First Outside Lesson of the Year

Spring has sprung at Featherbrook!

Last night we had our first outdoor lesson of the year and the weather was fabulous! I rode my main man Spraticus and we had a pretty decent evening overall. All the horses got their spring shots so I’ll admit he’s moved better but he was probably feeling a little wonky still. We did a nice warm up and some trotting which felt somewhat strange outside because it seemed so draggy and slow in the sand. Our canters were quite nice, especially to the right. Our left lead canter was rough for a few reasons, Sprat was slower in that direction and my stupid right leg flops around. (I have mentioned this issue before) It is my bad knee and I guess I have trouble keeping it behind the girth when I can’t put as much of my weight there to hold it in place. It is a strength issue I’ll continue to work on. Our lateral work at the walk was very good but at the trot was a different story. Sprat kept cranking his neck in and if I let it be straight he hardly moved off my leg. Certainly something else to take back to the drawing board. But in general it was a good lesson and he worked darn hard for me. So hard, in fact, that he was breathing pretty heavy and it took me until dark to hand walk him until his body temp returned to normal. He is in great shape, but: he is about 20 years old; got spring shots yesterday; and had already been ridden once that morning. In hindsight we could have probably taken a few more walk breaks 🙂 At least since the weather was so nice, I had no problem sticking around late to walk with Sprat outside.

I will sure miss that guy this summer while I am riding Kate but I’ll be back in the fall!

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Testing…Testing… 1 2 3

Great lesson on the friendly old man Sprat last night. We tried a little extended trot across diagonals and did some lateral work. Our canters were great to the left and a little less put together to the right even though that is Sprat’s better side- it isn’t mine. I struggled to keep my inside leg long and relaxed at the girth and it ended up rattling around a bit which I think I can pin on either fatigue from some hard leg workouts I’ve been doing lately or my bad knee. Either way I will have to make sure to keep it in my mind as something to work on.

The last part of class we ran through some of the new tests to decide which of them we might like to do at the schooling show at the end of March. I decided to go with Intro B and Intro C. I would have done Intro A just for the experience but there was no one else signed up for it yet. Now, instead, I’ll be trounced by a bunch of 6 year-olds. I am still very excited to give it a try!

Next week we will spend the whole class doing a mock show to prepare.

I’ll be riding my friendly dinosaur twice this weekend so I’ll be sure and let you know how it goes- hopefully a few more pictures of Kate too!

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Brrrrr cont.

I did end up riding last night. I don’t know whether my years out of rowing have made me into a pansy or if this winter has just worn me down more than most. I am not usually the one hoping for a cancellation while everyone else seems to think it’s no big deal, but last night I was not thrilled to jam my swollen calves (damn you stairmaster) into my uninsulated boots and head out to the frigid barn. The horses only got half turnout  so tensions were high. Spratty was in a craptacular mood- like the worst I’ve ever seen from my sweet-to-the-bones old TB schoolmaster. He greeted me at his stall door with pinned ears. Heh, nice to see you too. And though he still lowered his fuzzy muzzle into the halter, I kind of got a begrudging vibe.

We did not have a stellar lesson. I was so cold I just couldn’t warm my body up. I felt disconnected. My posting was heavy and my torso too stiff to open my chest and shoulders. Sprat was slow and probably not thrilled with me sitting like the abominable snowman on his back. Finally we managed to warm up enough to do some decent cantering and very good lateral work. I can tell he is improving and I am improving especially with some of the lateral work. My instructor commented on this and I noticed it too. It used to feel heavy and now it feels much lighter.

Overall, it was not a very good night. My calves were so tight they burned, then they just started to go numb with cold and pain. I was mostly uncomfortable throughout the lesson and it showed. When I dismounted, Sprat had to hold me up because my legs were numb and when I could feel them again every muscle was so stiff and sore I could hardly walk.

Nights like this get me dreaming about heated indoor arenas! I was recently made aware of a new barn very close to FBF that is offering dressage lessons and has school horses. Prices are similar but the new barn as a heated arena. I am wondering if taking lessons at two different barns at the same time is like cheating on your hairdresser? I like where I am, I like the people, and I like the horses…but this other barn is almost making me an offer I can’t refuse. Would adding a lesson there be such a bad thing?

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What Progress Looks Like

The last few days have been a huge ego boost.

Not to worry friends, I’m quite sure my equine friends will find a way to humble me next week so I can fit my huge head back through the door frame again, but for now I’m going to ride this wave until she crests. Afterall, when you are working so hard on something, these glimpses of progress help pull you through when you are pulling your hair out. I had the great fortune of bearing witness to two of these enchanting visions this week. Indulge me, and let me tell you about them.

Wednesday night I had my usual lesson at FBF. Usually there are 3+ riders in my group lesson and often a hodgepodge of other riders schooling in the arena during our lesson. It can get a little crazy. But this past Wednesday it was just me on Sprat and only one of my usual lesson mates on a talented mare named Cassie. No one else was riding so it was just us and our fantabulous instructor. We calmly warmed-up our horses and set to work on some speed transitions and lateral work. Spratty and I were pretty in sync, and together we also matched nicely with Cassie and her rider. As we progressed through the skills, I found we had some of the same difficulties and we were able to address them with our trainer and work through them at a similar pace. Seriously! This is the stuff of “group lesson” lore! But here it was actually happening, and happening so well that my trainer even commented on progress at the end of our lesson. She stopped us and said “You guys! How great was tonight?! A-pluses for both of you! I love being able to ask for the next skill and you guys just remember them and set to work on them! Remember when you started? Wow.” My lesson mate and I just laughed and nodded thinking back to when asking us to do “shoulder in” was met with a quizzical look and a feeble attempt as we tried our best to take what was coming into our ears and manipulate our puppy-bodies into asking our horse correctly.

What a smile maker, and honestly, I rarely need help in that department when I’m at the barn anyway. It just doesn’t get much better though: go to fetch Sprat after a loooong day at work; Sprat walks over to greet me; the darling fellow drops his nose right into the halter; practically bridles himself, a great lesson physically and emotionally; and the icing on the cake, tucking him back into his blanket for the night.

Thursday night brought its own brand of progress in the form of my man Misko coming through in a big way on rediscovering his “WHOA”. I mentioned in my last post that I had pushed him too hard the first time I worked with him. It was pretty clear I wasn’t doing him any good and that he had checked out. I went back to the books, so to speak, and planned a new way to work through some of his challenges. I would say the results were quite telling. We worked on the same thing this week, I just went about them a little differently. Last week I got too caught up in punishing the incorrect behaviors that I think I was suggesting to him that no matter what he does…it’s wrong. I was confusing him and myself. This week I spoke clearer and simpler. I asked for whoa, got it, and then praised the heck out of him. I want to make “whoa” a great place to be- a safe place. He really started to get it and I found myself having to correct less and less. Even under saddle it was a huge improvement, he was…dare I say it…bordering on sensitive to my cue at some points- like a slight lift of the reins and he knew what was coming and stopped square. It was a beautiful thing.

Every week won’t be as great as this one, but for the first time in a while I felt like I had accomplished something. And that is a very powerful motivator.

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