A quick lesson recap from Friday as we just smoothed over what we were learning the week before. I told C that we’d had a bad week, and about Oscar’s new thing of sucking back behind my leg meaning I didn’t want to carry on practising in case there was something that I was doing wrong.
Turns out it is actually Oscar’s new thing, as he tried it on a couple of times during the lesson, though obviously not to the extent that he did with me when we were practising ‘unsupervised’. So basically I just have to stop what I’m doing when he does it and go forwards, at once. Rinse and repeat. He’s just struggling with the work and looking for escape routes which is absolutely normal, it is hard after all.
He has made a little bit of progress though, as he was able to do more steps of the shoulder in on a circle than last week – so we’ll take that as a victory. Not so much of a victory as a happy surprise really, considering we only practised once the whole week. No counter flexion on the circle today, though I imagine it will rear its’ ugly head again soon enough. I felt that the majority of times Oscar was saying no to me was when we were practising counter flexion, and really it’s no surprise as he’s a horse that escapes through the outside shoulder. His body had to be absolutely straight to counter flex and remain on a circle, and it was hard for him to have his evasive technique taken away so forcefully. So naturally to him, curling back behind my leg and sticking his nose out was the next best thing. We’ll get there with time, the flexion to the inside is getting better slowly and surely, and the same will apply with flexion to the outside.
Whilst Oscar’s ability to flex to the inside is getting better, my hands are also making improvements; I’ve mentioned more than once that they tend to cross over into each other’s space, and I only had to correct myself once today. I feel it in my shoulders when my hands are behaving themselves, and so there’s probably a bit of bad muscle memory to remove, and replace with good muscle memory that allows my hands a bit more independence. “Herd bound hands”, as I think of them not so affectionately, are equally as annoying as herd bound horses, and I am pleased to see we’re making progress there.
Unfortunately, I’m still struggling with every other body part on the left rein. I think a chiro/physio visit for myself will be really beneficial. My shoulders are tense, my elbow is stiff, and I’m still crumpled through my ribcage. I’m also not sitting on my butt properly – sticking it out a bit like a duck, which helps me open my shoulders more but makes me less effective overall. Clicking the link will take you back to last winter, the third photo in particular shows me in full duck mode. #potatorider haha. It’s actually not funny.
For obvious reasons, we worked quite a bit on me today. I was really struggling at some points, trying to sit strong and soft at the same time – and when I managed it, the change in Oscar was instantaneous. He began to carry himself beautifully, and felt really strong beneath me yet really light in my hands; the concept of having the horse come from behind, through your seat and into your hands in action. It’s an awesome feeling, and on a whole other level from just having a soft horse with its face on the vertical. I felt like I could have asked for any transition or canter movement and we were right there, in the zone and prepared for what was next.
All good things must come to an end though and my fitness, or lack thereof, was the undoing of everything. I couldn’t keep up and would break, shoulders dropping and legs sliding out from underneath me and Oscar would fall into my hands yet again. I don’t look like a complete tool to the outside eye, but after feeling what is actually correct, I know that I’m not riding correctly. If, for example, we were in a dressage test and about to move onto another movement, it would have taken me three or seven strides to pick myself up, pick my horse up and develop that quality canter I was talking about. In short, I’m overcompensating for my weak areas, and not using my whole body evenly which has resulted in crookedness in Oscar.
In my defence, because it sounds as though I genuinely can’t ride. I feel as though I’m struggling to the extent that I am, because I’m having a few personal health problems at the moment. I’m a vegetarian and am 99.9% sure I have an iron deficiency. Just the other day I slept for 12 hours straight, forcing myself out of bed still feeling groggy. And yesterday, I was pretty tired after lugging four hard feeds up the raceway to my horse’s paddocks. I thought “I’ll just sit here and catch my breath whilst the horses eat”, and it just felt so good to be off my feet and before you knew it – I’d dozed off. It only lasted five or ten minutes before the rare patch of sunshine was replaced by a storm cloud and the bittery coldness of the lower north island winds roused me. So, as I was saying, I’ve just had a general lack of enthusiasm/commitment across the board due to this low energy and naturally, riding lessons are killing me at the moment. Sitting strong through my core in canter, killing me. I ordered some iron pills – perhaps concrete pills would be more appropriate? – and am forcing broccoli, spinach & kale soup down for every meal I can and so I hope to be back to my usual self soon.
Aside from smoothing over/continuing our work with flexion and suppleness, and trying to fix potato rider, we introduced shoulder in on the straight line. It was really hairy at first, as Oscar would curl around my inside leg, crooked through that dreaded outside shoulder and drift inwards towards the middle of the arena. Whilst we are supposed to be on three tracks, he was on four (and five and six if you count him moving across into my leg). A side effect of a weak and crooked outside shoulder is less room for the inside leg to come underneath the horse, and so Oscar falling into my leg was just part of the hot crooked mess, and not him trying to fight me.
We got a couple of good attempts on both reins after four or five bad ones each, and naturally the left rein wasn’t half as good as the right. Our homework this week is to get better at that – much better – by Friday.
I think I need to dedicate a whole ride to just fine tuning transitions, particularly sharpness in the upwards transitions and.. well, downwards transitions in general. Though riding a slight shoulder in into my down transitions proved to be really helpful. He used to have very good transitions before all of this flexing and suppling business, but lately he’s acting lethargic because he’s finding the work hard. It’s laziness as opposed to being uneducated in that regard, which is easy enough to fix. Or maybe he’s struggling with the vegetarianism like me, ha. To be fair, the lack of grass means he’s getting less leafy greens than usual!
So on the whole, my hands are improving, our down transitions are slightly improving and we’re able to hold the exercises for longer.
We need to work more on sharpness off my leg, straightness and my whole existence as a passenger on my horse’s back. I think I really ought to look into a physio or chiro to try and figure out why I turn into a human pretzel on the left rein, and I definitely need to figure out some exercises to practise off of my horse’s back in order to get some strength back. You know you’re getting old when past injuries start coming back to haunt you!