Category: horses

Writing the ride

One thing I’m considering right now is that I’m still figuring out how I want to write about my rides, because horses are such an experiential part of my life. There’s so many things my senses are taking in and then responding to before, during, and after time in the saddle. Fingers gauging the tension on leather reins, legs squeezing or brushing or tapping (or kicking) for turns, transitions up to another gait – and down. Adjusting your seat and shoulders and calves and hands to try and convince this animal who is many times bigger than you that moving sideways, in *this* way, is really a super cool idea (although it’s a heck of a lot harder than just going along from a to b). And finally getting that response, the certain bend or stride or jump or give – it feels like magic. Really complicated magic, and usually two strides later either horse will trip or rider will make some hairbrained pilot error, but you laugh and trot on.

How do I capture all that, and oh, maybe make it coherent enough to record what I’ve learned or where I’m at for future reference? I prefer writing in stories, and what’s tended to happen is that by the time I’ve set up my ride recap I’m a few hundred words deep and running out of steam – or I let it set a few days and the ride itself starts blurring… But if I start with my ride, it feels clunky and sterile (although I do get more of an accurate picture of the details that way). I’m just throwing this out there before talking about my lesson (from last week…) because as of late I’m having a lot of ideas swirling and desire to build and enjoy my space here.

Two weeks in a row with a lesson! *cheers* Last Wednesday the weather was fan.freaking.tastic. – low 70s and sunny when I got to the barn before 10:30.

I rode Divine, and had mentally prepared myself for a repeat of our last lesson (two weeks after my ride on Sam the fancy Arabian) where my feeble arms were no match for the G-force pull attached to the bit and all we wanted to do was canter, canter, canter (forever and ever).

Mercifully, this day was completely different! We were in the indoor due to rain turning the outdoor into a muddy mess, and she started off a bit looky at the big east door. First dropping the momentum and then trying to shuffle on past – but as soon as there were exercises for her brain to latch onto she was fine. We started with haunches in both directions. Sink the inside hip, outside hip opens and that leg moves back to direct, shoulders stay straight and don’t pull on the inside rein. — Well, that’s how I remember it at least. Both mare and I are still at pretty much the beginning stages of this, but I could tell she was trying and instructor seemed impressed too. We moved on to shoulder-in – outside leg back a touch, inside leg keeps momentum, and my shoulders shift to the angle we’re looking for. Inside rein stays soft because outside is the one keeping us from rolling right into a circle.

Once we’d done both of those exercises with success on the rail and solid attempts on the quarter lines at a trot, we took a break before moving on to leg yields. Turns out Divine thinks these are fun now and she didn’t blink when we switched around from rail to quarter line, quarter line to center, or the rail to center line. The more she did, the easier it seemed to be getting for her (and me). We took a break and instructor and I talked about what a good work ethic Divine has, but that she’s also to the point where more kids with less experience are able to ride her too.

Side note: I’ve been geeking out over Divine’s lines for a while. How often do you find an OTTB under 20 that’s a granddaughter (not great, or 4 or 5 generations back) of both Mr. Prospector AND Nijinsky?? For a relatively young horse, her family is decidedly ‘old,’ and what her dam line lacks in terms of success, I think is at least somewhat made up for by the number of war horse types I’ve found looking at progeny records on that side. ANYWAYSSS…


After our break we worked on the canter, and tried doing essentially a shoulder-in and haunches-in at that gait on a circle to help Divine with her balance. I’d never really heard of doing this before, but when I was attempting to move her haunches in, there was a point where there was suddenly space under my outside seatbone and it felt like we were more upright than before – it was so cool! We got another short break, and then instructor asked me if I wanted to try and leg-yield at the canter. Why not? We were a bit discombobulated on our first attempt, but the second time around we got a few good steps!

