Sunday, July 17, 2011
Putting on my Big Girl Pants
After the show last weekend I set up a lesson with Sarah. I knew I wanted to nail down the rushing on pattern issue before the next show. The counter canter was helping, but I still held a certain amount of dread when envisioning how our Western Riding class at this next show might go. Once again it took Sarah a matter of 30 seconds to get down to the bottom of things. I still have this fantasy that I will show up for a lesson and Sarah will spend the entire time telling me how great I am. I understand how delusional that is – the whole point of working with a trainer is to improve, not pay someone to blow sunshine, but still it always amazes me that it takes her no time to pinpoint the issues and get down to the bottom of things.
Grace was still not straight; she would swing her left hip out and fish tail. When I would try to correct her she would lift her head and drop her back. My response has been to back off and start over or ask another question. I have never really pushed Grace beyond her point of resistance, I tend to change the subject or look for another way to ask the same question. The result is a horse that tenses up in the show ring and takes over, a horse that thinks for herself because she knows that I won’t do it for her. Sarah and I traded horses so I could get the feel and so she push Grace past the stopping point.
When Grace resisted Sarah didn’t back off the pressure she kept asking the same question until Grace gave her the correct answer. After some initial “I couldn’t possibly” Grace moved forward, unlocked her loin and gave Sarah some of the best lope I have ever seen out of that mare. When I got back on I had a different horse underneath me. Her back was lifted, I could sit her lope and she listened to my direction. We had a line with 10 strides that were better than anything I have ever felt from this mare before. This was the horse I wanted to have in the show ring.
Sarah and I discussed at length my previous unwillingness to push Grace past her brick wall. I always talk about wanting to have a partnership with my horse, but I tend to forget that partnerships are not all rainbows and unicorns. Grace needs me to step up and lead at times, and I don’t do that. Sarah pointed out that I compensate for Grace’s resistance and she is absolutely right. In the show ring I tip toe around the mare afraid to breathe for it might make her get tense and rush. My fear has been that my riding wasn’t good enough to ask Grace to step it up to the next level that my imbalances were causing her imbalances and while that is true, the mare still doesn’t get to run off with me. I asked Sarah if we could come back for another lesson on Saturday. I wanted to capture this before the show – I didn't want things to go back to the way they had been.
On Friday Grace was the most “shut down” I think she has ever been. She was carrying herself with her back and wither lifted, she was responsive to my small corrections. It was the ride I wanted in the show ring. I was actually concerned about it at first, what if this wasn’t good and I only thought it was? It felt good, but I started to second guess the ride; it almost felt too easy. I loped Grace over a pole and things fell apart, she dropped her back, lifted her head and rushed off – that was the horse I knew! I got her back together and now had a very clear feeling for what I did and did not want.
It was pouring when I got up on Saturday but there was no way I was going to miss my lesson. I had to build on what we had done for the last two days. I knew I needed to capture the feel in my body and I needed Sarah’s eyes to make sure I had it. The rain stopped just in time for our ride, we picked up where we left off at the last lesson. At one point I had to push Grace through the same wall that Sarah did on Thursday. I could feel that point where I had backed off in the past, where I had believed that Grace couldn’t possibly do what I was asking, this time I knew she could. Grace stopped going forward and went sideways. I kept the same amount of pressure on the reins and increased my leg, bumping Grace’s sides to make it clear I wanted forward. After realizing that I wasn’t going to back off Grace stepped forward, lifting her back and dropping her head. I released the pressure and continued on with our lope. It wasn’t a big deal. Sarah had me ride a few feet off the rail asking Grace to change her lead every 8 strides. I was amazed how the quality of her lope improved and how much better my seat became throughout the exercise. We also worked on straight lines down the middle of the arena where Grace only got to change her lead if she was perfectly straight, if she drifted one way or the other, she had to continue in the same direction.
I have my marching orders for this week and a very clear feeling for the horse that I want underneath me. My only goal for next weekend’s show is to have a horse that waits on me in the show ring. The only way I will achieve that is to expect it every time I get on her back at home. I have to remember that leadership is a part of partnership; it is my job to show my horse how to best do her job. Time to put my big girl pants on.