Sunday, May 19, 2013

Just One

It stormed in the night. The area around the barn was soaked and soggy, and there were more patchy storms that had the potential to hit us. With Zoey, we were again confined to the indoor.

On the bright side, Zoey came to meet us in the pasture today, was scared off by Laredo pinning his ears at her, came again, was scared off again, and finally let me approach and halter her with no fuss. So in spite of our interfering youngster, that was a big step in the right direction. She was ultra relaxed for grooming, too, and almost seemed happy to be hanging out with us.

I again started with groundwork in the indoor arena. Touches from the flag caused no flinching today, and I had Brian help with saddling again to help things be smoother. She only shied away twice, then stood quietly and accepted the saddle. She also stood solidly when I mounted, which was good because Brian had some trouble getting on her yesterday. We moved off and got to work.

The ride started out really well. Zoey was relaxed as she's ever been with me on her back. Her lateral flexion was improved enough that I was able to start working on elevating her poll, keeping her from over-flexing, and keeping her face perpendicular with the ground.

We walked some pretty nice circles, and then moved on to trotting. Our first trotting session was the nicest I've ever had on her. She wasn't getting off-balanced and forward, and her motor was only dying every now and then. Brian even took some video, so we have some Not Highly Exciting Video of Zoey trotting!

Unfortunately after about half an hour our ride hit a little hiccup. Mostly the problem was it was really hot in the indoor, and Zoey got tired and kinda started checking out mentally. She stopped responding to my legs and started pushing through them. At one point we were trying to trot a circle and she was like she had a tow hook attached to her shoulder, dragging her through my leg towards where Brian was sitting on Bear. I had to get on her a little bit. It was the first time I ever really upped the pressure while riding her, and she didn't like it. I worked on making her uncomfortable on the side of the circle she was trying to get to, and super nice and comfortable on the other side. Then we just kept trotting circles until she figured it out. As she got agitated, she fell back into her habit of seeking the bit, and since I had her in a turn this meant she was really dropping her head and shoulder, which was not helping with her balance issues. I worked on encouraging her to stay off the bit and keep her head up. We kept at it. I have to say, it took long enough that I was starting to doubt my method. But finally, finally, we came around the bend and she moved off my leg instead of into it. Phew.

Naturally, we had to work out the same issue going the other way, but after that the ride went back to being better. We took a good long break, then worked on less demanding stuff for a while. At the very end, we practiced being snappier with upwards transitions. She's kind of slow to take your meaning when you want a little more speed. Up until today I was giving her multiple small bumps to help her figure it out, but today I started working on teaching her to respond to just the shifting of my pelvis.

One other thing that was amazing today was her backing. Instead of over flexing and getting stuck, she was softening up and moving off a light touch on the bit.

By the end of the ride she was tired but relaxed again, and when we took her to the hitching post she was yawning and sighing while I rubbed the sweat out of her coat. I've never seen her relaxed enough to yawn before. So I'm feeling good about the progress we've made. She'll get the day off tomorrow. It's been a busy eight days since she arrived. I think she certainly deserves a break.

When we got off Bear and Zoey, it was looking ready to storm. Brian and I were also both pretty tired and over-heated from riding inside, and we didn't want another hour in the arena. We agreed to throw in the towel and content ourselves with one ride only. Fortunately, the addition of a fourth horse has certainly helped give us the riding boost we'd hoped for. My saddle hours shot up this week and we're on track for our goal. And Zoey is already a visible presence on my riding chart.

Ride Time: 1:05
Horseback Hours YTD: 63:10


  1. She's got some nice movement!

    I have a question for you. Awhile back you mentioned a beach-ball analogy for riding, where he horse goes in the opposite direction from your weight. When you say opposite, which part of the horse are you moving? I initially thought you were directing the forward movement (so putting weight on the right makes the horse turn left), but last night I realized you could have also meant lateral movement (side-passing away from the weight), or the bending of the horse's spine/body (bending away from the weight). I've been working on bending and lateral movement lately, and have come across several different (and often conflicting) methods, so I was just interesting in what was working for you.

  2. Thanks! Yeah, her trot is super floaty and full of action. I still can't believe she was slated for the sale barn.

    The beach-ball analogy works no matter how you're trying to move, both forward and back, and laterally, or some of each. Like if I want Steen to swing his front right foot forward and out to the right, I lean back and to the left to the same degree I want him to shift in that direction. Same thing for side-passing. If I want to send my horse to the left, I lift and flex my left rib cage and lean slightly to the right. The way Martin Black explains this is giving your horse room to go where you want. They will feel the opening your weight leaves behind, and move into it.

    I'm sure there are other ways to think about it, but I've found this works really well for me, and it helps in particular when I get stuck working on a movement to exaggerate the opening and leaning just a little to help make sure I've got my weight out of the way enough.

  3. Yeah, I think you found a diamond in the rough with Zoey. She seems like she's a great little horse, and comes in a nice color to boot! (Seriously, if I'm in a position to get another horse at the end of the summer...)

    Anyways, what you say about getting out of the horse's way makes sense. The leaning forward and back thing seems a bit contrary to the "common knowledge" about leaning forward to go faster, and back to go slower though. Or maybe I'm thinking about this the wrong way?

    I will definitely start experimenting with this idea more though!

  4. Hehe. That'd be awesome if you took her. Plus then we would always know how she's doing. It's a good thing we genuinely CAN'T support four horses year round, or we'd probably be changing our minds about passing her on. :)

    I had always been told lean back to stop too, but Martin explained how if you lift your weight off their loin and block their forward momentum, it allows the horse to bring their hind under and get beneath themselves for a hard stop. Whereas if you lean back your weight not only compresses the muscles they need to engage for a correct stop, your own weight actually increases their forward momentum, making it harder for them to do what you ask.

    Of course the "lean" we are talking here is subtle. With an amazing rider like Martin you can't even see it. Still, listening to him explain this was the biggest "ah ha" moment in riding I had last year by a long shot.

  5. Heh, don't get too attached to the idea. As much as I'd love another horse, a lot of things need to go very, very right (or very, very wrong) for us to be able to get another. Given the nature of my life though, who knows.

    I'm kinda wondering if a "lean" and a "weight shift" might be two different things. Maybe one should lean back (slightly) while shifting their weight forward (slightly). There might also be times where the lean and the weight shift are in the same direction. Since these cues are so very subtle, I could see these two things being used differently.

  6. Haha. Yeah, I figured it was a long shot with you. But one can always hope (for things to go right, not wrong, of course)...

    Yeah, I do think leaning and shifting weight can be different things at times. I also think part of the reason these things are so hard to teach is these are such subtle concepts, and our clunky language isn't quite up to the task of expressing the nuances.


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