Monday, 12 June 2017

The Best Ride

I had the best ride on Friday!

After-ride selfie!

Kachina and I really regressed in our work at the clinic last month. It wasn't the worst kind of regression, more like a "break things down to build them back up" kind of thing, but I still was pretty bummed about it.

I've been working hard to get things back on track. I've been riding more often to get my confidence back. I got a new girth (yes, another one! I may need an intervention, but it was 60% off) and a new girth sleeve. I started Kachina on magnesium supplements as well as a complete feed. I took a simulator lesson to make some position corrections. It will take some more time and experimentation to see what parts of the formula are the most important, but something is working! (In the name of science I would like to change only one variable at a time, but I have a show next week gosh-darn-it so try ALL the things!!)

By the time my ride ended the wind had died down and it was a gorgeous night
See exhibit A: moon, field, and rabbit cameo

On Friday night I was feeling completely drained of energy. I wasn't feeling it but I dragged myself to the barn anyways. Kachina was being pissy while I was tacking up so I didn't have super high hopes. When I got to the outdoor arena, the wind was blowing, there were new cows beside the arena, the horses in the nearby pens were being frisky and I was riding all by myself. Kachina started off tense and looky but I kept working. I focused on three main things: A) pushing my arms in front of my body, B) holding the reins like holding a baby bird (hand closed but not tight), and C) exactly controlling Kachina's path and where her hoofprints fell. A and B I got from my simulator lesson, and C I got from emma's recent post. It was a great day to work on our path, because a recent rain meant that every hoofprint showed up perfectly in the arena footing.

Our circle tracks actually looked pretty round

I started off by doing lots of walking in patterns around the arena. My patterns were pretty random, I was just choosing a series of points on the ground and saying that we are going to walk there, and then bend and walk there and then go the other way and walk there etc. I also threw in some shoulder-in work at the walk. We haven't done any shoulder-in for a while but it was a good way to check on all my aids and it was actually half decent.

When Kachina was listening to me and stopped cranking her head to stare at the cows or horses I went up into trot. At the trot I focused on riding straight lines and round circles. I then did some spiraling in and out between 10m and 20m circles, starting on unmarked ground and then trying to follow our previous tracks exactly. The focus on path really went well with the focus on baby bird hands because it helped me to see when I should stop using my reins and just be soft. When she started to drift of my determined path I would make a quick and light correction and then go back to neutral. Making these corrections while seeing our hoofprints in the dirt was also useful because I found that sometimes I would go to use rein when I should be using leg, or vice versa. I think I was previously too concerned with bend, but especially with circles, if your track is good the bend mostly takes care of itself. Soon I had a horse who was super soft, super consistent in the contact, super relaxed, and super focused on the work. It was a really good feeling.

Good pony!

I thought about finishing the ride there, but I knew I really needed to tackle the canter. After lots of rubs and a nice walk break, we were able to quickly re-establish the nice trot, and then I moved onto canter. In the past I would kind of flop my way into the canter aid, Kachina is so sensitive that she would feel I was doing something and run into canter, but it wasn't really an aid and it resulted in incorrect leads and tension. It didn't help that I've had lessons where I've been told lots of different things about what I should be doing with my hands and hips and upper body in the transition. Some of these things have been suggested as a nice subtle way to get the canter since I do have such a sensitive horse, others have been aimed as corrective actions for getting the wrong lead etc.. I get that scooping with my seat into canter is something that might be good down the line, but the fact is that right now my seat is too uneducated and so is my horse. I really need to focus on basics and stopping my body from doing its "flop" instead of trying to make it flop in different ways. Also, it really doesn't help me to try and increase the inside bend or lift my shoulder or do other "corrective" things with my hands and body when the root problem is that I can't sit straight and apply the basic canter aids clearly to start with.

During our fantastic ride, the miniature donkey ransacked my grooming bag looking for treats
(which were in an enclosed pocket sealed with velcro, but he still got them all out)

This time I really focused on keeping my body and hands as quiet as I could (which took a lot of conscious thought, they really wanted to move on me), and just aid with my legs - inside leg just behind the girth, outside leg back. Again I stayed on my 15m-20m trot circle tracks to make sure I was still focused on path. It took a few tries but I eventually got the best canter transitions that I have ever had on this horse! Not only did she do a nice canter transition (relatively, it still takes a couple strides to develop, but she stayed round), but I also felt for the first time that I was giving her a clear, reproducible aid that I was in control of. Once in the canter we did a bit of spiraling in and out between 15m-20m circles. The focus on path within the canter was also great for keeping me soft and neutral except for when I needed to make a correction. I was able to get multiple transitions in each direction without Kachina's mind ever leaving me or her body getting uptight.

It was such an amazing ride, I felt like I was walking on sunshine for the rest of the night. On the weekend I ended up doing some trail riding with friends instead of another focused dressage ride. I don't know if I'll be able to reproduce the great work tonight when I go out, but I know it's in there! Clearly my horse is a saint and I just need to actually ride properly. I'm finally starting to figure out how to do that!

Kachina doesn't look quite as thrilled as me, but I was ecstatic!

How was your weekend? Any stellar rides lately?


  1. Yay!! That is so fantastic!! Happy for you guys :D

  2. aw yay! you guys were definitely due for a good one, glad you got it!! :D

    1. Thanks, those great rides are excellent motivation to keep slogging through the tough stuff

  3. The rebuilding has worked out well!

    1. I don't think we're done rebuilding quite yet, but at least I know we're headed in the right direction