Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Money, Fame and Fortune could never compete

So it's on the eve of thanksgiving. I know, I know. Just another holiday that involves way too much food (blasphemy!), too much family and too much liquor. Okay, x-nay on the last bit. The only time you can drink too much is when you're thinking about it the morning after. Really, I understand. I wrote an entire essay on "How to Survive Thanksgiving Dinner with Family". (I kid you not.)

Anyway. If your family is like mine, some obnoxious soul will stand up and clank on his glass (so cliche) and demand you take a second to think about what you're thankful for. If your company resembles anything like the Kids Table (To which I have been long since banished to, being one of the youngest three or four in my family) you (and company) will roll your eyes, fall silent, staring gluttenously at the food placed in front of you that you really want to eat, but are not yet permitted to. It's kind of like having a sugar cube in front of your horse, but popping them in the nose every time they go for it.
So the point is, you probably may give a passing thought to things you're 'thankful' for, but you probably give the half-assed answers that everyone has. Family. Health. Friends. That you still have a job/home. If you're reading this you are probably one of the few people who follow this, to which I'll invite you to take a moment to really think. What are you thankful for? What in the past year has happened that has enlightened you, taught you and pushed you to grow?

I'll let you know what I'm thankful for.
I'm thankful to be in a barn where I have a fabulous instructor on hand who is accessible to help me whenever and if ever I need it. If she's not there, there's other people who are always so willing to give me a hand.
I am thankful that I'm at a barn where I can take it 'at my own pace'. It isn't about making the cut, the ribbon or the grade. I am not expected to be able to do certain things that may be within my capacity, but am not quite prepared for them yet.
I am so very, incredibly greatful for my overall wellness. This year has been up and down-I fell off on a rear that, had it gone differently, might have ended with a horse on top of me. My back relapsed and for a while there it looked really bad with the prognosis. However, PT and time has improved that. I can still ride, and I can get on a horse without being in pain.
More than that, I am thankful that I have been blessed to be around horses. So many people never have the opportunity to interact with them, wish they could but don't have the means or the opportunity. Not only can I, but I have been gifted with the ability to call one of these incredible creatures my own. I've been taught to value not only patience, but have been given lessons every single time I'm out there on compassion, understanding, tolerance, keeping my temper and how much the simple things really do matter.

So this thanksgiving, I am thankful for so many things-but more than anything, I am thankful for all of the things that I have learned this past year. That I can do what I set my mind to, that there are people behind me-no matter what my decisions are. The only person keeping me from doing what I'd like, is me. And that it's not all about what other people think-it's about seeing where you've come from, and realizing where you stand now.
(Feel free to post what you feel thankful for, what your horses have taught you or revelations you've had in the past year!)

Anyway, sappy mentality aside, the horse was good for our lesson today. I had last week off (lesson wise) as Diane was sick. It was a nice break, but I definitely feel it now! The horse was very, very good.
Perhaps the oddest thing about my riding experience to date (the past week or so) is that I have been having to use my leg. I know, it's a normal, average little thing. Leg to sustain a gait? Open it up? Yeah, typical. For so long to transition up with Eagle I just had to give him an opening to go. If I wanted a 'bigger' gait I just had to open up a little bit (ease up on contact, seat saying "Whoa") and we were there.

However, as I said, this new experience has been showing up since about a week ago. Diane and I have really been working on getting him to support himself, particularly at the canter. With the aid of ~10/12m canter circles he's having to carry himself-I'm not hauling his face and neck around anymore! We're almost at the point where touching his face at the canter is a no-no. He's so responsive to turning off the leg that I can effectively drop his face and say "Take care of yourself, sucker".
With the help of circles (Randomly thrown in at the canter-anywhere and everywhere) he's actually really reaching under with his inside hind. I guess his canter before was so likely to get quick because for much of the time, I was holding onto his face to hold up his head and neck and shoulders. Hanging onto him that way, he never could really use himself fully to balance himself. Now that he's balanced, he doesn't need to go fasterandfasterandfaster to avoid falling on his face.

It's the catch-22. When a horse goes fast, you want to take their face and say "Whoa". On the other hand, the more you try to get their face the more quick they're likely to go because they can't use themselves correctly to regain their balance. That is still my biggest problem with Eagle behind fences. When he gets quick I want to start 'water skiing'. My leg comes infront of me and I lean back, holding on his face. I don't keep 'dancing' with him.

So with Eagle finding his balance, I'm actually having to ride with more leg that I'm really used to. It's slightly surreal when I have to leg him up at the canter to get him to open up. (Sanity? DO I FEEL IT COMING ON?) A slightly surreal moment, to say in the least. Today we had some beautiful flat work, though there were no particularly 'eureka' exercises or moments. It was just solid and consistent, which has been a first.

Also a first today was cantering fences. I do not canter fences. If they're in a line, I'll do so but for the most part Eagle will get so excited and 'whee!' that we focus on trying to solidify him (and me) trotting to the base of a fence and then bring him back right after. He was good enough today that we ended up cantering to fences, and cantering related distances.
Started out really nice, but a fudge with arena traffic really wound him up. I also have discovered I am not at all forceful on a 'whoa' on the backside of a fence. I'm so aware of touching his face (I used to be horrible about catching him in the face) that I do not want to be firm about it.

I forsee a new exercise. Canter, trot. Canter, trot. Repeat. Incessantly. He does have a very nice transition, but most of the time it's once we've cantered for a bit and have it settled in. The backside of a fence is not so 'settled in', which means he's much more interested in "More? We'll do more. Thanks." We started out on a figure eight-trot to canter out, trot, and then trot to the second fence. Once we had done that a few times, trot in, canter out-if you're on the right lead, continue on to the other fence. He'd consistently land on the left lead, but did not want to land on the right lead. So we kept having to "Whoa" and then pick it up. Blech.
Not so fun.

All in all, it was not a particularly stellar lesson-things kept interrupting us, between another person jumping the fences that I was starting to work over on a green horse (I ended up walking the horse for about 15 minutes-dropped the reins and worked on steering with legs) and then the arena traffic got the horse jazzed up. However, I do not dare say that it was a bad lesson! We've come so far. Even a month ago I would have called someone crazy if they said consistently cantering to fences would be possible. We're not quite on the level to really do a solid course, but we're getting there.
Isn't that the story of life, though? We're always getting somewhere!

Happy thanksgiving, everyone.

"Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out."
-Robert Collier

Friday, November 13, 2009

made mistakes, but we found our heart

Well it's been a good long time (again) since I've uploaded. In August I was already talking about improvement and whatnot. Since then, we've only gone farther. There was a CT show (second place, beginner novice) up at Fields and Fences. he was amazing. We've gone through bits (my mother is riding him in a pelham-featured here for photo opportunities. I know, I know. So lame-putting it on him because it's pretty..) and for the most part I'm riding him in a happy mouth mullenmouth. (From the slow twist D.) As it gets colder we may have to put him back in the slow twist just to keep things settled down. He's still very strong jumping in the mullenmouth, though he flats wonderfully in it.
Lots has been going on beyond that little 'floof' update. In September, he was breaking out in hives from bugs (Sad) and had runny eyes, we suspect from reactions to it. So he got a fly mask and an antihistime which did the job. As christmas gets closer, I'm looking at getting a new saddle. (A CWD has my attention right now.. I can dream!) Really, Eagle has just been maturing so well in the past few months. Inevitably we'll have our two steps back from time to time, but the fact is that now we can canter down the long wall of an arena without our canter falling to pieces. That's a huge step. For the longest time, I relied on circles and couldn't go more than 10 meters or so on a straight line.

Lines are, as always, our biggest issue-he sees the space (cantering down the long wall or jumping a line) and decides that he just wants to go. It's hard because I need repetition so I can learn to see distances, but the more we repeat things the more aggressive Eagle gets. It's a catch-22, but we're slowly getting there. (Cantering a fence on a circle is good Stuff, and switching directions over a vertical on an angle is another good way to keep him paying attention to me.)

That's a picture from Fields and Fences directly after our dressage test. We were going straight into our jump warmup. It was quite an experience, truth be told. He was going so well that day, though, it was astounding. You can find a video of our Stadium round loaded on SilhouetteMind's account on youtube (titled "Stadium"). Also there are videos I've finally loaded from various points in time.
"Eagle Montage" is a video that was originally intended to show a high school class ("companion animal" project-a friend asked me to go in and speak) however the footage was from about a week after the Fields&Fences show and it just ended up looking nice enough that I wouldn't mind showing the world.
"At the beginning" features video clips of me riding Eagle from March, 2008-I had him about a month and a half at that point. Hopefully, you can see the improvement!
"October schooling" is from the same night as the top picture in this update. A little bit of flat work, a little bit of jumping.

More than anything, it has struck me recently how absurd I can be. I have been told by a friend that I have an absurd notion of what correct riding is. I've been trying to downgrade bits (From a slow twist to a mullenmouth, though I'd settle with a french link) in the quest to have a horse that can do just about anything (and everything!) in a mild bit. Flatting Eagle in anything more than those two bits is percieved as 'cheating'. Having to jump in the slow twist is a percieved failure. It's interesting to think about, and I think, in large part, this determination to do the best I can with as few 'outside aids' as I am able to achieve, has really helped our growth.
Time shouldn't be a reflection upon success. There are some horses that may take years to amount to anything to anyone other than the few people involved in their growth. While Eagle is 'pretty', and certainly talented, it has taken a very, very long time to get to this place where I can actually say that I am proud of where we're at.

