My most faithful blog reader suggested that perhaps I was too colorful with my language in my previous post and newer readers might get the idea that I am an angry, violent person. This really couldn’t be further from the truth. I allow myself so few opportunities to express extreme emotions in daily life that I don’t begrudge myself a little harmless road rage. I feel like there are worse ways to deal with stress than yelling obscenities inside of my own car. Very occasionally I use this blog for some catharsis and I think that’s probably okay too.
I used to count on sports as an outlet for frustration. Something about getting your blood flowing, using your muscles, endorphins- makes everything okay again. A certain amount of aggression and competitive drive is allowed, even required, in many organized sports. I don’t play these sports anymore and rather firmly believe that there is little place for anger or aggression when working with horses so sometimes these things build up, ya know?!
Anyway, sorry mom, I’ll try not to be so vulgar next time.
It was a tough week last week: my boss was in town from Peru which always makes things extra busy at work; my Wednesday riding lesson was cancelled…again; and I thought that we were going to have to put this sweet manmuffin to sleep.
There is a cure (90-95%), but it is quite expensive and requires a very unique and difficult post-treatment protocol. My parents weighed the pros and cons and decided to try it, so this handsome fella will undergo radioiodine treatment on Wednesday and will hopefully be feeling much better in a few weeks.
My lesson was rescheduled to Saturday afternoon. It took me two-hours to get to the barn due to a huge construction project along the main highway I take. This project won’t be done anytime soon, so I anticipate it could be like this for a while. Sigh…. It was hot and humid but Lou worked well for me. Not sure if it was the heat, or rustiness from not having ridden consistently lately, but I was having trouble getting him straight and having a lot of trouble getting him to bend right. We would be walking or trotting down the long side and he kept wanting to switch the bend through his back and kind of offering this false bend where he would leave his neck and head bent right but at the same time his haunches sitting out near the rail wanting to swap to a left bend.
So Captain Pretend-Bend and I rolled around like this for a good while and finally trainer had had enough of watching that struggle and despite being in shorts hopped aboard to feel what I was feeling and to try to think of a different way to explain to me how to fix the issue. This is actually the very first time she has gotten on to show me something and it was PIVOTAL. I can’t even quite describe the majesty of watching her ride. It probably cleared up ten distinct concepts for me that weren’t even directly related to the one we were working on.
Things I learned from watching my trainer ride for 5 min:
- Her aids are much more decisive than mine. Sometimes my aids have question marks attached to the end… sponging the right rein? Like I’m still not sure it is going to have the desired response so I pose it to Louie as a question. Obviously I am not going to have all the right answers now and I will make mistakes but I realized that I need to be more decisive with my aids if I am going to improve. Maybe it will even help eliminate some of those times when things go well but I have no idea what made the difference.
- Her aids are sharper and it makes him sharper. Don’t misread this- I realize “sharp” tends to carry a certain connotation. I don’t mean to say that she is overly forceful. I just realized that there is a difference between how she communicates with him and how I do, and she helps him be more sensitive and sometimes the way I communicate with him makes him dull. It is a little bit of an art to use as much (leg, rein, pressure) as needed and to apply it in the correct manner. You can tighten your calf muscle, you can brush the horse’s side with your leg, you can squeeze, you can tap, you can pony kick- and these all can create a different response. My lessons help me decide which combinations are the most effective. But I still find myself squeezing where there should have been a tap and pulling and leaning where it would have been much more effective and maybe even kinder to have used more initial force on the reins and then immediately release. I think I’m being nice and instead I am just muddying the message and giving him an out.
- She repeats things often. She corrects and asks quickly and then releases the second he complies. If the quality changes or he even considers changing it, she repeats the same steps. It was very obviously more effective this way than asking sooooo quietly and timidly for an extended length of time and then finally getting some semblance of the correct response and then holding your breath and hoping it doesn’t change and then not realizing it changed until it’s too late and you have to start all over from the beginning… I mean, I have no idea who would ride this way but they should really cut it out ;-). So, if you repeat the question early and often, eventually, you may only have to repeat half the question or you may not even have to repeat it. No one ever really explained that it might require repeating every few steps- and that’s actually just fine.
- That sweet release. This is straight up muscle memory for her. Releasing the pressure is like not an active thought for her but a trained, automatic response. I am getting better and better with this but it still isn’t automatic. It probably has more to do with how I ask in the first place- if my aids start to get long, drawn-out, too wishy-washy, and naggy, then it’s really hard to feel that moment where a release is needed. If I can make the whole process quicker and every “ask” comes with a “release” then I think it will become easier to sort out the timing of the release and, of course, not forget about the release.
- I need to watch more riding. I don’t exactly know how I am going to accomplish this yet, but I need to figure it out. Annotated riding would be the best to watch. I wish I could watch other people’s lessons. Clinics.
- It’s not personal. He is not getting crooked, or swapping the bend just on you- he does that with her too (or tries to). So, it’s not necessarily because you are doing something wrong- could be, but not necessarily. She doesn’t make an issue out of it, she just fixes it or doesn’t allow it.
The weather has been approaching my Max Operational Temperature lately and so, frankly, I’m surprised I was able to take this much from five minutes of standing in the sun and observing. I suppose it was good practice for the two-day biomechanics clinic my barn is hosting this weekend. I am auditing both days and fully anticipate some information firehose feedings!