Green Grass and Sunshine

It was a mild winter, but even a mild winter starts to get tiresome by the time it fades away in March. Thankfully this year we didn’t have much bitter cold or snow, but it was still cold. And dark. It might be the darkness that makes it hard. I don’t know. This winter wasn’t easy for some reason. I kept feeling like I wasn’t getting anywhere, and just when I’d start to get ahead something would set me back. I had big goals, and they seemed so far away, and riding started to become something I had to do rather than something I enjoyed. That worried me a lot.

I did less riding than usual, but I told myself that I’d either get back to enjoying it, or make a change so I did enjoy it. It ended up that Remy needed a little time off anyways, he had a sore muscle up over his hip, I’m guessing he took a funny step in turnout and slipped and pulled something. He wasn’t off, but he didn’t want to move out (he would, but he pinned his ears when I made him, which he never does), so I know it was bothering him. So I kept Liam going, which was fine because I always enjoy riding him, but for him dressage is so much more difficult and sometimes it really seems too hard for him. Then right about the time that Remy started feeling better, Liam came up with a hot hoof, so the farrier pulled his shoe and I began daily ichthamol wraps. Luckily, it turned out that he just had some bruising, probably because he still had snow pads on when the ground turned to soupy mud and he got all sorts of stuff packed under his snow pad.

So now here we are, almost to the end of March. Both horses are back in work and feeling good (quick, someone knock on wood!!), the sun is shining, the grass is growing and it’s warm.  And show season is only about 6 weeks away!!!

This weekend I was able to ride with Sarah both days, which is always fun for me because she’s a fun person to ride with and I almost always ride alone all week long, but also because she has known me and my horses for a long time. She’s watched Liam develop almost from the beginning of his dressage career, and she’s watched (and listened! probably more than she wanted at times…) as I’ve learned and figured things out. So now it’s really helpful when she can watch me ride because her eye has developed and she has some history to work with, so she can give me really good feedback on how the boys are looking.  And, despite a winter that didn’t feel that great, I do think we managed to make some progress and come out ahead of where we were last fall.

With Remy, his canter is absolutely heavenly to ride. He is uphill and cadenced, smooth and balanced. We did our first really perfect flying lead change the other day! It was the second one we’d ever done (I asked once last fall to see what would happen, and he did it but it took a little figuring out how to ask in a way that he understood what I wanted). I had a lovely canter going, so I went across the middle of the arena, put my new outside leg back and lifted my new inside seat bone, and he did the most perfect flying change and cantered off smooth as can be on the new lead. I was SO excited, and especially because we haven’t even done much canter work for almost 2 months now! Then I got inspired and started to try some walk canter walk transitions with him, and the walk to canter feels really good both ways. The canter to walk transitions turned out more like canter-trot-halt, but at least the downward transitions were prompt and obedient, so I don’t mind starting there.

Remy’s trot, on the other hand, could make me cry some days. It’s big and beautiful, and it springs off the ground. Everyone loves to watch it. But posting his trot is a good work out, and I thought I’d never be able to sit it. I have to actively ride him into the springy, beautiful trot, it’s not just the trot he offers. But if I just let him go along, he falls on the forehand and drops his back, and that trot is not only less-than-beautiful, it’s even worse feeling to ride! So I had to learn to sit the trot, while continuing to create the trot that I wanted to sit on! To say it’s been a long, hard journey is an understatement. I am making progress though. It’s no longer intense torture, it’s now just an intense core workout. And yes, I still spend significant time on my exercise ball, and I do a ton of sitting trot work on Liam.  I should be strong enough, but apparently I’m not. Ug.  But on Saturday while Sarah was watching we did get some really nice sitting trot going, then I started to half halt again and again, and then he began to get a floaty-er trot going, a collected trot with suspension, and it still felt good to sit on, then I half halted again and dropped him into the next gear, and I felt his back legs engage more and his withers lift more and he surged forward into a fantastic lengthening, which I was still able to sit on, although we only had it for maybe a half a dozen steps. And… it was the most fantastic feeling!! It gave me hope that as he gets stronger and stays more through, he will carry me more and I won’t have to work so hard to stay with him. That was a major break through for us, I think physically and mentally. That trot felt awesome, and we both realized that we CAN do it!!

