Lee Pearson and the inoffensive sandwich

The night before the Lee Pearson lesson we noticed that Nutmeg was washing his tummy with too much interest.

Nutmeg

Nutmeg

On inspection he had some really concerning open wounds. It looked to me like he’d gone over a fence with a nail in and got caught and one in particular looked deep. It didn’t justify an emergency vet call out, but it did need checking by a professional sooner rather than later. But of course it was Friday night and the vets was closed for the night. They do open 9-12 on a Saturday morning, but it is by appointment and obviously we  didn’t have one. The surgery opens at 9.00 and I needed to get to the stables in good time to prepare myself and Drifter for the lesson with Lee at 11.30.

Which is how I came to be dressed in my riding gear, with a cat in a crate, waiting on the doorstep for the vets to open, begging them to see me in the next hour because I had to get to a lesson with a paralympian! I was prepared to take Nutmeg with me to the stables if I had to, to let me wait a little longer for the vet.

The receptionist said that they were pretty much booked up, but that as the vet working was the quick one, there should be a chance at some point. I settled in for a wait, distracted by a boisterous labrador who was so excited by everything and his owners didn’t have any real control over him. Luckily, the second appointment of the day didn’t turn up and we were seen much quicker than I’d dared to hope.

The vet provided pain-killers, antibiotics and a cone collar, the latter to be used at our discretion! He didn’t seem too worried by the injuries themselves, but said that they were almost certainly bites from another cat. We were aware that there are new cats in the area and that there were serious tensions, but not that things were this bad. Hopefully now Nutmeg’s lost this round he’ll back off next time.

I had plenty of time to drop him back home and get out to the stables. Hurray!

As I walked onto the yard, two members of staff were discussing sandwiches. One demanded of me to tell them what an offensive sandwich would be. Thoughts swam through my head, and I almost said “Sardine and jam”, which I think would fit the bill, but taking the question seriously and thinking about what people are offended by, the answer I came up with was, “A penis sandwich would be offensive.”

One nearly fell in her muck wheelbarrow laughing.

Once they’d recovered they explained they were really trying to establish what would be an inoffensive sandwich, but they disagreed over what would constitute an offensive one, for comparison. They did agree that a penis sandwich would definitely not be inoffensive although they found my thought processes rather surprising.

I went to groom, hot cloth, swipe the saddle over (the time for a proper cleaning there was spent on a vet trip) and tack up.

The rain was torrential but it was boiling, so the grooming and tacking up was characterised by a great deal of putting my coat on to fetch something from the tack room and then taking it off again as soon as I stepped into the stable. Thank heaven they always give Lee the indoor school to teach in.

We were tacked up just in time. I put my raincoat back on and his big waterproof turnout over the saddle and we went round for the lesson. Lee was running to time so I went straight in, which was very welcome!

I got linked up with the earpiece so I would be able to hear Lee and hopped on. Drifter was in quite a cooperative mood and as we warmed up started going reasonably round, by our standards, which was handy. Lee asked for a quick update, and on hearing about my rejection of jumping shared that he doesn’t jump for pretty much the same reasons. It doesn’t appeal and, he said, “I can’t see a stride to save my life.” Well I take that with a pinch of salt 😉 But once again it’s really nice to be reminded that there are plenty of “real riders” who choose not to jump.

We showed our paces, and Lee said that once again we’d be focussing on canter, because that seemed to be our biggest problem.

The plan was to get from the fast scramble-canter with his head in the air to something softer and more manageable. The key to this? Transitions and lots of them. While I’ve got into the habit of doing lots of trot-walk, walk-trot transitions in quick successions I’ve never done quick canter transitions. Someone early on in our canter story told us he wasn’t the kind to be able to go quickly back into canter after he’d come into trot and I accepted that, and didn’t try canter – trot – canter very often, but with Lee quick transitions between canter and trot were exactly what we did. I realise now that if he finds a thing hard that’s exactly what we should work on, so that person wasn’t being helpful. I think it probably came from the riding school mentality of trying to improve just the rider rather than the horse or the partnership.

Anyway, we came onto a 20m circle and stayed on it while doing lots of quick transitions between canter and trot. At first every upward transition to canter took us from a submissive “dressage-pony” outline to a giraffe impression, but as we kept working we a few transitions where it was like we hardly changed between the two. That was amazing and I’ve never felt that on any horse before.

Lee explained that although Drifter’s physically much stronger than he was and so doing much better in canter, he’s still a bit weak and underconfident about it, so he goes really fast to keep going and drops back to trot if I don’t let him go really fast. Lee said that lots of horses are insecure about the transition but fine about the canter itself but D’s insecure about both. For this reason the more we practice the transition the more he learns that it’s not a big deal and he can do it, while strengthening the muscles to make it easier in future. I realise as l write this that I am also a little less confident than I would like about canter transitions so practicing loads will be good for me too.

As we were working on the transitions the door opened and in came one of the staff members from the sandwich conversation, bearing a plate. “I’ve bought you an inoffensive sandwich,” she declared and both she and I burst out laughing, which did little for the quality of my transitions, I have to say. I had no idea that the conversation earlier had been about what sandwich they should buy for Lee!

Of course unusual hilarity about a sandwich must be explained, so she filled him in as I cantered about still laughing. When he heard about the penis sandwich conversation he declared that he didn’t want the cheese and ham she offered, could she take it away and get him a penis sandwich instead!?

As she couldn’t actually fulfil this order he did accept the ham and cheese inoffensive sandwich instead, and we got back to work.

Towards the end of the lesson we even did some counter flexion in canter – something it would never have occurred to me to try and I wouldn’t have thought we could do. The purpose of this was to encourage D to let me have his head and neck in different positions that his usual “Oh **** I’m cantering!” giraffe position.

Another point he made was that I’ve got to stop letting D get away with tossing his head when he doesn’t like what I’ve asked him to do. He mentioned it last time as well but I’ve not really made much progress there. Must try harder.

