Beware, this is a reeeeally long one...and that doesn’t mean I am apologizing, just warning you in advance.
Late start. I usually like to get there and be ready to go right at 7:30, but I was a bit slow.
Paddock Boy had driven the trailer home Sunday from the river, and he didn’t back the truck into the driveway, so I had to turn it around. I don't like backing out of the driveway because all the yahoos up the street come barreling down on us at 50 miles an hour. So, I had to do something like a 50-point turn in the driveway to turn the trailer around before loading up. I tacked Ariel up in her stall before I started. She nickered at me every time I came out of the house and every time I got out of the truck to assess my predicament. I did get it turned around without hitting anything. We pulled out of the driveway at about 7:45.
I arrived at Cedar Downs about 15 minutes later. I hopped out of the truck and went inside to pay, sign in and take a quick pee. There were 3 people in the arena. The aforementioned dressage “person” on the pretty black bay, which was foaming at the mouth. A gray-haired woman on her chestnut who I have talked to before. She’s nice. And a guy that I have seen take lessons before was riding an old, sway-backed palomino that I have seen stalled in the stall that Ariel and Traveler used during the Brannaman clinic.
I went back out to the truck to retrieve Ariel and my “stuff.” Tonight, I was bringing in a few “tools.” I gathered up my handy flag, a brush (Ariel was still filthy, but was drier now), and my neck rope. At home, I had contemplated my lariat, but decided against it; too much stuff to lug around. grin I unloaded Ariel and led her in.
As I entered the arena, the guy on the palomino was riding around real slow at a walk. The dressage queen was cantering on a tight rein, and the gray-haired woman on the chestnut was doing lots of circles. I opened the gate and drove Ariel through and closed the gate behind me.
Okay, one little rant here now. 99% of the time I go to Cedar Downs, I end up having to close one gate or another because folks just leave the arena and then don’t shut the gate behind them! I usually end up closing one or all of the gates. It’s stupid! It’s a safety issue! I am not worried about my horse diving out a gate, but I would worry about many of the horses I see being ridden and longed in there. Heck, many folks saw what happened at the Brannaman clinic when a horse got loose and headed for the gate and Shayne tried to get there to stop it. End of rant.
I felt eyes on me as I came in with my stuff. actually, I felt eyes on my flag. I could just tell that the riders were concerned. After all, I am the woman who always comes in with the horse tacked up, sometimes with the cooler over the saddle, and stirrups tied up. I went through my ritual of going over to the corner, setting down my hackamore/stuff, removing the cooler, untying the stirrups and checking the cinch. I gave Ariel’s now dried dirty spots a quick brushing. She nickered. She’s been more itchy lately with all the shedding now in full bloom.
I walked out to the middle of the east end of the arena to do some groundwork warm-up. Man, she was soft and light and mellow. Walk a few circles. Untrack the hind. Bring the front across. walk the front around the hind. Lead up. Set back. Job nice and slow. Rock the weight back. Tip the nose in a bit more. Do some leg yields on the ground. About 10 minutes of this.
Walk back over to the corner to put the hackamore on. the dressage chick is dismounting and leaving. She’s done working her horse. She was leading him (I think it was a gelding anyway) with the bridle. He was not leading up real free at all. Big surprise...not.
I go back out to my spot and do some more groundwork with the hackamore on. Ooooh. Crankiness. Head slinging, pinned ears. Do more groundwork. It subsides a little. Used to be that it wouldn’t go away for a half hour or more. It’s been faster to disappear since I have switched from the snaffle to the hackamore. It’s almost like she doesn’t like where the leather sits behind her ears. Greg Eliel noticed it when he had her for 3 weeks in 2000. It really used to be a big issue. And it took a lot of doing a lot to get her to not think about it. Of course, now that I am thinking about it, man, she’s comes a long way in that department too. It really used to bother me that she was so bothered about the bridle. It used to linger for a good hour or so into some of our rides. Now, it’s usually gone within the first few minutes. Wow. Can you say a light bulb moment?
Okay, so I finish my groundwork warm-up and get on. The woman on the chestnut is cooling her horse out, and the guy on the palomino is leading his horse out. Good! I almost have the whole place to myself again. Let’s see where Ariel wants to go... At first, she tries to follow the chestnut around. Not surprising, she always likes trying to be social, since she doesn’t get that enough at home. I only let her indulge that for a little while, occasionally picking up a rein to redirect her thought to one of the corners away from the gelding. Doesn’t take much. I do have to pick up a rein, though, because she wasn’t following my body. It’s a “get-in-get-out” rein. Nice and light, which is also a big improvement. Eventually she makes a few large circles around the arena but heads to the corner at a nice soft jog and comes to a stop. Lots of petting. Okay, let’s try again. Wow! In less than 5 minutes she is making nice small circles and doesn’t want to leave that corner. And this time she’s actually switching directions to get there (C will remember how big a deal that was when we were doing the herd-bound exercise at McGinnis Meadows Cattle and Guest Ranch that day).
