Lately the weather has not been working with us. Last week we had a blizzard, followed by a bitter cold day which froze the sand in the arena, so we were unable to ride most of the week. Over the weekend, I got in a very good ride on Liam and made up a few lessons, and then this week started off normal with another great ride on Liam and a few more lessons. Now, Tuesday, we are looking at a high of 10 degrees, and Wed and Thur will be the same, with overnight lows below zero!
Despite only getting in a few rides between more days off, we are making progress. I am using lots of leg yields and shoulder-in’s with Liam to strengthen and supple him, and I can feel the work getting easier for him. Yesterday we had an ah-ha! moment when we were doing the canter leg yield that Elizabeth Poulin told us to work on in our lesson, and just like she had said would happen, I could feel the gait change as he got off of his shoulders and all of a sudden, for a stride or two, felt like an entirely different horse! I love that about dressage. After that really cool moment, Liam offered even more. I was riding across the diagonal, doing a flying change (from left to right we have great changes, right to left is much harder still, we get them, but they aren’t always pretty!) and then using a tight-ish turn onto the quarter line to keep him from getting excited and running after the change (I think anticipating the tight turn also kept me sitting BACK, instead of me riding like I’m anticipating him running off), from the quarter line I would leg yield back to the rail, then go across the diagonal and repeat the sequence the other direction.
We got through the pattern once or twice, when Liam surprised me. We barely squeezed in the right-to-left (the hard one) change before the corner as we finished the diagonal, and as I turned onto the quarter line and closed my left leg against him to start the leg yield, my seat must not have been right where it should be or he had only changes on the brain, because he changed effortlessly onto the right lead so we ended up on a counter canter almost doing a baby half pass from the quarterline back toward the rail. Immediately, my mind went “Oh Sh#t!” before my brain could take control, and without thinking, I closed my right leg, and without breaking stride Liam bounced back onto the left lead (the hard change again!) only strides after the last two changes. Then my brain caught up and I realized what we had just done… a little canter half pass? the hard change was easy? multiple changes only strides apart? Oh my gosh! And I did the only thing I could do…. I started laughing uncontrollably! My little horse just cantered on, quite pleased with himself, so naturally, we did it again down the next long side.
It was one of those rides that didn’t quite go as planned, but was so satisfying and fulfilling because of the great sense of partnership and the feeling that my horse is having as much fun as I am. I’m pretty sure it has to be about the greatest feeling in the world!
Liam isn’t the only one making great strides despite the weather. In Caitlyn’s last lesson on her quarter pony mare, Peaches, I was blown away by their progress! Peaches has the basics pretty solid, but being a pony and a mare, can be a bit opinionated about working. In a previous lesson, Caitlyn was practicing her tests and we realized just how much the “opinion” needs work more than the actual work when Caitlyn had to reinforce her leg with the whip in her free walk! Yes, Peaches is THAT lazy. We talked about forwardness, and about riding and training in the walk instead of just walking to take breaks so that Peaches understands that just because she is walking doesn’t mean she is done working. Caitlyn and her sister Kristine share the job training Peaches, and they both set to work adjusting Peaches’ expression of her opinion about work. Saturday, Caitlyn presented me a whole new Peaches… the mare was forward! She was marching in her walk, floating in her trot, and dancing in her canter. The transitions were without drama (my word for excessive begging by the rider, usually met with head tossing and tail swishing and sometimes even bucking by Peaches), and the few times that Peaches considered balking about going forward, Caitlyn immediately sent her into a hand gallop around the arena, refusing to let Peaches get behind her leg. The difference was nothing short of amazing. Not only did all their previous work start to flow very smoothly, we were able to add new work. We started working big trot – little trot back and forth until Peaches stayed forward in the little trot, anticipating the big trot, and started to offer a little collection. From there, she floated sideways in a leg yield. It was a beautiful moment, and I’m really hoping that Caitlyn had an ah-ha moment (or a few!) and will share with her sister so they can continue to get this quality of work from Peaches.
Next to impress me was Cathy with Atlanta. Cathy has been working hard on her seat for the last few months. She spent years riding in a forward seat doing hunters and jumpers, and like so many, found the switch to a dressage seat to be difficult. She had so much strength and muscle memory for that forward seat that made it hard to find new muscles while relaxing other muscles. Her trot work came along pretty quickly, but the canter has been more difficult. Each lesson it’s gotten a little better and a little better… and then yesterday she came into the arena promising to show me something awesome… and then she proceeded to canter on the right lead (her harder one) for two entire circles, maintaining a good quality canter and her good seat! Yay Cathy!!!! Finally, all her hard work is really paying off, and all the pieces are starting to fall into place, and boy do her and Atlanta look good now!!
But wait, I’m not done yet! I also witnessed Kim and Prior make a HUGE leap forward. Kim only got Prior last fall, and only weeks after Prior’s last race. At the time, Prior was very thin, and also had something going on in her back left leg (we don’t know exactly what, she trotted sound but flexed lame) so Prior took a few months off to rest her leg and gain some weight. It is Kim’s first time retraining a horse off the track, and I don’t think she quite heard me when I said “baby steps”, but Prior soon reiterated just what “baby steps” means. Kim went back to basics, doing lots of ground work with Prior, teaching her to stand in the cross ties and hold her feet up like a lady. Kim worked with her in hand, teaching her to walk and whoa when asked. They did a little lunging, working on discipline and responding to gait change requests, while being careful not to build up Prior’s fitness level. They practiced standing quietly by the mounting block, and giving to pressure on the reins. When Kim had asked how long it would take, I had suggested she listen to the horse. “You’ll just know when she’s ready, let her tell you,” was my very ambiguous suggestion. Well, I give Kim huge props! She has definitely learned to listen to the horse. It was not a totally smooth road, but she let the bumps help refine her judgment, and I knew she really understood when I saw her do her normal ground work, then as Prior stood quietly at the mounting block, Kim gently climbed aboard, and Prior walked off as if she’d done it her whole life. Prior gave to pressure on each rein, whoa’d on command, and stood quietly while Kim got off. They repeated the procedure, and ended on that good note even though it was a very short ride! I was thrilled to see the progress Prior had made, but even more thrilled to see that Kim clearly understands the meaning of “baby steps”, which I know was not an easy concept for someone who always seems to be in fast-forward! Way to go Kim!!
More good lessons followed as well. Sarah got a great forward trot out of Maddie, and Steph got on Oliver bareback. Sue had a fantastic lesson on Adamo, making a huge break through in her leg position and discovering her core muscles! Liz is back in the saddle after having surgery on both feet. Cassie cantered without stirrups. I could go on and on, I’ve been so pleased with everyone lately!
So the next few days I may do nothing but walk horses and catch up on office work, but I know spring is right around the corner, and that we are ready for it!