By the time we finished we were dripping with sweat, but at least it had finished raining.

I’m delighted with the progress we made with the transitions. Like most (all?) of our previous lessons with Lee we came out and I realised I’d done things I didn’t know I/we could do. We had some stunning canter transitions that I just didn’t think we were capable of and some really nice bits of canter between them. We have loads to work on, but plenty achieved and plenty to be proud of. I certainly hope we’ll be having another Lee lesson in another couple of months and I can’t wait!

Another update: now with 20% more cantering

Things continue to go well for us. This is what horse owning is supposed to be like. Mr S is very much enjoying that at lately he knows what mood I’ll be in when I get back from the stables – a good one.

Everything is so much easier when you’re on the same page as your horse. At last we seem to be getting things together. We had one ride this week where he was so switched on and I could have whichever canter lead I wanted as soon as I asked and anywhere in the school I chose. My seat in general and in canter specifically is much stiller and, perhaps as a consequence, I think I’m starting to get some speed changes within the canter, even sometimes on the fast right rein, which usually comes in two flavours : “ridiculously fast” or “oops, no, that’s a trot again.”

I told you before that I had become a canter whore, but I think it’s really only in the last fortnight that it’s really kicked in. Before now my favourite gait was trot. Now it’s definitely canter, and if you tell us we can’t canter, we both get a little frustrated. The canters are the meat of our workouts now. And we’re really working!

That said, I did a little sitting trot work today and had a few pleasing moments. I need to practice more, but I find it hard to plan a workout for both crazy cantering with his brain switched to “reactive” and also the sitting trot work for which he has to tone his trot down to something that barely moves to give me a chance, and then block out the bouncing thing on his back, which necessitates switching his brain to “ignore.”

Despite our intense canter work, in our jump lessons we’re still mostly jumping from trot. We had a lesson yesterday and it went really well. We worked up to a little course of 8 jumps, mostly crosspoles. We had a couple of occasions where we went around rather than over the jumps but they were minor blips and although I know they happened and they were undesirable, they didn’t touch my confidence, which was really rather high. As it was a Saturday lesson there were spectators, many of whom haven’t seen me jump since I last did the group lesson, and several people seemed rather impressed with my progress. I got the feeling my instructor was quite surprised at how well we did, especially as she threw some steering challenges into the course – one of which caught me out the first time, but after that gave me no problems.

I’m glad to say she didn’t 09506-500x500make us jump what she’d made some of the others jump that day – a skinny wooden frame with this road sign attached, which I think was about 1 m wide, to give you an idea of scale. Actually I think we were in no danger of being asked to jump at as it was taller than anything we’ve tried so far, but it was leant up against the fence of the school and apparently was one of the spookiest things imaginable for D. We had many many passes by it in our warm up and still had issues with it later on in the lesson. Actually the owner had made the sign into a jump purely because so many horses had spooked at it out hacking, so she thought it would be good for a challenge for those riders ready for one! I’m not looking forward to the day I’m asked to jump it though, but maybe by the time that day comes I’ll be up for it. I have to say I’ll really struggle not to stare at the jump when it’s that eye catching.

I think this is a sign* that my confidence is rising – I do believe there will be a day when we’re ready to try scary fillers (although I’m hoping we’ll start with the painted pigs with the big staring eyes first, they’re much smaller and less intimidating.) Only months ago I was wondering if I’ll ever be able to do a walk-trot-canter dressage test; now I’m wondering how high we can jump together, one day, when we’re ready. I even caught myself wondering whether we might go out and try cross-country one day in the far off future. I’m not sure about that one though – cross-country seems a bit on the terrifying side to me 🙂 But who knows? Anything’s possible.

 

*Pun intended 😉

Image from: http://www.lastingimpressionsonline.co.uk/road-flooded-sign-09506

Update on the week: jumping & flatwork

 

 

 

Things have been going very well under saddle. Apart, that is, from the saddle itself, which is almost certainly now too snug for the horse who has muscled up so well since he was fitted for that saddle. We have a saddle fitter booked who is coming to see us in about 3 weeks, with a van full of saddles and the smile that comes from knowing there’s very little chance the existing saddle can be made to fit, so it’s probably going to have to be another saddle rather than a little re-flock. Slipping my fingers under the pommel when I’m onboard, I’m pretty sure it’s digging in, and pretty sure that’s the un-adjustable tree of the saddle that I can feel. I have asked them to bring out any second-hand saddles that would do for us as well as the new ones, but I won’t count my chickens that any of the second-hand ones will fit.

I also have the unease that comes of riding him in a saddle I know doesn’t fit as well as it should. He’s not showing any negative signs from it though, so it obviously doesn’t feel as bad as when the flocking compacted this time last year, when he would only move in straight lines because it dug in if he bent to go around a corner.

Anyway, although I am concerned about the saddle and the expense of a replacement, the balance is that other things are going very well for Drifter and I. In terms of my riding and his way of going, we continue to make great progress. When I saw Lee Pearson, which I think was only last week (can that be right?) I rode in a running martingale. While it’s not dressage legal, so I wasn’t sure what he’d think, I wanted to present us as we train, which lately has been with the martingale. Lee had no problem with that, and said that if it worked for us as a training aid, by all means ride with it. I said I felt I couldn’t get him on the bit consistently without the martingale yet and I felt it was better to get him working well and developing his muscles in it, and then take it off in the future. He agreed with that, but he also said I should make sure that from time to time I  take it off and see what we can manage without it. He said he thought I’d be able to do without it sooner than I might think.

I had a couple of flatwork sessions alone in the days after the session with Lee, and felt like I worked well on the pointers he’d given us. For the first time I realised that I had a soft, elastic contact; a supple yielding frame. Drifter went to lean through my left hand and as I corrected him for it I realised what I was experiencing prior to that attempt to lean. Rather than the constant tug of war at the front end we had achieved the goal. He was on the bit without tension, moving well from behind, into my hand, but not against my hand. This is new for us. In fact it’s new for me. I’ve never felt this on any horse before. Aside from the occasional blip, and the erratic variables that our canters are made from, we managed to keep that feeling a constant presence until our private jump lesson on Thursday.

