Demolish & Rebuild.

I had another lesson yesterday.  I think I'm still recovering.  Actually, the muscle spasms* in my back tell me that I haven't really recovered yet.

This was my second lesson with T3.  You can read about the first one here.

So, the kids finished their lesson and I'd really only been walking a couple minutes.  For whatever reason (spur of the moment shopping at the Goodwill?), I was running late.  Whoops.  When I got into the ring, I explained that he'd had essentially two weeks off, but that I'd ridden him several times in the days leading up to the lesson.  I also said that I felt we had made improvements with the bulging right and the speed, but that I felt like I was riding a fucking racking horse, with his head in my lap.  We'll touch on that in a bit.

She had me start trotting and almost immediately started ripping in.  I can't remember all the chronological of it, but I know I dropped my whip at the very beginning because I needed to focus more on the reins.  Here's what we worked on:

  • Contact.  We have none.  I can't feel it.  The way she explained it to me is that I need to be asking him to halt with my upper body and asking him to extend with my lower body - so my legs are essentially pushing him into a brick wall and he has no choice but to bring his back up.
  • But he can't bring his back up if I'm not giving him anywhere to put his face.  As the lesson went on, she realized that I was slowly putting the Archer into a choke hold.  I kept shortening my reins.  She kept telling me to use my elbows.  I kept creeping further up his neck.  At the very end of the lesson, she had me trot him around on a loose rein.  Whereupon we discussed that it's better for both of us if I start him long and low and introduce contact, rather than choking him and expecting him to meet that contact with no room.  Derp.
  • I told her that my butt palate wasn't refined enough to feel when he was really engaging his back.  It's not.  We taught me a little of what it felt like, but I think that's just going to take time.
  • I ride too "dressagey".  We worked on my hunter perch.  I also drive with my hips too much, which is a side effect of riding too dressagey.  (Which is not to say that dressage riders drive with their hips - y'all know what you're doing and I just took a few lessons.)  We worked on getting me to sit on my crotch and not my tailbone, to close my hip angle, and to not cower in the fetal but rather bring my head away from his head.  It seems easy typing it, but it was fucking bitch to try to do.
  • My body position in general.  Yargh.  Sit on crotch, don't drive with the hips, "lighten" the left hip (and this is where I had to say that I didn't know what that meant or how to do it - literally lifting the left hip bone up in the saddle - because I was driving with my left seat bone, which was also causing him to bulge right), get my chin up, my chest out, my elbows back, my right shoulder down, and increase the distance from my knee to my hip by pushing my knees down, but still magically keeping all of this light and flexible.
  • My legs.  My legs.  While doing that magic trick with lengthening my legs, we also talked about my calf/heel position.  She wondered how I managed not to break my ankles.  Um.  So.  I thought I had a really good ankle position.  ...When in actuality, she told me that the ideal is a 45º out of the toes and I'm, uh, inverted.  The inversion of my toes (I point towards his face) causes a gap in my calves.  Because of this gap, I'm having to kick more than I am squeezing, which just fucks everything up.  I worked on pointing those toes out a bit and feeling him with my calves.
  • I work too hard.  I drive too much with my seat, I kick too much with my legs, I post too much with my hands.  My body is exhausted long before his.  I'm posting about five inches too high.  And not getting out of the saddle enough at the canter.
  • Last lesson, I had to spend a lot of time counter-bending him to get him to stop bulging on the right side.  She said that she could tell that we had spent some time working on this, because we didn't need to focus on that nearly as much (which is good because I'm such a hot mess).  She had me canter him tracking right and bending him in on the straights.  He'd figure it out in a few strides, start carrying himself, I'd reward with lessening the bend and then he'd break in the corners.  She explained that corners are harder and that I'll probably still need to support him by bending again in the corners - reinforcing that he has to use his body correctly.  So it's like, bend, reward, bend again, reward, see if he'll carry himself, correct if not.
  • We talked about how I can't feel if I'm crooked in my shoulders.  She had me ask him to canter (and he threw his first tantrum at the new barn!  with a witness!) and then hold the reins in my outside hand and bring my inside arm straight up by my ear.  That way, I can feel if I'm off-balance and I can also lengthen my torso.
  • Speaking of the canter, she reiterated that I needed to devote more time to the transition.  She mentioned this last week, too, but I guess I thought we were better.  She said that I run him into it, which loses whatever contact I may have had and makes him strung out at the canter.  I need to maintain contact and ask calmly.  Those big, scary canter strides that he used to do when I asked for the right lead?  All. My. Fault.
  • I asked when we could start expecting to jump, with respect for the fact that he needs a stronger topline.  She said that we could continue to canter poles now, but only after three or four weeks of consistently working him in a balanced frame should I expect to be able to start doing some crossrails.  She said that small jumps wouldn't hurt him right now, but that it wasn't doing either of us any favors.  The reason for that is that I have to be able to maintain contact and get him round before and after the jump, which I have to be able to do in general on the flat anyways and I'm not.  She said something I don't think I've ever heard before:  the jump itself isn't important; it's the beginning and the end that are.  I have to be able to go to the fence with contact and with him carrying himself, jump, and land with the same expectations.
Sorry for the novel!  After the hour lesson, we were both drenched.  I'd brought a water bottle, but stupidly left it in the barn.  I also remembered to wear my heartrate monitor, because I knew it was going to be killer.

Drenched blondie.
One hour lesson.
Max heartrate had been 187, average 140.
We talked about when I would take my next lesson (probably three weeks) and I took him on a trail ride.  I let him relax his head and neck, but I kept working on my toes/ankle/calves.  Not surprisingly, since my little ponykins had some encouragement from my leg, we had no balks or hesitations and I walked him all the way to the river, which required we cross the scary sandy area between two swampy things.  

Scary sandy area.
Weird swampy thing.
Walking back to the barn, I thought about some things she had said about him.  T3 said that he was willing.  I've never thought of Archie as a willing horse, because I felt like he fought me at every turn.  And why'd he fight?  Because I asked him incorrectly to do things that his body wasn't capable of.  I feel like riding with a trainer, even if I don't see her very often, has completely changed my relationship with my horse.

Yes, please.
When we got back to the barn, I hosed him off, guzzled a liter of water without vomming, and gave him his beetpulp.  Extra hugs and kisses as I walked him to his pasture.  He'll have today off and I'll go back out tomorrow and try to remember how to do all of this again.  :)

Two hours after I'd gotten in the saddle.
*About eightish years ago, I fell off a Connemara pony that I was jumping for my trainer.  A lady was interested in the mare (who didn't belong to our barn, I'd never met her before) and that lady warmed the mare up for me.  My trainer just wanted me to jump her around some.  When I mounted, the lady held the stirrup on the right side.  I never felt the saddle give; I never checked the girth.  Long story slightly shorter, I fell after a jump, got a concussion and temporary amnesia and nearly broke my back.  My short term memory sucks (a lot) and I have arthritis in my spine.

Ps.  This is my 400th post.
Holy shit.

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  1. Happy 400th post! I'm so glad you are taking lessons and that they are working out well for you, as in helping you and changing your relationship with Arch man for the bestest. I've heard something similar "Jumping is just dressage with obstacles"

  2. I think I love your trainer. She sounds amazing.

  3. Sounds like a kick-ass, productive lesson.

  4. Sounds like a very productive lesson!

  5. Wow. I think I have 95% of the same problems as you. This is wildly informative. I'm glad to hear that T3 is working out (and everytime you use that phrase, I think of the terminator!)