Monday is always a day of stretch rides, easing the horses back into the work week after their day off on Sunday. We rode all of the horses outside today, too, which was great! I think that Gigi was happy to be out in the fresh air too. She wans’t too happy about working, though; but she wasn’t frantically tense, just a bit dull and heavy. I was having trouble keeping my right rein on its side of her neck and her steering wasn’t quite there. My trainer recommended slow transitions between the walk and trot to get Gigi to relax since we were starting to approach a fight. The transitions kept her at a speed where she could carry herself and not grab the bit and fall on her face. We did these over and over until Gigi started to settle, and then we moved on to long leg-yields across the diagonals. These were the same shoulder-opening, not show-ready leg-yields that we did on Saturday. They helped Gigi to start to get more laterally supple. Then we moved on to slow canter work on a 20-meter circle. I focused on sitting deep and still in the saddle and being quick to half-halt whenever Gigi started to speed up the rhythm.
Though it wasn’t a ground-breaking ride where tons of progress was made, what I was really happy about was that Gigi was able to come back to me and work well without either of us getting frustrated. I could leg-yield, make circles in all three gaits, and do easy transitions…things that might not have been possible without tension even two or three weeks ago! That shows me how far Gigi has come, and how many more exercises we have as tools in our metaphorical toolbox. I finished the ride feeling really at peace with Gigi and looking forward to the week ahead.
I had a fantastic ride on Gigi yesterday! We were both happy to be working in warm weather, though Gigi started out the ride feeling a bit fresh. She hadn’t been out in a day or two and gave the occasional little tiny buck in response to my leg as we started our warm-up. I focused on staying relaxed and riding her forward without allowing her to run. When I started asking her to come together more, I used my inside leg to outside rein half-halts and tried to stay very consistent on my outside rein.
One of the things my trainer is having me work on now is keeping Gigi’s haunches always straight under my seat bones. This helps correct Gigi’s tendency to fall out to the left side. In shoulder in especially, keeping Gigi’s haunches on the track but not letting the inside hind leg cross over the outside one is difficult. This is because Gigi still doesn’t bend through her whole body to the right; she just tilts her neck in. So I always have to ask her to wrap herself around my inside leg, keeping it right at the girth (and not behind, where it likes to go!) and to think about pushing the shoulders out in shoulder in. It’s a weird concept to think about, but it works!
We also did some lines of shoulder in followed by lengthenings across the diagonals. Gigi actually lengthened her strides (instead of just trotting faster) and I could really feel her back swinging. In fact, she was so loose in her topline that my saddle was bouncing a little bit on her back! I know that’s definitely not a good thing (I’ll have to get her a half pad I think) but it was really cool to feel how much the correct combination of power and relaxation changed how she moved. In our canter work, I tried to keep the same deep seat and flowing, forward power. Gigi’s left lead is still better than her right, but we got great moments of self-carriage in each direction! We’re still using moments of straightness on our 20-meter circles to test how much Gigi is on my outside aids. Another note my trainer gave me was to start being much more aware of picking a track and sticking to it no matter what. It’s too easy to change a figure depending on what’s most comfortable for the horse, but that mindset in schooling gets you junto trouble in the show ring when every test movement has to happen in such a specific location. So now I’m trying to remember to make every 20-meter circle be exactly 20 meters and have every transition be planned well enough that it can happen exactly when I ask and where I want it to be.
We ended the ride by doing leg-yields across the long diagonals of the ring in posting trot with Gigi stretching down just a bit so that her back was really up. We weren’t going for show-ring-perfect leg-yields; instead, the goal was to get Gigi to really open up her shoulders and take long, reaching steps sideways without losing her stretch and rhythm. This meant that the haunches trailed a bit, but the exercise the way we did it really helped loosen Gigi all the way up both laterally and longitudinally before we started our cool-down walk. It was such a satisfying ride!
Sunny winter day!
I spent my day off yesterday visiting one of my best friends in Greensboro…so much fun! It was awesome to have a mini-vacation away from the farm. Unfortunately, the storm that followed me on my drive home stuck around for most of today, making for a seemingly endless wintry mix. The world is white again now, but it won’t be for long since the forecast says 70 degrees and sunny in a few days! We’re all looking forward to it, the horses most of all, I think. They were all restless and grumpy today from being inside and chilly. I rode Gigi and Franklin (the remaining huge grey gelding) today.
The best thing about my ride on Gigi today was that she came out really tense in that way that seems to push all of my buttons. Instead of letting the ride deteriorate into a fight, though, I was able to stay relaxed and work Gigi through it. And I think that this says more about Gigi than me right now; it means that her training is solid enough now that it kicks in even when she’d rather be tough and resistant. We were able to find the “good place” in the trot fairly easily and we carried that into our transitions, lateral work, leg-yields, and canter work. The real issue we had today was that Gigi kept trying to fling herself to the left in response to my asking her to bend right. Her right hind is her weaker leg which makes her hollow on the left rein. When she falls rapidly to the left, she can brace against the reins, drop her back, and allow that right hind to take shallow sideways steps instead of deep, pushing steps beneath her body. I used a strong left leg and and an opening left rein to prevent Gigi from over bending at the base of her neck so that she couldn’t make that sideways escape. That, and I really tried to keep my weight on my right seat bone since Gigi tries to pitch me left as well. It’s all a work in progress! I was happy with her shoulder in and haunches in, and I’m thinking that tomorrow will be a better ride since we laid the groundwork for it today.
