Friday, June 26, 2015
I haven’t spent much time on trotting horses and decided this spring I could use a lesson to improve my riding skills. If we’re going to ride 100 miles over 20-plus hours, I think it would help us both if I were more balanced and efficient up in the saddle.
The barn I’d been to once last year for a mini-lesson with Karin is a long haul and I wasn’t sure if it was worth dragging Khaleesi down 90 minutes of winding mountain roads for an hour lesson- then 90 minutes back. We’d talked about just driving down (people only) and riding a school horse as well to get some experience… In the end I’d just put it off.
We have a friend who comes to Bath for the summers who is a really nice rider and practices dressage in Florida- she’s much closer to home and said she would be glad to have us come to her arena and give us some tips. We took her up on that offer without delay and went yesterday morning.
Khaleesi and I learned a ton from that first lesson. Many things I had heard, read, or knew in my head, but the arena environment gave us a chance to try some concepts out without dodging limbs or navigating rocks. Just like slow can equal fast in learning new things, simple can be tricky.
With all the things we can do together- one would think trotting around the ring near the rail would not be a challenge!
We started talking about the gait patterns (nothing groundbreaking there) and counting “1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4” with our walk (which is a four beat gait- each hoof hitting the ground at a different time) and increasing or decreasing speed with intent and energy first and not using seat or reins if possible. Could I change my intent and communicate that to her in the softest way possible and she would understand?
I call this the Yoda training… we are working on our Jedi skills!
So “1 — 2 — 3 — 4 — 1 — 2 — 3 — 4” can become “12341234” or “1…..2……3…….4……..1………2………..3………..4”
Then to trot, can I NOT cluck to her or give leg pressure, but can I just change my intent from “1-2-3-4” to “1-2-1-2-1-2-1-2” (as the trot is a 2 beat gait)? Will she feel that energy shift and pick up her speed?
Actually- kind of… yes… my Jedi energy skills are very green but I’m working on using the force!
Also circles- we don’t do a lot of circles. I have heard they are really helpful to keeping a horse flexible which is good for everything. So after starting at a nice walk pace (1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4) Pam asks us to do a circle in the next corner.
BUT- I can only move my upper body, turn my head to look where we’re going and move my shoulders- and not my seat?
Keep my hips in line with her at all times. If she doesn’t get it, a little rein is ok.
I kept naturally moving my hips with my upper body- and a little rein turned into me crossing my hands over her whithers. Though somehow that seems like just an exaggeration of the request- when I got myself more under control and only moved my shoulders and head she immediately “got it” and did a nice circle.
At one point we stopped in the center and talked about how our shoulders are connected. My shoulders can help move her shoulders. As I sat there and experimented with how that felt in my own shoulder, she stepped over with her corresponding shoulder- for a brief moment I DID feel like a Jedi!
I also learned to “sit-sit” during the trot to change which diagonal I was on – which I’d read would be beneficial to our future long miles of trotting as we do endurance. How I understand it now is that she is tossing me up when she is on one side, and if we trot for an extended period I need to switch which side she’s on when I go up in the air. It would make her more tired than necessary to always have me up or down on her same side. Sheesh- I’m not even good at explaining this yet!
The good news is that I have a fresh young horse who is willing to work with me, willing to learn, and very patient in the process. She is a blank slate and she seemed to really enjoy the work we did together.
What I found (and it didn’t surprise me- it’s why I went there) is that I’m giving her all kind of off-balance confusing signals with my hands and seat – and I’m not talking about clipping branches and navigating over and under logs- even just how my hands hold the reins as we walk around the arena was confusing to her. Simple things that are not hard to adjust if you know you’re doing them.
Also- my gaited horse saddle doesn’t really put me in a good position for balance while trotting- which is one reason I think I’m not getting great rhythm and balance when we trot on the trail. I get a few strides that are good- then we get ‘off’ a bit. I have to work against the saddle and usually end up on my butt, which puts my weight back and legs forward, which confuses her again. Considering she isn’t gaiting right now, I might dig through the tack room and see if any of the old english trail saddles fit her and experiment with one of them to see if it helps me.
I am so glad we did this, and so thankful to Pam for sharing her knowledge with us. Khaleesi was a good sport, and as we stopped to talk about these concepts she stood calmly licking and chewing and yawning to say this was not stressful and as we worked together she seemed to appreciate how I was trying and she was trying too. What a nice way to work on our relationship!
I hope to be able to put some of this into practice on the trail, and also to continue to visit Pam and get more input and take a few minutes in a simple arena where we can focus on what we’re doing together with less distraction.
Here is a minute video of some of our work. It ends with Pam asking us to circle, with me getting completely discombobulated – and Khaleesi heading to the center of the arena instead of circling and the last thing I say laughing is “Look at me… I’m out of control”.