So, a good thing, time to move on to something else. Nice walking out, both directions, both on a loose rein and picking up the soft feel. Not bad. Let’s trot. Okay, not bad. Head is a bit further up and there’s a drifting to each side a bit. Dang, I can’t seem to post in the right rhythm. Grrr. That’s making her a bit pissy. Just going along nice, and then when the speed comes up to that strong trot, right before the canter, she starts pinning her ears. Okay, ease back. That’s nice. She bobs her head a few times. A little more speed. More cranky start showing. Hmmm. I am seeing a pattern here. Okay, let’s ease back down to a walk. Nice transition. Not too bumpy. Do some circles. A bit sticky when they get tight. Okay, just work on really directing and having a place to go.
Back to trotting. Let’s see how that canter transition is. Bang! She nails the wall! Picked up the wrong lead, too. I saw it in the mirror. Transition back down. Then back up again. Whoops! She tried to nail the wall, but was too far away.
Okay, so I am starting to see a pattern here. I think a big part of this whole canter deal is the fact that I can’t feel it. And because I can’t feel it, I am unsure, and she knows it! My balance is off at the trot with my posting. I never can tell if I am on the proper diagonal or not, so I switch diagonals way too often I bet.
One thing that goes along with the above: In clinics, I don’t really have this problem, as I am thinking about other things. What Buck says; where other horses are; I am thinking about everything except what diagonal I am supposed to be on or what lead I am supposed to be picking up. Now, the big question is... Was I riding on the proper diagonals and was she picking up the proper leads in those situations? If so, then I have to figure out how to make these sessions by myself work out the same way.
Light bulb! okay, let’s go get the flag and see how that goes. I go get the flag. I do a bit of walking around just flapping it and swinging it. It’s been a while since we’ve ridden with the flag (probably since the clinic). Ooh, scary at first, but not for long. Okay, I direct her and steer her with the flag and without the rein. Only at a walk or trot at first. She’s moving away from that pressure good. Now let’s try cantering.
Whoa! Big difference! I had looped my reins over the horn so I could use both hands to direct the flag with a bit more life and accuracy. The canter amazingly just happened. And the few times I could see as I passed the mirrors she was on the right lead! I wasn't really using my legs anymore to get the life up to make the transitions. I pretty much didn’t worry about directing her, except with the flag. She still wanted to dive into the center and stop, so when I went to correct with the flag, the change of direction that she made many times was a little abrupt. Luckily I was relaxed and didn’t get pitched out of the saddle.
Okay, so now I am perplexed again. How am I going to be able to transfer this from the flag to my seat and legs? Am I still relying on my hands too much to keep her on the outside rail? More questions, as usual.
I got a few decent transitions and tried to make a few big laps to find a good place to let down. We’d been going at our whole session now for about an hour. Time to cool down and go home soon.
I put the flag away and picked up the reins again. We did some soft feel and circling exercises and then I figured, hey, let’s do the bring the hind around the front and then the front around the hind. You know, “the dance” thing while riding. Well, a few little holes showed up. But this was cool down, so we just took it slow. Did a lap or two each direction and then quit on a good note.
Put the reins back on the horn. Time for the last cool down exercise. Our search for those corners was the fastest time yet. Easily within 5 minutes she didn’t want to be anywhere else. I dismounted in the corner and walked her back to the other end. Unbridled and rubbed her (no nickers this time :-( unfortunately). Haltered, tied up the stirrups. Put the cooler on and loaded up and went home.
I got home at about 9:45. Unloaded and she nickered as I put her away and untacked. I gave her the evening mash, brushed her down and put the cooler back on and locked her in as it was just pouring rain again. Another good night!
I hope you realize how much of an impact this little sidebar of ours has had on me. I spend nearly every waking moment, and some of the non-waking ones too, thinking about this stuff. Trying to come up with words to describe events that take place with every ride is hard sometimes, but I think it is actually very necessary. Some folks think it’s blabbering and over-analyzing, but I don’t give a rip. The results of this shows up in my horse at the end of every ride. It’s real tough for me to sit at work and not just type stories all day. And it’s super busy for me right now, too. I guess when it rains it pours in more than one way. Today, I have had a really hard time focusing and I have had to take a break every hour or so to add a few more paragraphs to this. Much of it I wrote while listening to the Dances With Wolves and The Horse Whisperer soundtracks, among other contemplative music for me (a group called Dead Can Dance). Other times I have been sitting here listening to audio tapes I made for myself of Buck’s snaffle and hackamore videos.