Lee Pearson CBE, Lesson no. 3

277On the morning of the lesson neither Drifter nor I seemed in the best of moods and we didn’t seem to be communicating as well as we might. I was nervous, which manifested as things like worrying that the saddle was in the wrong place and taking if off again and putting it on again, which Drifter hates. He was picking up on my anxious energy and it was a windy day so he was a bit girraffey anyway. Eventually I got us both around to the indoor school a bit early to warm up and settle in, again watching for Lee’s car so if he did drive straight in I’d have Drifter in my control. I’d switched back to my crop but D was very giraffey even after 10 min, which was not what I wanted to see. Hey ho.

Lee arrived and stopped outside the school to greet staff and announce his arrival so we were able to briefly leave the school while he manouvered and parked in the corner. Then it was ear-piece on and down to business! We discussed the saddle and how I felt I’d got on and he had me carry on warming up.

He commented that I looked like I was riding much better than when he last saw me. This was obviously very pleasing :)

He asked me if I’d ever worked on riding from the back of the horse though to a contact to get them round and on the bit; if I’d ever had that on any horse. I told him that while people had tried to teach me that on riding school horses it hadn’t been something I felt I’d ever achieved and on D the focus of the teaching I’ve had was on getting stop, go, gears and steering working. So we worked on getting him soft and round and on the bit from the back end. It was hard work but when we got it we really got some lovely moments in walk and trot and some better-than-before moments in canter. We worked on circles, bigger and smaller, getting him to bend, soften and drop while keeping my mind more on what the back end was doing than on his neck. Whether I can replicate what we achieved without his voice in my ear telling me when to half halt; when to put more energy in, I don’t know. But I’m really proud of what we achieved.

I mentioned that Drifter’s not particularly good at respecting my rein aids and Lee suggested the “ask for more than you want” approach. If you’re finding he doesn’t respect trot to walk then practice trot to halt. If he doesn’t respect walk to halt, try walk to rein back. Here we had a brief interlude while he taught me how to have a go at a rein back, which I’ve only ever got by accident before. What we managed was as much sideways as backwards I have to say, but something to work on.

One of the take-home-tips … was to get and use a schooling whip rather than the crop! Doh! Lee thinks I need to be able to use one to activate the back end. I told him about the previous day’s adventure but he was having none of it, so I guess I’ll try again with it and D ought to get used to it over time.

Lee said some really nice things at various points and very much praised how I rode that day. He said he seemed more excited at how well I’d done than I did, but I was too busy riding my butt off to have room for assessing how I felt :D

All in all it was another completely wonderful confidence building lesson. And he didn’t even take the piss out of me too much :)

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On the Saturday Lady-with-a-pony had a great lesson with him and came out with her confidence raised. Her daughter asked Lee for an autograph and a picture with him and he was very happy to oblige. I wasn’t there but apparently he seemed delighted to be asked and the photograph they got is absolutely wonderful. Both he and her daughter are very photogenic and when I saw the lovely picture I was jealous I didn’t have one like it!

On the subject of photography we have returned the new camera, as it kept crashing, but I did manage to take it to the stables before we made that decision, hence the photos!103

The post before Lee Pearson lesson no. 3

Before we get to the Lee Pearson lesson I thought I’d better do a general riding update. Also we bought a new camera today but I haven’t had a chance to take it to the stables, so the photos are unrelated to the text.

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I had felt that Drifter and I have improved a lot lately, and I seemed to be picking up a lot from my peers, sometimes subtly and sometimes overtly, as when I rode twice last week with a girl who I cannot call a teen anymore since she turned 20. She likes us to walk round the school next to each other talking for substantial periods of time, which often does not appeal to me because I want to get on and work, but I had a couple of days where time was less of an issue and I found I enjoyed giving our rides a different pattern with her. Drifter found it intensely irritating to walk for a long time but for that very reason I thought it was good for him. He would have preferred it if her mare didn’t pull faces at him, but he accepted his place at the bottom of the pecking order and I found that after a while he resigned himself and went rather pleasantly on the bit for a while. On the right rein (his easy bend) everything was quite harmonious but when we changed the rein our issues with bend were really apparent. He does find it harder to bend that way, but when I drew my friend’s attention to it she watched for a few corners and pointed out I was hanging on the right (outside rein) so blocking the bend and confusing what I was asking for. This tied in with what I had noticed in the other direction previously: when something isn’t going how I wanted I tend to cling to the right rein, thus pulling him off the track. So it seems I always hang on the right rein as soon as I feel something isn’t going right. Once I corrected this with her in walk we got better bend (it’s still not as good as the other side, but at least it’s a bend!) Hopefully I can be mindful of this and stop doing it.