Cuddling up in your favorite blanket for a nap is a perfect winter weather activity!
Cuddling up in your favorite blanket for a nap is a perfect winter weather activity!
Today we faced a 50 degree temperature plummet and nonstop show. What a difference from the weekend when we were riding outside in one layer and loving the sunshine! We’re all worried about colic and have been keeping a close eye on the horses, and everyone is doing well so far. Even though none of the horses got to go outside today (not that I can imagine they would have wanted to) they all got ridden or turned out in the indoor.
Since we knew that it was getting significantly colder by the hour, we rode most of the horses in the morning. They all got light, stretching rides today after their day off yesterday. I rode Gigi, Chippy, and Cajou (one of the big grey geldings). The best part of my ride with Gigi was that I was able to fend off her tense, negative energy by staying really relaxed with that giving contact. Another thing that I’ve kept in mind is to always keep my seat and legs independent of one another. It’s not something I usually have to be conscious of, but given Gigi’s impressive ability to haul me right out of the tack, that independence can make a huge difference in my stability and control when I’m riding. The concept of steering Gigi’s shoulders around my inside leg (with the upper leg acting as a concrete barrier that she cannot lean against and must yield to) is really important, especially when we’re tracking right. I was also happy with Gigi’s canter work today because even the right lead canter wasn’t frantic and leaning like has been in the past. Instead, I was able to keep her under my seat with near-constant half-halts so that we made balanced circles.
My other two rides went well, too. At first I had some trouble with Chippy, since she’s by nature a bit of a spooky horse and was jumping at every sound and craning her neck to look out the doorways each time we passed in case a wildcat was lurking outside. My automatic, instinctual reaction (honed by years of riding unpredictable and spooky horses) is to take back on the inside rein at the first sign of a spook from the horse. This, of course, overflexes the horse’s neck and locks their shoulders in between my inside and outside aids so that the horse cannot physically escape the path that I’ve set them on. It’s effective for blocking a spook, but it also puts the horse off balance and undermines any attempts at achieving thoroughness. So I’m in the process of retraining myself to ride forward to the bit without ever pulling back on that inside rein when a horse starts to spook. And Chippy was good practice for me on that today!
Cajou also did well. He’s the ex-hunter horse who was here to get sold, but now his owner has found him a home and he’ll be leaving us soon to go there. He’s got such a sweet, lovely temperament and it’s definitely a novelty to ride such a huge (at least 18 hands, and I’m not exaggerating) horse. I’m happy that he’s found a new owner!
Room with a view
Today was a wonderfully relaxing day off for all of the horses and a chance for us to catch up odd jobs around the farm. The weather was stunning: 60 degrees and sunny! Unfortunately, there’s a winter weather warning in effect for tomorrow…Virginia definitely has the most up and down climate I think I’ve ever lived in so far. I can’t complain after a beautiful day like today, though!
My last couple rides on Gigi were genuinely great. I’m trying not to let myself get too excited about it since I know that progress doesn’t always stick around for long, but for the moment I’m thrilled with how well Gigi has been going. After my day off on Thursday, I’m always dying to get back into the saddle on Friday. I think it’s nice to take those days off from riding for that reason - it’s nice to look forward to being back on a horse more than usual. This past Friday, Gigi was very in characteristically relaxed in her warm-up. We did walk, trot, and canter work on light contact and Gigi wasn’t fighting me with that snarky, resentful tension that she so often brings to the ring with her (am I anthropomorphizing? Probably…but it’s hard not to when you have such a close relationship with a horse and fellow athlete!) and instead flowed smoothly along. Though to me it honestly felt like Gigi just came into the ride in a better frame of mind than usual, the one thing that I think I did differently was to be very focused on being consistent but giving with the reins. A hunter/jumper trainer once spent an entire lesson repeatedly telling me me not to “make a muscle” with my upper arms; for some reason that phrase has stuck with me for years and instantly reminds me to relax my arms and follow so that I can hold the contact with my core and not hold the horse up with my arms.
Yesterday was a continuation of that work, taking the more uphill work that we’d ended on the day before and using it to practice transitions and some lateral work. Gigi’s canter has actually become a lot more rideable this week, though the right lead is still a train wreck most of the time. What helps the canter the most is riding straight lines within our circle so that it has flat sides in one or two spots. This tests whether Gigi is on my outside aids or not and it forced her to sit more on the inside hind leg. Overall, too, we’re at the point where I can finally start to feel the moment that Gigi starts to pull down onto her forehand and let her hind legs go out behind her. Now I can correct her with a half-halt to keep her “in a box” with a round topline; up until recently, Gigi wasn’t strong enough to maintain that uphill balance no matter how much I half-halted (if she even understood the half-halt). I’m hoping for a good ride tomorrow, but given the low temperatures and lack of turn-out (since the horses don’t go out when it’s raining), we might be facing another tense ride. I’ll just have to wait and see how Gigi feels!