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.
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.
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.
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.