During that first ride we discussed my crop – the fact that I think I’ve got the hang of carrying it without dropping it or flailing it around too much, but haven’t got any idea of how to use it. She offered me the loan of a schooling whip, saying she’d never got the hang of crops and I might find it easier.

So I had a tip about what I was consistently doing wrong and a new whip to play with.
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I got used to riding with the longer whip but found Drifter a little … eager… while I was holding it. He is a forward horse anyway, but it was more hollow and running-away type of forward than usual.

Good Friday came and although I’d thought I would ride, I found myself lacking the energy. He’d been out in the fields in the morning, so he didn’t need to be exercised, so I gave riding a miss. I pulled his mane, and although it is not the neatest finish I’ve ever achieved, it is the first time I’ve finished and felt it was as short as I’d wanted. I also experimented with taking a little off the tail although I wasn’t really sure what I wanted there. I’m not sure he’d suit a pulled tail, even if I felt like doing it, so I probably need to be sure to leave enough that I can still plait it, and the bits that seemed most tempting to pull were the bits I’d use in a plait, so I left it. But I have discovered that he does not react badly if I pull his tail.

After pulling I went out to see who was riding. Lady-with-a-pony was there. She’s been making great progress although her confidence issues keep her from seeing it. She was cantering quite nicely but felt he was going too fast (well he wouldn’t give us any trouble in a race but then we do go too fast!) The other lady riding at the same time, who is very experienced and encouraging, suggested that she try cantering on a circle to stop him speeding up. Lady-on-a-pony did not think she could do this but the other rider and I both told her the first time we did it we thought we couldn’t either. To build her confidence we got her trotting nice circles before she tried a canter and she made a pretty good go of it in the end. While I was watching, encouraging and advising I realised that while I’m really pleased Drifter and I can canter circles now, I pretty much always ask for only one circle, then trot, pat and praise. And our circles are really only vaguely round. I saw that I need to start working by staying on the circle – cantering at least 2 circles, or alternatively just a few strides, before coming back to trot and staying on the circle. Once that would have been beyond us, but it’s time to try reaching for the next step.

So now I had a new training idea to work on as well.
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Over the time Lee Pearson’s been coming to teach at our yard his popularity has spread by word of mouth with the consequence that by the time this weekend came we had a day and a half of teaching for him. I was down for a Sunday lesson. On Saturday I turned up to ride early as I wanted to ride indoors so it would have to be before Lee started in there at 10.00e

I was keen to go inside as that’s the school with the correct dimensions for the dressage test and also because I wanted to check just how unsquare our halts are in the mirror, and be able to try tapping the offending quarter with the borrowed long whip.

Lee drives his car into the school and teaches from within it, so both doors were tied open to let him drive in when he arrived. I would not usually ride with the doors open, but saw no reason not to – I was aware I’d need to take more care riding near the doors because Drifter would be tempted by the visible freedom but I didn’t think it would be a problem. I would be mindful that at any point a car might drive in, but D is sensible in traffic so again I was not concerned. As it happened Lee didn’t arrive until after we’d finished anyway.

We warmed up and I felt he was not particularly listening to me, in particular ignoring my downwards transitions and barging through my rein aids. I tried to get him more responsive with a series of quick transitions but it didn’t seem to do the trick, so after a little while I decided to just run the dressage tests and see what happened. They were … fast. But I did prove to myself that I’ll be able to get through both tests with or without his cooperation! Interestingly the halts were (for us) surprisingly square. I wondered if the very holding of the schooling whip had triggered the memory that halts are supposed to be square. It occurred to me later it might be the extra energy from the speed improving them.

So time for some of our new circle work. After some trot circles I decided the first thing I’d ask for in canter was 2 full 20 m circles at C. Not one and three-quarter circles, not two and a bit, an exact 2, starting and ending at C. And we got it first time. He was surprised by the second circle and so the balance was not as good but I got exactly what I planned. After that success I tried a series of trot and canter transitions before changing the rein to try the same in the other direction.

I’d started on the easy side on purpose but now we were on the right rein things might be different. I sort of got my two circles to start with … but the second had a little hiccup in it. Was that a buck? I was so focussed on getting my two circles that all else was a secondary concern. In hindsight I probably ought to have at least shouted at him, but the good point of my focus was that message to him was that bucking does not get you out of doing what you’re asked!