It has been a very, very long road and there are still challenges. It won't be easy, but then again, it never has. In reflection, I suspect that Eagle was a poor choice of a horse for me to buy at that point in my life. I had never really dealt with a 'hot' horse. Green horses and off the track horses and polo ponies have 'go', but none of them really have the mind that I've encountered with mine. Repetition is supposed to calm a horse down, not wind them up. He was 'too much'. Too much heart, too much mind, too much talent. I took him to a place that wasn't really able to utelize his mind to everyone's mutual benefit and because of it, he soured.
It's taken a half a year to get my horse to the place where he can canter down a long wall without having to hold onto his face and whittle his canter away.

As horse people, we are responsible not only for our own safety and an awareness of the situation around us (other riders, horses, circumstances that may create problems for anyone involved), but we are also charged with the responsibility to do the best thing for our horses. This may mean confronting a farrier who is late on trims, or a vet who is lax on hygenic standards, or initially unwilling to help us do the best thing for our horse. It also may mean taking our horses away from trainers we want to trust, are even programmed to trust. Owning horses will put you out of your comfort zone, but if you aren't willing to do so, then you shouldn't have a horse. It's on me, what happened to Eagle last year.

However, as much as Eagle's condition-jazzed up and stressed out-coming out of school is on me, I'm also a huge part of where he's come to. We've grown up, and grown together. With the help of a trainer who is familiar with both of us, Eagle and I have really shaped up.

Other developments.. He's always been a bit on the slender side. He's a thoroughbred, 'fat' isn't really in his vocabulary. However, he's on 2 scoops 2x a day of grain (approx. 8 lbs-half 12% protein, pelleted content and then the other half is sweetfeed) and then 12 flakes of hay. On top of that, he gets beet pulp. The BP is a new addition to his diet and finally has made a noticable difference! No more ribs! He's also on a supplement with biotin & omega bran fatty acids.
Beyond his weight, after about three months of consistently working correctly-reaching under from behind and lifting his back and shoulders up-he's getting muscled in the correct places. The most noticable improvement has occurred through his neck and right around his withers-his back just feels so much broader.

While Eagle has always been a charismatic presence, he seems to have grown-he's just 'big' to be around. It's humbling to work with him, and there are moments when I am struck with the realization that, while getting him was without a doubt, an incredibly stupid thing to do, I am also extremely lucky. I have a horse with mind and heart that, when you ask him right, will do just about anything.

On a less dramatic note, something that's struck a chord with me during my lessons has really helped me improve my riding. My instruction is fond of saying "Don't stop dancing with him!" when things start getting tight. As I've mentioned before, Eagle has a habit of opening up in the air over fences. There isn't much I can do about that other than stay calm and let him find his own feet and his own balance, but the hardest part for me is that on the back side of fences I want to 'water skii'. My leg comes forward, I open up my hip angle and I lock in my back and shoulders. In effect, I 'stop dancing'.
However, when I stay relaxed and just breathe through it and let him do what he's going to do, but stay there to pick up the pieces after, the effects are dramatic. When I lock up, I stop the conversation. With any horse, riding should be a constant conversation-even if it's just keeping them between your legs or saying "not quite that long" with your hand, or just saying "Yes. This is it." with your seat if you have 'the' canter. Stopping the movement, the dance, is shutting off the conversation.

Since then I've really been trying to work on just remaining fluid, regardless of what happens. A wider fence? Don't lock in my hips and try to 'snap' up over the apex of the fence (an old habit of mine). Getting quick in the approach? Sit up and breathe and say "No" with my seat and hips. It's so hard for me. I am not really a 'natural' rider by any means. I'm a little too long in the leg and too short in the torso, my shoulders are too broad and my bust inhibits my arm position just a little. My leg doesn't really sit well on any horse-Eagle's a better fit than most, but it would take some warmblood tank or a draft cross to really 'eat' up my leg. The canter is, inarguably, the hardest gait for me to work at.

A myriad of issues come into play-my leg is too long and isn't particularly secure on his side, my saddle doesn't fit me spectacularly well and that, on top of all of the other issues, makes for some interesting moments. When we're having a good day, none of it really is an issue. However, when we're trying to work on something or Eagle is feeling his oats, I am not very stable.
Today was interesting in that I had my first experience in a really nice dressage saddle on my horse. I've ridden other horses in dressage saddles and it's always been fun, but my instructor has a semi-custom Amerigo dressage saddle with a very deep seat. I've got much longer legs than she does so I had virtually no stirrup to ride with, but it didn't really come into play overly much.

I have to say, we had it. The canter, moving off my leg at the canter, I was good, he was good-it was just there. I was quiet in the saddle and in my hand, and he, in return, was quiet.
Eagle has always been, effectively, a mood ring. What I do, he will reflect. It's good and bad-he's quite the tattle tale when I'm doing something wrong, but it makes moments like 'this' all the more special. We're getting there.

It's been a long, long time coming-but things are coming together and falling into place and, more than ever, I realize that I wouldn't trade this for the world.
I've made mistakes but I've also done the best I am able to correct them. With the help of staff that's really put in 110% to get him 'fat' (hunter people seem to like chubby ponies! I doubt Eagle will ever get there, but they're trying!), of my instructor who has put countless hours into training rides (once a week and more frequently when I'm sick or gone) and lessons for me (I ride once a week in a lesson and my mother rides Eagle twice a week in a lesson) we've built a community of individuals invested in this horse. I can't take all the credit for getting him where he's at.

But I know that, at least, he reflects the changes and growth in myself that sometimes I can't always see when I look in the mirror. He is, without a doubt, showcasing the very best of me-and we've both come a very, very long way.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Who'll be the lucky ones who make it all the way?

So, I have been horribly remiss about updating this. I suppose a part of it is simply being out of sorts at the entire 'horse thing' going on. I'll give a runup of what's been going on and how things went--and then a series of updates pertaining to 'now'! They may come in a series of posts, depending on how long things are!

I did eventually go to the Will Faudree clinic on father's day weekend. It was interesting-Eagle was far more interested in staring at everything and trying to "gogogo" to really settle down. I was a touch disappointed. He had been so fantastic up to that point that I really was hoping to make a point to everyone who had seen him and I and gone "That'll never work". It wasn't unmanageable of course, but I was nervous the first day and really locked up on him. As a result, we were in that fatal game of tug o' war. In retrospect I'm actually fairly glad that Eagle wasn't 'gold'.
If he went into it being so good, the advice I would have gotten would be great, the impression, too, would be nice-but what would I take away form it? Instead, I had a great learning experience.
It was all about sitting deep in the tack, even coming behind the motion (particularly at the canter) and letting go of his face. Instead, use my body to regulate it-which is a common concept but when I get nervous I lock up every which way.
The second day was much better. I was much more relaxed and far more interested in my horse than making an 'impression', which is nice. As a result of me being calmer, Eagle was fantastic! Or, mostly. We were working on canter/halt (particularly after fences). When he didn't stop soon enough, we backed him up.

This comes with a disclaimer. My horse has never really been taught to back up beyond a few steps here and there to straighten at the halt. It's just nothing he ever learned-and he's not particularly comfortable, nor proficient at it. He was doing very well for the first hour or so (we rode for about an hour and twenty minutes both days). However, after one particularly 'interesting' fence-he left long, I asked him to halt-we stopped-and then the instant he felt the contact asking him to back, he went up instead.

Eagle has reared with me-perhaps twice-in the past, and I've always handled it well. While he won't (cannot?) buck under saddle, rearing has always been the "Hey you, I'm at my limit"-mentally, physically or otherwise. However, this time he went up and spun. I really had no chance to begin with. I've seen the video (And oh yes, all of this is on tape) and it was just ugly. By the time I realized what was going on, I had to bail. It was getting into the sketchy territory of possible falling over backwards onto me.

I rolled off, didn't land too badly. Got back up and brushed myself off (scraped cheek and elbow, bruise on hip) and went to get the horse. (He was walking away from Will and the jump setters). I got up, he wandered back over to me. Will got on him (he rode him briefly on day 1, too, to see what 'we were dealing with') and Eagle was put into pony detention.

Was made to canter over fences, do circles, ect-and do them all at the pace the rider wanted. Anyway, I pretty much got back on after and then did a few lines. Nothing too dramatic, I wasn't really shaken. Falling is a part of it, you know? Regardless of how, it'll happen from time to time and if you're going to get hung up on it then you really shouldn't be doing it. The manner of how I fell was perhaps the ugliest I've ever had-rearing isn't something to screw around with, I freely admit-but at the end of the day, Eagle is mine and for better and for worse, we're in the long haul.

After we popped over cute little things, we got to play at being actual eventers! Enough of the flatwork and the grid work, we were actually using the little water fence the arena had built in on the edge. All four of us (four per class) were told to just walk in and around the water. No biggie, Eagle's seen it before-he'll look but if you give enough leg, he'll go in.

We walked right in, and then hopped out on the bank when it got too crowded. We were told to just come around and trot at it and trot out. Um, apparently my horse has been given a personality transplant. He locked onto it and in the last stride out, took off at it. That was quite the experience. Anyway, cleared the lot with flying colors. Eagle and water and banks, are no problem what so ever.

So, all in all-the clinic was interesting. I was in a group of riders who either were on made horses or were reriders on very forgiving horses of their own and I felt a bit out of place on my hot, hot, hot TB. But I wouldn't have changed it for the world. I learned loads, and really-what I needed to know, I did.
I don't need the affirmation that my horse is a nice horse, I don't need to recognize the people saying I'm overhorsed. There aren't many people who could have come this far with the horse I have, and still be standing at the end. So who knows who the real winners are.
I'd like to think that, in part, I'm one-because Eagle and I have grown so much, both as individuals and as partners.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Tomorrow I will change & Today won't mean a thing

Perhaps it is my perpetual tendency towards pessimism that makes me believe that this streak of 'good' cannot hope to last. It has been nearly four weeks (as of this friday) that my horse has been phenomenal. We have had 'moments' where the old Eagle shows up but then he settles down into this sensible horse that I, quite frankly, don't know what to do with.

