Thursday, April 25, 2013

Sharon's Boots Were Made for Kicking My Ass

I freaking love taking lessons. It is my favorite thing, especially when they're really, really hard.

I don't have any lesson pictures, so hanging out pics will have to do.

Lex was a little sour to start out with today, and then she got mad when I tried to fix her forelock, some of which got caught in the crown piece. Sharon walked out to the field in time to see me having a fight with her about that, and then Lex was pissy when I started to get on, to the point that Sharon had me get off and get on until she could stand still like a good girl. I opted to ride in the field instead of the ring because we both hate the ring, but I could tell that Sharon was a little "..." about it. I don't blame her. I know when I'm not making the decisions other people might make. She did have us both cracking up when she had me ride around the outside of the ring so I had the fence to use if Lex got hot, and she said it would be hilarious if she stood in the middle of the ring and gave me a lesson going around the outside of the ring. One of the things I really like about Sharon is that we spend a lot of the lesson time laughing.

Part of the lesson today was the same as last time: I need to POST. SLOWER. At one point we got Lex nice and calm at the walk, stretching down, being happy, and then I asked her to trot and she kinda scooted forward into a really fast trot. Sharon said, "Because she was walking so nicely, let's see if we can blame that on you and fix the problem."

What's that? Jess's fault?!

I love it when it's my fault if something is going wrong. In this case, nothing is going that wrong, but I do need to get her going more quietly and responsively so that we can establish good contact down the road. And let's be real, no one REALLY wants to hear that they're not awesome all the time, but this is part of good horsemanship: knowing when it's you, and understanding that (for me, anyway) it is much, much easier to fix myself. I can ride other horses and sort out what I'm doing that's making her hot, and I can be aware of what I let her get away with. For instance, the mounting block thing: I probably would have just gone ahead and ridden, and Sharon was like, "If you don't fix that, you're going to see that problem resurface somewhere else." I guess I'm gonna go back to some groundwork with her. She'd also like me to be lunging and riding in the ring. I told her that I really need some help with the lunging thing, because I'm used to h/j lunging work, which often amounts to "lunge the horse until he's tired," which: no. But Sharon can help us with that sometime soon, I hope.

Anyway, posting really slowly with very little contact with the mouth is tough for me, especially when I'm also supposed to have enough feel to loosen the reins all the way to the buckle when she wants to stretch and quickly shorten them back up when I need to - not that they're ever short at this phase. I was very glad that my equitation was not being judged, because I had to really do some work to find a place where I could sit back (hello, hunter/jumper rider here), feel the rein contact and change it without changing my seat, and post really slowly to get the mare to slowwww dooooown. This is physically demanding for me, and it's a lot to think about all at once, but we'll get there. Oh! AND! This jumper rider tends to ride with her head on the swivel, looking for the next jump, so I'm always looking way too much to the inside. Sharon had me do this genius exercise that she thought of on the spot where I'd turn my head in rhythm to the trot: so, rise/left, rise/straight, rise/right, repeat. That accomplished several really cool things: it helped me loosen up my neck and shoulders (this is where I carry my tension), it got me to feel where my head is supposed to be (straight, not turned to the inside), and it helped us find a rhythm. We had some really good trot through that exercise! Sharon's worth her weight in gold.

She also got to see how Lex is into stretching now. She thinks we'll be able to get her really stretching through her back if I can let her stretch all the way down to the buckle and keep the rhythm going with my seat. It's a really good thing I wasn't going for any equitation prizes today, because I'm sure I looked like a total mess, but I want to ride this horse effectively. She deserves good riding and good training, and I don't want to skip any steps. I'd like her to be supple and adjustable, because that can only help us in the show ring down the road.

I feel really good about the lesson. Sharon comes up with the best ideas and has a fantastic eye for what's happening at any given moment, which is harder than it sounds. Lex was a good girl and I did the best I could and worked hard, and I definitely have some stuff to keep us busy until I leave for Virginia.

All Lex needs to stay busy is grass.

But. I'm feeling bad about two things. First and most important, I think I should have given her a day off two days ago. She was a little ear-pinny today, and that isn't like her. Sharon noted that, too. That could be from lots of things - maybe the saddle pad was bugging her, maybe the flies were getting on her nerves. But my intuition says that she needs a break. It's tempting to just ride her for the next 3-4 days since I'm about to leave for a week and I will miss her terribly, but that's my problem, not hers. I'm going to give her tomorrow off altogether except for some grooming and hand-grazing in the morning while the other horses eat. Then on Saturday, I will just do ground work with her and not ride. Sunday and Monday, if the weather permits, I'll hop on and try to get some good work in. When I get back from VA, I'll ride her for a few days, giving her Monday off, and then we'll have our first lesson with Chris on Thursday, two weeks from today. I don't want her to get sour. She's too awesome for that. I'm feeling guilty, even though I don't think we've actually gotten to a bad place yet.

Second: We need more ground work training in our lives. I know how to do it because I did it with TJ when he was here. He wasn't halter-broke to my satisfaction when he arrived and by the time he left he was really nice to handle and be around. It helps that he has a fabulous personality. Lex is great on the halter and stuff, but I think we could do some work to establish a little bit more respect on the ground. It'll give Sharon fewer heart attacks, and I don't want Lex to be one of those horses who can't stand at the mounting block and stuff like that. She's also horrible about being sprayed with fly spray and water, and I think her life will be happier if those things don't bother her so much. One of the reasons I've hesitated to go all Clinton Anderson on her is because he's always saying that he likes "a naturally doped horse." That's great, but I don't like that kind of horse. That kind of horse doesn't tend to be brilliant in the jumper ring. But I think she'll benefit from some of it. I can take what I need and leave the rest.

Whew. That was a novel. I'm hoping to look back at this post in a couple months and be like "Wow, we've come a long way!" Tomorrow I'll have had her for four weeks and I'll have been riding her for three weeks. I feel like for three weeks of riding after three years of no riding and racetrack training only before that, we're doing pretty well. 


  1. Posting slow is one of the hardest things for me - I can totally relate. Sounds like you had a great lesson though!

    1. It was a great lesson, but my legs HURT today! My knees especially. Ugh. I'm not used to having a ton of contact with my knees, which is good because I don't pinch, but I needed to have my whole upper leg more closed yesterday. Today I actually have sores on my knees. That has NEVER happened to me before while riding! Just goes to show how much I have to revisit my own balance issues. I'm glad I'm getting Duchess back on Sunday. She doesn't let me ride out of balance at all. She's awesome.