Gigi and her turnout buddy Cadbury!
It’s been warm enough to ride in just a polo shirt the last couple days, so needless to say I’m in heaven! Or Virginia, which seems to be the same thing. Even though I haven’t made any great steps in riding trained horses, I feel like my understanding of the intricacies of the sport increases every day that I’m here. That’s what’s so addicting about dressage, I think – the endless opportunities to experience novel ways of learning, thinking, feeling, and doing. And all with a horse. What could be better?
Gigi is going really well. We still have plenty of ugly training moments (when she throws up her head or tries to blow through the outside shoulder) but overall she is travelling so much more in balance. She’s actually through her back for much of her trot work! The transitions are easier, and now that we have that essential straightness more or less, we’re going back to focusing on getting Gigi to accept the inside leg to outside rein half halt. We do this on circles and by riding slightly off the track so that I can push Gigi’s inside hind leg over, even if it’s just a couple inches and for one stride. The goal is to get her used to responding correctly to these aids so that it can become a more subtle and directed half-halt.
As for me, I’m working on improving my seat and the independence of my shoulders. I’ve learned that when I stiff or restrict with my shoulders (which I don’t even realize that I’m doing most of the time) I stiffen the horse’s shoulders. So learning to be softer there and give is important. To do that, I need the thing that I was always telling students to work on: core strength! However, it’s the upper core that needs to be engaged to support the rib cage and allow freedom in the upper torso. Sue told me to think about lengthening the front of my upper body. I thought that this was such an interesting way to think about it! I’ve always been taught to lengthen the spine which is, I suppose, in essence sort of the same thing. However, thinking about it this way has given me an entirely new perspective on it and I like it!
Jorongo with Gigi peaking over her fence behind him! Gi has a new turnout buddy. He’s a lovely three-year-old gelding and they get along great!
Riding always seems to be a one step forward, one step back learning process. Sometimes I feel like I take a huge leap forward, but sometimes I feel like I stumble and fall all the way back down a metaphorical staircase. Those days are frustrating! I’ve been finding that riding FEI horses is way more difficult than I thought it would be. Everyone seems to suggest that a highly trained horse is so wonderfully sensitive and reactive and tuned in, but the more horses I ride the more it seems to me that a horse is always most sensitive to the rider who trained it. It’s so much more difficult to get a correct response from a trained horse than a green horse! The latter is so willing to work with the rider and try to understand what is being asked. I can’t seem to find the connection and thoroughness with horses other than my own, the ones that I have personalized to my aids and trained to respond to my riding language.
It’s a work in progress. It always is. Even if I struggle with the more highly trained horses, I’m excited by how Gigi is doing. I already feel a difference in her movement. She’s more through, more elastic. Our warm up doesn’t take quite as long. Her transitions are much more effortless. Of course we have a long way to go, but we’re on the right track! We still do lots of transitions, especially between the walk and trot, and often on serpentines and circles. The bend of the figure is enough to make the transitions a little more difficult. Otherwise, straightness is our main goal.
Also, “power not speed” is a phrase I hear constantly. I realized today that I am so much more comfortable with forward-moving horses. Even correct collection can feel dead under my seat, and I am much more relaxed and centered when I’m bringing a horse back to me instead of pushing it forward…or, truly, running it past its best balance. It’s sometimes hard to accept what feels to me to be a dull trot as the one where the horse is the most maneuverable and able to correctly respond to my requests. Like I said, it’s all a work in progress!
Horse people are a superstitious bunch. We don’t tempt fate by talking about falling off right before getting on. We avoid using tack and equipment that a previous horse got sick or injured wearing. People on the track are sometimes the worst with their lucky rituals and betting tells. Personally, I’m a chronic “knock-on-wooder.” Whenever I say something positive about my horses, I have to rap my knuckles on the nearest board so that I don’t jinx anything!
Today, though, is the day that we’re supposed to be able to relish all of the amazing things about our horses and lives with them. So this is what I am thankful for!
Okay, that was my sentimental holiday post. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
It’s Vlog #5! This one has a lot of Flynn and a little Gigi. It’s also got some snow and ugly winter sweaters! I’m still loving vlogging and feeling like I can talk to you guys instead of just writing a very detailed, riding-oriented blog or posting the (very occasional) Facebook update. Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving and let the holiday season begin!
Winter is here! Or at least it’s quite cold. No snow, so that’s good. The temperatures are hovering around the freezing point and dipping into the 20’s at night. I have to keep reminding myself that this is so much better than the weather is in NY right now. We rode outside yesterday on great footing and came in without frostbitten faces, fingers, and toes, so that’s all good!
Our rides were still quick, though, with quarter sheets on all of the horses and an extra wool cooler overtop the clipped horses too. I rode Jorongo and Gigi, and both rides were basically intended to get the horses out and moving and exercised. I was happy with both rides mostly because it just makes me so happy to be in the saddle, no matter what the temperature is.
Gigi’s still doing a lot of transitions and changes of direction with the goal always of absolute straightness. I also always ride her now with the phrase “withers up, neck down” bouncing around my head. That feeling of her being uphill and stretching over the top line is, of course, what we’re trying to achieve with all horses, but somehow that little mantra has helped me visualize it in a more consistent way with Gi. I feel like I’m in a good place with Gigi mentally but also in a more literal way. We’ll really be able to spend the winter working on the most valuable basics for her and I’m hoping that she’ll really blossom coming into her five-year-old summer!
Bribing my perfect pony with treats to be in a photo with me! I miss her so terribly much.
My rides the last couple days have been illuminating. I’ve realized just how much stronger I am with my right aids than my left. If I’m being completely honest, I’m frustrated with myself. I genuinely had difficulty getting Jorongo through on the right yesterday, especially at the canter. Gigi also blows through her left shoulder pretty badly. The really good thing about my increasing awareness of this issue is that it gives me something to really work on! I love having specific things to focus on and think about. Goal-setting is a huge positive motivator for me. So my goal now is to always be conscious of the fact that I give my left rein instead of keeping it steady and side-rein-like, and not to be too strong with my right rein and leg. It’ll be a work in progress, but hopefully progress will happen quickly!
Last night I accidentally made a double-batch of pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. They were divine; the mistake was that I made five sheets of them! Luckily I was able to give a bunch of them away to my trainer and her husband and to the farrier who was here today. Since horses were getting shod and sometimes needed to be held, the schedule was a little bit different today, but most of the horses were ridden. I got to take Gigi and Timmy out on fun, relaxing hacks in the field.
Gigi is so much fun to ride out with because she’s so quiet and dependable. I feel so safe on her anywhere in any gait! She’s also really balanced going up and down the slopes. She responds really well to the light rein contact and half-seat and regulates her balance more easily, it seems. I think she just really enjoys hacking out, especially since the work we’re doing in the ring is much harder. It’s certainly not beyond her ability, and it’s the basic building blocks of correct riding that we’re solidifying. But Gi doesn’t necessarily understand that doing leg-yields and circles and transitions is good for her and that she should want to do them well! That’s the way it goes with training horses. It’s definitely what I absolutely love to do. I’m looking forward to another great day tomorrow!
(p.s. I think that I fixed the vlog…hopefully soon it will be working!)
It’s Vlog #3! I had a great week here. I feel like the routine is becoming more and more familiar with each day. It also seems like I know the horses quite well too! I have some riding clips here that I took with my camera set on a jump standard (so they’re far away) because I wanted to be able to see what Gi and I were working on. It changes a lot, sometimes day to day, since my trainer here is still getting to know Gi and where we’re at with her. I feel like we’re on the right track now, though, which is exciting!