Everything I knew about my horse, have always taken as a certainty, is changing. Before, I could be confident in the knowledge that Eagle would jump a fence and jump it long. He'd leave long and jump too deep over the fence, landing long on the other side. I knew that I would have to sit up, sit down and collect. Touching him with your leg? Hell no. You'd never have to extend, you'd never have to use anything more than your hand (and keep him straight) and you'd have a fight to the fence and on the backside of a fence. He'd rush, get heavy and get unbalanced.

As life is wont to do, though, those certainties have been destroyed. He comes back after fences-he'll go to the base of a fence. I need to use my leg in lines so he doesn't have to chip in to make a good distance-and he would rather chip in than leave long. Seriously? This is screwing with my head, here.
And for an instant today, I thought I had my 'old' horse back.

Bounces, traditionally, have been difficult for us. Anything that could be a bounce could also become an oxer. However, once you get past that, they've always been a good exercise to get him to use himself. Today was the first time we've had one since we've returned. We started out warming up over a little vertical. (For the past two weeks, x's have not been spotted! Thank goodness!) He trotted to the base of the fence, even when I got ahead of him expecting him to leave long. Like, you know, he almost always does (/would.) However, we figured it out for me to stay with him (hard enough when you realize that I am constantly expecting to get pushed out of the saddle by him bumping up into the canter then launching long) and got that resolved.

Then we started playing with a bounce. Sigh. I'm very much not a fan of them. However, my horse returned to the one that I knew well! (I rode him well through it! Talk about regression.) He locked onto that set and bolted into a fast trot and then canter and tried to bull his way through them. Diane promptly made us halt (from rushyfastunbalancedcanter) and do a turn on the forehand off the right leg. Come back on it from the same line.

And--wait, what?
You're telling me that you think he did it again?
Well, that's what I thought, at any rate. I thought he had (finally!) reverted back to the horse I knew. Not neccessarily the horse I 'love" (I really do enjoy these changes, I swear. I'm just having such a hard time adjusting my riding after a year and a half of doing things a certain way!) but the one I'm familiar with.

However, Eagle continued on this most recent trend of "Let's confuse Mom!" He slowed down. Head came down, trot had impulsion but wasn't too quick. Let me keep him in hand. And, we went to the base of the fence without a canter step. The hell is going on, here? Exercise: repeat.
Horse: Continues to be doing this.

Then we graduated to a bounce to a trot in-canter out four line. We went in really well(I'm finally getting "the trot"-where we have impulsion but aren't too fast, but it isn't a slow crawl without any momentum) and..landed fantastically. And was so mellow that I had to (or should have) put leg on through it. Trotted around, came through it again...thought he'd get bolder and more aggressive at the fence... Nope. No dice.
I still needed more leg.

What the hell? I don't ride with my leg. Ever.
I'm really good at bending with it, but...asking them to go forward? This confuses me.

Regardless, we ended up cantering into the line. We tried cantering fences (on a circle) about two months ago. He was fantastic. We tried it about a month and a half ago, after a series of flat lessons. It was a wreck.
Well. Go figure. He was fantstic. After I figured out how to get him closer to the base of the fence and kept him straight, we had a really nice series of fences. Our issue though is that I don't leg him forward so we still leave long for the out fence. (Even had what should have been a canter-in, three become a collected four. I didn't ask for collected.)

And we even did a course! Trot into the bounce (coming off the left), canter into the line, trot after the line, ride through the corner that's directly after the line and then at the other corner, go into an angle-it was a small oxer, big whoop-towards the open side of the polo arena, and then come around to a roll top.
Yeah, go figure. Horse? didn't go crazy. Rolltop? He used himself.
is so confused. I Feel as if I don't know how to ride anymore, even though my riding is allowing him to be good, I feel like trash.
Oh well. We'll work through it. Just a bit discouraged, even though we're making huge strides.

Life. It continues. We get better. Always will. The day I stop improving, stop learning, is the day I die.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

&&You're the Star of this Scene

It's been a while-nearly three weeks-since I've updated and, for all intents and purposes, Eagle is still the same phenomenal horse that I wrote about last. I don't understand it and I'm waiting for his brain transplant to wear of shortly.
However while it lasts, I will definitely be enjoying it!

I'm not really quite certain where to start, to be strictly honest. We've had a phenomenal lesson last week and I think the really notable thing is that I've been riding him bareback.

Last Wednesday I had a fantastic lesson. We started out with just tracking forward, regardless of where his head was. I have a bad habit of getting 'handsy'. I was taught a very long time ago to pretend to whisk eggs *once in a while* to play with the bit and encourage them to soften on it. However, I've come into the habit of doing it far too frequently.
So instead of working for the frame, we've been working for the trot and the consistent contact. Fancy that, when I have constant contact and don't throw away the reins and just follow his face instead of pull on it (or abandon it) he comes down. It takes longer and it isn't "instant gratification" but it feels truer. He's much looser through his back when he comes down that way.

Eventually, we started jumping. As per the week before, he's trotting nicely over things. There was even an instance where he didn't even jump the fence-he trotted over it. This, coming from the horse that will jump ground poles and cavaletti if you give him the opportunity, is huge. That and I'm starting to not know when to leave for fences. Previously it was obvious that he'd push me out of the saddle. Now, though, I actually have to work to get up and off his back!
Let me tell you, my legs are definitely feeling it.

Probably one of the biggest things of last week though was that he was adjustable through lines. After warming up over verticals we were going through a four stride line-and we had to chip to get a good space! He's not landing and leaving long, he's coming back. I'm almost collecting him too much. There are points where I almost have to push him forward to lengthen instead of collectcollectcollect. It's absolutely astounding.

We've finally graduated from 2'0 verticals and X's! And the occasional line/gymnastic/angle. We actually did a course. It was phenomenal. We never ran off at or away from fences. He was in my hand the entire time and I actually could let him have his head instead of constantly battling him for a rhythm. Whether it's the weather, or something has finally clicked, Eagle was fantastic. I'm hoping that tomorrow he'll be just as good.

The day after I saw my Mom ride him in her lesson-and perhaps it is slightly cruel of me, but I was perversely pleased that she was having some difficulty riding him. I suppose that, at the end of the day, Eagle is still "My horse". Per Diane, when I came he started ignoring her more (I could tell that every time he was passing me he wanted to stop) but she isn't doing too poorly. He does have a bit of a fixation with the wall and she's not always able to catch him before he dives into it, but he's not too adverse to her riding.
Actually, for a woman whose only been riding for the past three months (for the first time in 30-odd years) my Mom is really not doing badly at all. This upcoming thursday she canters him for the first time. I may be tempted to put in a bit more of a bit so she has the brakes, but I'll talk to my instructor for that. He isn't keen on stopping, even with me-though my Mom really doesn't get rattled when he doesn't stop so I suppose the slow-twist D ought to be fine.

Regardless, last thursday she rode and I hopped on and cantered him a bit to stretch his legs.

Friday, Diane rode him and he was phenomenal. One of these days I'm going to get some video of it. My riding him is laughable at best in comparison to her. (Though I have noticed she has the same problem my mother does-he gives her trouble when I'm around and watching. I suppose this means I should try to sneak past my horse from now on...)

Saturday was interesting. I wasn't going to ride him originally but he had been turned out in the grass earlier (had just come off it-it was too buggy) so I didn't really want to pitch him out there again. At the same time, I'm a lazy sort and tacking him up didn't sound appealing, either.
Solution: Bareback.

I've been riding him bareback from time to time, but almost always after I've exercised him before. Think of it as a 'final five minutes of trot and then cool down' if you would. However, Saturday I got on him without such preliminaries. I was expecting a bit of a bouncy ride-Eagle gets very forward when you first start out.

Though, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that he surprised me. The beginning was a bit rough-he wanted to keep his head up which made his spine markedly uncomfortable, but once we 'discussed' his options, he really was traveling very nicely. My problem with bareback is that because I do feel so insecure in my balance, I typically crank his nose into his chest to feel like I'm in 'control'. (Hah!)

Saturday though I was really focusing on keeping my arms long and infront of me with shorter reins. Unsurprisingly, the horse appreciated it. (he's no one's fool, afterall.) After about twenty five minutes (my legs were shaking!) of trot work I really came to the conclusion that I had no excuse not to canter. I do not ride bareback frequently-I never have. In all my years of riding (about thirteen) I have had maybe ten serious rides bareback that had w/t/c-and all of those beyond Eagle, were on a little mare who I had gotten so used to me that she'd stop on command.

Cantering Eagle with a saddle can be precarious at best. At worst, it's a freight-train disaster of monumental proportions. It's all about the balance and keeping him steady. His right lead is, currently, less comfortable than is left so I started out in that direction. Picked him up on a circle and got a beautiful upward transition. Only did a few circles before we stopped (It was MUCH bouncier than I wish it had been) but he didn't protest by raising his head which is huge.

He normally goes in a standing martingale just to remind him that head =up is not okay. Riding him without it, he actually didn't bring his head up too frequently.

The left was beautiful! We had a gorgeous collected canter that just kept me in the seat (though initially I was reminded as to exactly how big his step is! When you go up and come down four inches behind where you started, you begin to realize that..yes, this is a big horse. And yes, he goes forward very well!). It was, all in all, a very successful day.

