Last week I concentrated on making sure Drifter and I exercised 5 days out of 7 to a high standard. Great. Target achieved.
This week I realised that I wasn’t really looking forwards to riding. My first thought was that I’d overdone it and I was tired. I ran an internal query and the results returned suggested that was an invalid hypothesis – I was not tired. Now I came to think about it, it didn’t seem like Drifter was that excited about things either. I worked out that the level of exercise was just fine, but the level of fun was sorely lacking. Why would either of us want a humourless battering around the arena every day?
So we needed to have some fun.
Yes we will have fun. I will plan fun and timetable it and then at the allotted time we will have fun.
Oh wait, how?
I couldn’t remember what would be fun for us yet still ensure I had him working properly to build the weak muscles, while not overdoing it for him or for me. Also it needed to work around other arena users, etc.
Pole-work. We will do pole-work. There will be four poles set at compass points so we can do circles over them and/or a line of trotting poles. We have not done ridden trotting poles for ages. It will be good.
But when I got there someone was selling showjumpers in the big school and the little school had 2 other riders in already who I didn’t fancy disturbing with my random pole distribution. (And I wasn’t going to carry poles down to the indoor school – I’m stronger now but I still have reduced limits). So fun was cancelled.
The next day, a pre-ride upset + conflict (which I will not go into) meant I was very much of a mood to ride and get off the premises. No time for pole faffing and seriously no chance of me having fun. Were it not for the push on our exercise I wouldn’t have ridden at all, because in an ideal world I wouldn’t get on my horse when I know my mood is poor, but as Drifter knows, this is not an ideal world, so we had to do our exercise regardless of the emotional state of the rider. (Don’t worry, I didn’t take anything out on him.)
The ride after that I had forgotten about having fun, I have to say. There was zero fun planning. I was tired and uninspired. I led him outside but when we got around to the school I realised it was really windy and I just wasn’t in the mood to play “Is there a monster in the tree?” So we turned around and went to the indoor school. I led him in and shut the door and my eye fell on the cones, which are usually outside in the jump store.
Ooh look, fun in a stack!
I started distributing my cones in a gentle curve in the general vicinity of the centre line, so they were like weave cones, but along a slight curve rather than a straight, to make them more interesting. Actually I initially intended them to be in a straight line, but when I looked back along them there was a pretty nice curve, so I just emphasised the accident into something more deliberate. While I was distributing cones I had Drifter follow me at liberty. While no one’s ever told me we’re not allowed to work at liberty, I think it’s probably an unwritten rule, so I only do it in the indoor school when we’re alone, so no one can see or be offended by it. So we’re not one of those horse-owner couples who can do everything at liberty. But he did pretty well at sticking with me when I asked and staying put (mostly) when asked to park and I thought it was a good way to start our non-boring session. I also put a couple of cones out to each side so, together with some of the middle ones, we could do circles or small clover leaf patterns. I set everything without any consideration for regularity or planning. If they were too tight to go one way round, we’d go another way or miss them. That would all be part of the fun.
I got on. After our usual debate about whether he was supposed to walk off immediately or wait, I laid the reins on his neck and we warmed up without them. We did a few laps of the school ignoring the cones. We did circles (still in walk and without me touching the reins) at the top end of the school where I hadn’t put any cones and everytime it looked like we might naturally be heading towards the cones I turned him away again until I thought I might have piqued his curiosity. Then we attempted weaving down the wonky curve of cones without reins. He was suprised but so tuned in to me. Because of the irregular set up it was hard for him to anticipate which side of a particular cone I was going to ask him to go, which was great because he loves to anticipate but this made him focus on me. We reached the other end and made strange and irregular loops around the side cones and went back up the weave line. We probably never made the same path through the cones twice, and I was making it all up as we went along. Then we left the cones and went back on the track while I picked up my reins and suggested a contact before heading back into the cone maze. I shortened my reins gradually and eventually we moved up to the trot.
Suddenly I had a flash of inspiration about the feel needed for a good contact and luckily it happened just as I was looking in the mirror and saw the positive effect on his way of going. Awesome. I tried to keep this while we did some more strange cone patterns. While it wasn’t something I could maintain at all times, it was clear I was doing a better job for him than I usually do. I’ve been thinking a lot about my reins lately but not to any productive end until this moment.
We didn’t do very much more with the cones before I felt his trot was in the sweet spot for asking for a canter. Weak and unbalanced as he is at the moment cones at the canter were not a safe or suitable ask, so we went back onto the track. The canter transition felt effortless because it had been such a great trot. The trot afterwards was even more amazing – the biggest trot I’ve ever had from him. We cantered a few times on each rein and they were all really good in terms of his shape and how he was working. The corners on the right rein were a bit hairy, and motorbike-like as a result of the weak right hind, and in general that rein was less stable and balanced, but for the horse he is at the moment that was amazing work. It was easily the best canter work we’ve had for months, and in some ways probably our best ever.
We cooled down and ended the session on that high. We’d only worked for about 20 minutes, but it had been focussed and active and to a high standard.
The aim of the session was to have fun. But we got better “correct work” that we have on the rides that focussed on correct work and we had fun as well. If I’d been entirely focussed on my hands would I have managed the breakthrough that improved my contact or did it come about because I wasn’t focussing on it? Would he have responded to my improved contact so well if he’d been mentally numb or was it because he was tuned in to whatever crazy change of direction I was going to ask for next?
It looks like spontaneous fun is actually pretty productive. I must schedule it in again ;P