Calm, Forward, Straight

Calm, Forward, Straight

Friday, December 16, 2011

In the Arena #96 - I "rode the horse I have today".. now, may I please have the one I rode yesterday?!

With the glorious weather still hanging in here Thursday, I was compelled to ride. Canceled an appointment, groomed and tacked, and away we went...

Nowhere. No go button at all. We argued about going forward, which direction to not go forward in, and ultimately which spot to refuse to go forward from. My recent strategy of skipping walk work and moving on to the trot was ineffective. Asking for the trot elicited a series of head shaking crow hops, with some dropped shoulder added in for effect. On a good note I stayed put no problem, and managed to run through my mental checklist instead of worrying into a fetal position.

My last few posts probably conveyed the sinister little undermining sense of disbelief I had at how well our rides have been going, for an extended period of time now, without a trainer. I tried to temper my enthusiasm, knowing that the pendulum would ultimately swing back the other way. Self fulfilling prophecy...

Yesterday was a day that I totally needed and missed the help of a better, wiser rider. I got completely frustrated at not being able to resolve the no go situation in a positive way, with a positive attitude. My mind went to that unhelpful place that predicts bad future events instead of being here now:

"If I don't end this ride on a good note, the sky will fall, and the sun will never shine again, and my horse will be broken. Waaaaa."

I dismounted. And quasi free lunged (chased him around waving my arms) for a few minutes, until I got control of my emotions, and he got with the moving forward program. Bingo.

Deep breath. He licked and chewed, I remounted, and we continued the ride. We did some nice big walking - best walk work we've done yet, he was covering ground. Then we moved out at the trot. I dropped my stirrups and rode on the buckle.*Val was super responsive to my aids. We ended on a very good note, as far as the riding part goes.

Now, here's the worrying part. As far the rider is concerned - I know that I struggle with being consistent in my aiding, with being even in my body, with not giving unintentional aids. The last few months suggest to me that I have become a more competent rider...

So what about Val? I believe his saddle fit is good. The sweat marks are always even and the same on both sides. My trainer inspected the fit and okayed it. Val doesn't react negatively to being saddled or to the girth being tightened. His mouth is great according to his natural balance dentist. He takes the bit willingly, and takes his time letting it go when we untack. He has been getting a nice foamy mouth lately, so I don't think there's a bit problem.

Could something be bothering him physically? He seems sound to me. I can certainly see when I'm not in the saddle that he shows no movement issues. Could he just be testing my leadership? Does everyone have day like this where it seems like they're going backwards? Should riding feel this hard - or more precisely, shouldn't it eventually feel easier?

For my own peace of mind, I'm going to give Val some bute before our next ride, which hopefully will eliminate if there is a physical issue that I've missed. And the next ride after that will be bareback. If the problem stems from my riding, I'm pointing my finger at how my tight right hip affects my seat. *I've noticed that when I drop my stirrups and ride on the buckle at the end of our rides, Val is the most responsive and loose that he ever feels.

I'll keep you posted. The dressage journey is nothing if not interesting and mentally engaging - resisting the urge to whine here - even more so when you're learning solo. :)


  1. I think for horses that are a little out of shape (not unfit or competition fit) some of the trot work can be really tough at the start of a workout (especially following a really productive ride). I've noticed (at least with TBs) that they really thrive on loosening up their backs first (ie, a little easy cantering -- maybe with your weight off his back -- around to stretch so to speak), then resume work as usual. If there are no other glaring issues, it could just be a matter of strength and muscle tone on his part.

    Riding "the horse you have today" is so tough in practice!!!!!!!

  2. It doesn't sound like there is a medical issue. I agree that he might be sore from the excellent work. I don't know about Val (since horses vary quite a bit on this) but Jackson's work ethic and attitude improve dramatically if we have a chill day on the trail.

  3. Your post title cracked me up. Thanks for that. :)

    Oh yeah. Everyone has those days. I agree that some cantering in half seat or a trail ride are both great remedies. As Harley has gotten older, he doesn't feel really nice in his trot until he canters, so I canter sooner in the ride than I used to.

  4. I think everyone has these days when things just go crummy, and good horsewomen tend to blame themselves up one side and down the other. Lots of things you can try (you've got a nice long list). With a horse like Val, I'd suspect physical issues first "My back is tight! I'm still sore from yesterday!" etc.) and mental issues second ("I'm bored with told me I've been doing it just right, so can't we do something else now?")

    I hope you find out what's troubling him soon. And I know exactly what you mean about wanting someone more experienced there with you. But please remember to trust yourself--nobody knows Val better than you do.

  5. So... when you got off and chased him around, did he trot? Canter? Stretch himself out some? If so, that's probably part of why the walk was so nice and relaxed when you got back on.

    I wonder if he needed more warm-up at the walk before trotting this ride - for whatever reason. I like to see the horse tracking up fully and even over-tracking at the walk before I move to the trot - then sometimes if the trot is stiff I will canter just to loosen things up.

