OK. I hold my hands up. I have been thoroughly useless at blogging in the last couple of months. I could bore you with reasons, but they have mostly involved work (lots and lots of it), a bit of travelling (not enough of it), and a lovely new boyfriend (!!). I also obviously had all the problems with my saddle, so after the sores on her back cleared up and I got a brand spanking new saddle, it took a little while to get back to where we were.
The saddle is lovely - it's still a Wintec - I don't have the funds for a nice leather saddle yet, and as she keeps changing shape it wouldn't be worth it. It is, however, one step closer to a dressage saddle, as it is a VSD cut and therefore has straighter panels, but will still enable me to jump. It's so comfortable; compared to my old one, which was far too small for me, it resembles an armchair - I could canter in it all day. I wouldn't though...obviously!
It took some getting used to, but the last lesson I had with John, he commented that she was moving really well - without me even telling him that I'd got a new saddle. Once he knew, he said that she looked much more level behind now. This is fantastic - we obviously still have the problems with the right hind, but knowing that she is now comfortable makes a big difference.
Last week I was very brave: I actually let somebody else ride Echo. Now, I am something of a neurotic mother when it comes to my animals, and I would not have handed Echo over to just anyone. However, my best friend is an awesome rider and I trust her more than anyone in the world with my horse, and as her horse is lame at the moment and she was at a bit of a loose end, I thought it would be nice if she had a little sit on her.
Ella was there when I first broke Echo in - in fact, she led me around on her when I was lying across her in a very ungainly manner, so she has been a big part of the process - including all those lengthy phone calls about the specific nature of her right hind leg in trot (you can't beat friends for that!) I rode Echo for about fifteen minutes, then Ella got on and rode her quite a lot in walk to begin with. She immediately felt my problems with the right bend - she is very heavy in your right hand and then won't let you take anything in the left hand. I have written extensively about this in the past, so I won't go into too many details now, but I was glad that finally somebody could actually feel what I feel.
She worked hard to get her responding to the leg aids - particularly getting her to keep her left shoulder engaged. She actually found that once she completely had control over the left shoulder, she could use a lot more inside leg and then she became soft in the right hand on the right rein. She is much more skilled at this than I am - probably because she has spent years working on her horse, who has a similar problem!
In addition to this, Echo looked absolutely amazing. Because she had control over her shoulders, she was much more forward moving and her trot was stunning. I had that funny mixed sensation - a teensy bit jealous because I know that I can't quite ride her like that, but totally in love with my beautiful horse and excited about her potential. The latter was definitely the prevalent emotion - thank goodness!
Yesterday, I had a big breakthrough. I had struggled to achieve what Ella had managed in the following days, but yesterday I felt like I finally had my head in gear. I managed not to ride like a moron and actually got what I was after. While I was walking her on a loose rein at the beginning, I decided to try to steer her a bit using just my legs and seat. I held the buckle, so that I couldn't cheat at all and use my hands, and forced myself to turn her in complicated turns and circles on both reins. I found that through this I was able to move that troublesome left shoulder around effectively and she was much more responsive.
When I finally did take a contact, I made a real concerted effort to have an entirely equal contact in both reins, and I carried on riding just as strongly with my legs in order to keep hold of the shoulder and create the bend with my inside leg. I found that she was much softer in my hands and I was able to get a bend with a completely even contact. It was exhausting - both mentally and physically, but she felt brilliant. She was soft, forward and rhythmical. A definite breakthrough - I just hope I can recreate it!
In fact, I decided not to try today! It poured with rain all morning and I was all set for an indoor school session - which seems such a shame while it's half-term and I still have some light! However, it cleared up and I decided to venture out on my own. We haven't hacked out for months - actually, since I noticed the sores on her back - let alone gone out on our own, so I must have just had a moment of bravery! I went out through the cross country course to see how she felt and she was a little bit tense at first, but she settled into a nice rhythm after a while.
Feeling that I wanted to go out for longer, I took her out onto the heath. It was really soggy underfoot, so we had to mostly stay in walk, but for the first time, she wasn't a quivering wreck by herself. She usually gets herself so tense that she feels like a coiled spring and winds herself up, jumping at shadows and terrifying herself. It's not much fun to ride her when she's like this, but today she just seemed to really enjoy being out and about. We came across several huge herds of deer, but she is so used to my dog racing out of bushes unexpectedly, that sudden movement doesn't faze her too much.
It was a really lovely ride and she was so relaxed, it felt like my baby is starting to grow up!