So we carried on working the circle in trot and canter …until the canter got a bit quick and went tearing off the circle down to the open doors at the A end of the school. Oops! I did not turn him with finesse and delicacy but we stayed in the school! Then I realised we were in a tug of war down the reins and tried giving him the reins back to see if he’d react by coming back to me (sometimes works) … but no, still careering around the track. I felt the long whip was really not helping and wanted to drop it but was afraid if I did he’d see it move and get faster or worse, it would hit him as he fell and he’d get faster. Several laps of the school later I got him back to me and regained my circle and reinstated the lesson. I also decided I did not want to carry the schooling whip again.

We cooled down and left before Lee arrived. We’d see him tomorrow.

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First world problems

It is not often that I think I should slap myself, grow up and get a grip, but today I think that is the only approach.

So far today I have huffed, sighed and groaned over the following:

  • The testimonial I was asked to write for a website has not been used
  • My manager had what looked like a very interesting conversation with a colleague that I felt I should have been involved in but was not
  • I didn’t know there was a dressage and/or show jumping competition in 12 days and now don’t have long to prepare
  • While riding a canter which I was so proud to have managed to slow down from our usual headlong rush, a spectator likened it to race-horse and jockey

I’m currently still furious about the last of this list. Basically he took all my satisfaction away. When I explained to him that actually I was working on slowing him down and felt we were making real progress, and that was really good for us, he dismissed it and told me now I had to show him a real slow canter. I wish I’d have shown him two fingers, to be honest, but I think he thought what he was doing was giving amusing teasing encouragement rather than taking the satisfaction I had with my ride and stamping on it. Instead of doing anything more I called it a day and went to cool down mode. (To be honest we’d already been riding longer than I usually would, so it wasn’t like I cut the ride short because of him.)

But in between my waves of seething anger I do see that it’s all

First world problems!

He is a just a silly man who’s never been on a horse and is actually a nice person, even if he pushed all the wrong buttons with me today.

Only a few months ago I was wondering whether I’d bought a horse I’d never manage to canter, and here I am not only cantering every day but managing to see progress in training him to do it in a way he finds even harder (i.e. on the correct leg, and not rushing at top speed).

Oh yes, and I have a lovely horse, kept at great expense for leisure purposes. How first world can you get? ;)

I’m not sure why but for the past few weeks this sort of thing has been getting a bit out of proportion. I just need to put it back in its place and get over myself.

Hopefully I’ll be back to a more resilient version of myself by the weekend, because it’s time for another Lee Pearson lesson! I’m looking forward to showing him our canter work, and in fact all of our gaits. I think I’ve got Drifter working much better since we last saw him, I think we’re less on the forehand and more “gymnastic” but honestly I don’t really know what it looks like to the informed watcher! I guess I’ll find out soon!

Shiny pony!

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l realised it’s a long time since I posted any photos. As usual this was because I didn’t take any. But when I saw how beautiful he is in his new summer coat I got the camera-phone out and grabbed a couple of pictures before l tacked up.

The other thing I have to share is that during our cool down after this morning’s schooling session it occurred to me that it might be a reasonable time to try taking the saddle off and having a little walk around without it. In an ideal world my first ever bareback experience would be with an instructor and a lead rope, but the business insurance for the lessons/instructors means there can be no bareback riding in a lesson, so that was out*. On the other hand I had a tired horse (so he’d be happy to walk slowly) and an empty indoor school (so no one else to worry about and minimal distractions/spook triggers). I decided to have a go.

I took the saddle off and led him to the mounting block. Was getting on going to be manageable? It was not nearly as hard as I thought it would be. I tend to forget that at 15.1 he’s actually quite short, so from the mounting block l could just get on as usual by throwing my right leg straight over despite not having a stirrup to use. I landed a little off centre and a little far back and he started walking off immediately but I was able to fidget myself into place OK.

Having survived mounting I realised I was actually on a horse bareback! It felt a bit precarious and I wondered what would happen when we came to a corner. Neither of us were very relaxed – both finding it strange. He moved very carefully, as if I were an overfull glass of water he needed to carry without spilling. That suited me fine! The corners came and went and they were fine too. I was very conscious of the noises from outside the school. A lawnmower started up close by. We were both aware of it but it did not cause problems and we continued concentrating on moving in balance together. I was surprised how comfortable it was, but then he is well padded and not high withered. We only did a couple of laps of the school on each rein. I might have gone on a little longer but I heard hooves outside and thought we were about to have company. I didn’t fancy being on bareback when the doors opened and a horse and rider joined us because it would distract us one way or another, so l hopped off. (Actually the hooves turned out to be a horse being loaded onto a lorry parked just outside, but by the time I realised that I was off already.)