On Thursday the tug of war was back, but he does get very excited jumping, and to be soft in the hand for jumping would be a lot to ask just yet. And so we jumped. It was excellent. We had no disagreements and no hairy moments, although there was one massive leap which shook me forward over his neck and caused the instructor to dryly comment, “This one can really jump!” Apparently he thought he needed to take off very early, necessitating the huge jump to be sure to clear the tiny cross-pole. As we were in trot at the time I’m not sure quite why, but maybe if I could have seen what he did it would have made more sense.

One of the new things that we did was to have two cross pole jumps with two strides between them; jump the first from trot and then pick up the canter on landing so we would jump the second from canter.

I found the concept of picking up canter without a corner rather a novel idea, and being naturally suspicious of novelty, I asked if I could try getting a canter on the straight without a jump first. The instructor agreed, and had me try picking up the canter on the long sides of the school rather than in the corners or on a circle (which were the only places I’d picked up canter in the past). Once I’d had a go at that we tried it with the jumps in and it went well. I did it on the first attempt but couldn’t manage it again until the fourth attempt. Nevertheless I was very pleased. She left me with a homework flatwork exercise: Trot down the centre line and decide whether you’re going to pick up left or right canter. Over X, canter on the lead you decided, continuing on the centre line and tracking right or left depending on which canter you chose. She told me it would be hard but it would be a really useful exercise.

The next time I rode, unfortunately, although we were alone we were in a school full of jumps, and the centre-line was entirely blocked. So we weren’t able to try out our new idea. Because the school was full of jumps, Drifter had his excited jumping head on, so I decided to make the best of what I had to work with. We had a workout weaving in and out between the jumps, picking up canter in random places, trying to steady the canter despite his excitement. About half way through we had some unexpected lateral work, when some lightweight plastic numbers, which had been used to number the jumps and then left on the fence, blew straight at us as we cantered past. It was the largest spook I’ve experienced from him, but it didn’t unbalance me and I brought him back to them to show him they weren’t scary. Which would have gone better if another gust hadn’t thrown another 3 straight at him. Oops, bad human. But this time he wasn’t nearly as worried or surprised and I hopped off, gathered them up and weighted them down and we continued. I was pleased with the way it all turned out, because it hadn’t been an ideal situation but nothing bad had happened and I hadn’t been worried or shaken by it. 

When I rode this morning we did not have to dodge jumps, but we did have a relatively short time and we were sharing a school, so I had limited opportunity to try the new “canter at X and go straight” idea. I did have a few goes though. I had expected to find it easier on the his easy left rein and harder on the traditionally weak right rein, but he surprised me. On the right rein I asked for the bend, asked for the canter, got it pretty much on X, kept straight-ish and turned right at the end of the school. All good. On the left rein though, it was another story. It was hard for me to get the bend right before asking for the canter. He is stiffer that way and it really exposed it. He even went on the wrong leg, i.e. he took the difficult right lead, upon which he is still unbalanced, presumably because I couldn’t get the bend right. Eventually we did get the correct left lead just after X but I could not keep him anywhere near the centre line and we veered off to the left cutting off about a third of the length of the school. Still, that was an improvement on the previous attempts and I had to leave it there.

Aside from when he got a bit over excited from the cantering, throughout today’s ride we had softness in the contact and he was carrying himself well. In all of the walk and trot work I felt he was in a nice outline. At no point did he try to lift his head, but stayed seeking the bit. Very nice. What I haven’t told you yet is that we weren’t using the martingale. I thought I’d take Lee’s advice and try without it, even though I thought we still needed it, just to get a ground-line on where we were. But apparently I can do without it! I’ll still use it for jumping, because when there are jumps there is every chance that he’ll get over excited, throw his head up and go like a giraffe every now and then, but when it comes to dressage, we can get that outline without the forbidden martingale. Hurray!

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Change of plans

So the physio was going to come on Monday while I was at work and make my wonky pony all straight again. She came … and said she hadn’t time to see him, implying to the staff that I had not contacted her.

I was disproportionately upset. But there wasn’t a lot I could do except wait another fortnight for her to come back. So we’re still waiting. However, as he went surprisingly well on Sunday for the Biomechanics session I hoped we’d be able to continue working that well. And so far we have.

On Tuesday I had the day off work, as they owed me many hours, and went to ride in the daytime. Unexpectedly there were lessons on, so I had to wait hours to get the indoor school (the outdoor is a bit drowned at the moment), but I spent the time chatting to one of the instructors about everything under the sun and had rather a nice time even though it hadn’t been what I’d planned. While I was there I caught the owner for a minute, between schooling her horses, and asked if she will teach me for private jump lessons instead of me coming to the group. Not only did she agree, she struck while the iron was hot and we arranged a lesson for Thursday night, i.e. today!

I managed to get into the indoor school eventually and had it to myself for well over an hour. During that time we had a wonderful workout. The weather was only a few degrees above freezing but I worked hard enough that I wished I could take off more layers  than were decent. Drifter ended the session a very sweaty boy too. We did a little sitting trot practice and I had a few moments of really “getting it,” but mostly I was focusing on steering in canter. I’d been hoping to work with the cones, but they were all round at the other schools and having waited so long to get in the school, I was not going to go all the way back for them. So I picked up vaguely recognisable chunks of school surface and marked points that I hoped would give me 4 points of an even-ish circle to steer round. This was a very useful exercise (i.e. challenging for us!). I also tried cantering down the three-quarter lines to work on turning onto them, spiraling in and out on a circle (which it had never before occurred to me could be done in canter) and trying to slow the canter down. Slowing didn’t go as well as the other goals. But there was only one time when he was on the wrong leg.

