Monday, October 31, 2011

Proof of Progress

I feel as though we have really progressed in the last couple of months. We’ve found our way to something that resembles actual, correct, beneficial dressage, and we have been reliably achieving our new standard of work in different places and situations. Sofie’s soundness is holding up to walk/trot work and moderate trail rides, and she seems comfortable going round. She appears to be finding a new balance and is reverting less and less to her old, inverted posture.

We had one indoor ride last week. Sofie started out dead-sided and unresponsive, and I actually had to kick her a few times, which I do not like doing. I’ve ridden way too many insensitive horses in my life, and I never want her to end up that way. She was also being a bit obnoxious and falling in off the rail despite reminders. So I grabbed a whip for the first time in a while. Predictably, a few taps started her racing around the arena, and I had to drop it after just a few minutes. With Sofie paying attention, I worked on getting us both settled and getting myself in a better mood. After the icky warm-up phase, the rest of the ride was actually very good. Once we got over our issues, Sofie flowed around a big circle, soft and light in her balance, and stayed round, moving down the rail in a nice rhythmic trot. Transition work went fine, and I experimented with shortening her stride and putting her together a bit more. Pretty much everything we worked on was a success, and we finished up much happier.

We’ve gotten back out on the trail since then, going solo one day and with Cathy and Nakota last weekend. Going down hills is still not Sofie’s favorite, but in order to expand our trail possibilities I’ve had her go down a few of them. If she seems to be having trouble I get off and lead, which seems to help. I revisited The Shelf, coaxing Sofie down the long, gradual hill only to find out that The Shelf is even more terrifying without leaves on the trees! Like, wow, I can see alllll the way down now… I just clutched her sides with my legs and went into a slight fetal position while she walked on, unimpressed by the steep dropoff, going “Jeez, YOU wanted to come here!”
On our way home, we went through the valley and I tested out our dressage work there. It was marvelous. She was SO good.

I rode twice on the weekend. On Saturday Cathy and I went for a short trail ride around the property before a barn Halloween party (a full report will be forthcoming in another post!). The weather was lovely, and we had a nice, easy ride. Back in the yard, I did a short dressage session. Sofie was a bit distracted, and not quite listening to my downward transitional aids, but not bad. After going through our little repertoire I took her inside to get her ready for the costume contest/horse parade.

Sunday Cathy and I rode again. It was a cold, bitterly windy day, but I had a video shoot planned so I wanted to get out on the trail (her dressage is always better after a trail ride). So, out into the wind we went. Sofie was nice and calm until she saw Something (most likely a chipmunk, OMG) in the bushes and threw down a fairly dramatic Sofa spook. From then on, she was nervous, especially when we began to hear Cathy’s husband on his lawnmower. Unbothered, I made us forge ahead, and Sofie went on, head high and eyes big. She walked super fast the whole entire way through the woods. Occasionally I’d stop her so Cathy could catch up on her non-freaking-out horse, and Sofie would toss her head and back up before surging on. We had a few moments where calmness started to come back, but mostly we were a bit nutty. I think it was the residual effect of the party, myself…
Heading out of the woods, we were walk-charging along when all of a sudden Sofie’s head flew up and she took off trotting down the trail! Hmm, I thought as I grabbed a rein and began pulling her down. I do not know what she saw, heard or imagined, but it was surely terrifying enough to provoke a Sofa bolt. According to Cathy, she also jumped, too, but I was unaware of any sensation of real altitude, so it must have been a Sofa jump at any rate.
Once we got out of the woods and on the trail home, she finally relaxed and walked at a normal speed with her head down. Back at the barn, Cathy went inside like a smart person, and I, freezing and seriously doubting my ability to get Sofie round and decent-looking on that particular day, headed out to the field I’d chosen for the video shoot. “I’m gonna go….try to make dressage happen!” I chirped to Cathy before we parted ways.

I had no expectations. I had a feeling we were going to get some real mediocrity on camera, but I rode her out to the field (immediately sending her into the trot because I was freaking freezing and needed to warm up). I did a little trot work out there, trying to see what we had. She was a little hard mouthed and stiff and a little too fast, but she was much better than I thought she would be. The shoot began, and I went back and forth, trotting straight and bending lines, walking, backing, free walking, giving the reins forward, stretchy trotting and halting.
I rode for what I thought was a few minutes, and Sofie started to get dull and I could tell she was getting ouchy, so I ended things and walked over to my dad. “How long did it end up being?” I asked cheerfully.
Turns out, nearly seven minutes!! Uh, not gonna work. I started to get upset, as I had really screwed up. I needed no more than five minutes of footage, and there was no way to edit it down because in this particular instance, I needed a disc with one continuous clip on it that was the correct length. I reviewed the footage, and quickly found that Sofie didn’t fill the frame enough. There were also some stumbles and missteps (I’d felt them while riding). As much as I hated to do it, since the footage I saw looked quite decent, I told my dad to delete it and we’d start over. I was not optimistic that we’d be able to get anything good on camera, especially now that I’d used up seven minutes and I knew Sofie was getting tired. But we had to try again.

The second attempt was quickly scrapped when Sofie had a crabby moment. She was getting a little tired of going around in a dressage-y way, and I was sure her hocks were a little sore from all the rushing and being tense and jumping on them. So I started the third take, and just tried to ride lightly and keep her going.
Being filmed is a little bit different than regular schooling, especially with no room for editing. I was conscious of the camera, and I tried to keep everything steady and nice, with no tripping or bobbling. And Sofie was a little tired and a little clunky-feeling at times, but she stayed round almost the whole time and did everything I asked without resistance or mistakes. She didn’t refuse to back up, she didn’t hollow too much in her transitions. She didn’t trip over anything. I wasn’t sure how it would look, since she felt a little jerky to me, not her smoothest, not at her best. But I knew it was a decent try, and I was proud of us for being able to do that.

Not the brightest or the best at keeping track of time, I nearly rode overtime again. Fortunately, my dad ceased filming at four and a half minutes (after his nifty little hand signals at the two and three minute mark just went right over my head). I dismounted, and took a moment to look at the footage, even though it was pretty much the best we were gonna get. And it was quite nice. Sofie was moving well, tracking up nicely and she was quite round. Her free walk looked great, and her trot work looked relaxed and fluid. She didn’t show any trace of soreness, which was great to see. It looked way better than it felt, and I was very happy because it was a good representation of how we’ve been doing recently. She’s such a different horse now. I am very proud of both of us.

1 comment:

  1. You guys have made a lot of progress, you should be proud. :)
    It is really annoying being videoed because you are always extra aware and tense up then you don't end up riding as good as usual even though your trying harder.