(Ruby & I at a 2-Phase competition a couple of years ago)
I haven’t written about my riding in a while, but I did want to post an update before much more time passes. I have to say that I am having an excellent time riding this season. I decided at the beginning of the Summer that I wanted to add an additional lesson (a private) to my week, at least for a few months. I think this has worked out well for me as it has allowed me to have some great focus, has helped motivate me and I find that having that private lesson on Thursday, after my group lesson on Wednesday, gives me the opportunity to have some good scrutiny to work on things that maybe came up the day before, to zero in on stuff that needs more attention, or just to build on things that we worked on in the first lesson.
The other thing that I have made a commitment to with my riding is jumping on my own more. I posted this a couple of months ago about how I am regarded as a kind of a “jumping scrooge” at my barn. Well, in the interest of trying to make jumping more “been-there-done-that” / ho-hum / no-big-deal for myself, I have made some good steps towards banishing this image of myself as well.
I have gotten pretty good about jumping at least one session per week on my own and have slowly been increasing the amount of jumping that I will make myself do. I started with jumping a couple of little fences at a time and then calling it “done”. I now will jump pretty much anything set up in the ring, as well as some stuff in the field (including the up & down banks). I have also been increasing the height of the fences that I do on my own. My attitude about jumping has improved to the point where it doesn’t faze me to jump around combinations of 3’ (or so) fences by myself. Of course, my trainer is also happy since, when it comes time for my jumping lessons, I’m no longer whining or giving her a hard time about jump height. It’s a work in progress, but the more I jump, the more I find that I want to jump! Funny how that works.
My Dressage work with Ruby continues to have its frustrations. About a month ago, I went through a very balky spell with her. Every flat session she would come up with a serious evasion where she would basically refuse to go forward, sometimes even at the walk. It has been especially frustrating because I felt (and still feel, believe it or not) that we had been making a ton of progress in our dressage work. Ruby’s trot in particular has seemed to turn a major corner. Suddenly she gets the concept of what I’m asking for in the trot, becoming forward, actually on the aids and truly round (and with a correct bend!) When we went through this bad patch last month, it would take me almost an entire training session to boot her forward, to take her head out of llama status and get her out of her funk. The name of the game was transitions. Lots of transitions (basically my go-to tool, when all else fails). Walk, halt. Walk, trot. Trot, halt. Trot, canter. Canter, walk. Walk, canter. If you balk, you get booted forward and we get to do more of the same, endlessly. After going through this for forty-five minutes or so, I would usually, finally, end up with a soft and responsive horse, approaching the trot that I had been looking for. But, man! Was it frustrating. And exhausting. There were a few of those sessions where I questioned whether I should be selling Ruby and looking for another horse. There were a lot of times when I questioned whether I knew what I was doing (well, I still question that all the time). But, I have to say that it has gotten better. The canter still needs a lot of work and she is still pulling some of her balky maneuvers in our canter work, but her trot work has been lovely. She has also been offering this good trot work earlier and earlier in our rides too. Where it used to take me a lot of warm-up, suppling, transitions and other work to get her to a state where she started lifting her back, softening her jaw and reaching for the contact, I am finding that lately it has become more of a natural state with Ruby. It’s not immediate, but I am usually not jumping through a lot of hoops to get there either.
The thing with Dressage is: This is actually very hard for horses. There is a reason why there is a Dressage Training Scale. It’s not expected that you will achieve these things overnight. In addition to the training of the horse to gradually improve, there is also the gradual strength and muscling that is built in the horse as you progress in your work. It is not meant to happen all at once. A lot of the flat work asked of horses in Dressage training can be equated in humans to gymnastics, yoga and strength training, with a fair amount of endurance in there as well. It takes time to build on the work and your progress is usually measured in tiny steps. This year I feel like we’ve been “getting it”. And because we’ve been getting it, I’ve been asking more of Ruby. The balking thing is, I think, her reaction to my asking more of her – it’s hard! I just have to work through the rough patches and make her realize that defiance makes her life much harder.
With all that said about my dressage frustrations this Summer, even during the worst of it when I would be on the brink of giving up with Ruby, we would then have a jumping day in there where she would be awesome! Gallopy and loving life, even doing flying changes when I ask properly. And then there are the days when I get great flat work. It has been so hard-earned over the years that Ruby and I have been together that it is especially sweet when there is fluidity and harmony. It’s like the Dressage Gods have suddenly smiled on us. Because it hasn’t come easily, those great moments are now especially sweet.
To sum it up, these days I am truly excited about riding again. I was never actually “blah” about it, but I had reached a bit of a slump where flat work was always a fight, and it was also hard to watch others who have horses that make it easier. I dreaded jumping and just wanted to get through it and be done. I wanted to make improvements in all aspects of my riding and training of Ruby, but wasn’t really doing too much to get there and, as a result, wasn’t seeing much in the way of progress either. Now I feel like my riding world has opened up some. I look forward to even just a garden variety schooling session because I feel that I now have more of a partnership with my horse. Thanks to CrossFit, as well as more riding in general and some tweaking of my eating habits, I am also much more fit now than I was a few months ago, so this is definitely a contributing factor in my overall attitude and in my ability to ride better.