I’d realised that for jumping we need to be accurate and maneuverable in canter. All of my previous lessons involving canter have been all about getting the canter and virtually none on what I do when I’m in canter! Until I went into the session with Lee Pearson I’d never been asked to canter anything more challenging than a 20 m circle. Until I went into the jump lesson I’d never been asked to come off the track in canter except to do a circle. I need to remedy this, and practice cantering other shapes. Unfortunately when sharing a small school with other riders, unpredictable figures are dangerous, so a lot of the time staying on the track or circling is the only safe option, but when I manage to ride alone, I intend to be inventive.

I realised that I now have the capacity to do a figure of 8 in canter with simple changes. So I did one. I used to dream of that being possible for us and now it is. Pretty cool. I want a copy of the walk-trot-canter dressage test now, because I’m sure we could do that. I’m also sure it would lead to him getting excited and everything in the test after the canter part being a conversation like this:

D: Canter now?

Me: No. Get back here. Slow down that crazy trot.

D: Canter here?

Me: No. You are supposed to be trotting.

D: Well…  you must want canter now! – I trotted nice and round for a bit so now it’s time to canter.

Me: No. Walking now.

D: Don’t understand. Why am I not supposed to be cantering? Oh it must be time to stop work. I will go very lazy now. What do you mean trot? I am resting if we are not going to canter.

Me: No, no, no! When you go lazy you are not straight and we’ve got to get down that center line vaguely straight to have any chance of halting facing the judge!*

D: You’re mean.

Me: I know. Life sucks.

*I don’t bother dreaming of a square halt, but one facing the right direction is always nice I think.

I digress.

So tonight we have our first private jump lesson. It has been snowing today, although it hasn’t settled yet. Officially all jumping must take place outside at the moment, but I’m not sure if that holds true with lessons after dark and/or in the snow. It would be nice if it’s inside, but I shan’t hold my breath. I’m hopeful that Drifter will continue to move as well as he has for the last few rides. I wonder if the stiffness and wonkiness he was experiencing was not the recurrence of his usual problems, but something else, because he seems to have got better of his own accord. He’ll still see the physio in a fortnight (I hope!) but I’m hopeful that he’ll be reasonably balanced to jump tonight. Wish us luck!

Shhh! Don’t tell the universe…

Shhh! Don’t tell the universe…

… but things are actually going quite well for me and Drifter at the moment.

I’ve been putting off posting because I felt like as soon as I typed those words we’d immediately be visited by terrible lameness, hideous infection, a meteor crash or all of the above.

Perhaps I’d better ring the stable to check on him …

Paranoia aside, stuff is good!

  • Drifter seems to have got both his head and his legs around the canter-lead business. He’s probably gone from being wrong 90% of the time to being right 90% of the time.
  • I am getting the hang of feeling the canter lead. How easy I find it depends on his balance, speed and what sort of shape we’re on, but I’m making progress.
  • On Saturday we jumped 3 little jumps with a single stride between each and on one attempt  at this I actually managed to be upright when I should be and folded when I should be, which is a surprising amount of coordination for me (or most of our jump class to be honest). The people watching clapped and I waved to my audience. Happy days.
  • He is working rounder. I put his running martingale on him for jumping and am too lazy to take it off the reins again to do flat work, so we’ve been in the martingale all the time and I reluctantly have to admit that it suits him. My reluctance is because I want to get him dressage-round without the non-dressage-legal martingale. But I think I have to accept that he is developing better muscle working in the martingale all the time than working without it. I am starting to see that he is a show-jumping horse at heart and by his training and so he has probably spent most of his working life in a martingale of some kind. If it works for him I should use it. If he spends enough time working nicely, building the relevant muscles to carry himself then hopefully when I take it off him for a dressage competition the habit of moving well will carry over. If not, who cares? I’d rather have a horse carrying himself well 99% of the time and badly in a dressage test (that really means nothing) than carrying himself badly all the time while I fuss about why he won’t put his head down. I did not buy him as a competition horse. I bought him for the 99% of the time when I’m not competing.
  • Because he’s working rounder everything is easier for us both. Balance is better, suppleness, responsiveness, communication between us.
  • Because we can work in the canter rather than working to get the canter we’re both getting more exercise
  • I’ve twigged that the reason I get out of breath quickly in the canter is because I’m not breathing normally. So now I’m making an effort to breathe in relation to his canter strides, e.g. in for 2 out for 2 which is helping with my breathing and my canter stride counting for when we jump. I think it’s also calming him not to have me gasping on top.
  • I can’t actually remember the last time we had a bad ride.

So you see, stuff is going well for us!

To finish off, here’s the picture Julie requested in her comment on my last post: a unicorn, in the style of My Little Pony. For no extra cost I have also included wings.

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In which we do lots of lungeing

So, where were we, before we were rudely interrupted by my succumbing to yet another virus? Ah yes, Drifter was about to move across the yard.

He has now moved. This occasioned some stress for me, but apparently very little for him. He seemed entirely un-bothered about the experience. I realise all that happened is that he was walked from his old stable to a new one, in an area he’d seen before, with lots of horses he knew vaguely and one he knew well, but I thought he might be stressed. I forgot that this horse has 2 mottos:

I fear nothing but puddles*

As long as there is hay, all else is irrelevant

So he was fine.

Unfortunately I was not well enough to go and check he was fine, so worried about him a lot, but Mr S drove me out there one evening, literally to look at him and go home to bed again.

There was some hassle with keys to the tack room though, as I had known there would be. The process of getting a key went like this:

  1. Notice that all my tack & rugs had been moved out of the old tack room (where I’d been told it would remain for a week or two).
  2. Ask where my tack was.
  3. Having located it, ask if I could have a key to the locked building it was in…
  4. Be told there were no keys but some would be cut in the next few days
  5. Wait few days (as ill, not an issue)
  6. Harass owner about keys
  7. Be told there were still no keys as they had suffered a break-in and dealing with that had taken priority.**
  8. Wait few days more
  9. Receive a key, only to find that although it locks the door 100% of the time, it only unlocks about 10% of the time
  10. Return key, receive another one
  11. Find that new key locks 100% and unlocks 80% of the time, but there’s a knack to the other 20% that I think I can work with.
  12. Hope that knack always works!

