Saturday, 31 January 2009

No negativity here, thank you!

I went out last night. Now, I'm not a big drinker, but I had a couple - enough to make me a little on the groggy side this morning. Then I got a phone call asking if I wanted to take someone's slot and have a lesson with John and I said yes, probably unwisely! It didn't give me a great deal of time, as I had a couple of things to do beforehand. I got to the yard about 20 minutes before my lesson was due to start - had to groom, tack up and warm up in that time. It was never really going to happen.

I rushed to get ready, rushed to get on and rushed down to the arena. I wasn't able to ride indoors, as I had hoped, because there was a riding school lesson in there, so I had to go in the woodchip arena. This is surrounded by horses being turned out and is exposed, so the freezing wind was whipping across it. Nice. It was OK, I was on and there just as the previous lesson was finished, but I didn't have my head on or my thoughts in place, added to the slightly shaky feeling from last night.

Because I was on edge, Echo didn't really settle and I wasn't any good at sorting it out. I had a real strop, stopped and said, "I can't ride today!" Oops - wrong thing to say, and I knew it as soon as I said it! He told me that it was pointless to have that kind of attitude - it doesn't get you anywhere. He said that if I tell myself I can't ride today, then I won't be able to ride today - simple as that. He said that any negative statement must have a comma at the end and be followed by a solution. He's said it before to me: "There are no problems - only solutions." That's all very well, but I couldn't think of any solutions today. She wasn't actually going that badly - I just couldn't get her going any better.

John seemed to sense that half an hour was not going to be time to get things going in the direction they should, so changed the tactics. He put three poles together on the floor between a pair of wings and got me to trot over them. It was strange - she kept jumping them from miles away, leaving me behind and launching herself over them. He put it up to a cross pole fence and asked me to still trot into the jump, without thinking about jumping it. The problem was, two strides out from the jump, I froze and stopped riding. This was throwing her, as she didn't know what to do. Once I started actually keeping her together and riding through the fence, forgetting it was there, she was great.

He then got me to come over it in canter and we both find this much easier. John said that she was poking her nose out a bit on the approach and that I should hold her together right up to the fence. It was great on both reins and we stopped there. He seemed quite impressed with her attitude to it. She is absolutely one of the nicest horses to jump that I have ever known - she doesn't rush into the fence and she doesn't rush away from it - it is as if she is cantering a 20 metre circle that happens to have a jump in the middle - I love it! When we had finished he pointed out that I have to stop making excuses for myself; by telling everyone that I'm rubbish at jumping, I am making it much harder for myself. I'm not experienced at jumping, but I can do it, and he even said that she's a natural. I feel like I should whisper that, in case it isn't true, but actually she really does enjoy it and so do I. Never thought I'd say that!

After my lesson, I watched a couple of others. It was really interesting to see how negativity seems to blight so many peoples' aspirations. One girl is going to an indoor eventing competition tomorrow and the fear of going is making her physically sick. She doesn't think that she will be able to 'support' her horse in the ring, as she will be so nervous. Thinking like that is definitely not going to help. Funny that I can immediately recognise it in others, but still do it myself. Another rider who is incredibly talented in lots of ways, has told himself that he can't do flatwork. He can't tell which trot diagonal he is on and refuses to believe that he could learn to. It was only when John explained to him how important it is for the horse's well being that we trot on the correct diagonal, that he started to consider it. He seems to have a block in place with his flatwork that makes him believe that he can't do it.

So the lesson to be learnt from today is that I can do it. I can get Echo to bend correctly to the right, I can get a good left rein contact, I can get her weight onto her hindlegs and her forehand up, and goddammit I can jump too! Feeeeell the positivity!

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Much better

She wouldn't look at the camera though - something was obviously much more interesting at the other end of the yard!

While I'm adding photos - thought you might like to see Echo's little brother Jeff in his smart new Christmas jumper that stops him gettting chilly and wet at the yard.


Echo didn't go so well yesterday and I ended up feeling really angry with myself - I will write about this another time, as it requires some thought and some soul-searching. However, I wonder whether I am too mean to my horse...

She was stubborn and difficult to ride yesterday. I don't think it was me, as I actually started out feeling really positive and calm. She is a mare, however, and is prone to stroppy days every now and again! She was quite hot when I finished, and as we are soon to be visited by the lady that bred her, she is in need of some tidying up. So...I pulled her mane when I got back. I find it really hard to bring myself to pull her mane - she doesn't particularly mind it, but something of the silly sentimental passive animal-lover in me niggles at the back of my mind telling me it's cruel. I need to toughen up! I would never have thought that when I was working with dressage horses!

Usually, she has gone so well, that I think it would be mean to repay her with a mane-pulling session - yesterday, I wasn't feeling so compassionate! She fidgeted for a little while, and she doesn't much like it being pulled at the top, by her ears, but she now looks a hell of a lot better. I know there are all sorts of more 'humane' methods of tidying a horse's mane, but you must understand, my lovely horse has a big chunk of cob blood in her, therefore has a mane that somewhat resembles a Thelwell pony when it's natural! I hope to go to some shows in the spring, so for the purposes of plaiting, had to do something to thin it and shorten it.

I feel like perhaps I am trying to convince myself here, that I did it for her own good rather than to get her back for being naughty. I hope you don't think I am too mean to my horse! I will post a photo of my efforts soon, to show the improvement.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Counter-bend and Caprioles!

