Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Back In Tack

On my latest visit to the barn, excitement (or at least spazziness) was in the bitingly cold air. The previous day had been a sunny 40 degrees, but a front had moved in and snow was blowing through the air with considerable force. Perhaps due to the weather, and also due to the recent arrival of an appealing Friesian stallion (dripping pheromones that even Sofie may have taken a liking to), Sofie was a little jumpy. As we struggled through the wind to the barn door, she looked over and saw a real or imagined Something, and became rather high-headed as a result. Once inside the barn, we walked past Zen, the Friesian stud’s stall. Sofie abhors geldings, and looks upon the Gypsy Vanner stallions at the barn with considerable disdain, but I swear she gave Zen the old once-over. I think Sofa may have a thing for black boys…

After a quick brushing, hoof-picking and leg-stretching, I decided to longe the Sofa. She was still jumpy, and her mind was not all there. Looking at her elevated head with just a halter, and her bare back, I decided “Today is not a just-get-on-and-ride day.”

I took her out in the indoor and let out the longeline, and she began trotting immediately. I walked along with her, keeping the circle large and jogging with her whenever possible, so she could go straight. I quickly overheated, so I stopped her and threw my coat off, then turned her to work on the right side. At first I struggled to get her going, and she merely spun around in a continuous turn on the forehand. Finally I got her to start walking, and she went up to a trot. After trotting her a while, I asked for a canter. She took the left lead, so I pulled her down, made sure she was bending right and asked again. She took the right lead! “Good girl!” I exclaimed. She hasn’t used that right lead in a long time! She picked it up several times, only taking the wrong lead once more. I was thrilled. She kicked up a couple times when she went into the canter, but she didn’t struggle or appear lame, and she tried so hard for me. It gave me renewed hope.

Even after longeing, Sofie was still a bit spazzy, and intuition dictated I should ride with a saddle. So, I tacked up for the first time in a couple weeks and mounted up. She was, of course, dead calm, but I was still glad I’d gone with the saddle and bridle. I’d been wanting to try riding her in tack again anyway to see how she reacted. It already felt different for me, being higher up, off her back.

Her straightness was very good initially, with very little meandering. I did some rail work, but many times I turned her off the rail to practice staying straight. I did lots of changes of direction. As we started trotting she was a little above the bit, which wasn’t surprising considering the weather. I pretty much left her alone, did a little trotting and went back to the walk for a bit. I started bending her, finding it was very easy to do circles. I did some halts, most of which were “Sofa square” (only one leg out of place). Her halts are really improving. I also tested the rein-back. She was a bit crooked and her steps were short, but she didn’t set her jaw at all. Then I trotted her for a shorter distance, asking for a bit of connection and softness. She started listening better and began to melt into her nice, open frame. I trotted her both ways and did some turns, and soon she was accepting a steady, light, definite contact. She even started foaming a little. I was surprised to trot past the mirror and see little bits of foam dripping from her lips.

After riding bareback in a halter for a while, then returning to the saddle and bridle, everything flowed. It was all just so easy. It’s clear my skills have grown since I ditched all my equipment and had to focus on my aids and my seat. With a saddle and bridle, turns and circles became simple. Sofie just powered along, steady in her relaxed, balanced frame. I turned her onto the diagonal, put my hands forward, and she lengthened her frame, moving wonderfully forward. At the corner, I sat up and half-halted, condensing her before the next diagonal, when I turned her loose again.

I did that several times, because it was so awesome, along with the occasional circle. Then I started a serpentine, and she was brilliant. Sick changes of bend, and straightness in between, remaining steady in my hands the whole time. She was at her best, because this horse can turn. She is so handy, and when she’s in balance and truly supple, she handles like a dream. I wound up doing a whole-arena serpentine, just because she was so damn awesome. It felt like she could keep going forever.

After all that, Sofie got lots of pats, and we walked. By that time, she was a bit tuckered out and a little lazy in the walk. I could hardly begrudge her a little tiredness after that trot sequence. After making sure she did not forget my leg was there, and doing our transitions (wheee, there were some pretty ones!) and a little more reinback (straightness is improving) we were done! I hand walked her then untacked and put her cooler on. She got a hay snack, and I re-stretched her legs and gave her a light massage. She seemed to enjoy all that.

I’m not sure if it can be attributed to a recent switch to SmartFlex Senior with Devil’s Claw, work in the halter or a combination of many things, but Sofie seems to be doing very well. I was feeling rather discouraged for a while, but I have hope now. All it takes is a ride like this last one to let her talent shine through, and I have reason to believe if I continue improving her fitness and working on the basics (including bareback and bitless riding, which seems an integral part of the big picture), she just may be (within reason) everything I ever thought she could be.

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