Also his fly rug didn’t seem to have made the move. After asking the staff to look and hunting through all the other livery rugs I eventually found it with the school rugs… and someone had washed it!

Being unwell, I had to get Drifter some schooling, but I didn’t want to spend more on him than I had to and lunged him towards the end of the week when I felt I could manage driving a car again.*** I wasn’t really well enough though, and had to stop and sit down to rest several times during the grooming and tacking-up process. Lunging went OK, but he couldn’t get the canter on the right leg on the right rein. I didn’t really have the energy to care, but did note it as a backwards step.

I struggled home again, but I was pleased I’d managed to lunge him myself rather than paying out more.

On the Saturday Mr S offered to help. For the first time, he wanted to learn how to handle Drifter and get involved. He asked me to teach him to groom, tack him up and have a go at lungeing (or pony-on-a-string as I often call it).

So we did. I’d warned him that his first attempt at putting on a bridle probably wouldn’t be that easy, so he was prepared to find it difficult and so did rather well. Once Drifter was “dressed” we went out to the school. It became apparent that Drifter was going to take the mickey out of Mr S. When I lunge that horse, he always wants to trot, from the get go. He may do a circle or two in walk if he’s feeling particularly dozy, but really he just gets on with trotting if I don’t suggest anything to the contrary. For Mr S, instead of trotting round, he just stood there. Or took a few steps like he didn’t understand what he was supposed to be doing. I took over and “woke him up” a bit and then passed him back to Mr S, who got on a considerably better now Drifter wasn’t pretending to be stupid. We agreed it was best if Mr S didn’t ask for canter, so I had a quick spin of him in canter, and managed to about 3 good strikes-off into canter on the dodgy rein (I brought him back to trot quickly each time to work the transition not the canter itself) which I was really pleased with and then we cooled him down.

Mr S did well and particularly enjoyed grooming. He didn’t so much like how much time everything takes. I see his point.

I enjoyed having Mr S see what it is that takes my time (I think he thought I must spend all my time gossiping to spend so long at the stables) and have him get involved. It would be really nice if in the future when I’m ill we have the option for Mr S to go and lunge him, rather than having to pay.

I was surprised at Drifter taking the mickey out of Mr S – I know horses do that, but I didn’t know my horse did that 😉 For me he was always quite idiot-proof on the lunge, even though he was the first horse I ever lunged, back in December.

I had ordered a lunging aid very similar to a Pessoa (but considerably cheaper) from the tack shop.

Shires lunging aid advertising photo

Shires lunging aid advertising photo

This had just arrived, but obviously I hadn’t wanted to combine Mr S’s first attempt at lungeing with Drifter’s first attempt at going in a Pessoa-alike, so I saved that for the Sunday. On Sunday I was feeling better enough and keen enough to get out of the house that I spent most of the afternoon hanging around the yard, and, in between resting, gossiping and looking for the missing fly sheet, I fitted the lungeing aid to him in the stable. Having done my research, I felt confident that I knew what I was doing fitting the aid (the official Pessoa you-tube video below was very useful) and knew that he might freak out when I lowered the back portion down and around his back-end.

I need not have feared. As I may have mentioned, my horse has 2 mottos:

I fear nothing but puddles*

As long as there is hay, all else is irrelevant

There was hay and nothing to fear. So we were fine. He lifted his head a few times once I’d attached the lines along his sides, to & through the bit rings and down to the roller, but he was just finding out about it, and settled back to the hay.

At this point I wasn’t even sure I was going to lunge that day (he’d been out and so didn’t really need to be exercised, and I didn’t know when there’d be a free school, it being a busy teaching day) so I took it all off him again.

Later on I did decide to have a little go at lungeing him in it. I would follow the recommendation that for the first use he should just walk in it for 10 min. This sounded very sensible to me. I took him out un-trussed so that he could stretch out before I put it on.

Unfortunately I had an audience of 3 or 4 staff members who were waiting for the lesson in the next school to finish so they  could all pile on putting the jumps away quickly. Several of them expressed negative feelings towards myself using this type of lunging aid alone and inexperienced. I expressed my confidence and belief in my horse’s ability not to freak out. At least one implied that she was looking forwards to my being humbled on this count and that she’d stay well back, but another offered to hold him while I put the aid on and gave some advice. She agreed with me that the fit I’d set up for him in the stable was loose enough for getting used to it and then should be tightened once he was used to working in it regularly and I was pleased.

But have I mentioned my horse’s first motto?

I fear nothing but puddles*

He was utterly un-bothered, un-interested, un-stressed. He walked calmly round, boring the spectators to tears.

Ha. See?

It did occur to me that maybe he’d been lunged in this kind of aid before I got him, but regardless, I was proud of him.

On Monday we used it again. After a good few minutes of walking in each direction I asked him for 3 minutes of trotting in each direction, with trot/walk transitions to keep him awake as needed. I could see him concentrating during this, thinking about how to move in it, which made me feel that he hasn’t used this kind of aid before (so more proud of him). Again, he was calm, just with that “thinking” vibe he also gives off when we do trotting poles. We did his easy left rein first, and then switched to the right rein. I could see this was a lot harder for him because it was more demanding on his weak right hindquarter. On this side he was eager to drop back to walk after only a few meters in trot. Each time I kept him going a just a little further and then let him rest in walk. In the pessoa-alike it seemed more obvious that when he brings that weak leg under he leans on the opposite shoulder and the opposite side of the bit, which suddenly made sense of the way he leans on a rider’s left arm, which has been perplexing my instructor whenever she rides him (I notice less than she does because in some ways my left is stronger than my right). I’d known he would find it hard – it was for exactly this reason that I’d bought the aid to encourage him to bring his hind end underneath him. It did look even harder than I’d expected so I didn’t ask for much.

