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.

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