A week of ups and downs and ups (literally and figuratively) and riding like a fish

My Koi vest points--it's fate!

I’ve been flying pretty high lately–Bravo had given me really good rides this past 2 weeks.  In fact, focusing on our connection, and armed with a new Herm Sprenger Duo bit (probably the mildest bit made), I have been making progress getting Bravo to not only accept, but embrace a connection to my hands.  Just a few good steps here and there, but it’s coming.  Monday I had a lunge session to work on my seat with my reins totally pitched away and was encouraged that I can, in fact, effect walk-trot transitions and transitions within the trot totally using seat alone.  With my seat bones “stapled” to his hind legs, I have been able to really compress his canter (which I lost for awhile, but appears back–yippee), even starting some REALLY good canter half -pass and  some working pirouette work to the left.  (His weaker lead to the right I can get haunches in, and compress the canter about 50% of that to the left, an obvious area that we address daily, but that’s coming too).  Monday night, I hurt my back in an unrelated incident involving a rowdy 4 year old child.  Tuesday, my back was tight and painful for part of my ride (which was otherwise fine). Wednesday, therefore, I only lunged him for exercise, and Thursday with my back still not happy, I opted to give us both a day off. Friday started out well, and I was excited to have a nice schooling session before our clinic with Anne Aloi on Saturday.

Not. Almost every ride, Bravo has to “give his opinion”.  Usually, this entails some small bucks, or some squealing, maybe a hop sideways–invariably always occurring to the right–the weaker side in which he doesn’t quite bend around the inside leg.  Friday was no different.  But then, something happened, a switch flipped, and all of a sudden he went from “voicing his opinion” to throwing an all out tantrum.  By the time I was untacked almost 2 hours later, we both looked like we’d been through the ringer. Bravo did not want to be in the ring, and used both “exits”* probably a dozen or more times.  Mostly he popped out that left shoulder, then bulldozed his way left, cantering/hopping sideways to try to get where he wanted to go.  When I tried to thwart these dalliances, which for the last few months I could mostly tactfully ride through, he went further and was eventually rearing (small) like he used to do a year ago.  I would get him forward and listening, only to have a repeat of tantrum throwing a couple minutes later.  Dejected does not begin to describe my feelings–I really thought we were passed such extreme behavior–and I was spent the rest of the day analyzing why this happened and how I should have reacted.

(*While the ring at Brookside has my favorite footing, there is no exterior fence or boundary at the moment.  Therefore, there is no visual containment, and I’m not sure how much/how little this matters to Bravo’s behavior.  Clearly at a show, that little 12″ fence around the sandbox never HELD anyone inside!)

But Saturday was a new day, and I was REALLY looking forward to the clinic. Last clinic, you’ll recall, I had the worst.weekend.ever.  Abscess, run over iPhone, shredded windshield wipers…the list went on.  Also, despite getting tips and pointers from Anne, mostly in a show setting, I’ve never had a LESSON with her before on this horse.  If you go to any shows in the VA or NC areas, you know that Anne has had quite a bit of success the last few years, mostly on young horses, so she is “walking the talk” at the moment.  She also has a real interest in being an effective coach–she wants everyone to feel a difference between the beginning and end of your hour, she wants feedback on her wording and “verbage”–basically she really cares.  She’s also pretty frank, which as a native northerner I quite enjoy–there’s not a “bless your heart” coming from her!  The only negative was only getting one ride (versus one each Saturday and Sunday)–my husband leaves tomorrow for another 3 months in Afghanistan and I wanted to make sure to spend all day Sunday with the family (and by the way, I’m sneaking this post in while he is packing upstairs!).

Bravo settled in fine, and I gave him a really quick lunge to make sure there was no edge, based on the poor rank behavior 24 hours prior.  Once it was our turn in the ring, there was just a bit of looking around, interested but not afraid, and I went right to work. And so did he–as soon as we turned to track right at the trot, he was bounding sideways, headed right for the chairs and golf cart housing the other riders/spectators.  Turkey!  (I’m trying to keep it clean, other more choice words were considered.)  Kick him forward, make him go right, right leg–lots of stuff yelled to me, and we got around.  He tried 2 or 3 smaller attempts as well, and then the big sigh finally came and he relaxed for his lesson.

The gist of the lesson was to slow it down–mentally and physically.  I worry that slower means less engaged–and for many horses I think that might be true.  For Bravo, who was born with a hind leg that wants to reach deep under his body, this is apparently not the case.  The key she wanted me to focus on was FLUIDITY. Slow it down, make it correct, make it fluid, make it relaxed–the heat can always be turned up later with a horse like him.  Slow it down, focus on correct position, relaxing my elbows, relaxing my wrists, pushing my hands to his ears.  We started with alternating shoulder-in to straightness on the 20 meter circle, asking for more length of stride when he was allowed to straighten.  Then that was expanded to shoulder-in on the 20 meter circle to small leg yield to a short diagonal while asking for more stride length.  Finally we alternated 10 meter circles with straight lines asking for the bigger strides once he was straight and connected.  Throughout I was reminded to not be hurried, not be harried, calm the body, calm the mind, visualize a fish swimming in a pond.  I could feel some really good lengthened steps in there, and Anne thinks it will come with time.  I have been cautioned to not let him “run”–a little guy like him will turn into a hamster on a wheel in no time. After a short walk break, we ended on alternating shoulder-in to half pass–again focusing on the slow, relaxed, the fluid.  It felt great, and riding that way let me really make sure my position was as correct as I can make it.  An added bonus is that I may be able to use this type of mental image (as well as the actual embodiment) to help him in anxious moments–I can’t wait to try it tomorrow and see if there is a difference in behavior.  I have time before the finals to try a few new things.


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