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!