I think that maybe we pushed him too hard on the day we rode with the shiny dressage riders, because since then he has at times felt wiggly and a bit lop-sided under saddle, like he used to pre-physio and we’d struggled to get that canter, when he had been improving. I think maybe he hurt that weak quarter again. Also there was a day when in the cool-down I noticed he was tossing his head a tiny bit when that leg came under.

So I’m booking him in to see the physio again. Sigh.

So that was Monday.

On Tuesday (yesterday) I felt well enough to try getting back on board, at nearly a fortnight after I last rode him. I had very low expectations of both of us, which often leads to a good ride, and this was no exception. I wanted to keep it to just 20 min. so I didn’t get too tired. Perhaps as a result of the lunging aid he went on the bit without needing much persuading. He was generally responsive and I was too. The improvement in my riding that I had been seeing before I was ill had all settled and consolidated in the days I didn’t ride, and it felt good. I had thought we’d just walk and trot, but things were going so well. I didn’t want to ask for the challenging right canter, but I saw no reason not to have a little go on the easy left rein. On the Sunday, when I was loitering and watching some lessons I heard an instructor tell someone “you can’t steer in canter until you can produce your canter”. I felt that everything was going so well I’d be sure to manage to produce my canter, so I had a little go. We managed a pretty nice circle (by our standards) and came back to trot. It felt so good. I felt like having that idea of producing a canter made all the difference. I had complete control of the canter from before it started to after it ended. That had never happened for me before. It occurred to me that I’d probably have a bit of control over speed within the canter as well, so I had another go, this time going large and pushed him on down the long side of the school. It worked. I realised it was the first time I’d ever asked him to go faster in canter, because he wasn’t rushing, he was balanced. When I tried to slow him down again he broke back to trot – I think I needed more leg there, but it was an amazing feeling up until that point.

Another positive in the session was that I tried a little sitting trot. As I’ve mentioned before my sitting trot is atrocious, but I read somewhere that it’s almost impossible to sit well on a horse that isn’t offering his back to be sat on. I felt like he was offering his back, so I had a couple of very short attempts at sitting on it. While the result was still poor, I felt like there were moments when I managed to move with him, and that there might be hope for the future. I kept the attempts extremely short so that he wouldn’t get put off offering his back and he seemed to handle things OK.

All in all, it was the most enjoyable and “together” ride we’ve ever had.

Tonight we’re having a night off and basking in the glow of our last ride having been amazing.

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*And maybe small children. And the jump filler with painted pigs on it is slightly concerning.

**The thieves spent 2.5 hrs on the premises, according to the CCTV but were not interested in horses or horse-related stuff. They were interested in the owners’ house & cars and the vending machines, one of which had all of the jaffa cakes removed. I don’t know much more detail than this. But once they knew their horses & tack were safe, many of the liveries were very upset about the lack of jaffa cakes.

***And as I got a new, larger car only 4 or 5 days before I got ill, I was more worried about driving than usual, especially in the narrow lanes. But I was fine.

What am I?

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A woolly boy closeup!

I couldn’t get a full body shot that showed the hairiness as well as this. This is the current state of his neck, with the back of his jaw just at the right of the shot. The mud on his neck was removed after I took the shot, but I thought it might make it easier to see if I took the picture pre-grooming.

I know I said I was going to hold out, but he’s just getting so sweaty, so I’ve asked for him to be clipped at some point this week.

Sunday morning we had a lesson. Saturday night was his last night of Summer turnout pattern and it didn’t leave him in a good mood. There was little grass and the temperature was lower and all the horses came in cold, grumpy and hungry.* I arrived at 9.30 and he was already hungry enough for his 11.00 haynet to be kicking the door (and getting told off for it). He seemed so hungry that I actually checked he’d been fed! He had been: hard feed and morning haynet had been hoovered up. I put a fleece on him and he warmed up a bit before the lesson but he remained in a foul mood and had a good try at biting me when I girthed him, which he hasn’t tried for months and months.

It turned out there’d been a bit of a mix up with schools – there were lessons booked in all 3 and a lady had come to view and try 2 expensive dressage horses belonging to the dealer/trainer who works out of the yard. As mine was the lesson in the biggest school, I was the one who ended up sharing.**

2 beautiful, well-bred and well-trained young warmblood dressage horses, shining and groomed to the highest standards, with gleaming black tack and shining white exercise bandages entered the school, each being shown to their full advantage by dressage riders of a very high calibre. They joined me, my little, unbalanced extremely hairy cob, my very basic riding skills and my rather loud instructor. To say I felt outclassed would be somewhat of an understatement 😉 

But it was my lesson and I was having it. After a few minutes of  getting over the surprise we really started working. For the most part they avoided me and for the most part I forgot about them and got on with it. Once the trot work was going well we started by cantering on the good rein and managed 3 pretty good balanced circles that were surprisingly round. I was really pleased with the roundness of the circles – easily the best we’ve ever done, but they did take it out of us and then it was time to set up cantering to the right. His bad mood had been in evidence at points throughout the lesson, but now it really manifested, mainly in cantering on the spot (on the wrong leg) when I asked for a more ‘together’ trot, but also in napping, which he hasn’t tried for months. So I rode him. We got that canter lead eventually through sheer willpower on my part, and even managed to canter 1 good circle (and one terrible 3/4 of a circle) on the correct lead. By the time we were allowed to stop I was so out of breath all I could hear were my lungs and my heart. I assumed he was blowing too, but the cooldown was as much for me as for him! I realised I’d completely forgotten about the buyers watching, and only been conscious of the dressage horses enough to pass on the correct side and avoid crashing.

On the way back to the stable he tried to bite me again but I’m pretty grumpy when I’m hungry, so I rugged him and arranged for him to have an extra haynet.  We have another lesson on Tuesday so I hope we can keep building on this success, but also that he’ll be in a better mood by then!

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*I’m surprised he wasn’t rugged when I got there – this is the first time I’ve ever thought he should be rugged and he wasn’t.