So those are my triumphs. Hopefully my lesson tomorrow will continue in the same vein!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Chasing the Stars

Sometimes, it feels like everything in life is conspiring against you. Nothing works out, everything's falling to pieces before your eyes and you can't do a damn thing about it. (Though maybe that kevlar reinforced duct tape they're coming out with could help you put it back together again..) You can't stop it from happening even as your dreams crumble before your eyes in slow motion.
This entire year has been one of those for me. I went to a college that didn't work out. I ruined my riding to fit into a clique. I damn-near ruined my horse to make him into something that he could never be. I tried to suck it up, and it didn't work. I tried to go back, but I got so hellishly sick that I had to come home.
I am a college drop out.
Last weekend was one of those weekends that just keeps on building the debacle of my life. My first event was supposed to be on Saturday. Beginner novice, all signed up and paid for. Working on getting my horse ready, we were show-ready, groomed and nearly set for perfection. Mane and clipping of whiskers/ears/legs was all I had left. Unfortunately? Life, as it is wont to do, intervened. I got the flu. Wretchedly sick, really. Fever that wouldn't stay down, I was throwing up, couldn't keep anything down. I was dizzy and had a headache. It was unfortunate.
So I didn't get to go to the show.

On the other hand, looking back from even a week later, I realize that maybe it was for the best. Diane, my instructor, rode him on friday. Apparently he was phenomenal. She was nice enough to school him for me on saturday, too. Monday, I rode him before my mother's lesson. (First time riding since thursday).

We went outside in the sand and didn't have a horrible ride. It wasn't phenomenal-there were horses galloping around in the pastures alongside it, he didn't want to stand still, he was fussy about contact-and there was a horse that got loose and I got off and on again which interrupted the flow of that ride.. but I really made strides in realizing when I had a problem. When Eagle canters for an extended period of time, his head goes down and his nose comes in.
Voila. Problem.
When he gets fussy and isn't allowed to go forward, he'll try to move sideways. When you don't let him do that and don't give him somewhere to go, instead of standing (as per expected) he might go up.
When your contact is inconsistent, his head is inconsistent.

So even though our ride wasn't, by any means, fantastic.. it was productive. And apparently later on, he was phenomenal for my mother's lesson.

Stupid horse was good for the wrong person! Nah, not really. I bounce better than my Mom does, I think-and I'm a stronger rider. Sometimes I think he acts up more for me than her because I force issues that she lets him get away with.
Kind of like a toddler. Go figure.

Sometimes, on moments like those, I wonder if this isn't all in vain. Why do I bother? I'm not ever going to 'get there'. I won't ever be as good as I want, as strong as I thought-but in the end, I was just too stupid. I couldn't keep from falling in love, with horses, with the atmosphere. With the serenity it gives me.
'Dressage' is literally translated into 'training'. It is a constant evolution of horse and rider. There is no 'end point' for anyone. There is always more to learn, a higher level to reach. Something new to do. It doesn't matter where I am, or where I may or may not get to. It isn't, I realized, where I end up that matters. It's what I learn along the way. And that is why I love it so dearly.

We are, forever, those poor fools chasing the stars. We constantly grasp for that which is out of reach, praying for some bit of their majesty to be bestowed upon us. And even when we never touch them, we are not disappointed because in the end, it is the dreaming that is enough.

And sometimes, though they are few and far between, we are lucky enough to be graced with a moment to realize that, as far fetched as the very act of dreaming is (Honestly, whoever told children to "Dream anything and it can become real!" ought to be shot.) sometimes, they can come true.
And that makes it all worth the while.

On thursday, I had an absolutely phenomenal lesson. It was hard, I won't lie-the temperature was about 87*, which is obscene. It isn't even summer yet! However, we started out just warming up, just trotting around, working on rhythm. I was trying to get his head in 'a place' (bad me!!) and it was not working particularly well. Go figure.

Diane came in (she had a lesson just prior) and told me to halt. I went to pick up the slack in my reins (working on 'long and low' relaxes Eagle) and she stopped me. "Without," I was told, "your reins".
Well, damn. No contact and halting? Bah, humbug! The first ten minutes was filled with downward transitions from trot to walk, walk to halt, without rein contact. Using as little contact, rather I should say, as possible. We're still not to the point where he stops with just my seat but by the end he had figured it out a little bit.

Absolutely shocking, to be honest. And so we trotted a bit again, circles and whatall to work on rhythm.
One of Diane's favorite exercises are shallow loop serpentines. We started going to the left (counterclockwise) as it is his favorite direction. Go figure. After two repetitions of a normal shallow loop, we threw in a few 'loops'! At the beginning in the first corner, we made a 10m. circle to the left, before starting our loops and then at the top of the 'middle' loop, we made a 10m. circle right, and then went back to finish the last half of the shallow loop with a final 10m. circle to the left. It's a lot of bending, balancing, working on rhythm and where my body was in relation to his.

It really worked for him. We did it in both directions (that was our trot work for the day). Instead of trying to use my hands to 'force him' into a frame, like I sometimes can get (egg beater hands!) the idea is to use consistent contact to get him to come down and relax into a better place with his head and neck. It really worked, too. It might not have been as obvious as when I 'pull' him into it-but it felt better.

And so from shallow loops (right at this point) we did a right lead canter. And it was balanced! And then went down the long diagonal at a point and did a downward transition. It's hard to get him to trot, but he did it! I was about ready to give it up. And then he picked right up into a beautiful left lead canter.
It's a bit surprising that he has, all of the sudden, abandoned his little rushy issue in the span of two or so weeks, at the canter. Maybe it's just that he's finally realizing he has the muscle and can use it, but it's a beautiful sensation.

We were cantering poles, which happens to be my nemesis. Seriously. I do not like poles, Eagle does not like poles. They are just-overall-not a good thing to work with. Diane had two poles set, and we were cantering over them. Without a fuss. He did knock the front pole (in both directions) a few times which I credit to him being lazy/not picking up his feet. However, unlike normal when something "Doesn't go quite right" he didn't get huffy and rushy. He trusted me to rebalance him and pick him up and settle right back down.
It was, quite frankly, a breakthrough of the greatest proportions.

And jumping.
Herein lay the huge thing.

We have been trotting Eagle to fences for a very long time. It's something he just 'doesn't do'. Not well, not at all. He'll chuck in canter strides at the last moment (and you had no idea he could fit one in) and rush. Or he'll stick his nose up in the air, damn you to hell and do it his own merry way! For this reason, he has a tendancy to jump inverted. Rather deer like, actually.
Part of the problem is it's just how he wants to do it. Part of the problem is me-I hold his face to keep him 'slow' (and we end up losing impulsion so he gets to launch himself over anyway) and then I don't release over the fence.

Thursday though, something happened-and I don't quite know what, but there was a click.

We were trotting to the base of the fence. Even though it's just a small X (and later, a small vertical) he was using himself. He was coming down over the fence and rounding with his back and lifting himself up, and really using himself. It is quite the astounding thing. Eagle has never had to use himself over fences-even over 3'6, he can muscle over them without any effort.

To have him trotting to the base of a fence, lift himself up over it, and land-balanced-and let me bring him back after? Consistently? Is astounding. It's a huge thing, and he never once rushed a fence. He never once got out of control behind. I don't know what it is, but there's something in my horse that has just 'clicked' (he's been like this for the past week and a half). I don't know why, but I'm not going to argue.

And to all of those who say that dreaming isn't worth it.....

I'll keep chasing the stars. Because for all it's worth, all the agony you gain from broken hearts and shattered dreams, the moments where they touch you with their grace, if only for a moment, makes it all worth while.
I will keep my dreams.

Friday, May 22, 2009

I want to live it up, Just because

Well, I've been remiss in updating this blog, unfortunately. However, there is much to say about almost everything!

Since my last update in april we have: Gone on a trail ride, galloped out of an arena and off a track, done XC schooling, managed to canter poles without wigging out, trot peaceably to the base of fences and actually using himself over fences.

We'll start with some of the stories. About a week after my last update (4/8) there was a weekend where one of my barn friends (younger, just got her first horse in december) had really been wanting to go on a trail ride with me. Everyone in the barn knows, she is dying to get out on trial. With anyone, at any time-doesn't matter if you just walk, or walk trot, or go faster. She just wants to get out.
Unfortunately, like most large barns, mine has it's cliques. We have the hunter girls who are, unfortunately, very much like the stereotype. Self-entitled little snots who think they're the best at everything because they can perch on a deadbroke horse with pinched knees and heels up in the horse's flank.
We also have the group of eventers who are, for the most part, very nice people. These are also mostly the 'working students' in the barn.
Then there's the dressage people, the older re-riders and the like. Unfortunately, this girl-we'll call her L-was being excluded. Everyone else in the barn was making it very obvious that they were doing a trail ride, and she wasn't invited. I pulled up to the barn that saturday and she ran to my car in tears, telling me all about it. I wasn't really gunning for a trail ride (I had been putting it off) because Eagle had been so inconsistent. I told her that if I went with her (just the two of us) we might end up just walking.

She said that was A-OK and off we went? I put his brushing boots on and a standing martingale (at that point, was a part of his tack) and I led the way out. It was slightly muddier than we thought it'd be (rained 4 days earlier) but we kept going. There were two little ditches that Eagle jumped over (Silly thing doesn't walk through water. We jump.) and essentially walked for about 10 minutes. He was a bit fast to start out with, very nervous.
it's the first time I've ever taken him on trails, and the first time he was out of an arena since last september. Surprisingly, there was no stupidness. There was a hole (8 inches by two feet, four or so inches deep) had been dug up to make a mound of dirt that he 'looked' at. But that was about it! No problems with bunnies, ect. After about ten minutes we broke through the trees (forest preserve) and came to the 'gallop field'. It's essentially the space of two foot ball fields with four to five inch long grass. The footing was phenomenal!
There's a slight incline up one side and a decline down the other, but there aren't any huge holes. I walked Eagle while L& her horse trotted and cantered. I even started trotting him a bit, and he was super good. I was rather surprised he wasn't more forward. However, when L cantered by Eagle, he decided to canter!

