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Speed Demon

April 3, 2010

I was riding a different horse in my Thursday lesson.  I mean, I rode my own Carly, but I was not riding the fluid girl I hopped on bareback earlier in the week.  Instead, I rode her speed demon alter ego.  Since our dressage lessons, as I have been asking her to move more up in her shoulders and to use her back, I am frequently confronted by this insanely fast horse! My trainer says that her galloping is the same as her trotting (when I would like a nice slow canter).  Before, when she trotted, she was ignoring my leg. Now, she is ignoring my hand.  Slowly, I am developing the feel of what an up, balanced canter on Carly feels like.  Her jump is much smoother, and she can do a clean lead change no problem. But she also tends to leap and hop and sometimes kick out her legs or get a little light on the front end.

On Thursday, it was very windy and we had to ride through the spooky corner (read: wooded area on the other side of the arena fence with barn dogs and other critters roaming through) to get to our course.  The wind always make her extra spooky and she was hopping around when I asked her to go into this corner. I did find it a little intimidating, all that hopping – for whatever reason, I wasn’t interested in coming off that night. Crazy, I know.

“Linda, why are you not going? Don’t just sit there!”

“I am trying not to come off my spooking horse!” (In fairness to my trainer, her back was to us and she missed some of Carly’s creative leaping.)

“Okay, leg yield her over, leg yield into the rail, ask for canter, keep leg yielding…”

Of course it totally worked, Carly had a lovely upwards transition into canter and I kept her at a only slightly too fast speed towards the jump. Then she leapt up some more.

“Halt!”

“She’s kinda freaking me out,” I confessed.

“You’re fine, you’re not going anywhere. She does the same thing with me – just ride her through it.”

Funny how the words from someone 15 years younger than me totally reassure me. But then, that is why she is my trainer.  I trust her.

So we rode through it, with me leg yielding Carly into the rail, and finally getting a nice slow canter to our jump and getting a nice slow canter on the back end. Each ride got a little easier. Handling her spooking was the most important lesson for me personally – I feel like each time I ride her through a spook or temper tantrum, I gain a little more respect from her and teach her to trust me more. If I lose my confidence in those situations, then she knows that she is really in charge and has no reason to trust or respect me. But getting a slow canter was also a really important lesson learned. My trainer reminded me that we are not at a show – we’re schooling – and everything will not always be pretty.  If Carly won’t listen to my hands, I just need to halt and then continue on.  Also, I need to remember to let my hands follow her head at the canter, regardless of how much pressure I am applying.  If I don’t give with my hands and hang on her face, she fights me by going faster.  If I want her to slow down, I can apply a lot of pressure with a half halt and then start giving with my hands.  When I did this on Thursday, I got and maintained a beautiful canter.  I could give up on all of this and just throw the reins at her and she’d trudge around the course.  But we can better and Thursday’s lesson was a big step towards our end goal – at the end, we had the ideal canter, she was up and in my hands, and I didn’t need to ask for a lead change, but if I had, I just know it  would have been perfect.

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