**Also the first time I’ve heard of anyone having to share a school for a lesson.

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.

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*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.

Cantering to the right?

DSCN4334I expect this to turn into quite a long post … so don’t say you haven’t been warned. Drifter appears to be saying that long posts are not his cup of tea, but then this is a picture taken after I’d ridden him in my lesson and then pulled his mane, so I think he’d had enough of me by this point.

The quest to canter to the right has so far included three visits from the physiotherapist and quite a few schooling sessions, at least one of which was with my instructor riding him so that she could better advise me.

The phsysio has really made a marked difference. He is much more even to ride now. I am quite asymmetric myself, although this is an area I’ve really improved in, but both my instructor and I were blaming me for quite a bit of wonkyness that was actually the horse not the human. Since he’s had his sore bits loosened up suddenly I don’t feel like my right leg is floating around unconnected to the rest of my body. I no longer get 10 minutes into a ride and feel like one leg is exhausted and the other isn’t.  My “feel” for him has really improved. At first I assumed that was from the lunge lessons, but I wonder now whether it’s because it’s hard to feel a horse that’s trying not to use one quarter as much as the other. Now he’s moving freely we’re not using our energy disagreeing over whether he’ll use all of his legs equally, and have more energy left to think about everything else.

Showing the pulled mane and also the weight he's put on. And the pile of pulled-out mane is in the right of the shot.

The newly pulled mane. This also shows some of the weight he’s put on since I got him. And the pile of pulled-out mane is in the right of the shot.

The physio said that because of his weak side being very weak circles are hard for him and that we should do squares with round corners. This makes sense, and now I can feel that circles are hard for him. Now that I can feel his balance more I can feel that the basic walk trot dressage test is actually pretty challenging for him. It’s not just because of the rider that the circles weren’t round and the turns onto the centre line were iffy. I had my heart set on doing a walk-trot-canter dressage test as soon as we could. It looks now as if that might be a way off. I thought all our issues were about my riding standard needing to improve and hadn’t realised he was struggling as well. I imagine that he’s not been schooled that much or surely he’d be more even? I know he’s hunted, and I’m told his habit of looking to the outside rather than the inside probably stems from having been lunged a lot in the past, so perhaps his schooling has been neglected.

So he’s been getting some professional schooling alongside my efforts. When my instructor rode him she said that she found it much easier to get him to canter when he had lots of impulsion and roundness. So that’s what I’ve been working on. In walk and trot, mostly. I’m finding that hard enough to keep me busy without asking for the canter transition as well. As he’s getting schooled by the staff that means he can work on the canter without me and I can work on impulsion and roundness without worrying about the canter for the meantime, and then think about the canter once I’m more at home with how I need to get him going before asking for the transition.

The eye itself is better now, just a few scabs underneath still to heal.

The eye is better now, just a few scabs underneath still to heal.

For the first time I feel like I’m being taught how to ride him in a way that will improve him, rather than just how to stop, go and steer. But I suppose while I was struggling with stop, go, steer (partly because of my skill level but also, unbeknown to be and the instructors, because of this soreness  and weakness he was hiding) those things had to be sorted out first. I had felt like my riding wasn’t improving the way it ought to be, despite repeating endlessly to myself that everyone learns at different paces and adults are always slower than children and teens. Well perhaps most riders of my level of experience are on horses who find it much easier than mine does. The school horses I’ve met can all do walk trot tests in their sleep, even with very poor riders, because that’s their job. If one started struggling on one rein the instructors would spot it sooner or later and it would get sorted out. So when the teens ask me for the 100th time when I’m going to start jumping, I’ll take a deep breath and remind myself that we’re making great progress with the bodies and minds we have been given, his and mine both.

From time to time I wonder if I should have some lessons on a school horse, but it seems pretty pointless to pay extra to ride a school horse while paying staff to ride mine! If the not-yet-jumping starts to get to me I might try some jump lessons on a school horse, but if it gets to that I might if Drifter & I can try some tiny jumps in trot, on straight lines that won’t challenge his balance. I get the feeling that he likes to jump – if there are poles up he’s interested in them (although he does not like the look of some of the fillers at all). The instructor who teaches beginner jumping is more in the “chuck them at it and see if they hit the ground” school of thought rather than something more cautious. I would be more in the market for “tiny jump the horse can walk over to build some confidence about the whole thing in horse and rider”. But that’s all probably a long way off.

Unfortunately I’ve now got a virus and haven’t been well enough to ride this week, which is not going to help our progress.

Back to the cantering… at the end of my lesson last weekend we did do a little cantering. I might suggest you turn the volume down before watching because my instructor can be quite loud…

On and off the lunge line

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For the past few weeks Drifter and I have been having our lessons on the lunge* line. I’d decided I wanted a chance to work without reins to look at my position, and thought it would be good to do some sitting trot without trying to steer at the same time. I’d not been offered lunge lessons before, but when I asked they agreed, albeit with a cautious “Is he OK on the lunge?” To which the answer is that he’s not going to rear, buck or go bonkers, and comes with reasonable voice control, but hasn’t really got the hang of what shape a circle is supposed to be.

The instructors and office manager seemed surprised that I wanted lunge lessons. I’m not sure why – they all know I have symmetry issues that I’m trying to improve and to me this seemed one of the most logical ways to look into them.

In the first lesson we just worked in walk and trot. Drifter was well-behaved in terms of speed and gait, but struggled with the circle concept, particularly on the troublesome right rein, and put some corners into the circles, which were pretty unsettling for me, but I sat through them OK.  At first we just worked on rising trot (with stirrups), getting in balance with the horse and getting my hips and shoulders following him. This I found quite difficult, but then, the reason we were doing this was because I thought things weren’t right, so I was glad to uncover what I’m struggling with. By the end of the lesson we took my stirrups away and did some work on sitting trot, which went better than I’d expected, but mostly involved me holding onto the saddle to pull myself into it. I learnt that my right hip isn’t as mobile as it needs to be and is in the habit of doing very little.

