Ike’s Large and In Charge

Hi everyone!  It’s Ike filling in for my mother who is having writer’s block and can’t seem to get her thoughts together well enough to tell you how the rest of our week has gone.  I thought I was going to get Tuesday off since Mom couldn’t make it to the barn…well unbeknowst to me, she had asked Ms. C to give me a workout.  Sneaky.  I have to say, Ms. C is a clever lady.  I tried my best to evade her requests, but she always seemed to be two steps ahead of me.  I bet she is a good chess player.  Even though it might hurt Mom’s feelings a bit, I must admit that Ms. C is better at that half halt thing than Mom is.  That being said, I guess I should confess that I didn’t always comply with Ms. C’s half halts.  My brother tells me that it is good to keep them on their toes by misbehaving sometimes.

Mom and I survived our weekly lesson.  That clever Ms. C used her insider knowledge to try to educate my Mom on moving my body parts where she wants.  The poor woman is just not always coordinated, so I get confused.  Did you want me to just move my hind end or pick up canter?  I do my best to guess correctly, but it’s not my fault when I get it wrong.  She is also a bit spastic with her whip.  She forgets it is in her hand and when she mistakenly flails her chicken arm I get a bit tense when I see the whip out of the corner of my eye.  Seriously, can someone tell her to keep her elbows by her side?

Ms. C was very pleased with my canter work.  She told Mom that our goal is to teach me to stand up better in my shoulders and stop leaning on Mom’s leg, and keep my hind end from drifting.  Huh?  I’m always standing during our lesson, so I just stare at Ms. C during these educational chats.  They think I’m paying attention, but I’m really trying to figure out how to scam an extra mint.

Mom and I got to ride with my friend Lady today.  I like when she is in the ring with me.  I puff up my chest and try to show her how good I look.  Mom and I worked on the Training Level Test 3 movements -something called a shallow trot loop and the longer canters that involve cantering the short end onto the diagonal with a down transition at X.  That loop thing is pretty easy.  No big deal.  That canter work is a lot harder.  Mom needs to better prepare me for the canter-to-trot transition, i.e., half halt sooner than at X.  We also have trouble with the turn onto the diagonal.  Mom knows it should be done with the outside rein, but she tends to overuse that inside rein…such an amateur.  Good thing she has Ms. C to fuss at her when she makes those mistakes.  Ha ha.

Thanks for continuing to follow my adventures.  I’ll be back soon.  Ike

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Put your left thigh in, Put your right toe out

And you do the Hokey Pokey right?  Not.  We are not in college anymore.  We are trying to ride and train a young, BIG, green horse.  We must be crazy.

I had Ms. C hop on Ike yesterday to give him a tune up and to check his (read – our) progress.  I mean, let’s face it, Ike’s progress and success is only as good as what the rider can bring out of him.  If the rider is an uncoordinated klutz, then poor Ike doesn’t stand a chance at understanding the subtleties of dressage.  Ms. C on the other hand has forgotten more about dressage than I will ever know.  Her input on our progress is invaluable.  We talked about her ride while I commuted home – could not think of a better way to make the commute more enjoyable.  The good news is that I have not caused any irreparable damage to Ike’s progress.  The bad news is that we still have a lot of work to do to confirm the basics.  Ms. C noted that when she watches me ride, Ike can look phenomenal and well beyond his 4 years…and then she rode him and was quickly reminded that he is a young, green horse who is only 4 years old.  His big heart and good nature belie his youthful body and lack of strength and stamina.

It was heartening to know that he tried his same games with her – an equal opportunity tester as the case may be.  He tried to bully his way through her hands, drop off contact, suck back, lean on her thigh, ignore her half halts, and ignore her half halts.  Did I say that twice?  Why yes I did.  Fine tuning the half halts is going to be one of our areas of focus for the next few months.  That and teaching Ike to move his shoulders into a rudimentary shoulder in and shoulder fore.  Guess we will also need to teach his rider the subtle movements necessary to move his shoulders.  The books make it sound so simple to set up a shoulder in position; it is as if you give a simple half halt, shift your thigh, and Ta-Da, the shoulders have moved.  Truth be told, it is more like, grip reins tightly, half halt, half halt, wiggle your bottom, try to position legs, grit teeth, (then a miracle occurs), and Ta-Da, the shoulders have moved.  It is that miracle part that I struggle with the most.

You could say that riding is kind of like learning a new dance except for the fact that your dance partner weighs 1200 pounds and when he steps on your toes, giggling shyly is not your first response.  The dance continues tomorrow with my weekly lesson.

