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!