He wasn't really willing to come back down (I brought him to a trot a few strides after but he kept trying to break up) so I decided that I'd let him go on my terms. Mostly that was just because he had been so good in the few steps of canter that I had gotten. I was astounded at how good he really was. Needless to say, we ended up galloping up the hill and he willingly came back down to a canter, down the hill-and a balanced one at that.

Trail ride: Success.

The weekend after that was our XC schooling. I was going over beginner novice & novice fences (going BN this year). It was..interesting. He was better than last year in that he wasn't getting so behind the vertical. I ditched the dutch gag bit last fall for a slowtwist D ring snaffle which really seems to help. However, he was getting sticky off my legs-he didn't want to turn away from fences and kept trying to rush them.
It was, in some ways, a success. We went through everything without a refusal and came back behind the fences fairly well. On the other hand, I really figured that I needed to work on releasing, and getting him to move off my legs better-not just go forward.

Took some good lessons away from that.

After that I've actually been going on him with spurs (little prince of whales nubs). It works well because my leg (calf/ankle) doesn't really want to touch him when I ride comfortably because my legs are so long that they hang past his barrel anyway. It's really been improving our halts because he always seems to try to move out (his butt) through my left leg. Leg yields and circles are also going better.

People think I'm demented for riding my already 'forward' horse with spurs-but that's the thing, isn't it? Spurs aren't just aids to go forward. They are aids to key a horse in to the cues of your leg.
My leg doesn't tell him to go forward all that often. My leg tells him to stay straight, or bend, or move your shoulder in, or haunches in.

In that same vein, I got-for the first time-a 'soft' trot. On a twenty meter circle, my instructor marked out the 'compass points' from the center. (North, South, East & West) Instead of a circle, make it into a diamond-straight between the points but bending just before and just after the points. Make the changes of bend gradual enough to encourage softness. Through this, Eagle never really had the opportunity to shove his shoulders (or haunches) out and about to avoid using himself.

There is a horse at my barn-a big, black draftX who looks like a tank. When she's riding around you though, you don't hear her coming. She's absolutely silent when she moves because she's so soft over the ground. That's the feeling I got with Eagle for the first time that day. He wasn't 'stabbing' the ground with his hooves, but floating them down and over. It was a beautiful sensation.
In that moment, I could truly use my seat to lengthen and extend my trot-higher in the post and he lengthened his step like a dream. The true "Ahhah!" moment came when he shortened it when I slowed my post.

Had enough of Eagle the dream-pony? (If you're still reading, I'm assuming that means no. Which is a good thing, because this is a classic 'But wait, there's more!' moment.)

I've been riding him bareback. It really should be a "So, what" moment for most people reading this. Bareback is no real step, no huge achievement for almost any person on almost any horse, who know how to ride. I do know how to ride, I have ridden bareback successfully. I enjoy it. (or did?) However, Eagle is, in a word, reactive. Leg touches him? We go forward. Foot swings? We go forward. Air brushes from leg moving? We go forward.

So taking away the barrier of the saddle is almost death to me. Or at least, could be. However, I've been riding him bareback to cool him off. So far, we've just done walk/trot work and then a cool-down. He really softens his back and listens. It's a bit unbalancing when he tries to lurch forward into a trot, but if I just use my voice we're getting better upwards transitions.
Unfortunately, I'm having trouble relaxing my arms and following his face which lends him to coming a bit behind the vertical. It's not as bad as it was the first time-at least there's improvement-but it's still frustrating, to say in the least! Something that we've finally been getting over is 'coming back' when I change the equation. I don't suppose I should be horribly surprised (my riding reverts to being very tight and defensive) but it is a bit of a let down.

At least we're getting somewhere, though!

Eagle's other 'job' is as a lesson horse. Not in lessons, but he's teaching my mother how to 're-ride'. She's been taking lessons twice a week for the about three months previous to may. In the last month she's been riding Eagle for me after I ride, to cool him off-and she has a lesson on him once a week. She's only recently gotten to "All clear" to ride him on her own!
I'm very excited-my mother used to show on the Hunter A's (catch rides) about 35 years ago. Well, more than that-she stopped riding about 35 years back. As a fifty year old, she's finally getting back into riding and I couldn't be more thrilled that she's back in the saddle again. It might mean fighting for posession of my saddle (!!) and time for my horse but..if I can give her back something that she lost a long time ago, then I'm more than willing to sacrifice it.

Eagle is growing in leaps and bounds. We can canter, balancedly. We can jump cleanly without scrabbling for balance. We're getting down rhythm at the trot, and sensitivity to cues from hands. There's no more head flipping. He isn't coming behind the vertical nearly as much any more (though he still does get 'low' and does have trouble poking his nose 'out').
All in all, my horse is growing up.
And it is, in my opinion, about damn time!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Live like you're never living twice

Saturday I had an 'interesting' ride. There were some groundbreaking moments, and then there were things that frustrated me to the utmost.
First, let it be said: From saturday/today's rides, Eagle is definitely going in a margingale. Running martingale, which means the breastplate which means more tack (and more buckles). Ugh, I loathe them. I've been using the standing because it's so much less of a pain but.. well, really. I can't event in it, blahblahblah. So. Pony faces a martingale again. Whoppee.

Anyway. Saturday:
The good.
Eagle cantered through poles.

Pause for emphasis.
He cantered over poles. Not just one pole, not two. Five poles spaced nine feet apart. And he cantered through them.
And, well, trotted, too. But as awesome as that is, the canter is more significant. I've never been able to canter him through poles. Going over one pole is hazardous, doing two poles to mark a stride length is a pain and cantering through poles you trot through?
Hell no.

I got on and my stirrups were ridiculously short. Mother had been in my saddle. So we had our typical mounting three minute 'moment', I got in and realized stirrups were sooo short. (five holes too high). A little girl, Sam, came in at that point so I hopped off and helped her with her horse-instead of just fixing my stirrups in the saddle-and then fixed my crap.
And got back on. The second time at the block, eagle was a rock. I was very happy about that.

Soo, random riding ensued. We were in the polo barn, and there were six of us-four girls around 15/16, Sam-who is 12(?) and me.
I feel old. So old.

Anyway, the four girls were being obnoxious. Cutting people off, riding up our asses, and passing too close. Eagle's been a bit wiggy about passing head on, so I can pretty much say it was not appreciated.
Typical Elle temper ensued after they cut right infront of Sam and her horse and then went to a walk (she was doing extended trot-work). I was pissed.

There's something to be said about riding a big horse with a (typically) adjustable stride at the trot. The girl started trotting again, and I pulled up next to her. They do it to eachother (and me) where they'll just stay right next to you and talk.
I chatted her up.
And got her caught in the corner.

"So, how's it going?" "Good? Glad to hear it. Good to see that your horse is so adept at stopping, but you might want to, you know, get your eyes checked." "Why? Oh, you must have missed it. The multiple times of passing too close, being reckless and overall, thoughtless and disrespectful to others riding."

Yeah. The sickeningly sweet voice that just drips venom is my specialty. And her horse got caught in the corner, and Eagle was rock solid. I was proud of him-sometimes he gets antsy in close proximity to other horses.

So, adolescent scolding nonwithstanding (and aforementioned girls refrained from getting in our space at that point-the 'invisible line' was drawn in the arena. They had their half. Sam and I had ours.) Eagle was a rock star.

And I started going over the trot poles both directions. He's notoriously bad at them-his head comes up, he hollows out, wiggles, or just charges/canters through them.
But, for the most part, in the span of about an hour and a half of riding, there might have been one or two moments where he tried to rush them. Otherwise, his nose came down and out and he was really reaching up and under himself. I was estatic. I don't know where that horse came from, but I love him.
Canter ensues.

(The bad).
We start to the right. I got good transitions-the key, it seems, is to sit the trot. It's a 'no, duh' moment for most people. However, Eagle's never been a horse that needed it, or so I thought. I've always just sat a step and touched and off we went. However, sitting the trot for a fourth or so of a circle before the canter transition.
He really does come up smoothly, but to the right in particular, he just disintigrates so quickly. Falls apart.
And then I half halt (hard) on the outside and the head goes FLIPFLIPFLIP.

The Amazing.
Left canter was better, we were better balanced.
However, what was really amazing was that, in both directions over poles he settled right down (no headflippy) and again, came up under himself.
He let me rebalance himself. It was amazing. I was thrilled. Very, very good.

And let me say, there was no "Ugly". Everything was very productive and work-manlike, albeit some of it was rather horrific to experience.

He's not bending well. At all. I either get his front, or his butt but I can't get all of it. The fact that he's totally ignoring my left leg doesn't help.

However, I did do a little bit of jumping. There was a small vertical that I used as my personal playground. Jumped it at an angle, straight on, jump & stop and turn around and jump again. My problem with fences is that I tend to collect him too much so he launches himself over a fence in an ugly fashion.

He was going over it fine to the left, but to the right he was just an ass. So, I went allll the way down to the other end of the arena and trotted over the poles-and kept going straight to the fence, keeping the rhythm of the trot from the poles in mind for over the fence.
It worked!

Canter transitions have been tuned. Canter in and of itself is not.
Fence debacle is working itself out, as is stopping after. I'm trying to work on getting him to not jockey me around/take off on the backsides of fences. It's super obnoxious.

But you know? We're getting there. That's really what matters. You win some and you lose some, but I can't regret my losses because really, they're teaching me more than success ever could have.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Hope's lost affections never hurt the brave

Yesterday was a mess. Literally. Pony was muddy, pony was also a wreck under saddle. After an 'educational' lesson, it was a bit of a letdown. I think maybe I was expecting too much of him-and undoubtably, myself. Sore, stiff and tired, it was pretty messy.
Disspirited to say in the least. And that I tried to ride with a dressage whip made it even more majikalfuntime. Eagle, for the record, and crops don't mix well. Traditionally, it's just 'no'. Don't even go there.