    Sometimes it's just one of those days/rides. Any little thing could be off with him or with you. You worked through it and have a plan for the next ride.

    Stretch that tight hip before you ride! (you probably already do but I just had to say it. :))

  6. : ) Thanks for this post! I had a less then stellar ride today and left a little frustrated. Reading your post, now I'm thinking "This is dressage and that is dressage horses." Good days and bad days, frustrating training sessions and magnificent ones.

    Someone once wrote: "The highs in dressage are so incredible, because the lows are so frequent".

    You're not alone, you and Val are developing soo well (better then I think I am, and I HAVE a trainer!) that it's inevitable that the day you want to make more progress, things backslide. Smile, tomorrow will be a better day : ) And if it's not, give it another day ; )

  7. It sounds to me like he's medically fine. I find with any one of our horses that get worked regularly they need a longish warm up before they begin work. Hey, so do I! The other thing we try to do is mix it up a bit so it's not just doing the same old thing all the time. When we would take lessons the horses knew it was walk, trot, canter then jump then walk. Never really a change and they got bored. It always seems best to either give them a day off or do something fun. Like play games from the ground with them or go on a trail ride etc. Just like horses I get bored if I do the same thing everyday. Good luck.

  8. One day is no big deal, and it sounds like you guys more or less worked through it. What makes you a great, conscientious rider is that you analyze every ride though, as you should:) Just try not to worry too much.

  9. The important thing is that you got off, loosened him up and then got on again. We can't all be perfect every day -nor should we want to be. Perfect would be so boring.

  10. hey, i probably shouldn't come in here in the middle of things when i don't really know what's led up to this point, but i can confirm that, yes, we definitely all have 'those' days, so don't sweat it too much. you've got a good handle on things and some good observations and advice here.

    i'd also just add my main theory when working with horses, especially in dressage: it's common, especially when making progress with a horse, to want to continually keep building upon that progress; but horses aren't designed to work that way. they make a breakthrough, then they need to step back and do something they already know well, change the subject, have fun, relax, etc. before building back up to the newer, harder stuff. they can't be expected to pick up where they left off yesterday, and if they are just constantly pushed and drilled onward and upward, they may become tense, resistant, defiant and eventually crack or shut down.

    but they can enjoy their work so long as they get a chance to digest the new stuff while interspersing it with sessions focussing on simpler work in which they are more relaxed and confident, longing, hacking, trails, etc. imho. :-)

    it sounds to me like you're on the right track. so try not to be discouraged by a frustrating ride here and there. just remember to mix it up and don't be afraid to take a step back when things don't go your way and reinforce and reward the good/old stuff before tackling the not-so-good/new stuff.

    hope that made sense!

  11. I just love you and your dappled steed of yesterdays ride and also the current, not so perfected ride. It is one in the same, I do all adds up to progress.

    Many people said it eloquently, horses don't build upon the last ride session, taking off from the top of what was working. Val is a smarty, he remembers the right answers to your questions..but he seems that he needed a break from routine.

    Your title really made me chuckle. I pray that it is none of what you fear it could be, with a physical ailment. You do have such a handle on his pulse of health and well being..maybe he just is speaking to you about changing it up some.

    My sis is always trying to get me to give mine some Bute before ridng the arena (which I have not tried) maybe I shall. Let us know how that goes..but the whoop whoop, out of the saddle romp, was a good drug this time!

    Merry Christmas to you and yours, my dear. I adore your riding and reading of all the times you have.
    Kac with Wa mare~

  12. I don't have a solution, but you got lots of good advice. I just wanted to say that I think everyone has those days. All in all you guys have been doing great. Also, you handled it really well. Try not to worry :) Look at all you've accomplished, and mostly on your own.

  13. Even horses have occasional off days where they really just don't feel like doing anything. Maybe he was just having a grumpy lazy day and testing your resolve to make him work when he really didn't want to. Sounds like you have a pretty good handle on his health/aches/pains/saddle fit, and I wouldn't necessarily automatically think something's physically wrong...

  14. I wouldn't say that dressage is "supposed" to be hard, but rather that *riding* is hard, because you've got a thinking, feeling partner that just happens not to speak the same language.

    Don't beat yourself up too much - horses have bad days too! If you know it's not medical, he could have just needed a change of pace. Trail ride, longeing, maybe even a few poles on the ground? Something to break it up.

    Let us know how it goes?

  15. You're not alone, I have rides that vary wildly from one day to the next. So does my trainer. Our horses are individuals, just like us. Some days they feel better than they do on others - I think this can be especially true of our beloved OTTBs. Anyway, kudos to you for recognizing that a different approach was needed. Bet you get right back to that good work, and I'll make another bet that good becomes habit. Love the new pic in your blog header too. Very nice!

  16. I just loved this detailed post about, well, an ordinary ride, let's face it. After all, it was just one ride, just you two talking, not talking, and you starting to overthink/worry and him starting to warm up when you let him. I always feel like I'm there, ringside, watching - that's how well you describe it.


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