I’ve been here in Welly World for a month and a few days – time has flown, yet I feel like we’ve already packed so much into these past few weeks. In Vermont, it can be a bit of a trek to get anywhere. While I love being away from the craziness of city life (and I’d bet you a million bucks you’d be hard pressed to find another farm with views like ours), there are perks to being closer to civilization.
One is being close to my most favorite grocery store ever: Trader Joe’s.
The biggest perk might be that while we’re so close to just about everything you could want/need, that also means it’s easy to rub shoulders with equestrian idols! On any given day, you’ll see more people in breeches than street clothes early AM at Starbucks. Last time I was here (2014/15), we were having breakfast at a local cafe while George Morris was only a few tables away. Last week, we attended an open house at Helgstrand Dressage, where we sipped free champagne and watched gazillion-dollar horses prance around. This week, a local shop is holding a question and answer session with Debbie McDonald (my favorite Olympian!). These are the kind of things that make coming to Wellington even more amazing.
Meanwhile, during the day, I get to spend my time riding some super fun horses and learning more and more. This is a record for me and HM – we’ve never had the chance to work together for 5 days a week, 4 weeks straight. Like anything, we have a few steps forward, a few steps back, and then a step or two forward again.
We made some fairly steady progress until the weather cooled off last week – whereupon I was reminded (yet again) that wanna-be-chestnut-mares are VERY different from golden pony geldings.
On Thursday, I came out to the ring as usual and began my warmup. HM was decent – not particularly bad or good either way, just normal stuff. Ruth was there, and another client walked to the ring to watch. Keep in mind that HM actually saw her come to the ring and take a seat. But when we came around by the shady spot where the humans were the SECOND time, it was utterly terrifying. She flung her head in the air, grabbed my right rein, and tried to run.
I reorganized, started over, and pretty soon we could trot by the spot where the scary humans were “hiding” without incident. Until one of the girls I work with drove into a nearby paddock with the gator and a pitchfork. We were cantering by this point, and I was ready. I thought I had convinced her to keep going, but she changed her mind in a split second, came to a dead stop from the canter, hovered briefly on her hind legs, spun, and ran the other way.
At that point, her brain was pretty fried, and I could tell that my best bet was to find a good place to end. We spent several minutes walking and suppling before I picked up the trot and did a circle of canter each direction. She was tense – waiting for me to pull on her face so she could react and run again. I had to talk her down, reminding her that’s not how our relationship works. After our soft, easy canter circles, I patted her and put her away.
While that ride was frustrating, it showed me that it was time to change things up. I only lunged her the next day, and then lunged before riding every day this week. The loosening on the lunge did her a lot of good, helping to get her brain/body back on the right track.
And then came yesterday.
Yesterday (Saturday) was the day I felt I would try getting on without lunging, to see where we stood. She was more difficult than I anticipated her being, but I realized that part of that was because I had – subconsciously – lowered my expectations when it came to how forward she needed to be. I was being too easy, too lax, too much of a pushover.
Once I woke up to that fact, I booted her into the canter and made her GO. Her head was straight up in the air. My reins were short and following. Every time she slowed without me asking, I booted her again, until I could sit there doing nothing while she would keep going.
It was ugly – but it made a huge difference! (Funny how having your horse in front of your leg works) Once back in the trot, I pushed her to meet my expectations. I wanted her body short, her ears and withers up, and I wanted her to MOVE without extra effort on my part. She protested with some giraffe-ing during transistions, but I persisted, and she began to meet me on the same page.
Her trot changed – it grew more expressive. I got a few lengthenings and some shoulder-in, then played with her trot adjustability some more before calling it quits.
Next week, I’m planning to:
- Lunge before riding, at least on Tuesday
- Start off to the right in trot (we’ve been doing left, but she’s decided she doesn’t want to let me touch the right rein in the beginning, so I’d like to supple that one first)
- No compromise when it comes to being ahead of my leg
- If the first trot is not up to par, canter and GO