And so I was thinking I'd smarten him off my leg and use it to help in bending and moving off my leg. Sigh. He moved off my leg, alright. With his nose in the air, locked against the bit and just HAULING forward.


Today was mom's lesson though. I was sulking about, not really wanting to go and let her (and Diane) see the trainwreck-to-be. Mom takes lessons with Diane, incidentally. But I eventually dragged myself out to the barn and..magic!

My horse was already groomed for me. :D I could get used to that, I think. Most of my tack was already downstairs, too. So I just had to grab saddle, girth & pads and then tack up and I was set to go. I had been bracing myself for another hour-long demuddifying session.
Didn't happen! I was thrilled.

My conscious experiment today was to ride without a standing martingale. My first show of the season will be a dressage show at the end of April (Gack. I'm going to hell...) and I know that martingales are a nono. So I took it off.
Normally (Or previously) I hadn't bothered because he didn't need one. I fell into the habit at school when they were all "MUST.USE.KTHNX". and then after, he was being head-flippy-obnoxious at the canter.

So. I thought I'd give him a chance.

And contrary to expectation (Murphy's law..) he was actually pretty good. My main focus today was half-halts. I've always botched them. I tend to pull when I'm 'up' instead of sitting (at the trot) so I brace my back and lock and pull.
I was talking to myself "Up, down, up, down" and only halfhalting-one single, fast, HARD halfhalt out to my hip, when I needed one, at the time I said 'down'.

It worked.
Surprise surprise.

We also got much better trot-work for that. The one thing based on that that I'll have to work on is to keep contact on the inside rein even as I halfhalt with the outside.
Also: Need to work on keeping him from the wall. Little git keeps having a love affair with it, and I will not tolerate being rubbed against a wall!
Well. No, not really. He just drifts left. And doesn't respond to the left leg well. (Might re-try dressage whip thing once I get brave enough. Ergh.)

But the true triump today was a canter. Cantering to the right was blech. We just barely got everything settled then I went "K, good, we'll stop there." His head was flippy and up and obnoxious. I hate flippy heads.


Do not poke your nose up in the air to avoid my halfhalt, you little jackass. Don't you dare.

So I was frustrated with that (and at the time was the only person in the ring. Yay funtime!)

And then I did some trotwork again (I always try to have time between canter work because Eagle has as "CANTER? YAY! WE CANTERED ONCE. NOW WE'LL JUST CANTER FROM NOW ON THNX." mentality) and worked on downward (and upward) transitions with those halfhalts.
I was looking for smooth downward transitions that made him step light in front and rock back on his butt. Not just crashing onto his face. And do it instantly, not just get a "I'll think about it. In another 15m, k?". Upward transitions, I'm trying to keep smooth and calm-not just 'launching' into a trot.

So we get to the left lead canter. Decent transition. Really fast, starting to get unbalanced and blah.
I keep turning him. Not on a circle but I Let him go straight as long as he was being good and then would turn and halfhalt him at the top of the arc-hard, fast to the outside hip and rocked him back onto his butt.
I also was soft in my legs, not pinching with my knee but holding with my thigh and upper calf. And just softened my back.

It was there. I was so happy! Even better, Diane and Mum both saw it. That was my true 'success'.

And then downward transition (and it was right when I asked for it with the halfhalt, and balanced!) and then we did some stretchy trot circles-working him down and out, loose in his back while coming down into the bridle without coming back with his nose.

Then I proceeded to hop off and let mom get on to cool him down.
He needed a little 'reminder' at the block-he's good for me, for the most part, now. But Mom's a new basket of beans. Bah, humbug.

He's also starting to get reluctant walking up to the block. So I might just start walking him there, standing, give treats, walk away.. Repeat. And then get on.
I don't like his reluctance to move forward next to it. Sigh.

So turned him around in circles, and held him over for mom. He tried to walk off the isntant she got on (something he's finally stopped doing to me). I made him back up. And then she just walked with him.

"Mommy" complex showed up. He kept turning back towards me, and she let him. It's kind of cute, he looks to me for reassurance and to know that it's 'okay'.
Funny: She asked me "Is his walk always that big?"

He was stepping over a bit-maybe an inch or two.
His normal is four+ inches. I told her she was holding him back, actually, because she was tight.
Made her talk to him (About how ridiculous I was being, sigh.) and that really relaxed her and got her laughing.
And he started stepping through completely.
It was nice.

Mom untacked, cooled off and groomed.
My horse?
We're getting there. I just have to keep going forward. No room for "Should have done"s.
No use looking back.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I had an angel by my side

So many things in life are overdone. "My horse is an angel". "I'm so beautiful" "-insert thing here- is perfect". Most things rarely are all we talk about. Nothing is perfect. Step away from the ego. Step away from the self importance and the ethnocentrism and see-not just look, at everything that's in front of your eyes.

Lately I've been feeling shoddy. I've had trouble with people I thought were friends, and rumors. Gossip is a part of the world we live in, but that doesn't make it any easier to accept. The horses we work with on a daily basis might be lovely, but they're hardly the angels we'd like to believe.

I'll be the first to say it. Eagle is a nice horse. He's talented and flashy. But he's green, pushy, and has his bad habits. As a rider, so do I.

But last night, amidst memories of gossip, fights with my parents and a date gone wrong, something clicked.

I had a lesson with Diane-an hour private. And let me tell you, being the sole focus of an instructor with 30x60m space to work with, and all these poles? It's intimidating. And painful!

For the longest time, we were on a circle. A freakin' half an hour on a circle. And we were doing shoulders in, haunches in, counter bending and spiraling in. I'm not a rider that's good at bending-and while Eagle's fairly flexible, he'd rather not do anything that makes him work. Changing bends, outside reins and legs, hurt.
A lot.

But that wasn't even 'it'. Things started working, certainly. (Though you could always tell when I changed my leg! Eagle's tail went swish every time I did. Little brat rats me out..) Haunches in are easier for me, on principle. I can hold the shoulders on the outside circle and push his butt in.

Shoulders in, I have to hold his butt while letting his shoulders move without letting him follow through in steps. My head was hurting! But it worked.
Probably the true measure of success came when counterbending came into play. Going left is his good direction. Getting him to bend right while circling left, was not fun. Getting him to spiral in while going left while bending right.. Oh, man, that was so, so difficult.
But it worked. His head came down and his nose was out and he was really reaching through, even as he was bent around my leg. I was impressed.

I still have trouble with canter work. Not gonna lie. I have a bad habit of locking my back. I have scoliosis-but not in the way many people think of, in 'side to side'. Mine is actually front to back-so when I sit 'straight', the curve of my back is very dramatic and my butt is almost behind me. I have to work at straightening my spine, not my back, and tuck my butt under, and turn my pelvis up.

The canter work was bleh. We got a few good steps which lately is all I can erally ask for. So that all happened and we started on poles and fences.

Diane is a Polemaster. And she's evil with it.
The torment of the day last night were four poles, room for one canter stride and then a fifth pole. However, next to the pole (to the left) was a fence set up at an angle. You could go over the four poles to the fifth, or make an awkward turn to the angle.
When I say awkward? I mean very, VERY awkward.

And then other fences involved: If one stands at C in the arena, looking at the letter A, the poles are on the right quarterline. On the left quarterline there's a one-stride. The angle next to the fifth pole is a bit right of center line, and then next to the first of the four poles is an angle (oxer) set up headed towards the right wall. (Convoluted? Hopefully further explanation later helps).

So we start out trotting the poles both directions. Going to the right, she puts up a fence (three trot pole and the fourth made into a vertical). And takes it away, and just adjusts it randomly. Pole, 18', pole, pole, 2'6, pole, 2'0. You get the point. Keep Eagle thinking and paying attention to me.
During this My personal goal was to keep a consistent trot without whittling it away too much. And then stay with him/release over fences.
It worked, mostly.
Then things got evil. Going to the left, she had me trot over the first four poles-and alternately take the fifth pole, or the vertical. Awkward turn right there!!
And then we did this several times, every time after the fence we turned left, trotted, made a good walk transition, then went back to trot and did it again. (Softening his neck/responsiveness to downward transitional cues). Then she made us turn right. That was not so fun. In the corner we were jumping 'into' (room for two canter strides then sharp turn, if you didn't get the downward trot transition ASAP) there was a pile of shavings. Erg, which made turning to the right much tighter.

And then we popped over the one-stride line a few times, fairly 'meh'. Nothing spectacular, but he didn't take off at the fence which made me happy. (While tracking right)

So then we did a little course.
Go over the four trot poles, take the vertical, turn right, go all the way around to the outside line with the one-stride, and then come all the way around (still tracking right) to the oxer. You pass the four trot poles, end up at "A", come off the wall at around center line and then do a half circle to approach the oxer-and then jump, headed towards the wall (About "B") and then change rein, tracking left.

It was.. an experience. I'm still working on getting Eagle back after fences.
However, the one thing I really took away from this ride was a good half halt. It's hard for me-I have to consciously soften my back, tuck my butt and tilt my pelvis, but once I soften and relax-then I tighten my lower back in time with a hard, quick halfhalt on the outside rein. He comes down-and is balanced while doing it!

No tug of war, no bracing or leaning, no coming behind the vertical. Just a downward transition! Joy.

So, the jumping got kind of scrappy sometimes-but I stayed with him and never caught him in the mouth (one of my oooold habits. I had trouble releasing.) So for next week, I'm going to work on a consistent, forward trot that doesn't get fast or rushy, to the base of a fence.

But after the ride, I really spent time with him.
It was a long lesson, he was hot-I was tired, I just wanted to go to sleep.

