Monday, August 27, 2012

Movement in Time

I am so energized by my new mare and my new riding routine. I feel like finally after all these years of longing to learn the art of dressage with a capable horse, I am there at the beginning of possibility.  I have been riding four days a week and taking lessons when I can.  Evenings after work are a little rushed, and will become more so in the winter with longer cooling-out (and I need to get a cooler for her), but afterward I just feel so inspired and happy, knowing there is nothing I would rather be doing.  Driving home from the barn I already can't wait until our next ride.  I feel so blessed to have this beautiful horse who no longer feels too tall, and a pleasant, enriching place to ride her.

The more I ride Dani  the more I realize just how amazing her movement is at the walk and trot, and how lucky I am to have her. The canter is a little messy, but the quality of her other gaits leads me to believe it will come along in time. There is so much movement in her back. Cooling her out bareback last night (yes, bareback - not even a pad!) I felt the swinging activity at the walk, and I am so in love with her trot that I could ride it all day. I am starting to try and sit it and she is being very forgiving while I learn how to melt into the rhythm. While she gets a little nervous in the lateral work, she is so athletic that sometimes she almost leaves me behind when she moves sideways. I think that if she ever decides to pull any antics I am going to have trouble staying with her. Let's hope she gives me time to secure my seat more first! 

I've been able to figure a few things out in regard to the canter, and get a few moments of ground cover, but for the most part it is very frantic, very upright, very crooked and therefore very hard to ride. Because she is so sensitive to lateral leg cues, I find that she will start to canter away from my cuing outside leg, so I've been trying to ask in different, more subtle ways. Last night I tried to do a sort of swoop with my hips and she was very responsive to that, but then when I asked for some bend around my inside leg traveling to the right we got a genuine canter leg yield - okay, cool, but not what I wanted. She's very comfortable at the trot but at the canter I feel her level of anxiety skyrocket and I think she so badly wants to do the right thing that  she gets frazzled. I know we both forget to breathe.  After a few tries she will anticipate and keep trying to pick it up like "Now? Now? Now?". She also breaks a lot which confirms my feeling that she is not balanced and isn't quite sure what to do yet. So - we definitely need some help, but I am not overly worried about it. Probably I need to be lunging her but I have always had the attitude of "Why lunge when you can ride?"

I've ridden to music the past few times, songs I picked especially for Dani on my iPhone. Stuff from the new Dead Can Dance album, stuff from the Brave soundtrack, Florence & the Machine - even the Katy Parry song "Firework" which grabbed me since I got Dani on the Fourth of July. I haven't picked a favorite yet, but it is thrilling to ride such a forward (but not rushy) horse and find a place within the music. Once we've established contact and found our groove she is happy to go all day, giving me a chance to refine my position and figure out the most effective way to help her bend, balance and lift her back. Last night I rode close to dinner time for her and she got a little excited when they started bringing horses in, but as soon as we started riding the cloverleaf pattern (4 equally sized smallish circles in the same direction) her focus came right back. She's really good at the spiral in/out exercise - I can tell the tight circles are hard for her but she keeps trying, then floats back out as soon as I ask. We even trotted one little cavaletti at the end of our ride that was set up for a jumping lesson. She likes to work and have things to think about.

I visited with the barn owner on Friday night and she told me they will be having a schooling show in October. While that sounds a little soon, I have to admit I'm tempted to give it a shot if there is an Introductory level class. Our canter is far from ready but we can rock the walk & trot, I think.

In summary: I love her and am enjoying her SO MUCH. I brought all her IALHA paperwork with me to work today so I can send off for her ownership transfer and official name change.  I hope she is as glad to mine as I am to be hers.

I spent all day Saturday at a clinic in Falcon. It was a fantastic experience. The wind was absolutely roaring during the morning, but thankfully we were set up indoors doing unmounted, yoga-like body work. Just relaxing, small movements that focused on kinetic awareness. The first few groups of riders still had to battle the wind somewhat, but by the afternoon it was very pleasant. It was wonderful to sit and visit with fellow horse people as we watched the rides. I was scheduled in the last session of the day with one of my trainers and her young Andalusian cross mare. One of the other riders was sweet enough to lend me her horse, a lovely 12 year old gray TB/Connemara mare. I was able to see them go before lunch, and could tell I had nothing to worry about. We took turns getting feedback from the clinician and then working individually with the changes. Each time we would go in to the middle, the clinician would take our legs or arms or press in little areas of our backs - different for each person - and while it was very soft and subtle, each time she would finish with one side the major difference I could feel was a longer leg - I kept having to lengthen my stirrups!  Probably the biggest light-bulb moment for me was when the clinician had a hold of my calf and caused me to move my hip joint in small circles. It may sound silly but I was just astounded at the range of motion you should still have while sitting in the saddle. I concentrate so much on jamming my heels down and keeping my thighs in the right place that I end up locking my hips and what I thought was a "following seat" was a sort of jilted back-and-forth when really it should be this dynamic rolling motion. I felt like I understood the following seat for the first time in all these years, and I could tell both my borrowed mare and later Dani appreciated this revelation.

Notchee and Coro are going to be moving to their new home in a few weeks: a large shared pasture with free choice access to separate stalls and runs on the plains of Colorado.  I will be losing my beautiful canyon trails, but we will have miles and miles of quiet country roads opening into fields to ride in, and a little outdoor sand arena for schooling.  I look forward to watching them graze together.  When I got Dani I sure didn't think I would be keeping three horses at two separate locations but I believe these changes will all be for the best.  I spent the hours before sunset with them last night, fluffing up their new shavings, grooming them and just hanging out with my old friends. 

What a wonderful weekend, and a wonderful time of year.


  1. Great post! It is nice to hear about your fun with you new dressage partner.

    Harley had a very difficult canter, although opposite to the one you described. Lungeing did not help, in our case, because he was too fast and tight to handle the small circle, although it sounds like your mare may cope much better. I had a lot of success with putting something under his feet, like a ground pole and later a small jump. This taught him to actually think in the canter rather than just run and anticipate the next transition. The practice of hopping over a small obstacle did wonders for his stride. I had tried many different things and that was one that finally seemed to help.

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