Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Awesome Rides

After a summer of nonstop trail riding, the transition to fall weather (cold nights, actual rain, stiff winds) has left Sofie feeling sore on hills. I'm not sure if it's shoulder or hock related, but I have a feeling it's in the shoulder, as she is definitely not into going down the steep hill that leads to the majority of our trails. She has not flat-out said NO, but she is weaving, pulling to the side and stopping. All this says to me "No more hills!" So we are taking a break from hills.

That leaves us with the trail loop near the barn, the parameter trail, the front yard area, Cathy's outdoor dressage ring and a couple wooded areas. Oh, and the indoor (blargh). Limited (now that I've gotten spoiled) but workable. There are at least a few good places to do dressage. And lately dressage has been where it's at.

Even as she was showing signs of "hitting the wall" on the trails, Sofie was doing some of her best work ever in the valley. On the tail end of one ride, we did our oft-practiced circle exercise on the slope, and she freaking nailed it to the wall. Her bend was consistent, her balance was great on the downhill side, and when we came back uphill, I brought myself up and squeezed with a lifting motion on her sides each stride. And she lifted, lifted, lifted til she was floating. I don't think she's ever been quite that elevated. The reins were soft as strings but not limp; the connection was true. I got actual chills. It was awesome.

On the day I declared a moratorium on trail rides, I took her to Cathy's dressage ring on a rather lackluster whim. Not expecting much, I picked up the reins and moved her up to a trot, and she just went straight to work. She was "with me" the whole time, super responsive, and the corners that used to give us so much grief were easy breezy. She molded to my leg and rein aids, transitioned readily, and all our work (I made up a little dressage test as I went along) flowed very nicely. I even played with some trot leg-yield.

Due to my work schedule, I rode her both yesterday and today. The weather has been shitty, but we lucked out with a window of opportunity for yesterday's ride. Of course I took it outside, and we rode the one trail loop with our favorite trail buddies, Janet and her young gelding Apollo.

The horses in the far-reaching fields had been moved closer to the barn due to the weather, so the fields were unoccupied. I jumped at the chance to add some variety to our schooling and picked a nice little field with rolling terrain and nice views. We practiced working our gates, except the thing was too heavy and I couldn't push it over on horseback. I kept pushing Sofie farther away from the gate (hand-yielding?). I dismounted and opened it from the ground.

Back in the saddle, I sent her out on a long rein. She was very forward and feeling good. It was a cold, breezy day, a happy day for ponies, even old arthritic ones. As we moved up to a trot she was rather inattentive at first, but I was patient with her and she soon began to actually bend and balance. We had one short canter up a hill, but the rest of the time was spent mainly trotting, with some walking and some work on sidepassing.

It was a great ride. She did not feel at all like she was in flare-up mode. In the past she has been short-striding and feeling awful, but she is so much more stable now. She had a ton of energy and was very forward, balancing over hills and dips with very little rein pressure. I will always adore her self-carriage and natural talent for this sport.

She did great with her sidepassing, and seemed to be really catching on. We called it a day.

Today I was exhausted after a hard day at work, but I still managed to ride decently. A recent chiropractic adjustment has really helped me sit straighter in the saddle! I opted for a bareback ride today as I lacked the energy to tack up, and since we were stuck in the indoor I also rode Sofie in her halter. Might as well see if we could still do it without the "technology"!

It turns out we could! Sofie still felt awesome today. She was moving out beautifully at the walk and seemed happy to be working. Her first rein-back was powerful! She really sat down and moved backwards. At a trot, she was exceptionally forward. Her self carriage was excellent, but she was eager to seek out an honest connection. When I offered her contact she went right to it and stayed there! At times she was almost a little too heavy in front, the connection was so solid. But it thrilled me that she's trusting my hands so much.

She's starting to "get" the sidepass. I've found it helpful to use some of Clinton Anderson's methods. When sidepassing to the right she wants to totally leave her hind end behind, and the only thing that works is to overbend her neck to the left, slow down her front end and move her hindquarters around so she gets the idea that they need to come along too! It's so not proper dressage, but it's really helping her understand. Sometimes I also sidepass her when she's facing the wall, so she gets the idea a little easier. We've struggled with this before, and I was unhappy with how demanding I was being, so I'm making an effort to be more encouraging and patient with her. She's doing an awesome job and trying really hard. In the last couple of rides we've gotten some really nice steps of sidepass, where I was able to let her neck go straight and she moved over, soft and slow, but definitely sideways! She just has a hard time going to the right because of her weaknesses. But I think it's good for her to learn, as long as I don't expect perfection right away.

I was really happy to see her eye in the mirror while we were working on this. She was never upset or fearful. The look in her eye sometimes said, "I'm really trying, ooof, this is hard!" but she never looked uncomfortable or stressed. This tells me that my minor transgressions haven't adversely affected her, and on the whole, our relationship stands strong. Which is exactly what I want. I couldn't be luckier.

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