I had 2 very interesting rides on Ben this past weekend. The first one was on Friday, and the second on Sunday.
I'm not really sure what is up - unless it is just a little training blip. Or maybe it was tack, or a phase of the moon, or...?
On Friday he seemed quite resistant to everything. Now, i did change the gullet in my saddle because it was sitting too low, and I added a sheepskin saddle pad.
My horse has forgotten how to trot. He will pace. He will canter. Trot? Not so much. When I finally got him to trot (after warming up at canter, I figured I'd use the gait he did have), he was giving me this bouncy passage thing - something he does on occasion. Its really hard to ride, and kind of makes you feel seasick.
On Friday I tried working with what I had. We did transitions, I let him canter, more transitions. I eventually did squeak out a little trot, and the pace went away. He didn't seem particularly nervous- no bit grinding at all. He wasn't angry - no ear pinning, dirty stops, etc. I kind of left perplexed.
Saturday I gave him the day off while I tended to other matters, and yesterday, decided to ride again. The sun was shining and I had hoped to be able to get him outside, but the footing out there was just way too sloppy to be considered safe. I don't want to spend all winter tending to an injury, so I decided a short ride in the arena would be it.
He started out very much the same way as he did on Friday, but maybe a few notches less. I didn't have to warm him up at canter. But I did have to muddle through the passagey trot, and I kind of just laughed it off and worked on trying to keep my own equitation in order while he did that.
He did work out of it- but in the process went back to his old evasions - ducking behind the bit, feeling a bit lazy. But those I can work with.
The upside of this is that his canter has been awesome- in both directions. I've really enjoyed that!
Sunday's ride was okay. He was a bit more resistant to work on Sunday than he was on Saturday, and I could only partially get him out of it. We did poles and he tired quickly.
Ben grinds his teeth when he's tired, nervous, and possibly in pain or sore. He's been pretty quiet the past couple of weeks, but on Sunday the grinding returned a little bit into our ride. I think it was due to being tired, and also we've been having some saddle issues again- friction rubs near the shoulders, and when I got out of the saddle, it seemed to be sitting pommel-low. This seems to happen on and off with any saddle I use on him. And now I'm seeing some white hairs appearing - which is NOT good. But these white hairs are not concentrated on just those areas, but also scattered in clusters in other places - where the pad might touch but not the saddle.
I ended up changing out the gullet to a narrower one, and it looked like a better fit. Our saddle has not yet arrived - still waiting!
I also freaked out and also bought sheepskin pads from barnworld.com - and holy moly, I ordered on Sunday and they arrived on Tuesday. Nice!
So we'll see if that alleviates the problem - as I have yet to try the narrower gullet and the sheepskin.
Trainer texted me last night to say she had a fantastic ride on him that morning, and that she's riding again this morning. No lessons this week- so I'll have some catching up to do over the weekend!
Ben and I had an amazing lesson on Wednesday. Even the trainer said this is the best she has ever seen us. Wowsa, those are some good words!
Thursday he had the day off, but did have to stand for the farrier to put new shoes on him. Friday the trainer rode him early, which means he essentially had another full 30 hours off until our ride today.
Immediately I noticed he was tired and sluggish, but my friend was there to video us before she rode her own horse, so I pushed on. Of course, because of that, I felt pressure to just get on with it and not do what have been doing recently- more transitions. So as a result, I look naggy, my position is off, too. Dammit, when will I learn to just ride the way my horse needs me to.
Despite that, when comparing these videos to the work done in the summer, wow- what a difference! He's stepping under himself much better, has a much stronger (almost too strong) connection - which is so different from where we were just a few months ago- hind legs dragging out behind and him ducking behind the contact. He's able to make smaller circles, change direction all while (mostly) keeping the connection.
As always, we have SO much work to do still, but heck, I'll take this progress!
(and no, I am not working on any fantasy that this horse and I are ready for First level...its kind of an inside joke between my friend and I)
Somehow, out of the adversity we just went through, came big change.
I had another few rides on Ben. I'm a little alarmed because things have gotten easier. I know I probably just jinxed myself, but it is true. We are no where near perfect, but all of a sudden I feel like I have a much steadier horse underneath me. One who is accepting and taking contact (most of the time), and listening to much lighter leg aids. I feel like I am working less to achieve better results.