It was an intimate feeling, both physically and mentally. I was aware of his skin, fat, muscle and bone each with their own way of moving beneath me. We were both conscious of my balance with a fiercer focus than usual.

I’m very glad I tried it and I feel it went well. I will do it again but only rarely. I felt I might be causing him discomfort because my weight would be much less evenly distributed over his back than with a saddle.

I don’t know if I’ll ever want to trot bareback but it would be out of the question for now – I can’t sit well in a saddle so it would be hazardous for both of us to try that any time soon. The next target is to sit the trot well enough in a saddle to be able to canter without stirrups. At present if l take my stirrups away we do OK at a very slow trot but he still finds canter transitions hard and cannot canter easily from anything but a fast trot. So I increase the trot speed towards something he can canter from and lose my balance which again means he can’t canter because my balance is upsetting his. It’s a work in progress. When the day comes that I can easily manage all three gaits without stirrups then I might consider trotting bareback!

Anyway, I can now say that I have ridden my horse bareback, and I’m proud of that.

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* While it was a riding school we were not allowed to bareback on the premises at any time. Now we can, at our own risk, at any time except lessons.

Why it’s not fair to compare yourself to others

I started replying to this post by the Inelegant Horse Rider and found that I had more to say than fitted politely into a comments box, so brought it back here to mull over.

I apologise if I’ve already ranted at you on this theme at some point, either in person or here. I have this vague feeling that I have… but anyway here’s the dialogue.

 

Everyman: I could be a great [rider/writer/person] if I … achieved A, wasn’t hampered by B and didn’t worry about C.

Logic: Yes. That’s true. So do that.

Everyman: I can’t do that. I’ve tried to do A and it’s really hard and I can’t quite get it, I have commitments to B and deep-seated psychological issues around C.

Logic: Well, assuming your statement is true, then if you can’t change A, B & C, you can’t be a great [rider/etc.]

Everyman: Well that upsets me.

Logic: Illogical, Captain.

Everyman: But I want to be a better [rider etc]

Logic: Then change A B and C.

Everyman: I can’t. I won’t. I don’t have the physical/mental capacity to do A, B is my life and C is my personality.

Logic: So you’re saying those things are more important to you than being a great rider?

Everyman: Maybe. Maybe it’s more important that I live my own life than that I try to ride as well as someone else who has a completely different body, life and mind. Maybe I have to understand that everyone’s different and just because someone else can do a thing doesn’t mean it’s fair to expect myself or anyone else to do it to the same standard. It doesn’t mean I can’t improve in my own ways, and achieve goals that are a great achievement for me. If I changed my life and my personality I might ride better but I wouldn’t be me any more. I have to be me first and foremost. If I can be a better me that’s great, but I still have to be me.

 

 

Normal feels good

I don’t feel that I have that much to write, but 10 words that say what I mean work to better effect than pages of blargle blargle gloink, so perhaps that is to the good.

Mostly I feel that we have achieved a new normal.

In the new normal the expectation is that D will work properly as a default. But as you might expect for anyone suddenly working harder than they used to, some days this is easier for him and sometimes harder. As a consequence we have a wider range of behaviors under saddle which go from total mental and physical cooperation all the way to stubborn refusal to go nicely. I’m not yet used to the range, but the good rides are fantastic and the defiances well within my capacity to manage and it all feels like progress and a part of the learning process.

I’ve not 100% adjusted my balance to the new saddle yet. For some time my worst position issue has been that I easily get tipped forward in my body position. With the new saddle our balance is subtly different from what my muscles are used to, so it’s even harder for me to keep my place if he suddenly leans on my hands or if we have an unbalanced transition down from canter.

All in all we have wonderful moments of horse and rider harmony, and moments when we look like we’re only just met each other and are not on the same page at all, but I have faith that these moments of harmony will increase and that one day harmony will be our new normal.

For now though, I’m happy to enjoy those moments we have and work on the rest as we go along.

A fitting saddle from the saddle fitter

I was very nervous on the morning of the saddle fitting. The kind of nervous where you spend time looking something that turns out to be already in your hand; the kind of nervous where it takes five attempts to get something out of the kitchen because every time you go in there for it something distracts you and you come out without it; the kind of nervous that makes you incapable of efficient ordinary logical thought.

In short, I appeared to be afraid.

