Yet again, I have left it a week before writing again. I have been meaning to write all week, but have been feeling a little bit frustrated by the level of progress we have been making, and didn't feel in the mood to share my frustration! However, towards the end of the week things really started to improve, so I will tell you about that.
I had a lesson on Thursday evening from the manager of the yard where I keep Echo. I had not really thought of having a lesson, as for the last two years, lessons have been synonymous with intensive dressage training, and we are by no means ready for that. I decided that I needed some help, as I was finding it increasingly difficult to control Echo's speed in trot, and the idea of bend to the left was unheard of. This meant that we had little balance on the left rein and as a result, she was speeding up or dropping behind my leg. I found it really difficult to know what to do.
In my lesson, my instructor had us working on the right rein, which is naturally better, but trotting in small - maybe 15 metre - circles and he got me to constantly change her speed. Once I had established a slower rhythm with my seat and hands, he got me to quicken the trot and then slow it again on my terms. He also got me to take a contact - something I had been religiously avoiding, as I didn't think I should really touch her mouth. The difference between the way she went on that day and the way she had been going is phenomenal! She started to work in an outline and I was able to use my inside leg to really ask for the bend. This was a big breakthrough for me, as so far she had always been understanding the leg to mean go forwards. Although I want this, I also need her to learn that the leg can also mean sideways.
The left rein in the lesson was nowhere near as good as the right, but the instruction has provided me with something to work on. I have also discovered that she shies a lot less when I ride her on a contact (obvious really!) The last couple of days we have been practising hard, although still having issues on the left rein. I have, however, now taught her to turn on the forehand, which is really helping her to understand left bend, and today showed much improvement. She felt relaxed and rhythmical in the trot today and she showed some bend to the left, albeit not as much in trot as in walk.
What was really exciting today was our first proper hack. We have walked out a couple of times for ten minutes or so, with somebody walking next to us - yesterday was the turn of my poor boyfriend and dog, who were very nearly trampled as she decided that they could be her security blanket every time she was scared! Today we went out with nobody walking with us, but with two other horses to show her the ropes. One of them was one of her field mates - a lovely quiet cob who is very much the boss in her field. It was very successful! We walked out beyond the confines of the cross country course, onto the vast stretches of heathland that we are so lucky to have on our doorstep. Although we do not have to hack on roads - a luxury for which I will be eternally grateful - we do have our fair share of hazards to encounter, not least the herds of deer. We came across two small groups of deer; the first scared Echo a little, as she could hear them but couldn't see them. The second didn't seem to bother her very much at all. We also had to ride along parallel to a busy road, which meant that although she could hear lots of traffic, we didn't have it driving right by us. This was not a big problem, as Echo spent the first year of her life in a field next to a huge road, which I believe could have been the M25. She is somewhat used to road noise! However, since then, she has been in quiet fields in the middle of the countryside, so I am delighted that she is taking all of these things in her stride.
The only mildly worrying moment on the hack came towards the end as we were almost home, and were walking down a narrow track with high banks on each side, covered in bracken. Echo suddenly shot forwards a few steps and I assumed she had heard something behind her that I hadn't. When I had stopped her, I looked behind us and realised that she had a huge piece of dry bracken stuck in her tail, which had wrapped itself around her back legs! Considering this, her spook had been very minor really! I got off and disentangled her from the bracken. However, having never got on her from the ground, I wasn't sure whether I should just lead her the rest of the way home. But I decided just to go for it and get on again. Such a clever girl - she didn't mind a bit!
She is now having a well-deserved day off tomorrow as usual, and I will see if we can hack out again a couple of times next week too. I might even become converted to this hacking lark! I shall also try to take some more pictures this week, as she is looking lovely and smart at the moment, with her pulled mane and trimmed face. We are participating in an in-hand show at our yard in October, so we are getting prepared early!