Saturday I got to play horse show groom again for my friend Kathleen, who once again did a fantastic job and went home with handfuls of ribbons. Then I headed over to see the Wunderkind and had a really good ride, including a trail ride around the property with a boarder friend, and a surprise visit from OntheBit, who was driving by and saw the most gorgeous bay horse she had ever seen and knew it was me. Okay, okay, she saw my truck with the busted tail light and knew I was there. But it could have been the gorgeous bay too...
(thanks OTB for the photo!)
Then on Sunday I trailered Tucker over to Alicia's farm and had a great lesson. Since Tucker is basically doing exactly what he should be doing (of course), we worked almost exclusively on me. We worked first on getting me straight in the saddle. My left shoulder and left hip are back in both directions, which makes him a little crooked and resistant to changing the bend. It's so deeply ingrained that when I sit straight, I feel crooked. Once we got that accomplished at the walk and trot, we moved to the canter, where my primary problem is my right arm.
My right arm has a mind of its own. It does ugly, unproductive things that I do not intend it to do. It does things that Tucker does not like. Things that make both of our lives more difficult. What I want is to have elastic, even contact with both reins, hands elevated and on either side of the neck, and a following, flexible elbow that rests at my side. What my right arm does is point its knuckles at my horse's whither, brace in the wrist, and stick its elbow out, chicken-dance fashion.
Alicia has been telling me "right elbow at your side" for the past three years. Figure about ten times per lesson, about 50 lessons a year, times three years... that's at least 1500 times the poor woman has uttered this phrase, and that's not even counting horse shows and probably a gross underestimate regardless. One would think that if one heard the same thing 1500 times, it would sink in. One would think.
We seem to have stumbled upon something new, however. Alicia told me to open my right hand like a door. So, the elbow is the hinge, resting at my side, and my forearm swings open like a door. For some reason, this image seems to be working. And Tucker responds to the change immediately when I get it right. (No wonder he loves to go visit Alicia.) First we practiced this over some cavaletti and little cross rails, and then we gave Tucker some actual little jumps!
Let me pause here to say that my horse is just adorable. The first time I pointed him at the little box (which was all of 18 inches) I thought his ears were about to fall off the front of his face. He suddenly found a reserve of energy where moments before he was barely plugging along. So cute -- he missed his job! I don't blame him, either. The flatwork has been great, and he truly feels better than ever, but MAN was I starting to get bored. I am surprised I still have any readers!
So although Tucker needed several breaks, we put together a short little course and I concentrated pretty much exclusively on what my right arm was doing. Amazing that every time I jump something landing right, my instinct is to plant my right hand in his whither upon landing. I didn't even know I did that! (Yes, Tucker is a saint. No, he never complains.) My restrictive right hand explains why Tucker drifts left, lands left, and why we have trouble maintaining pace as we approach fences off the right. But with this fixed, he was happily collecting back-to-front, staying straight, landing right, keeping his momentum around the right turns, and softly moving up without diving left.
I might possibly have had a breakthrough. When I think "open the door" my right hand actually does what it's supposed to do. I'm not actually opening the right rein, I'm just for once straight through my right forearm and lifting my hand instead of burying it in his neck and giving him something to brace against. I am cautiously optimistic at this point... my right arm has been so blatantly defiant whenever I've tried to give it directions in the past, and thus far communications inevitably break down and my right arm gets its way and I look like a one-winged chicken on a horse failing his field sobriety test.
But one can hope. Maybe this year will be the year that I learn to ride straight?