Sarah wasn’t able to make it to the lesson today so it was just Grace and I. I hauled in early giving myself plenty of time to get there and warm up before Mario arrived. Grace warmed up well but I still wasn’t pleased with our lope transitions she was still throwing her head and/or grunting on the first step of the departure. Mario asked if I’d done any shows since the last lesson so I told him about the small show I went to on Sunday. For once our rail classes were actually our best classes; Grace’s lope improved with each class but I wasn’t happy with our ride in the trail classes. The pattern was simple and we did well with the obstacles, it was the in between the obstacles that lacked. Grace threw her head on the lope transition and picked up the wrong lead – this is not the ride I want this year in the show ring. With that in mind Mario asked me to ride a horsemanship pattern doing a figure eight with a simple change in the middle. For the simple change he wanted me to bring Grace to a halt and then step off into the other lead. He also asked that I ride it one handed, something we hadn’t done yet in one of his lessons.
The right lead lope transition wasn’t half bad; Grace kept her head level. She popped her head up in the left lead and leaned out her shoulder. Mario pointed out that Grace pins her ears into the lope and even though her right lead departure was technically correct the ear pinning isn’t very appealing. Mario asked me if Grace has ever given me a perfect lope departure and I had to admit the answer is no. While she has improved by leaps and bounds over the last few months I never know if the good transition will be there when I ask for it. Mario finally gave me his impression of my little mare, he said he does like her and she looks like a horse that could do a lot of things but she reminds him of an employee that is always 5 minutes late to work. She shows up and does her job but is complacent about it and will only do it if she is told to. He said she isn’t bad or evil, but she’s never been made to do what is expected of her. I told him that I don’t always believe that she can do what I am asking, which he backed up by saying that Grace doesn’t believe that I will make her do it. He then gave me his first impression of Grace from when he judged her at the AQHA Novice show last June. Mario said he thought of her as one of those horses that he would like to buy, put 30 days on and then sell. This spoke volumes to me because it said he believed that the horse could do it if someone just took the time to make her. When Mario asked if he could ride Grace I couldn’t hand the reins over fast enough.
After preparing her with a walk circle Mario asked Grace to lope off, she squealed and hopped into the lope. Mario immediately kicked her up with his leg and bumped her with his hand to get her head back down. In one lope circle I saw her lope completely change, suddenly she became very businesslike. After going back to the walked he asked her to lope off again and I saw what was by far the best lope departure that mare has ever performed and it just got better from there. If Grace lifted her head at any time Mario bumped her back down with leg and hand as soon as she gave he gave. Mario made mention of Grace’s leaning to the left, he said he had to continually correct her. He suggested that I get her as soft on the left side as she is on the right, or ride her on the edge of a cliff so that if she leaned to the left she would fall off. Of course he didn’t actually mean that but I understood the idea, there needs to be a consequence for her drifting to the left.
When I got back on I could feel a difference, Grace’s shoulder and wither felt elevated, she was more on her hind end. Mario coached me through the timing of my leg and hands, we quickly discovered that when I ride one handed I pull back on the reins instead of up. That adjustment added with leg changed everything. I had Mario work with me on when to put my hand down and let go as I didn’t always feel it. Our lope transitions improved with each one and the quality of the lope was like riding a different horse. Gone was the grunting, squealing and even the ear pinning. Mario pointed out that the lope even had a cleaner sound to it and that Grace was now reaching up underneath herself. This brought me back to the discussion that I’ve had with Sarah; when I don’t push Grace and ask more out of her I actually create lameness by allowing her to stay stiff and rigid. I’ve never really believed that Grace could step up and give the quality transitions and gaits that are expected in the show ring and I spend a lot of time making excuses for it. Today I saw and felt that my horse is capable of going to that next level but that I have to insist on it. At the end of the ride while Mario and I were talking he pointed out that Grace looked different, the look in her eye had changed she was listening to me and that if I asked her to lope right then she would willingly step into it. Something tells me that Grace’s days of showing up 5 minutes late are over. There is a new manager in town and she won’t tolerate tardiness.