Monday, October 24, 2016

A Ride Worth Blogging About

I've been thinking about blogging, really, I have.  Especially when people say things like, "so, um, that really sad and depressing post about your birthday is still the latest thing on your blog."  At which point I feel the full shame of being melodramatic for the entire internet to see.  And then remember I'm supposed to be honest and I'm allowed to blog about whatever I want and I should be more gentle with myself and blah-blah-blah-see-therapy-is-really-helping.  

Tucker has been going well lately.  One of the excuses reasons I haven't been blogging lately is that what I've been working on is slow and tedious.  I've been trying REALLY hard to find my seat and fix the position of my pelvis, and focusing a lot on my hands, in an attempt to get Tucker steadier in the contact and using his back better.  If I blogged about all those rides, where I went around repeating in my head, "left hand steady, close your right fingers, right elbow down, right shoulder back, sit down, lift your shoulders, soften your lower back, use your core..."  Well.  That makes for very dull blog fodder.  

The good news is that Tucker is getting steadier and steadier in the contact.  He is starting to get to the point where if I send my hands forward, he follows the bit and reaches down/out instead of just letting the rein go slack.  It's incremental, but it's getting there.  Most of the time I have equal weight on both reins, which is huge.  He is rarely behind the vertical these days, so his neck muscles look like they're supposed to, and he's starting to lift at the wither when I really get it right.

The dip in front of his shark fin is basically gone, and he's got a long muscle along the length of his neck, instead of a short muscle bulging at the top (the shadow below his mane in the photo above used to be only a couple of inches long, near his ears). And I love the round butt, in spite of his roach back.  I'm not sure if he'll ever halt square on his own, however.  He doesn't seem to feel the need.

I can actually sit the collected trot pretty well now, though I still bounce and flail if I try to lengthen. (So sorry Tucker, I am trying.)  Part of it is a core strength issue, part of it is that I need a new saddle, with a deeper seat and a block that fits my leg better.  (Again, sorry Tucker, I am working on it.) When I can actually manage to sit, then I can lengthen through my leg and not pinch and grip. Stretching up through my torso takes a whole lot of core strength but I'm making progress.  I see light at the end of the tunnel.

Anyway.  Back to this weekend's ride, the thing I actually wanted to write about.  It was really windy and cold and officially Fall in New Jersey this weekend.  Since it had poured rain the day before, they had been in for a day, so everyone was fresh.  Tucker started off in "vintage Tucker" mode.  And by that I mean lots of spooking, at everything that moved.  And some things that didn't move.  And some things that were imaginary.  

I decided I need to ride him as though he were someone else's horse, like he was a horse I didn't have a deeply anthropomorphic relationship with, as though I didn't feel 100 emotions in response to all of his behaviors, and wonder if I needed to do absolutely everything differently for him (supplements, tack, shoes, program, chiro, injections, signs of the zodiac) and possibly if that last spook just meant I had failed as a human being entirely.  It forced me to stay calm and methodical in response to a very melodramatic gelding.

I did some lateral work but when Tucker demonstrated he could just as easily do his road runner impression ("meep meep!" zooooooom) out of a shoulder-in, I scrapped that.  I reevaluated.  He was both spooky and on his forehand, so I needed him to focus and re-balance.  So, I started doing a million transitions.  Walk-trot, collected trot-lengthened trot, stretchy trot, sitting trot, posting trot, stretchy walk, collected walk, halt, trot.  You get the idea.  I tried to do a trot-canter but his response was to fart, scare himself, and leap through the air.  We went back to walk-trot.  (Bonus is he now farts on command.)  

I started adding in some lateral work again because he was completely locked on the left side, mostly big left-to-right leg yields where I tried to get him to take big steps and stay loose through his top line.  I tried to focus more on getting him to give through the left side of his rib cage and step under himself, and ignore the death grip he held on the left side of the bit, which actually worked.  He started taking deep breaths and letting go of some tension, and got more even on the reins.

He didn't have a magic moment where he suddenly became rideable.  But he became incrementally, almost imperceptibly better, as we worked.  We cantered three balanced circles to the right (his harder lead), where all I had to do was stretch tall and sit back and keep my leg supporting and he stayed round and soft, didn't spook, didn't root, didn't stick his tail between his legs and flee or do his best springbok impression.

The Springbok
I did a downward transition to trot and he stayed balanced, and trotted forward but in a relaxed way.  I hadn't really planned to end there, but after a difficult ride, a few minutes of quality seemed like a good place to quit.  On another day, that canter would have been what I'd expect at the end of the warm-up, but on that day it was a sign of a lot of progress.

When we were done, he stood on the cross ties licking and chewing and yawning while I groomed him.  And I realized that this was a major change from how he was on the cross ties before the ride, dancing around and pawing and spooking and snorting.  

And that is when I realized that this is why you should ride on the days you really don't want to.  This is why you should force yourself to get on when it's windy and cold and you know you're bound for a difficult ride.  Because if you can work through it, you can leave the horse feeling better than he did when you arrived.  And that's the best thing for both of you.

And that's something to blog about.