things). So she stayed for a few minutes and some hugs before walking off to wait for someone to feed her.

I’m very happy because I feel like I finally managed to train productively and work through issues without becoming overly aggressive or discouraged. The ride was by no means issue-less, but it was full of progress and improvement, which I love. I feel like Sofie and I were friends that day, which is really important to me. I haven’t always been fair to her this year, and the cool thing about her is that she went right back to being my friend when I got my act together. There’s nothing better than feeling like you are friends with your horse, and that friendship can be easily earned. With people, you can try so hard and do everything right for them, and they can still disappoint you. Horses don’t do that. They are not always easy to understand, but once you do understand, progress can be quickly achieved.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you guys are making progress. It sounds like a good ride :)