This doesn't go for our canter work, haha. I am getting better at asking for canter, but keeping it is still a struggle. His canter, while MUCH improved, still needs quite a bit of help, especially to the right. I can't quite relax the body parts that need relaxing, aka my lower half. When I do that, he breaks to trot. And then we're a jumbled mess, so we have to regroup, ask again. Its tough because i need to get faster at re-asking him, but in order to do that I need to have my shit together, which tends to fall apart when he breaks. We're getting it, but it is still a struggle. I am still working for every stride of the canter I get, both from him and myself.
We'll get there.
But back to the good stuff- man our trot work has gotten much better. As have our transitions (funny how that works, LOL). Just last night I was able to keep him together and change directions in big figure 8's without fishtailing around. I was able to do some 10 m circles without his shoulder flying out the side door.
I love having a nice horse, I hope he sticks around for awhile!
I don't try to tune my trainer out, really I don't. I think it is more that when I am riding, I'm only kinda listening. I've got so many other things going on - feels like 400+ things to do/keep track of in the saddle (relax left leg, sit up, use abs, look up, don't let him pull you forward...blah blah) that sometimes, I just miss stuff, or hear it and forget it, as it isn't part of what is keeping me alive and upright in the saddle in the moment.
However, having had a boost of confidence this week and a bit of an upswing, I've been able to recall a bit more of my past lessons. One of those things have been transitions. Let me tell you, I've always kind of hated transitions. I know, its a weird thing to hate. But really, I kinda like to put my car/horse in gear and just coast at that speed with very little intervention from me. This is probably why I prefer forward horses, if even a bit hot. Those horses, while really fun to ride, have allowed me to become quite complacent, and I very clearly have holes in my riding abilities because I never really learned how to motivate a horse.
Left to his own devices, Ben is a major quitter. I have tried, and failed to muscle, if even bully him through it. And I'm finally learning that this just doesn't work with a sulky horse. Now that I've been riding in a saddle that helps me keep my position, I'm realizing this. I'm no longer fighting 2 things, now its just him and I.
I don't want to fight my horse, it is just not right. The other day my trainer was telling me about her rides with him the previous couple of days, and how she did about a million transitions with him, and how it helps him get more forward. At first I was like, "huh?" How can transitions, especially downward ones, get him thinking forward? Won't all this stop/start/stop just piss him off?
NOPE! Transitions are KEY. It gets his brain going. It gets him to understand quick pressure with the leg. It gets him balanced and easier to ride between the transitions. I played with this last night. You have no idea how hard it was for me to let go of my own desires to just put him in gear and leave him there. Instead, we played, a lot, with transitions. And as it turns out, little by little, the time spent between the transitions got better! Soon i was able to do what I wanted- leave him in gait for longer periods of time. And the time spent in gait was quality.
And as it turns out, doing transitions isn't so bad when your body doesn't hurt. I actually found myself enjoying it, thinking, tweaking, and having fun, and not being in pain. I wasn't in my fetal-pre-death position in mind or body.
Wow, things are suddenly going well again, and a big jump in progress has been made. Funny how that happens.
After our great ride on Sunday, Trainer rode him out on the track 2 days in a row and did about a bazillion transitions, mostly to canter, on bending lines - shallow serpentines.
As a result, my ride yesterday was awesome. His trot has shown great improvement- right from the start - no wonky warm up. It was great- upright, balanced, rhythmic, with impulsion and best of all - easy to ride.
Our canter work was alright too. We're getting better. We did work over trot poles and added canter between the sets- it was good.We really have to work on getting better balance at the canter- slow it down without losing the rhythm or impulsion, or breaking to trot. Its a fine line right now, and one I am not very well in control of. Ha!
It felt really good to be on the same page as my horse. Phew.
Things are going much better for Ben and I. I have a new focus, a few small wins under my belt that are boosting my confidence.
Sunday is our weekly trot poles/cross rails/ go for a hack outside day with our friend. The last time we rode on Sunday 2 weeks ago, Ben was a complete turd from the start. This time, however, he was on his game. Our flat work was great, and through the trot poles he was awesome.
He still doesn't quite jump - kinda just pops over at a trot. Maybe we need to make them a bit higher for a little inspiration. He attempted his first vertical...it was low, but not inspiring enough to jump.