Following that first lesson I had a reasonable amount of muscle soreness, which in itself was a useful learning tool. When I rode on my own in the days following the lesson I could feel when I was turning correctly with him (i.e. things were sore) and when I was slipping into old habits (couldn’t feel anything).

In the second lesson we began with a quick discussion of the bit (at this point I was using the borrowed bit with the full cheeks) and for some reason that ended with the instructor tightening the girth and not me. I hopped on and we started with some rising trot with stirrups. I got into balance on each rein much more quickly and easily than I had in the previous lesson. As we returned to walk on the right rein I noticed the saddle had slid to the outside a bit. “The saddle’s slipped,” I called to the instructor, to signal I wasn’t ready for another go, then, “The saddle’s going… the saddle’s going … the rider’s going!” During the last word gravity had taken over and I was falling through the air. The ground met me kindly and I rolled and stood almost before I’d finished speaking.

One the one hand I know to always check my own girth, but on the other hand the instructors have been doing girths up for me since my first lesson so it never occurred to me there’d be a problem. We sorted out the saddle (by now worn fetchingly on the side of my horse) again with her doing it up (this time because I was a little edgy with adrenaline and couldn’t get a good grip on the leather) and she gave me a leg up. They like to get people back in the saddle as soon as possible after a fall. Although I was completely uninjured I’ve always thought I’d like a little breather first, but there we are. So I was back on board and the instructor told me the girth was tight this time. Knowing my horse and my tack, I asked which holes the girth was on. She replied “1 and 3.” I’m glad I asked because that would have had me on the floor again!** Once we’d tightened the girth again and got back into the lesson we did a little canter with stirrups on the left rein but couldn’t get him to strike off on the right leg on the right rein, which was quite disappointing because we’d assumed on the lunge he’d go on the right leg OK, but we didn’t have any time left to keep trying.

That was the lesson before the dressage test. I did feel like surely I should have had a lesson on the test rather than lunging, but I was so pleased with how much I was learning on the lunge. When I used my sore muscles to check I was turning with him, everything got better in the dressage test – turns onto the centre line were easier, circles were better, he was straighter and halts were squarer, so even though it felt weird to do so, I still chose the lunge lesson.

My third lunge lesson (and the most recent one) was the most intense. Rising trot balance was there almost immediately so we moved on to sitting trot without stirrups. We did quite a lot of this although I didn’t feel like it was going as well as I hoped. By this lesson Drifter seemed to have understood a bit more about circles so we had fewer unexpected corners in the circles, which helped me. We moved on to cantering without stirrups (eek). On the easy left rein we did a lot of cantering. For all that’s our good rein it was still very hard for me and I spent most of the time clinging to the saddle with both hands while trying not to get flung off the side of the wall of death. At one point he got a bit worried and gave his usual response of speeding up, which I did not entirely appreciate. There was at least one point when I shouted that I was going to fall off … but didn’t. Then we tried the other side, repeatedly asking him to strike off in canter and him always going on the wrong leg, unfortunately. We discussed different ways I could try to get that canter lead on my own outside of my lesson as the lesson was now over.

Following this most intense lunge lesson it was several days before my muscles recovered enough for me to walk normally. The day after I didn’t even try to ride because I didn’t think I could! I was supposed to have another lunge lesson a few days later but I was still so sore I changed it to an ordinary lesson. We spent much of it trying different tricks to get the right canter lead, all of which failed. We tried asking conventionally, asking just before a pole across the corner of the school, asking on a circle, by riding him at the  fence, and by counter bending him. All failed. Any more suggestions will be gratefully received! In my last regular lesson before I started lunge lessons we had this problem and eventually the instructor got on. It took her about 8 tries and she eventually got it by counterbending him into the wall, but when I tried that this time I still couldn’t get it.

I’m not really sure where we go from here. I thought I might try lungeing him without a person on top and see if he gets it then or not, but that will have to wait for a day when we won’t be in riders’ ways (as you’re not allowed to lunge in a school someone’s riding in or vice versa). I’m afraid I’m going to end up having to pay for a lot of schooling for him to get this, which I can’t really afford, but on the other hand if I want to do walk trot canter dressage (which I do want to do) or jump (I do want to do this once we’ve got canter steering sussed) then I need him to be able to canter in both directions!

On the other hand I’ve had him canter on that leg properly before. It was never easy to get him into canter in that direction, but I’m sure I’ve done it quite a few times and I think he was on the right leg, so I don’t know why he’s suddenly decided he can’t do that. In fact I’ve just checked back to my Centaur Biomechanics videos – he was on the correct leg that day, apart from one brief time when Russell pointed it out and we came back to trot. Quite why this has become a problem I don’t know. Hmm. I suspect this will be the subject of future blog posts. I’m glad I’ve got video evidence that we’ve successfully cantered on that rein on the correct leg, otherwise I’d be wondering if I’d imagined it. If we’ve done it before I’m sure we can do it again. I’m just not sure why we’ve it’s become such an issue lately, especially as so many things seem to be falling into place nicely. Cantering on our happy left rein I pretty much just have to think the transition to canter and it happens. We can do circles of a sort (remembering that his concept of a circle has corners and mine is often egg-shaped – what I really mean is we can make shapes that are vaguely roundish) and I am generally more relaxed and in control than I have ever been in canter before. So some things are going very well. No doubt in time we’ll solve this and then some new problem will arise! But in the meantime if anyone knows any tricks for getting that right canter lead happening, please do let me know.

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*Yes, UK spelling – Firstly because I’m British and secondly because I find it really confusing that in the US you have horses lounging around, which sounds way less energetic than the reality of what you’re writing about!

**Drifter really puffs up when girthed. Initially every day I struggle to get him into the  first hole one each side (i.e. the girth is as long as possible). Then I pick his feet which distracts him and then I can easily go up to 1 and 3. I walk him to the school where I go up to a minimum of 3 and 3 before getting on and should probably (although I often don’t) go to 4 on one side once I’m on.