Remy’s lateral work is coming along well, I think he just needs time/strength to make it feel solid enough to put together a smooth test, but he understands shoulder in, haunches in, and half pass. So now we are both in a strength building phase, trying to keep the work interesting and fun while he builds collection muscles and I build sitting trot muscles. But at least now I’m feeling like we have made progress and we are on track towards some show goals, and mixing in little things like flying changes will help keep it fun and interesting.

With Liam, the trot is super comfortable to sit on and I think he could trot all day. I had Sarah critique our lateral work. I trotted down the long sides of the arena in shoulder in and haunches in and had Sarah tell me if I stayed exactly on 3 or 4 tracks or if there were any bobbles where he fell off those tracks. Going to the right, the shoulder in would start to fade away from the wall after about half the long side and with Sarah’s help I could make a correction as soon as he started to drift in and we were able to improve that a lot. The haunches in right needed a little more angle, which again, with Sarahs’ “eyes on the ground” we were able to make a good improvement after a few tries, and now I know what to work on. Going left, both movements looked good, which surprised me because I thought the left was much harder! But I think because it is harder, I work harder at it and ride it more deliberately, so it has become the better direction. I’m not complaining!

Then we did some canter work, which with Liam is always the challenge. He came to me with a lateral canter, which I’ve been able to fix with careful riding. But his tendency in the canter is still to fall on the forehand and run, rather than to sit and carry himself. I really have to micromanage every step sometimes, because he LOVES to run and will take any opportunity! So we did some walk-canter-walk transitions, which are coming along well. The right lead transitions felt great, the left lead transitions still feel a little rougher. We did a few flying changes, and the left to right change was “Oh WOW!!” smooth and beautiful, and showed significant improvement over the effort they used to take. The right to left change is still the harder one, but now he gets it with the effort the left to right change used to take, but sometimes it is still late behind.

The last thing I did with Liam was to have Sarah stand at the end of the long side and as I cantered toward her, I did a haunches in and then straightened him. As I passed her, in the short end I did a canter-walk transition then went back to canter down the long side and did a shoulder in, then collected the canter in the short side (with a small circle as necessary) to prepare for the haunches in again. After a few times with the haunches in, I switched to half pass on that long side. Not only did we get some good efforts at the half pass, all the transitions and lateral work in the canter gave me a whole new kind of canter I’ve never felt from him before! It was the neatest feeling, it started feeling more like Remy’s heavenly canter, and I think what happened is he got more through and collected and began to hold himself there.  It was definitely a new balance for him and it felt great, so I’m going to work on getting *that* canter from him more often! We ended our ride by reversing directions and trying the same thing on the left lead, which should have been harder. The very first time down the long side I asked for a little half pass, and the steps he gave me were awesome! So I let him quit for the day after that and we went to eat some of the beautiful green grass that’s growing behind the barn.

As I drove home from the barn, I felt content and satisfied. The feeling of spinning my wheels all winter was gone, and not only was riding enjoyable, I could clearly see the progress both horses (and myself!) had made over the winter. We are on track toward our goals, and excited to get out on the trails and to some shows this year! Finally! I’m so glad to be past the winter blah’s, I guess all I needed was some green grass and sunshine!

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One thought on “Green Grass and Sunshine

  1. Next time I’ll have my Flip in hand to catch some video for you!

    It’s fun and wildly informative for me to watch you ride. I like to say that I’m the world’s foremost authority on Liam (next to you) and I’m quickly heading toward the same status with Remy. Watching how Liam has transformed over the years – how his gaits have changed, how his muscles and physical presence have developed – has been a real education. And seeing those breakthrough moments when he offers something entirely new – the “big trot” last January, or that lofty canter you got this week – is not only fun to see, but illustrates so clearly how the training pyramid and the dressage levels work together to develop the horse.

    I know that sitting Remy’s big big trot has been an adjustment for you but I have to say that the moment you describe above on Sunday was pretty spectacular. Down the long side you had him moving out and balanced. Then I could see you half halt, I could see him sit a bit and engage even more fully and then POW! Holy cats, the resulting trot was a legit medium, and it was through and just gorgeous. That is a sequence I really, really regret not having recorded.

    It’s a complete privilege to be able to watch – and participate in my very small way – as you develop your horses, and yourself as a rider. 🙂

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