But I started currying him and the hair was just rolling off... So, he and I had a grooming session. And I had untacked him and whatnot, but I didn't bother with a halter. First I had just stripped his saddle, expecting it to be a quick session, and then I'd just pull off the bridle, rub down his face and then put him away.

By the time I realized there was no such luck, Eagle had been super good just standing in the aisle. So I took off his bridle and he just stood, while I groomed him. And then when I hit "the spots" (under the mane on the right side, under the neck, where neck meets shoulder on the left side) he was just so happy.

And he actually started grooming me, in return.
It was peaceful.
I enjoyed it.

Because, for as much of a jerk as he can be, and the bad habits both of us have-at that point, I had an angel by my side.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

It's better that we keep this close

Well I went out to the barn after work, again. I picked up a friend-Natalie-from the train station at around five or so. It was kind of trying to rain, spit, sprinkle, and then sun. Really, I was hoping it didn't downpour. We had the clouds for it, frankly.
So we drive out and I pull into our local tack shop. There are two I go to, "Saddlers' Row" which is super big, it's out in barrington-about a 40 minute drive for me. I'll go there for tack and whatnot because of the variety. They also have some fun bits.
She, unfortunately, didn't purchase anything. I got a new pair of gloves. I go through them like no one's business. It's a bit unfortunate, really. But I wear through the fingertips, either because there are no gloves that really fit me, or my nails just grow and I'm too lazy to cut them. Probably the second, but still.

By the time I get that picked out it's actually sunny outside! Gasp. So I hightailed it to the barn and she met Eagle! Unfortunately, the ponything was not on his best behavior. I'm slightly embarassed about it. I think he, for one, was partly irritated with the fact that I was back again.
"What are you doing here?"

We shined him up (Not too difficult-there wasn't any excessive mud, considering I had fun with that earlier. Ugh. My horse loves to roll just a little too much.) and then took him out. Walked him around a bit and let him graze, and then I opted to walk down the driveway and turn him out in one of the pastures.
He always kicks up his heels a bit, I think in token protest to being so mistreated and being kept in a stall. Yeah. Right. Hard life there, kid. I don't buy it.
However, most of my pictures of him are of standing and grazing. There's a reason for that. Once he runs a lap or two, we're done. And down to gra-uh, I mean business. One and the same, really. I sincerely hope she got some decent pictures there, because I think that's about the only moment where there were some truly beautiful moments.

Long story short, brought him back up to the barn. tacked up.
She expierenced the wonderful "Horse does not stand for mounting block' phenomena. (Mounting outside-his first time in a year or so. I'll give him a pass on that.) Spun him around. Stood him again. Got on. It only took once. So at least he's getting better, eh? Though now he's not really thrilled to walk up to the mounting block.
I may have to do something about that in the near future if it isn't something that he was just doing today.

Annd, instead of riding indoors-it was nice enough, and still light enough at this point, to go to the outdoor. It's not in the best of shape, I don't even know the last time it was grated or anything, but it was good footing. Soft and damp but not wet, and not too dry.

This is the first time I've ridden him outside since early october, I believe. The last set of pictures in my facebook of me riding, "fall break". That was the last day I rode outside. So it's been a while. A long while. And I don't actually think I've ever taken Eagle out to the sand ring at Fox Meadow, so that was another first.

Looking back, I can't say I should have expected him to be 'good'. But damn, I was disappointed that he wasn't better, I guess. We had some good trot work, but he was very, very forward and very much ignoring the bit when I said stop. I may have to switch it up jut to get a little bit of 'kick' outside, anyway.
I don't know. He needs, regardless, to be better about stopping because when I say stop? I mean it. I don't give a damn what's going on, when I want him to slow down-he had better slow down. End of story.
I'm beginning to get annoyed with it not happening. I might need to do a session back in my dutch gag. I hate it because he comes down behind the vertical, but it does get him to stop. Maybe reminding him in a "Hey. You. IDIOT STOP DAMNIT." will freshen him to the cues and I can go back to a D. Worth a try, I suppose.

As it stands, I'm actually surprised it went as well as it did. I looked at some of the pictures and I think I had a case of being my own worst critic. Certainly there were ugly moments-I had a wonderful 'chair seat' going at some points, and one of my huge flaws-locking my back-showed itself particularly in the canter. It makes it harder for me to stay in the saddle.

Despite that, though, there were really quite a few 'good' moments to the ride. Looking at the pictures, I'm actually quite surprised. Eagle was moving forward and through, and so I suppose I'll take what I can get, eh?

Unfortunately I haven't been out to the barn much, since. My 'monthly affliction' has shown up in full force and, beyond being overly emotional and sensitive (and hyper-aware of every single slightly awkward situation) I also am hurting beyond belief. It's rather difficult to ride when you can't even sit up straight, eh?

Yesterday, I turned him out in the cross country field and dozed in the sun. He, as per normal, was stuffing his face, quite happily. But he kept me company-and there's nothing quite like waking up to a big, black muzzle right near your head. I suppose someone would be disconcerted by the proximity of hooves to them, but.. really, maybe it's foolish-but I trust him.
He knew I was there, and he came to me.
So Eagle's been spoiled and has spent six hours outside today (as per a friend of mine helping me out). I'm really quite blessed, I guess. Either for my horse's charisma in getting people to want to be involved with him, or the fact that people are willing to help me out..
It's both, really.

So he's had playtime out in the fields, and apparently he's behaving himself.
I'll go out there tomorrow, regardless of how I feel.
I just wish things, for once, would start looking up.

So for now, I guess it's better that I keep this close, keep him close to me.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

He knows how to love you without being told

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, I was seriously considering selling my horse. We had been in the riding program but things 'weren't working out'. Everyone was telling me that. "You're a good rider, but maybe he's not the horse for you". "He's too much, he needs something better. You're good, but not enough to get him to where he can go".

Even when I took the semester off and he and I were tooling around in a barn in the middle of farmland and no one else was around but us-I still had a hell of a time. I still thought that selling him might, just might, be my best option.

And even now, at home, with people who know him and I both-sometimes there's a niggling thought in the back of my brain saying "Sell him. You know you'll never amount to anything unless you do".

Today, I remembered why I love my horse. It's not about the ride. It's not about the work, it's not about talent. He doesn't care if he lives up to expectations or not. All he wants is to be taken care of.
And me? He, as much as any animal can, 'loves' me.

He won't do it for anyone else, but when I come up the aisle, he'll nicker at me. And no, I don't give him treats and fluffy pats every time I see him. Sometimes he gets nothing after a ride. Horrible, I know.

But I took him out today and was grooming him before a ride and.. he did a very 'Eagle' thing to do-only to me, though. Only, ever, to me. I was facing his right shoulder currying the mud out (aaah, the mud-lover. Every day.) and his neck curves around my left shoulder. His nose is nearly on his own shoulder, as he just wrapped around me. And 'held' or 'hugged' me.
He does that, you know.

But it was a rough day at my therapist's, and I had gone straight out to the barn to make my mother's lesson time, so I could watch her ride while I rode. So I'm a bit emotionally raw. I hate baring my emotions, my heart and my soul. My therapist is very good at picking down to the bones of the matter.

And I'm left, raw.

Eagle, for all he's a 'Ican'tstandstill!' kind of guy, will do things like this out of nowhere. He'll groom me, 'pet' me with his upper lip, 'hug' and 'hold' me. So here I am, hormonal (Yay PMS and cramps!) and emotional.. and he just held me. And I started to cry.

It's rather embarassing, really, but for all the things in the world, I wouldn't trade any of it for my horse. They know how to love you without being told, without being prompted. Nothing else matters.
And that's why I won't sell him, not now, at least. He's the rock to my tempest. As much of a mess as I can be, and he is-we work. I sit down and focus and he comes up under me and gets serious.
Because it matters to me, I will give everything I am to make it work. And so long as it does, Eagle will be mine. My horse, my partner, my team.
And my heart.

Regardless, today's the first day I've ridden him since my lesson. He was better at the mounting block-I only had 'one' failed attempt with him. Well, really, two-but one 'turning' session and he was good. Mom got on him after I rode and I 'held' him and he didn't even think about moving-and when I got on after she got off, just to 'see' how he'd be, he didn't require any turning.
He still moved away, but not far enough to prevent me from getting on-and when I got on he stood! Yay, progress!!

I've decided that, since I have a hard time remembering so many things at once (Outside rein steady, 'leave him alone' when he's good, shoulder back, weight up) ect, I need to pick one thing or two, to focus on.
Today was 'leaving him alone when he's good' (and just getting him to "Be good") and short, quick halfhalts. (along with my posture.)

He was, all in all, pretty good. My trouble is that I get tight in my arms and then 'short quick halfhalts' get harder, when I can't move my wrist that quickly. We're working though! He was carrying himself very well, and we went over poles-and he loves to 'rush' or just get so quick and unbalanced over them.
Poles and Eagle are not friendly.

However, he was fairly consistant-and he never broke into the canter, which is definite progress even from last week. His canter still wanted to get quick, but going to the right he was very, very good.
It wasn't a 'phenomenal' ride, but it was good.

The real fun part of this was that when I was done, I hopped off and set my mom on him. She, I suspect, has some ambition to ride him in a dressage show or two over the summer. A re-rider, she stopped at the age of eighteen. She used to be a catch-rider on the hunter circut up in Michigan, and she was good at what she did.
But she stopped at the beginning of college and hasn't been on a horse more than five times in the past thirty-two years. Watching her take lessons again has been remarkable. She's been riding a big grey thoroughbred by the name of Gus-I'm familiar with him, actually. I helped bring him into the lesson program.
He's honest enough, stiff to the right. Lazy, quiet. He's good for her.

