Back to normal

DSCN4355Drifter is a horse again, I am back at work (which has calmed down a lot), and the weather has remembered this is Britain, and returned to rain. Sigh.

But to look at it another way, dragons are impractical, it’s nice to be well enough to work (and have it be calmer) and we have had one of the best summers I can remember.

So we’re back focusing on how to get that right lead canter.

The lesson I had the day before the show really depressed me about my ability to get the canter to the right. I had not realised that this would be a long process. I guess I thought once he’d done it a bit it would just “click” and then even I’d be able to get him to do it.

The next day I lunged him, thinking it was the only way I could get him to practice that canter. I tried to buy a cheaper version of a pessoa lunge aid, but sadly it was out of stock, so we stuck with the side reins. It always amuses me on the lunge how easy it is to get him to accelerate and how difficult to get him to decelerate. You would have thought he’d feel like slowing down and doing less work, but sometimes it takes several circles to change a trot to a walk. The physio had suggested trying lots of transitions on the lunge but when it takes this long to take a trot to a walk, quick repeated transitions are not possible! He cantered nicely on both sides on the lunge although he tired quickly on his weak side and could not strike off correctly when I asked for one last try.

Since then I’ve had a lot of lesson. The bank account is suffering because I’ve been having 2 or 3 lessons in a week. And in every lesson, I get that right canter.

It’s hard though. I have to be riding at the edge of my ability and I can’t tell for myself if we’re on the right leg or not, because in that direction he feels really unbalanced on either leg so they feel equally wrong and bad! So I need someone shouting “wrong leg” for me. If I look down at his shoulders the change in my weight unbalances him more and he stops cantering, so I’ve got to learn to feel it.

In lessons now we get the right leg at least 3 out of 4 times, and I’m starting to know from the trot whether or not he’ll do it. If the trot’s not quite there, I won’t ask, even if he’s trying to anticipate the transition, because if I do then he’ll get it wrong.

The trouble comes when we can’t get it and he and I get more tired and worried about it with every ask. And as we’re both finding it hard we don’t have much spare energy to set it up and try many times.

It’s a shame I don’t have a regular riding friend or helpful spectator to call out when we’re on the wrong leg – it would make it much easier for me to practice outside my lessons. I have tried riding in the indoor school and using the mirrors there, but it’s very hard to coordinate everything at a place I can see in the mirror without twisting and even when I manage that it all looks different in the mirror and takes me too long to work out what I’m seeing. We tried that this morning and I think we managed it, but I can’t be sure. We have another lesson tomorrow, so hopefully we’ll keep doing well. We’ve certainly come a long way from not being able to manage it together at all.

Away from the intensity in the school, on one of the last hot days last week we went out for a hack. It seemed unlikely that it was only our second ever hack, but that’s the truth of it. Since last time I got him 4 hi-vis fetlock bands and myself a hi-vis hat band. The latter was somewhat improvised… I had looked at proper hat bands and decided they cost too much, so when I saw some hugely reduced hi-vis dog collars, I snapped up a couple, clipped them end to end, adjusted the length and now I can slip them onto my hat at a fraction of the price of a “real” one and they look close enough that no one will notice. (I realise that reads a little like a wartime make-do-and-mend propaganda article for ladies, but I’ve been working on a lot of vintage material at work of late and so can’t be expected to write in styles later than the ’40s.*)

So, gleaming with reflective yellow luminosity, we headed out. I’d forgotten how tense and wiggly he feels out of the school, but we had a pretty uneventful ride. Cars came along at reasonable points where there was somewhere for us to get out of the way; he wasn’t too fussed about the golfers tee-ing off this time. There was one point where one of his kneeboots was making a weird sound and I wondered if the clip on the bottom strap had come undone. He was a bit worried by the sound, so I dismounted and inspected the boots. There was nothing wrong with them but I think the clip on the meant-to-be-loose lower strap was banging against some other part of the boot, so I shortened the strap very slightly and worried about remounting.

We are taught never to mount from the ground – always from a leg up or a mounting block to save the horse’s back. But this means that when you are off your horse without access to a leg up or a block, it’s a bit daunting getting back on! I can probably count the number of times I’ve mounted a horse from the ground on 1 hand, but luckily my horse is not tall. On the other hand my legs are quite short 😉 Luckily at this point we were by a few houses rather than out in the lanes, and there was a short stretch of kerb, which I tried to utilise to give me a little extra help. Unfortunately he wasn’t being particularly helpful and moved away from the kerb as soon as I put my left foot in the stirrup, but I hauled myself back on board and we set off again.

