Grace was at the short end of my stick this week. Between the extra hours at work, a company meeting, writing class and an after work session at the Strength Lab she didn’t get the attention she is accustom to. I found myself apologizing to her on Friday night, followed by assuring her that by the end of the day on Saturday she would be sick of me. 24 hours later my prediction rang true.
I was excited for our trail pattern lesson on Saturday, that was until I saw Sarah setting the course. My first clue was when she drove into the arena with a flatbed full of poles. As we proceeded to place them in specific piles around the arena it got me to thinking – isn’t it time to change the name of “trail” when it refers to the class that is held at horse shows? Long ago it was a class that simulated conditions you may have to encounter while out on an actual trail ride, as in outside of an arena. Grace and I spend a lot of time out on actual trails, but I have yet to encounter a lumber yard full of painted poles that I had to negotiate at a slow rhythmic pace. Maybe the class should be called Horsemanship Over Poles or Super Technical Pattern Class or even Horses with Long Strides Need Not Apply. Either way I learned on Saturday just now technical trail class really is.
Both Kristen and I pondered the distances between the poles as Sarah set them with a measuring tape. There were jog overs which were approached on a serpentine but had to be ridden straight, a rope gate, cones, a bridge and a set of lope overs that would soon become my nemesis. Starting with the jog overs it didn’t take long before it was clear that I didn’t have my horse together. Sarah had me ride two handed driving Grace up into the bridle. Sarah explained that Grace had to learn the pattern and obstacles in contact and working over her back. The goal being to eventually ride it one handed where she will continue to work over her back relying on my body for cues. When I rode the jog overs straight and kept my horse together they were easy every time, but if I dumped her at the base of them or allowed her to drift coming into them she would drop her back and rush through them. It was the same feeling I have experienced from her in the show ring when rushes in a Western Riding pattern.
From the jog overs we had to pick up the right lead and head to the lope overs. The first pole was set on an angle with the remaining 4 poles in the line set straight. The line was ridden at a diagonal set from the first pole. Where you started at the first pole depended on the length of your horse's stride, you also had to come deep enough to the approach to make the line. In other words there was a ton of thinking to do before you even got to the obstacle. This one line of poles seems to quickly brought up all of the weak spots that Grace and I possess. It required the turn to come off the left rein, pushing the horse's shoulder through the turn as opposed to pulling their nose. It became very clear that I didn’t have Grace in my left rein, my right leg didn't seem to want to say on her side, which was needed to keep her together through the turn and over the poles. At one point I was convinced that we were not going to pull it together. I watched Kristen and Rhett Butler negotiate the poles while Grace and I took a much needed break. This is why I love group lessons, seeing another rider go through the same obstacle allows me to process it on a deeper level. I was able to see why the horses needed the deeper approach to the line and why the left rein was so critical on the approach. When it was our turn again not only did we make the line but Grace also waited on me and did not rush through the poles.
Our first schooling show of the season is next weekend and I plan to use it for exactly that –schooling. I am secretly hoping for an easier trail pattern than the one at my lesson. I believe that we are about 1,000 more lope overs away from being able to accomplish a course of that level one handed. I guess I’d better set some poles in the arena at home today. Let’s see, 1,000 divided by 3 …. I have my work cut out for me.