Upon (finally) reaching the yard I yammered on about my nerves to a couple of members of staff and came to the conclusion that a) I was afraid of making a costly mistake and b) my last experience with a saddle fitter left me feeling like I’d done battle and lost.

I left the staff in peace and went to groom, which helped a bit.

The saddle fitter arrived a little early and introduced herself. She began measuring him and taking a history. When she transferred the shapes of him from her flexible curve to the paper she showed me how the left shoulder (which he uses to compensate for the weak right hind) was considerably larger that the right. She had a nice manner and D was very calm.

She began by putting his old saddle on him. Ungirthed it looked OK. And even girthed most of it looked OK, but she had me look at first one shoulder then the other and I could see how the large left shoulder had no room although the other had a nice fit. She will try to sell the old saddle for me, on commission, and the guide price she suggested she’d try to get for in was almost twice what I’d feared she might say. Clearly the scuffs and scratches didn’t take as much off the value as I feared.

So time to try on the contents of her van …

She tried about 6 different saddles on him in the stable, some of which were obviously not right, others of which seemed better. The two that seemed best were both Bates adjustable ones. While I fetched his bridle and put that on she switched the gullet over from a medium wide to a wide in one of the Bates and we could take him to the indoor school for a spin in it. She took my stirrups from the old saddle and remarked that my leathers were such different lengths. I explained that because there was a lot more horse under one side I’d been told to do that so my irons were level.

Unfortunately he and I had a bit of an embarrassing argument about whether he was going into the school… but once we were in and I was on … oooh! After a walk in which I couldn’t tell how he felt about it, we had a trot. A really fast, bouncy, free, happy trot. Crikey! If I buy this saddle I might need a stronger bit to slow this speed demon down! Clearly he liked it! On my side of things although it was very comfortable I felt like it was very unforgiving if I had a wobble of balance. We had a (fast) canter on each rein too.

She showed me how on the left canter lead the strong left shoulder had shoved the saddle so that the cantle was off centre and the weight-bearing area encroached on his spine. She suggested we try the other Bates as the saddle was more supportive and she’d put one of the pad inserts in it to try to compensate for the shoulder.

Although both of the Bates saddles are general purpose, the second one had a more dressage-y shape to it with a deeper saddle but will still be fine for me to jump in for the time being. If we were to start jumping big obstacles it wouldn’t suit, but to be honest I have no great desire for that.

With the insert in, I was impressed to see that my stirrup irons were level when the leathers were the same length. Hurray! Unfortunately that left canter pushed everything off-balance again. So she tweaked the pads, and we tested and it was better but still not perfect and then she moved the location of one of the girth anchor straps on one side.

It stayed put! My legs stayed the same length! Drifter and I both found all of the adjustments felt very strange. We were used to being slightly off-balance and slightly off-centre so  will take us a little while to settle in, but I’m sure we’ll do so much better for it.

When we were properly set up, compensating for his asymmetry of build, I felt for the first time ever that my legs were sitting equally and had equal jobs to do and got equal reactions from him. I had to ask slightly differently for things than we’re used to, so we both had confused moments but it was all positive change.

I couldn’t believe how much difference could be made by using a 4mm insert, but it was so much better. I’m delighted I can ride with both stirrup leathers on the same number hole because I always felt uneasy about them being different and never felt right in the stirrups even though people told me that they were how they should be.

I think this is the one.

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It was really fascinating to learn, for example, how much difference it makes to him where the girth straps were positioned. I truly felt looked after and felt that Drifter and I were getting the best possible care. The entire fit process took two and a half hours, but it felt like a miracle to me how much balance she gave us.

To compare this to my last experience with a different saddle fitter … well this one came off very favourably indeed! I have every confidence that this fitter did her best to get everything right for us. I believe we have a great saddle and a great fit, but if something did go wrong I’d be confident that she’d look after us well. She gave me the confidence to give her feedback on what I felt and it was a positive experience throughout, for both of us.

Having seen her working on the Bates saddles I’m a real convert to the world of adjustable saddles. To be able to try something knowing it can be instantly corrected is amazing and knowing that if he changed shape we can accommodate it gives me real peace of mind. I can’t wait for our next ride!

 

Here’s a youtube video about the adjustable system, which briefly shows the inserts and the structure of these saddles. It’s obviously a sales video but I still think it’s interesting.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFi_S4BEXfQ

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*I know there are kinder bits than snaffles, but as I’ve posted before, a snaffle seems to be what makes him happy, so who am I to argue? But it’s not like I had him in something really harsh.

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