Spring has Sprung! Sort of… it was nearly 80F on Friday and then barely 50F for my lesson on Saturday. Given crazy end-of-the-month work stuff, May only got ridden on Wednesday, so I was expecting her to be a bit up for the lesson. After all, it was cooler, she only got ridden once that week, and our last jumping session was XC. What I wasn’t expecting was that May would also be in heat… She is usually very gelding-like, rarely paying attention to other horses or making faces or any of that other nonsense.
In May’s defense, she was not set up for a happy ride. I had an 11:30AM lesson, but when I showed up at 11:00AM, the working students were just putting horses out. It was raining hard during the first couple of hours in the morning, but my horse got taken halfway to her paddock and then I had to grab her and lead her right back to her stall. May did not appreciate that kind of treatment. There was also no hay in her stall, which May considers a grave offense.
Since they were still turning horses out, I opted to tack May in her stall. I do this a lot, especially when there is a lot of activity in the barn because it just means we aren’t in the way. Unfortunately, this time May decided to threaten to bit me when I did up her girth. She got a swift, firm, and clear correction before I was able to get the saddle back into place and do up her girth. Either way – it didn’t leave me feeling warm and fuzzy about the start of our lesson, and I decided May is losing her tack-up-in-stall privileges for a few weeks. Eventually, we will transition back to being able to tack up in a stall with a halter and lead rope because I think it’s an important skill for horses to have. They need to have manners and be safe in their stalls, end of story.
Did I mention it was still kind of raining at the start of our lesson? Ugh. The lesson started out fine. My trainer had us go through a set of poles set up as a one stride to a three stride. She had us first do it at the trot, then do it at the trot in 2-point, then trot through the one stride part and do a transition to the walk before the last pole. She reminded me that this is something I really need to work on because May likes to ignore me when I don’t have a lot of weight in the saddle. I agreed, so I am putting it on the list. Plus, riding in 2-point a lot is great for overall strength and balance in the saddle.
Then we started jumping, and May decided that XC jumping is a lot more fun than stadium jumping. When I got May, she had one “mode” for jumping. It was behind the leg, on the forehand, and with a very short stride. Currently, May has two modes of jumping – rocking back onto her hind end with a short stride or falling on her forehand on an open stride.
Example of the short stride and then the longer stride where she gets on her forehand and can’t make it out of the combination properly
So it is a constant balancing act between forward and steady. Unfortunately, May hasn’t quite grasped the concept yet, so has decided that the best course of action is to ignore me and just run at jumps. We corrected this with a circle in front of each jump until she stopped locking on to them and blowing through the distances.
However, this lesson also brought up another bad that my trainer called me out on. Over the years, I have ridden many very sensitive horses. As a result, I was alway very conscious of instantly rewarding them with a release of pressure as soon as an exercise was finished. This ended up morphing into dropping my reins and letting May putter to a walk as soon as we finished jumping something. What does this teach my horse? … Basically that she can ignore me and do things her way and still get that release of pressure. It also wasn’t helping May learn that forward, light canter that she needs. Fantastic.
So my trainer had us finish each exercise with at least one circle at the canter to re-establish the canter I was looking for and then ask her to stay connected into a trot transition, trot with connection for a while, and then transition to a medium walk before allowing her to free walk. Eventually, this led to a fairly good end to the lesson where I was able to push through the combination instead of getting dragged to it, and May stayed in front of my leg without diving and running through the lines.
Things to work on during our flat rides this week:
Get May (and me) more comfortable with the forward canter. Do lots of forward to collected to forward transitions to keep her light.
Throw some good jumping into the middle of our flat sessions. This means establishing the canter I really love and keeping it all the way to the base of the fence and then re-establishing that canter on the other side of the fence and continuing our riding session.
Ride in 2-point. I need it, and it would be good to do with 1 & 2 to help our cross country.
Ride for longer periods of time and more consistently. It is hard to me to remember sometimes that May is a lot more fit than when I bought her and she needs to be in a program to set her up for success.
Be a lot more steady with my body. The indoor has mirrors, so I can work on this inside by myself. Everytime I see videos, I am upset by how much my upper body pumps. Definitely something to work on.
Do some groundwork to make sure manners are still where they should be. I pride myself on having horses that anyone can handle on the ground. Obviously, a horse that threatens to bite doesn’t fall into that category, so this is a priority.