Liam and I survived the first two days of boot camp… and we’ve already learned a lot!
Liam seems to like his new home. Like a king returning to his palace, he settled in like he owned the place. Of course, I can hardly blame him, it’s a beautiful barn. I’ll give you a quick tour first, then I’ll share our lesson details. Here’s the front of the barn:
And here’s some of the turn out, there’s individual dry lots and huge pastures for small groups.
And here’s a view of the property showing the indoor (on the left) and outdoor (on the right) arenas where we ride:
And the inside of the bright and airy indoor arena where all our enlightenment is taking place:
And last but not least, Liam tacked up and ready for our first lesson, and a view of the inside of the beautiful barn:
I don’t even know where to start describing the time I’ve spent there, limited as it’s been. I don’t know if the horses or the riders are more amazing. The horses are an assortment of different breeds, but many warmbloods, and they are breath taking to watch. The riders so far are all adults, except for the trainer’s daughter, and seem to have years of experience and the accompanying knowledge and wisdom, but everyone has been friendly and inviting. The trainer is talented (FEI level) and patient, both with her horses and her students. Her experience and kindness lets her easily instruct Liam and me one minute, and then her Prix St George rider the next, giving us both the same respect and attention.
In our first lesson, I rode Liam in the pelham to show her where we were at. We warmed up at the walk and he was very good, even though he had only arrived at the farm the night before and it was his first time in the arena. As we moved into the trot, he stayed quiet and focused as we did a few circles and figure 8’s. Then we attempted our canter, and it wasn’t our best canter ever, but it wasn’t our worst either. But it did make very obvious what we need help with, and why I switched to the pelham. He displayed his “part horse/part freight train” persona as he gathered speed and propelled himself around the arena. It was exactly what she needed to see.
We went back to work at the trot, and now he was all revved up. She had me counter bend him, head to the wall, holding his haunches in line with his front legs. He trotted on and on, facing the wall all the way down the long side. I thought my arms were going to give out while I struggled to hold him there, while at the same time trying to follow the endless stream of “Tummy out! Shoulders back! Sit up!” on and on. But then, the most amazing thing happened. We got it. As he went to motor down the long side of the arena, I sat back and half halted, and when he blasted through my aids, I put him into the counter bend and his inside hind leg stepped up underneath him and he slowed down and relaxed onto the bit, like a perfect response to the half-halt. And, as I soon learned, the whole point was that I could get this response using only my seat and leg aids, without having to get into a pulling contest on the reins. The wall slowed him down and created a barrier when he faced it, so he couldn’t rip the reins out of my hands. When I asked him to slow down and rebalance, he could listen, or I could use that counter bend to remind him what I wanted, no rein-pulling involved. It took a long time before it worked, but by the end of the lesson we were both trotting happier!
Today, we went a step further. We got rid of the pelham and switched back to his KK Ultra double jointed bit. The trainer and I agreed that we had some work to do at the walk and trot before attempting the canter again. Liam and I warmed up at the walk, watching the trainer’s daughter work on her pony. The two were a beautiful pair, and very inspiring to watch. Then our lesson started, and we again went to the counter bend exercise, but this time only for a few steps at a time. We worked on a circle, bend then counter-bend, then bend again, softening him first one way then the other. All the while working on adjustments to my own positioning, and keeping my hands active so the bit moved in his mouth so that he had nothing to lean on. It was hard at first, he seemed to take such a strong contact that my arms were getting tired! But then I could give either rein and he would carry himself, and then the contact become much lighter. By the end of the lesson, he was trotting on a soft contact bent around the circle, and if he got stronger I only needed a step or two of counter-bend to remind him.
Going to the left is far easier than going to the right, but we did get it going both ways, and the trick going to the right was that I have to remember to give the *outside* rein, which was a new idea to me, but worked like magic. I am not sure if I do this unconsciously the other way since I am right handed, or if it helps him because it is his stiffer side, but it worked! I can’t wait to see what we learn tomorrow!
After the ride we had to put a water bucket in Liam’s stall. He’s not scared of his “water fountain” anymore, so we are still hopeful he will figure it out, but in the meantime he also gets a bucket. It is way too hot to risk him getting dehydrated. I also got my bedroom painted in my new “cabin” back at the HQ, and the first of the furniture was moved in tonight, so it shouldn’t be long now until I am living at the farm and keeping an eye on everything, even though Liam isn’t even there now. Day by day things are falling into place.