I chickened out! I didn't have the jumping lesson in the end, but I did tell John at the end of my lesson that I would like some help with the jumping, but that I'm not interested in jumping enormous fences or anything; I really just want to be able to pop over a few jumps every now and then and for it to build Echo's strength and suppleness. It also provides a relief from the schooling, without having to go out for a hack. It has been decided that we will spend ten minutes or so at the end of my next lesson on jumping. I have warned him of my lack of natural ability!

My lesson was good - it felt positive and John said her walk had improved and that her carriage was much better. Good news. He watched me walk, trot and canter on both reins and said that the bend is definitely improving to the right. However, we worked for a while on the left rein, which I found really useful. He asked me what her inside hind felt like. I had to think about this, as I confess that I'm not always 100% tuned in to every part of my horse's body! Once I'd got my head round it, I realised that she didn't feel like she was totally engaging the left hind. John pointed out that she is hitting the floor with her foot as it is travelling backwards rather than as it's coming forward. If I can get her taking the step right as she's reaching forward, her hindlegs will carry the weight much more successfully - at the moment they are a little out behind her. Interesting, but quite hard to fix. I realised that I needed to use a lot more energy in the trot, really asking her to reach under and carry herself. The trot definitely improved.

We went onto the right rein and worked on getting a good right bend - he actually pointed out that I am asking for too much bend. I have it in my head that I have to bend her to the right, and then I get too much, so she's bound to fall out through the left shoulder. When I corrected this with my left hand, I was then able to put my inside leg on and push her into the left contact a little more. It really was only a little more - the problem is not yet fixed, but it was a start. He also got me to trot her on the right rein, but with a left bend. I found it much easier doing it this time, than when he made me do it before, as I have taught her to be more obedient to my directional aids from my legs and seat. She finds it really hard maintaining the bend, but then, when I put my inside leg on and ask for the right bend, she does it correctly and it feels like such a relief!

The canter work was quite brief, but wonderfully self-explanatory. I did a rubbish transition first of all - and guess what? I got a rubbish canter! He made me slow down the process of the transition, by establishing the sitting trot first, then ensuring that I have a good outside contact and am not in the middle of a turn, then asking for the canter from my seat. Abracadabra - a good canter is the result. It's irritating when the answer (and the mistake) is so simple! In the theme of transitions, he also got me to work on my walk to trot transitions. She often jumps into trot from walk - particularly on the lunge - and I always assumed it was to do with her being weak behind. However, he got me to really think about my timing in the transition - and to ask her with my seat and support her with my legs to get her hindquarters really engaged. It isn't perfect every time, but it definitely reduces the jump up into trot.

Since the lesson I have been hacking a couple of times and Echo has seemed to enjoy herself. The cold weather has made the ground pretty hard, but there are still sandy tracks in the forest which you can trot and canter on. Echo rather disgraced herself on one of the occasions though. I took a friend hacking who has not ridden for many years. She borrowed one of the riding school horses and we went off for an hour's wander on the heath. It was a very cold day, and I half thought about riding Echo in the school for a few minutes first, just to take the edge off her, but she had been so good last time I went, that I thought it was probably unnecessary. Bad decision. She was on her toes the whole time; spooking, jumping, grabbing the bit in trot and refusing to slow down... not really the Echo that we all know and love. She settled eventually and I suggested that we have a little canter up a short slope - that way, I thought, if my friend was unhappy cantering, it would be over very soon and being on a hill it wouldn't be too fast. The opposite in fact! Echo started to canter, then started doing a sort of rocking horse canter, then she stopped dead and bucked. Poor girl, my friend nearly ran into the back of me, got very close to Echo's back feet when she was bucking, and generally didn't know what the hell had gone on!

It's so weird - she has these funny episodes in canter when out hacking - it's as if she gets herself in a tangle and just strops because she can't do it! Holding my head in shame, I apologised to traumatised unhorsey friend and arranged to go out for a long hack the following Sunday with my usual hacking buddy, to dust off the cobwebs and find some tracks for some good long stretches. She was an angel for most of the ride - it was a beautiful (but freeezing) day and I had ridden Echo in walk, trot and canter on both reins before setting out, so she felt relaxed and confident. We led the whole way, as my friend's horse was feeling particularly ploddy that day, but she strode out and was calm. She was, however, very ignorant to my half-halts, so I made the most of my friend falling behind, by regularly stopping her and then walking on again. Eventually, she came back to my aids and was then much more relaxed in trot, as I actually had control of the pace in trot. We had a couple of long canters - the first was awesome - up a hill, steady, powerful, calm...the second started off like that, but I don't know what happened halfway through. I think she might have heard the other horse's hoof beats a bit louder behind her, but she suddenly leaped into the air (doing a good impression of a capriole!) and shot off for a few strides! Echo never does this! She is obviously feeling very well at the moment.

I wasn't particularly worried by that behaviour - I would rather she leaped and ran for a few strides than she stopped dead. I have always preferred a horse that bucks to one that backs off or rears - always best to keep the forward momentum, I reckon! We haven't had another chance to hack recently, but the schooling has been going nicely! Talking of which, I should go and ride now...

Daily adventures while training my young horse.