But we're now gonna have her up on Eagle to cool him down for me. Today was the first day and I stuck around to see how it'd go (and for damage control if it was needed) and just see. So I held him when she got on, and the first thing she does is shove him with her leg-she's used to a pokey, school horse.
Eagle launches forward, trying to trot. And she gets him down to a walk and all, but she looks at me and goes "Wow, he's sensitive!". I was laughing.

She looked tiny on him. She was tight and he was nervous. The "mommy complex" showed up again. He kept trying to get back to me, which I thought was adorable. When he relaxed though, it was really a sight to see. Mom doesn't fit in my saddle, but I had shortened the stirrups. And she's not the best rider now, not having the muscle or the experience.
But really, it was a pretty sight to see him reaching down into the bridle and overstepping the way he was.
Still a bit nervous about it all though, and he wanted nothing really, to do with it. He is, apparently, a Momma's boy-and will suffer my instructor, as she bribes him shamelessly.
Mom is just the 'cookie lady'. He had no clue what to make of her actually riding him.

Nothing 'technichal' came up, but it's a start.

Tonight I'll go out again with a friend, and her camera. Hopefully he and I are better this evening-but if we're not, there's no real loss. He and I are coming along.
It's progress-and I'll take that, over anything.

"Now there's an aching in my back,
A stabbing pain that says I lack
The common sense and confidence,
To bring an end to promises".

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Don't wake me if I'm dreaming

Well, as of Monday Eagle and I are both back into lessons, together. It goes without saying that the prospect of being back in a lesson program was enough to scare me senseless. Look at it this way. My horse? He hasn't jumped since just after thanksgiving break. Late november, early december. I haven't had a lesson since the week before winter break. Which would be the week after thanksgiving, really.

I've ridden, yes, and I've gotten into some colossal fights with the ponyface, too. We've gotten some success and no small measure of failure in that time. The one thing I can take away from the past few months though, is that I am a far more confident rider.

I don't need someone to tell me what I can handle. I know that, if I can take Eagle at his worst there isn't much I can't manage. Seventeen hands of rearing horse is nothing I ever want to have to deal with again. But I have the skills, the instinct and I think most importantly, the mind, to deal with it.

So I suppose these past few months of 'investigation' have been important. That doesn't mean it's not feeling good to have someone else tell me what to do for once!

I'm a decent rider. I'm not the best, I've long since called myself "Functional". And as many people know, form does not always follow function. I know what I need to do to get a response but oftentimes, I lack the ability to know when the best time is to ask. Timing has long since been one of my greatest flaws.
And, unfortunately in some aspects, I'm big enough to halfway bully/coerce most horses into doing it without the proper timing, so it takes a back seat.

The other 'problem' I definitely had coming into my lesson last night were gaits. Eagle is by no means a small horse-and for all of his large size, he has even larger gaits.
Oh, goodie.

His 'natural' gaits sometimes feel too forward to me, almost as if he's ready to run off or take off. What 'feels' right is in fact, a very cute, very nice, collected trot or canter.

Last night really worked on many of my problems. In addition to jumping and poles. I was mildly surprised at how quickly we moved through things, but I guess I haven't, contrary to popular belief, screwed up my horse as much as I had thought.

I have a propensity for getting to lessons early. Always have. I'm the first one on and the last one off. I can warm up on my own given the chance, I can work on 'long and low', or just relaxing and rhythm. However yesterday, I had playtime with the mounting block.
As per what Diane did on wed (Ponyface had the weekend off) he got spun around and around. And actually it didn't take that long for him to shape up and stand. I was moderately surprised. No doubt he'll still be a jerk about it today when I go out, and tomorrow-but it seems that as the days go by, it's more of a 'token protest' than a true attempt at disobedience.

Hopefully, it will end completely sooner, rather than later.

Much of the first half of my ride was focused at getting a 'good' gait and for me, being quiet when he's being good. I have trouble simply relaxing and stopping aids when Eagle is in a 'good' spot-and Eagle, being so sensitive, seems to view most aids as 'punishment'. So I need to really work on just letting him go when he's being good. And last night, sure, he'd rush after a half a circle, but each time he came back better and better.

Beyond just 'chilling' when he was good, there's the infernal bending. Left? No problem. I have trouble to the left, as a result of a bad back. But he's really good. Which helps out. To the right? Oh, hell, no. We're all crooked and there's no way in hell, he says, that I'm going to get him bending and his haunches engaged.
(I say "Oh yes there is".)

The first excersize we really worked on was a 20m circle between two sets of empty jump standards directly opposing eachother on the circle. Once we got a good bend and consistent rhythm, she would add a pole in between one of the empty standards. Once he was relaxed over the first pole, another would be added on the opposing side of the circle.

Eventually we would trot over one pole, walk on the backside of it, walk over the other pole and then get a quiet trot transition and remain composed and rhythmic over the first pole again, while after, getting a soft downwards transition.
Eagle has trouble with upward transitions. He wants to throw his head up into the air and take off, helter skelter. However, last night the term was "Think of coming down into the up". Take my time. There's no need to rush, don't ask just because I have to ask. So I worked on getting him to come down into the bridle before asking him to go-which worked very well.

The other trouble is downward transitions. We do not like them.
Ponyface thinks that walking is st00p:d. And that he should not have to do it. So half halts and blah. Though the memo last night seemed to be "Use your seat to ask for the halt".

That's all very well and good, but how do I do that?
I'm still fuzzy, there.

Regardless, the circle/pole excersize went all very well after a point and then we cantered. Blech. I have absolutely zero seat for a canter. Let's be upfront-months under hunter instructors has taught me to perch on my crotch in a light seat/faux two-point. I do not know how to be in the saddle anymore.
I suspect much of that has to do with me tightening my lower back. But that will be revisited, later.

The right has traditionally always been Eagle's "bad" direction. He will stick to the wall, collapse through his shoulders or swing his butt every which way to sunday. Surprisingly, it went very well yesterday. I got a good transition (And I nearly always do. It's one of the things I'm proud of in my riding. No rushing into the canter, no skippy trot or obnoxiousness, here!) and a few good steps.

Sounds good, right?
Theeeen the 'fun' happened. Eagle gets long and low and ducks behind the bit and just goes. It's remarkably obnoxious. However, one of Diane's 'old' tricks is she'll say "Annnd half halt to a trot, or prepare to halt" and then once you get balanced and your horse is balanced she's all "Just kidding. Keep going in the rhythm you have, now". That happened last night.

Note to self. To get *good* canter, pretend to be transitioning down. Old trick, but it works. And then other note, "Long" halfhalts do not work with Eagle. If I give him anything to lean against, he leans. Or pulls. Short, quick halfhalts are yay.

So we eventually came to be cantering on that circle without poles.. and then she put one up.
And we called it at that, and went to the left and repeated.
He was slightly less responsive in that direction, but I suspect he was already in the "Canter? Canter!? I canter now?!" mood. He gets that way.
Poor guy has fuzz in his brain, apparently.


Beyond that, of all the instructors at my barn (There are five or so of them) Diane has the reputation for being the "evil" one. Not that she's mean. She's remarkably nice, actually, if you sit down shut up and ride. No excuses, no blaming the horse, no begging off for some stupid reason.
But: She has this thing for poles.

And, unfortunately, Eagle and I are of the "Anti-pole" club. Cavaletti suck. Period. The end.

Going to the left, she started with four poles spaced nine feet apart. This has always been the 'least' evil for me. He'll fit two feet inbetween each pole at some point in time. He doesn't scramble over them.

And so once she beamed it into my head how to maintain a good trot with balance through poles, whammo! A fence went up!
And it was a speedbump. Or a little itty bitty zit? Regardless. The horse popped over it. A little eighteen inch vertical. Unremarkable, really.

However, now is the point where I state the obvious (Behond: This post is freakin' long..). My horse is no idiot. Unfortunately. Sometimes I think I wish he was. However, he anticipates and plans, with or without my help.

To screw him up, Diane kept taking the fence away and putting it back. The instant he wanted to get fast and rush the fence it was.. not there!
The other thing she changed was the height. It was eighteen inches, no, it's 2'6! Now it's two foot, hey, where'd it go, oh, it's 2'9!
(Jumping + long stirrups = painful. I didn't know I still had those musclse left..)

And then we did the same thing going to the right (I've always traditionally been better at timing/balance in this direction. I might 'write' with my right hand, but I'm a stronger rider when my left hand is on the outside rein.) barring one smalllll difference.
And by small, I mean tiny.
Trot poles were four feet apart.
That's never fun for eagle + me.
We get tight, I start to whittle away his trot, he gets annoyed and jiggy, we rush through poles.

Cycle: repeat.

Cue, disaster. It's just a pain in the ass on any level, really. I could do without trot poles being that close together. Please?

eventually we got it, and the same "Here it is, it's gone?? ohshitit'sbig, little fence cuuute!" cycle was used.

He actually trotted to the base of the fence. This is a huge deal. Even in the fall, when we were 'on' our game, we could not trot to fences. Like, ever. No amount of half-halts, hauling, collection-ANYTHING could keep him at a trot.
I was very proud of him. And of myself. There was only one jumping screwup where I got left behind. The rest of the time I was very much with him and off his face, which is another one of 'my' issues. I don't release well when I jump Eagle.

So. At the end of the lesson, the successes were:
Trotting to a fence.
Good jumps
Rhythm at all gaits
A 'good' frame, where he is not leaning on my hands or behind the vertical.

Things to work on:
short, quick half halts.
Moving, relaxed hands. I lock in my elbow/forearm area.
Relaxed back and a following seat
Outside leg, BACK (Particularly at the right)

Halfhalt with seat-how does one do it?

I consider it a success, all in all.
So please. Don't wake me if I'm dreaming, I really don't want to know.