I felt a certain tension and lift in his back – he was defecating. Most unusually for him, he decided he’d like to stop for this instead of his usual on-the-go attitude so I permitted a pit stop. Unfortunately just as he finished his business a dog we hadn’t seen on the other side of the hedge ran up and barked at us making us both jump sharply, but we didn’t suffer anything worse than a shock, and carried on our way back.

Back on the yard I tied him outside his stable (as the bed was made and he was going out, so I didn’t want it spoiled) and untacked him. I quickly put the tack away and came back with his turnout gear … he was stretched out and peeing a torrent… splashing up his legs all over 2 expensive knee boots and 4 brand new hi-vis fetlock bands as well as all up the wall. Thanks Drifter.

Needless to say they and the horse were washed. It occurred to me afterwards it probably would have been easier to leave everything on the horse and hose the gear down in situ, but I didn’t think of that at the time.

In other news, expect me to be calling him woolly boy again more often – the winter coat growing is in full swing. He is seriously fuzzy. No one else’s horse looks like a persian cat, just mine, but everyone wants to stroke his soft fluffy neck. I’m trying to put off getting him clipped for a few more weeks, because I think he’ll just grow out again. It started growing in the hot August weather, so much as people tell me he won’t grow out if he’s well rugged, I’m taking that with a pinch of salt.

I don’t have any new pictures, so here’s a dragon picture again to keep you going. But he’s so much fuzzier than this now.



*Some highlights have been the 1835 veterinary work with lots of discussion of hooves, shoeing and ailments of the horse; and the sarcastic suffragette poem telling women it was much better to bore themselves at home thinking only of cooking than to end up in prison trying to help womenkind. There were also some illustrated hardware catalogues from the 1870s and a 1960s edition of Dante’s Divine comedy in parallel Italian and Esperanto, which I’m sure will come in handy.


4 thoughts on “Back to normal

  1. The Dancing Rider says:

    Nice hack. Wish we rode together. I could use an eye as well. I fear I’m quite below you in skill however. Still it would be useful.

    I’ve mounted from the ground several times. Some better than others – like the time I landed behind the saddle on Starzz’s butt. And he just stood there, like nothing had happened. It was actually difficult to get back into the saddle from that position!

    Read with great interest your canter work. I have a hard time cuing Starzz, from a trot, into right lead canter. He is stiff that direction anyway, and I think less likely to WANT to go into canter. It is a very long process…..

    • Sparrowgrass says:

      Yes it would be good if we rode together. I have read your posts and though you must be a better rider than me and it sounds like you’ve done exactly the same, which suggests to me that we may be around the same level in truth. It would be nice to have someone of my level around 🙂

  2. Showrider says:

    I can relate to the right lead canter problems! I used to struggle to get it on the right rein and I suspect it’s due to asymmetry in the horse. I’ve worked through it with a whole lot of practice- literally warming up and then cantering for most of the workout. I do a lot of walk-trot, trot-walk transitions to get him moving off my leg quickly and then as soon as he is responding like lightning I ask for the canter so that he almost doesn’t have time to consider it- he’s just been alert and reactive and so he simply responds to the aid without thinking. As long as I have correct flexion he will start on the correct lead!

    I’m not sure what you’re doing when you get the wrong lead (coming back to the trot or continuing to canter?) but I also found the key was to continue on the wrong lead and then ask for a flying change back to the correct lead rather than bring him back to the trot. When I was constantly going back to the trot he almost started to use starting on the wrong lead as an evasion technique to get out of cantering.

    Anyways I hope you find the holy grail to your canter problems soon!

    I have to snicker at your winter woollies setting in… mine has just shed! It’s heavenly!

    • Sparrowgrass says:

      Yes I totally agree that the best times for getting the right lead are when he’s focussed on listening and that stops him thinking about it! Actually the same for me – if I’m just tuned into the instructor and not thinking either we get better results.

      We come back to trot immediately if he’s on the wrong leg and circle. He doesn’t much like trot circling either on that rein, so it’s not an easy escape. I’m afraid to say the flying change is a bit out of my skill set and I don’t know if it’s in his or not, so I think we’d have to leave that for the future. Thanks for the suggestion and the good wishes though.

      Ah, that first sight of the beautiful summer coat, how wonderful 🙂

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