April 22, 2012

The New Normal

My trainer quietly studied us during our warmup.  "Is this normal lately?" she asked.

"It has been since that awful ride in the field on Thursday.  Ever since then, he's come round and through almost immediately when I ask, and stayed consistent in it."

"Hm, yes, because he had the impulsion to do it, probably.  I guess Thursday was actually quite productive for you, then.  This is the best work I've seen him do, he's so relaxed and connected.  He's now rideable, and we can start actually doing things with him now."

It's not like he wasn't able to be ridden before, we've been working together for five months now, but she's referring to the fact that we've now got the first few levels of the training pyramid pretty consistently, and we're ready for more challenging flatwork.  Surprising, eh?  We've made some major progress in the past few weeks.  His rhythm is consistent at the walk and trot, he's relaxed, soft and pliable throughout his entire body, and, as of Thursday, he goes on contact almost immediately when I ask.  His gaits are lovely: forward, unimpeded by me, yet controlled and smooth.  Unlike a few months ago, where I saw glimmers of this, he's now consistently going like that.

During yesterday's ride, I realized just how much more I needed to "catch" the energy with my arms (from the elbows down).  I've improved at this since my clinic with Nancy where she first pointed it out, but I realized yesterday through those downward transitions that I'm still dumping my outside rein forward consistently, and both reins when I ask for something like the walk or halt transitions.  Focusing on both that and strongly walking him into the transition with my seat led to the beginnings of collection through transitions, as Nancy said it would when she said, "Transitions are the closest thing you've got to collection with this guy right now."

As a result of that, I've made two major changes to my downward transitions: I exaggerate keeping my elbows back and at my sides, and I make sure, even if we'll be doing a free walk afterward, that I get several steps of collected walk before letting him stretch.  Those two things have made a major difference.

Today we also started really working on his canter.  I expected us to work on transitions and bring him down after half of a 20m circle as usual, but she had me keep going and do exercises at the canter that we have been doing at the trot.  Specifically, I've been doing a lot of half halt on the outside/inside leg work, as well as shoulder-in on the circle (something I struggle so hard with, if anyone has any ideas, let me know!).  I was truly amazed to discover that, though it was still quite rough, he could connect at the canter and carry himself just like in the trot.  That was not the case the last time we really cantered.

At the end of the lesson, after some spectacular free walk exercises and a great lesson all around, my trainer complimented him, and then really, truly, out-and-out complimented my riding for the first time that I can remember.  She said my riding has come so far and I'm really doing well these days, and that riding Connor is helping me.  It meant so much to me, because it's true.  My body awareness is improved to the point that I can actually catch him and make corrections before she tells me to.  I really do feel like a maturing rider, and that's somewhere I never thought I'd get.

Gratuitous adorable pony photo.  That's why you guys keep coming back, right?


  1. Congratulations! It feels so good when an instructor recognizes your hard work--at least in my experience, they're not usually the type to be liberal with compliments!

    I love reading about your progress with Connor. Right now I am just finishing up college and horseless but it makes me look forward to the day when I have my own horse to progress with.

  2. Thanks, CE! I was where you are just a couple of years ago, and the wait was worth it. I'm not even supposed to have him right now, but it all sort of just happened. With my husband's student loan debt, I'm still pretty much a horseowner on a college student budget!