What a stellar week for the Most Perfect Mare! We’ve done a lot of good work since we arrived, but this week I really felt like her brain has truly settled into the routine. Mentally, she feels like she did during the last month or so in Vermont – we had “clicked”. We are working together, instead of me having to negotiate with her about everything I ask her to do.
For me, this is one of the coolest things about riding a mare. You may spend countless hours feeling as though you are just going in circles – two steps forward, twelve steps back – but once she trusts you, she will give you the world. You have to work hard for that partnership, and you might question your sanity repeatedly. But in the end, when you’re both on the same team, the rewards are ten times greater.
We started off the week on Tuesday with a simple lunge day. She moved beautifully, and I’ve been seeing a big difference in her responsiveness to my voice when I ask her to move. There’s a distinct shift in balance – the croup lowers a little, the shoulders come up a little.
The next day, I did a quick lunge just to establish “forward” and get some bend before I hopped on, and on Thursday I felt it was time to skip the lunge. She is giving me her new trot all the time now – once she’s warmed up – and I know she has even more to offer. I was even able to play around with a slower, bouncier trot on the short sides and in the corners, encouraging her to sit more with a tap of the whip, and then letting her go forward down the long sides. This is a big deal for her – especially to stay so consistent in the contact throughout!
We got rained out on Friday, and it seemed like a good day to spend a lot of time eating a lot of food – so Ruth took the group of us barn staff to lunch, where we ate more than our share of various diner goodies (most of us chose breakfast foods, because if you’re going to a diner, why not?). Once we were able to roll ourselves out of the car and into the barn, I spent some time clipping HM for (what I hope is) the last time this winter. And now she looks more like the sleek supermodel she is, instead of a horse who got a speedy body clip in 12* weather, which I tried my best to fix later…oops.
The horses all enjoyed their day off, I think, because they came out to do some of their best work on Saturday. And HM was no exception. Once again I opted not to lunge, and I was able to condense my warm-up much more efficiently.
Here’s a breakdown of what I’m doing now:
- Suppling, marching walk to start.
- Trotting to the right first (easier to bend this way). Establish forward. Once she’s soft, reaching, and moving, change directions.
- To the left, she’ll instantly go back to putting her head in the air and sucking back behind my leg. Kick. Every time her head goes up at this point, I know she is behind my leg. I need to make sure my driving aids are working to the point that I can give her a squeeze or a cluck and she jumps forward. When she is on my aids, she has no issues with the bridle.
- Canter left first, especially if the trot is too sucked back. Think hand gallop if necessary, until she is going by herself. Then I can start moving the bit (just a little!) and she will come round.
After getting through my warm-up (which is so much quicker now!), I went straight into some shallow, counter-canter loops until those were soft and easy, followed by a trot-canter change across the diagonal, leading into counter-canter loops in the other direction. She was so in tune to me. We worked on trot leg yields and shoulder-in in both directions as well – again, whenever she got a little stuck, I gave her a bump with my leg to send her over more, straightened, and tried again. Each time, I needed only to correct her once quickly, and then move on. Then, I thought – what the heck, why not try a lengthening? I went into a posting trot across the diagonal, added leg and…she started reaching across the ground like a real, grown-up horse, and actually lengthened her stride.
To end the day, we went for a walk down the driveway with one of her friends, an adorable, unflappable, Lusitano gelding named Uno. She had to stop and stare at the neighbors for awhile (there was a group of people outside doing stuff on their own property, HOW DARE THEY), but even though her neck was straight in the air and her eyes big, I never felt uneasy. I knew she wasn’t going anywhere.
Now, I have a horse that can start DOING things. With her brain in a good place like this, and her body already doing such good work, I can come out and start practicing movements and improving her balance even more, instead of doing the same ol’ “get ahead of my leg, bend, stay with me” every day. So for the next week and beyond, I want to work on:
- Counter canter for longer periods – bigger loops, figure-8’s, eventually whole ring. With bend/counter-bend.
- Continue to teach her that the whip means “sit”, “tuck under”. Play with small trot/big trot.
- Get lateral work more consistent. I want to be able to move her over as easily as I can move Crumble – with just my seatbones. And I should be able to do it anywhere, in any direction.
- Go across the road and onto the little trail in the park for a REAL HACK!