The 2012 Version of The Birds

This has been a challenging weekend at the barn.  Ike was a perfect gentleman as usual, but the horse flies were particularly evil.  Saturday morning was warm, humid and overcast which must be perfect fly pestering weather.  When the horses saw Ms. C and I headed for the barn, they all starting milling about their gates hoping that we’d save them from the flying menaces.  Three of the menaces then attached themselves to Ms. C’s big chestnut mare who started bucking and cavorting to try to free herself from their grasp.  You could see them hanging on for dear life; I swear you could hear them snickering.  The poor mare could not stand still long enough for us to place her halter on her head.  While Ms. C dealt with the mare, I went to rescue Cigar.  He stood patiently and let me whack 3 of the menaces to the ground.  When the chaos died down, we managed to kill 8 and stun 3 or 4 more.  It felt like a scene out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

My rides yesterday and today were steady.  Ike’s topline continues to get stronger and stronger, so our connection is improving as well.  We aren’t so on again, off again as we were this time last year.  It is nice to not have to constantly adjust my rein length…maybe it is really a combination of better riding and Ike’s strengthening, but who’s keeping score…

As I ride I try to implement the words of wisdom from my lesson.  So much to do while riding:  remember the wise words of Ms. C, half halt, shift weight to left, breathing, half halt, readjust weight to the middle, defend Ike and I against the air attack, half halt, down transition, open rein, keep fingers closed, close rein, look where we are going, and the list goes on and on.  It is no wonder that our progression is glacial.  I need to learn to multitask while riding like I do in the rest of my life.  Scary that the rest of my life is sometimes easier than the ride – must be the horse flies.

We’re Flying

                                                           Photo by High Time Photography

It is Friday which means that Ike and I had our weekly lesson with Ms. C.  I’m wishing that our hot tub was filled because it would certainly relieve my tired arms and legs.  She put us through our paces today and announced that Ike is ready for more demanding work.  Now we are not talking hours and hours of relentless work, but that he is ready to hear and respond to more subtle aids and for me to finesse his body parts – move just the shoulders, step under himself and engage the hind end, and show more flexion.  Sure, not a problem…for a more coordinated rider.  I’m the one who struggles to disconnect her own body parts so that I’m not sending mixed messages to Ike.

We always start with a relaxed walk and then pick up contact for our medium walk.  No knuckling down necessary today, just a few well-timed half halts.  Time for trot.  I swear that sometimes it still feels like I’m riding Marmaduke.  All parts are moving but none are talking to the other parts to see where they are going.  It took a good fifteen minutes to establish a solid trot – I find that it helps to throw in different sized circles and short diagonals to finally get body parts working in unison.  Ms. C noted that we are struggling less and less with centrifugal force, so I am now using some inside leg to engage the inside hind to get Ike to step up under himself and to find that inside-leg-to-outside-rein connection.  A year ago that would have caused that outward force to send us into the fence.  I swelled a bit with pride in how far my big man has come.  Started with a basic trot circle and then with Ms. C’s direction, applied leg pressure.  Oh, that is what that connection feels like.  Cool.

Time to try some shoulder in under Ms. C’s watchful eye.  As I’ve said before, I don’t have the feel for the correct angle yet.  I’m pretty sure that when I try shoulder in when I’m alone, all I’m doing is overbending Ike’s neck.  This is why I take weekly lessons.  Since Ike and I are learning together, I need to hear what aid to give and exactly when to give it.  Ike gets uptight when he struggles to understand what I’m asking.  The dressage whip only adds to that stress when he sees it in his peripheral vision.  “Drop the whip!!”  Yes ma’am.  That helped both of us.  We struggle more to the right than to the left, but I guess even horses show some left or right dominance.  No mastery of this skill yet, but feeling better about the progress forward.  So now that the shoulders are under control, it was time to….

Canter!  Just as with shoulder in, we struggle more to the right than to the left with canter these days (remember that right lead debacle during our last Training 1 test?).  Ike gets in his own way with that dominant right shoulder which can push his weight to the outside.  The whip was back in my left hand to help encourage the weight to the inside for the right lead canter transition.  I asked for the right lead while on a circle and then cantered a couple of circles before heading down the long side.  I tried asking for shoulder fore like I had on the left side.  Not sure exactly what my body parts did, but Ike’s interpretation of my aids was a lovely flying change on the straight away.  Cool!  Ms. C asked me what I did, but to be honest I don’t exactly know.  I know there was leg movement and weight shifting, but to my dismay, I probably could not reproduce the moment at this time…

But hey for a brief moment today, we were flying…and it was cool.