Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tucker the Wunderkind and the Blustery Day

Winnie the Pooh: Happy "Winds-day", Piglet.
Piglet: [being blown away] Well... it isn't... very happy... f-for me.
Winnie the Pooh: Where are you going, Piglet?
Piglet: That's what I'm asking myself, where? [he is lifted into the air by a gust of wind]
Piglet: W-Whoops! P-P-P-Pooh!
Winnie the Pooh: [grabbing Piglet's scarf] And what do you think you will answer yourself?
-- A. A. Milne
Tucker and I took our first lesson in what seems like forever this past weekend and it was a rather blustery day, as Pooh would say.  As the barn rattled and whined and creaked around us while I tacked up, it was all I could do to assure Tucker, now transformed into a 7-foot-tall version of P-P-P-Piglet, that he would not, in fact, be lifted into the air by a gust of wind.  To his credit, he held it together extremely well despite 45 mph winds making everything in sight shiver and quiver, knocking poles off their jumps, making leaves dance at his feet, and generally making it difficult for a horse to maintain his gentleman-like composure.

Since he started off a bit fresh we did lots and lots of flat work.  Counterbending, collecting and extending the trot, leg yielding, and shoulder-in at the trot.  We worked on keeping the lateral movements very slow, since he wanted to rush (his tendency even without the wind), and straight.  Then we did a LOT of counter-canter, because I explained to Lindsay, the instructor, that I am still (or once again?) struggling with his lead changes.

I've always felt like counter-canter doesn't really get to the root of our problem even though lots of trainers have suggested it as a good tool to help with the changes.  Tucker is so well-balanced that it's easy for him though, and I don't feel like it gets to the real issue, which isn't about his balance or strength, it's that he over-anticipates the lead change, stiffens and braces, making it impossible for him to get the back half of the change because he's leaning on my hand and disengaged. 

The good news is, I think we've finally learned an exercise that will actually help.  Lindsay had me work on holding the counter-canter but changing to an inside bend for a stride, then a couple of strides, then five strides, then half the circle, etc.  I think this is going to be an invaluable tool for me.  Every time I changed the bend at first, Tucker started anticipating a change and doing his propping and hopping and bracing routine, and Lindsey would have me switch back to the outside bend, get him soft again, and repeat.  We didn't get him to the point where he would do it seemlessly, but we're going to keep working on it.  Eventually, this should get him waiting to hear from me about whether or not I want a lead change, instead of anticipating and getting himself turned all upside down and backwards.

Not surprisingly given the wind, when we started to jump Tucker was uncharacteristically strong.  We worked on lots of single fences, making him turn and circle afterward and keep thinking all the time (as opposed to landing and barreling toward the end of the ring like a freight train).  We also worked on landing and, if he was on the outside lead, establishing a good, soft, counter-canter before asking for a simple change, rather than letting him canter around unbalanced and dragging me on the "wrong" lead.  He was also diving right over a lot of the fences (something tells me this is a build-up of pilot error since he used to dive left) so we worked on opening my left rein in the air and making him think about his turn rather than his own agenda.  Once he was doing that softly and landing on whichever lead I asked for, we quit on that note. 

All in all, a very productive lesson.  Then I flatted Kathleen's horse Tuck afterward, who feels absolutely marvelous these days, and somehow dragged myself home.  By the time I fed my cats and myself, I could barely walk (does this mean I'm getting old???).  I swear, everything hurt, from my feet to my fingertips (though given how sore my back and my core were, I'm taking it as a good sign that I was at least doing something right).  All I can say is, thank goodness for Sore-No-More!! 


  1. What an interesting concept with the counter canter bending. I like it.

    Always a good lesson when you hobble away. ;-)

  2. Sounds like a good lesson. I hate riding in the wind as does my mare Pippi.


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