Thursday, October 23, 2014

gettin it done... sorta

For one reason or another, Isabel and I haven't had a proper school in our own arena in two weeks. In fact, not since my tale of woe about our right lead canter (read here)... 

But the lights are fixed, the rain wasn't due until 8ish, and my barn mate and I want to prep for this weekend. So off we went! 

Both my friend's mare and Isabel made it immediately clear that neither felt much like working. In fact - both were so tense that we each trotted around for the other to watch for signs of lameness. But no. Both mares are sound. Just tense and not particularly cooperative. 

braced & behind my leg

**Quick note: all the photos are from our last HT... but this ride followed a similar pattern so they are applicable. Also, my hands are too low in these pics, and that's something I've been addressing with positive results**

Specific examples of tension: braced neck/jaw, getting wayyyy behind the leg, rooting the reins, head tossing (naturally we weren't wearing the martingale...), and popping the shoulders every which way - particularly near the gate. 

This was reminiscent of my meltdown ride two weeks ago... and I really didn't want to go there again. I need to figure out how to reach Isabel when she's in this kind of mood. 


I don't think the answer is getting after her. Tried that last time and it didn't work for either of us. And she's too smart to trick. And my strategy for snarky OTTBs - let 'em run around until they're a little tired (ie - asking to stop) - has the exact opposite effect on my arabian. 

But I wondered if some sort of combination of those approaches might work. 

We walked for a lonnnnnngg time, using an exaggerated inside bend until she released through her neck and went low. We had *some* success here, but not much and I think she's figured that trick out. 

As she came into a (relatively) steadier contact, we moved right up to trot and started on circles, changes of direction, and transitions. She is becoming gate sour again, and I really believed that problem was solved a long time ago. Frustrating. 

rooting the reins

But I told myself: "We are not fighting tonight. It's a conversation. Soften your shoulders and elbows - give when she gives. Keep the reins at an appropriate length: hands *out* of lap and wrists unbroken. Long legs - don't nag. Light seat, upright back, stable core." Over and over and over ad nauseam. 

She worked ok-ish, but wasn't particularly good. There was a lot of pulling and rooting, mixed with head tosses just for kicks. Plus rushing towards the gate, then going all crooked and twisty away from it. 

I could tell she was anticipating canter (Izzy thinks she knows the drill) and wasn't really focusing anyway, so we just moved up into what was actually a pretty nice jumping canter. 

And we cantered. And cantered. She maintained a flowing rhythm, and I mostly stayed in half seat with minimal contact. After a while I started sitting into the saddle and softly organizing a bit. We 
randomly hopped over a single crossrail once and she nailed it. This was mostly to keep it interesting and get her mind on me. 

maybe better...?

We cantered for a lonnnng time on the right lead - and she eventually felt pretty steady, even if it wasn't exactly the canter you'd want to see in a test. 

Then a lonnnng walk break (noticing a pattern here? The name of the "Emma doesn't lose her temper" game is patience). Then back to work at the walk and trot. It still wasn't Isabel's nicest work, but it was looser and more relaxed - like the canter almost helped us 'reset.' 

We did more walk-trot transitions, changes of direction, circles, etc. - not drilling but just showing her that what I'm asking really is ok, and she can do it. And she did. 

We cantered again to the left - not 
for nearly as long, but just to get it in there. We popped the X once more (and she gobbled it up - just moved right up to it off a short approach through traffic) to break up the monotony, then back to trot, then walk, then trot, then walk, then long reins and a slow cool down. 

faking it

I dismounted in the center - our new norm since noticing the resurrected gate problem - and left through the *back* gate to go the long way around to the barn. The gate sourness really bothers me - but I suspect it's a rebellious phase while we settle into flat work bootcamp. 

In any case, it wasn't an inspiring school. But there were solid improvements and progressions throughout the ride and I avoided a total mental breakdown. Yay me?

So now I have a better idea how to help Isabel (and me!!) through these moods - especially if they crop up at inopportune times (like our show this weekend....). 


  1. I feel like sometimes you're just going to have one of those rides. Like you, I try not to pick a fight and find a good note to end on, then go into my next ride with an open mind. More often than not the next one is magically better. Silly horses. Good for you for making the best of it and working through it patiently :)

    1. thanks! that's kind of the hope i guess - pack in enough good moments (while keeping it as positive as possible) so that next time the horse is prepared to try a little harder... we'll see if this strategy works lol!

  2. I'm sure you guys will work something out about the gate. I understand how it get can discouraging…but it sounds like you picked out the positive things so give yourself a pat on the back! Good luck at the show!

    1. thanks! i think the show will be a lot of fun regardless of how our dressage goes :) (tho it'd obviously be cool to put in a nice test... c'mon isabel!!)

  3. I rode a mare for a while who used to do that sort of thing. The "Don't wanna work and you can't make me!" kind of thing. The best advice I had was to treat it like a three-year-old throwing a tantrum. You ignore the tantrum and just go on as if there's nothing wrong. You focus on YOU and what YOU'RE doing and don't bring yourself down to the tantrum level. It's not like you can reason with a three year old in tantrum mode, and it never worked with that mare either. But if I just kept on riding the good ride, she would eventually give in and do it my way.

    Having said that, it can be VERY hard to keep your cool when all that is happening! Good for you that you worked through it!

    1. thank you - that's actually a really useful perspective. it's so easy to take things personally with horses (esp those we work with most frequently)... but it really ISN'T personal. it's just a challenge that should be met with correct riding... (now if only i could master the 'correct riding' bit lol)

  4. It sounds like you handled it well and made good decisions. Good for you!

    1. thanks! one day we'll figure it out... one day

  5. Apollo needs to re-learn the gate lessons sometimes (cheeky monkey).

    Sounds like you did a great job. :)

    1. thanks :) the gate can be such an annoying distraction sometimes... but it is what it is and we'll deal with it