The coolest part though of the whole lesson was right after when I brought her back down to a trot and she felt both feather light and super powerful – I was sitting and not posting, but it just felt like she was swinging me along (as long as I remembered to breathe and not get tense through my weak AF core lol) and I could ask her for a leg yield or transition at any moment and she’d be game for it. Instructor commented on how nice and relaxed she looked, which also was great to hear! We pretty much quit on that, which was plenty to have me grinning ear to ear and ready to stuff a handful of peppermints Divine’s way as soon as I got off.

Lunge Lessons

the weather was weird the other day, even for Indiana. more backyard to follow…

The Thursday before the clinic- so, three weeks ago now – I had a lesson on Jillie and was discussing current goals with trainer. Recent instructors have focused on how the horse underneath me is going, so if I ride better –> horse goes better.  This is well and good, but I don’t know what I’m doing, body wise, when I get that result.  When I’m riding something where I don’t stumble upon what makes them happy/willing, this obviously creates issues. We’ll get through a ride, but I’ll get off wondering where my miscommunication was. General endurance? Hands? Legs or seat? Shoulders and back?

it then started hailing…

What I really want is an independent seat – improving my position and using that to be more effective/efficient with the aids.  Following this, trainer asked if I wanted to do a lunge lesson, which I enthusiastically agreed to. Letting someone take control of your horse is great for getting an idea of where each of your parts are at, and of the few I’ve had, the last was 10 years ago now. One with my very first instructor, and then a handful during my Arabian days. While initially writing this, I wondered why that trainer hadn’t worked more on details with those sessions, but I’m realizing it’s not because we weren’t going to, it’s simply because I wasn’t there yet. And what better way to instill balance than putting a sheepskin bareback pad on a barely-broke squirrely Arab mare? Because if I slipped, that pad was going with me.

That melts, sun comes out, sister and I run an errand and not long after getting home we have near-whiteout conditions. This was ten minutes or so after it stopped

For this lesson, trainer had me start off trotting with my arms out to the side, then at my hips. No problems there. Then I dropped my stirrups and continued to post, first with my arms out and then on my hips. Then she had me sit the trot, which really, did not go well at all. I know what it feels like when I get it right (or close to right?), but I’ve never been able to do it more than a few strides either because I don’t have the strength, or the stability (or both). After a walk break she had us canter a bit and then remarked that “no wonder you don’t fall off, your leg is solid!” which I was happy to hear. Except, I still lose my stirrups way more than I’d like. I can pick them up, but I’d rather not lose them in the first place. I told her this and asked if it was because I was pinching from my knee for stability.

literally 6 minutes after the last picture. You’re drunk Indiana

She said it could be, and that after this next walk break we’d do an exercise that would help with a few things. It’d tell if I was relying on my legs to keep me in the saddle, help me get a better awareness of my seat bones, and also put me in the right position for the sitting trot. So I put both my legs in front of the saddle flaps, which was definitely a weird feeling at first, but once we got walking I quickly adjusted. Before we started trotting trainer told me I might want to start out holding the front of the saddle. I did so and once we were going I was immediately more aware of where my seat bones were and how I was (or wasn’t) absorbing the momentum. Trainer told me to think about my hips going side to side rather than up and down, and I was (again) able to get a few strides, but not much beyond that. She also had me try cantering with my legs ‘up front’, just to see and I ended up finding that more do-able, to where I was able to take my hands off the saddle. Trainer noted that where my back was in this exercise (which did feel like leaning way back) was more where I need to be on a regular basis. Overall, it seems like I have a decent awareness and center of balance, but I really like how I had this lesson, which exposed the weaknesses in my core and knee, and then had the clinic a few days later where I ended up getting more feedback on my upper-half.

Of course, now going on a week since last riding (and pretty much zero other exercise) doesn’t do much for setting this stuff in. I was going to try today but little sister, who is home from college for spring break this week, wanted to get lunch and make a day out of going to the fashion mall an hour away. Seeing as she’s a senior and her post-grad plans may have her moving away (although who am I kidding, ‘planning’ for her rarely goes farther than the next day), I’m trying to make the most of having her home.