Transferable skills

A few weeks ago, before Drifter got sore, we had a lesson. Actually we had a few ūüėČ but this one was pretty intense.

My cardio fitness is fairly awful still. It’s not it the oops I need a cardiologist category any more (hurray) but it’s in the fairly normal for a person with a desk job who doesn’t excercise category I would say. Doing anything meaningful about that while maintaining the rest of life hasn’t really happened yet, so when I go for a 45 min dressage lesson, it has overtones of bootcamp beastings as far as my fitness level is concerned.

If I were to declare that I needed to stop, rest, breathe, whatever, the instructor would not have an issue with it, but otherwise he’s going to keep things going until the horse needs a rest. It’s all about D’s workout, not mine.

If you add to this the fact that I decided to wear my good show boots and they were a) improving my posture so I used different muscles and b) squeezing my left calf in a pretty vicious way, I was pretty damn uncomfortable for a lot of the lesson.

Particularly towards the end of the lesson I was so so close to opening my mouth and declaring I couldn’t do it, as the instructor calmly ordered another trot circle, and another, and my boots bit at me, and the power of the horse-working-really-hard-too-and-needing-me-to-rise-to-the-challenge pushed at all the different bits of me, but instead I shut my mouth, raised my chin, and cranked out another brilliant (for us) trot circle.

What made me able to put up and shut up?

A mantra of hard things I’ve achieved in my life. I wasn’t going to let any breeches-wearing-sandpit-circle-dressage-instructor hear me ask for mercy.

As we whisked around our circles and spirals, and my lungs burst, and my muscles screamed, the past proofs of my ability to endure which strengthened me were not the physical achievements of my past. I didn’t even think of the fact that I once did a half-marathon on a rowing machine, or that I used to take a map and some sandwiches and go out on my bike for a whole day, or even that I once did a full weights work-out followed by doing a Body-pump session to help out a trainee instructor.

Nope. The things that ran through my head weren’t as sane as that.

You can’t break me because I used to have 6 hour baroque violin lessons, so 45 min. of dressage is a piece of cake.

I’ve played Turangalia Sinfonie twice in 48 hours, on a viola that weighed far more than anything any teenager should be holding up for hours. The horse is holding me up here, so this is easy as hell.

I’ve performed Nozze di Figaro 4 times in 3 days in a pit orchestra where there was barely room to play, let alone breathe, and the temperatures were ridiculously high.

I’ve counted rests through Strauss Metamorphosen, with a hangover from hell, having not been to bed all night the night before, and stayed awake and kept my place, every bloody time, even though the conductor only let us get 3 bars into the bit where I played for the whole rehearsal.

Yup. The toughest things I can say I’ve achieved in my whole life came from a musician’s training. Riders might think they’re tough, because they go out in the cold, and shovel poop, and get on large animals with minds of their own, and get back on after they fall off, but I tell you that nothing I’ve seen outside of the musical world has been as tough as what I’ve seen it it. Orchestral string playing, and the training for it, is exhausting and painful and hard, and if you can survive a serious youth orchestra, and perhaps University music making as well, you will come out ready to face anything life can throw at you.

Even a mild-mannered dressage instructor.

Riding

I’ve updated you on the vet visit, the inside of my head and on my holiday, but not what I am doing in the saddle.

In part this has been because I haven’t wanted to jinx it and in part because although I am working purposefully with him I haven’t really articulated even to myself why it is that I’m working this way.

In early December I told you that “I want to have a horse who is able and willing to let me control any leg/shoulder/quarter in lower gaits before I ask for the canter.” That’s the heart of the matter. Examining it I find I want the whole dressage shebang before I even ask for that canter: obedience, suppleness, straightness, connection and strength (yes I know that last isn’t a dressage buzzword but without strength in the right muscles you can’t do anything properly). The classical dressage goals of longevity of ridden life and¬†training of the athletic horse are exactly what I want for Drifter. While we may do¬†another competitive dressage test one day that’s not a target, so whether we ever master movements required at different levels is irrelevant. I want to train my horse to be strong, well and sound, if the fates will allow. Other things are of limited relevance.

So that’s the goal, but how am I actually going about it? In walk, mostly. Walk is where we’ve spent so much of our ridden time in the past years, between my health and his, but there’s a wealth of things to do in walk. The great gift in walk is time. Time to correct, time to react, time to breathe. We are working on doing everything correctly in walk. I have never worked walk like this, and I wonder if D ever has either. We do a lot of shapes in the school in walk but the most useful one is a walk spiralling from 20 m inwards and then out again. How small we end up varies from day to day – some times neither of us is on our A game – but we’re working it hard. It is hard to explain how difficult we find it to do this properly. For starters it is years since anyone asked him properly to work this way and he’s coming back from being lame in 3 legs (although not all at once) so doing this hard thing the way I suggest is a bit hard to understand as well as to execute. For my part I have never trained a horse before this one, and have only previously ridden this exercise not-particularly-well on this horse or on wonky school horses. While I can¬†sometimes feel what’s wrong, I don’t have¬†experience of what¬†it’s supposed to be like.

We’re also having lessons again! We had one on the dressage instructor’s first teaching day of the year (Sunday) and it was fab. Being a bit nervous of doing anything too far off D’s working routine I only booked a 30 min lesson but from next time we’ll go for the 45 min. (which is officially the only time slot this instructor offers). As I started out by telling the instructor my mission statement we mostly worked in walk, with a little bit of (very nice) trotting at the end. We worked on halting (which was still awful because it’s one thing I never work on) and then on leg yield. Drifter tends to rush off forwards, barging through my hands, to avoid leg yielding, so one of the things I learnt was to try putting him at 45 degrees to the wall of the school and moving along the track like that. He was unimpressed but at least with a wall in front of his face he couldn’t hurry forwards. It was hard but I liked it. Most things I’ve tried with him that I’ve never done before, like riding shoulder fore, he doesn’t immediately get what I want, and then it clicks. More of a rider aid issue than a horse training/ability issue. But with leg yield I feel like it might be a new concept for him as well as for me. But that’s why we need lessons! It might be worth playing with leg-yield in hand to help him understand what it’s about.

I have to tell you, we have now cantered on several occasions. Never more than about 20 m on each rein in any single session, but it was quietly good. My rule for him is that he’s not allowed to work in trot until the walk is excellent, with hind legs stepping under, with straightness and obedience and feeling totally warmed up and focussed. Then we trot, and it’s usually great because all the right muscles are already working and he’s in a lovely shape and we’ve established that falling in/out is not acceptable and that he has to have contact in both reins, not just his preferred left. By the time we trot, I feel like we’ve already done the hard work and everything is just beautiful. This was confirmed in the lesson, where the trot immediately got compliments from the instructor who isn’t the time to give a compliment for nothing. The trot is so easy to ride when the walk work was great. We aren’t doing a great deal of work in trot, almost just enjoying a little as a break from walk work and then going back to walk. Except when we canter. And because the trot is great, the canter depart can’t help but come from the right place, so we have a very brief controlled canter and stop. Perfect for building up confidence. For now, that’s all we need.

So the plan for the immediate future is to work at walking all the things and learn to leg-yield in walk; to trot for fun, beauty and lightness, gradually increasing the duration there so we get a little cardio; to pop into canter briefly to remember that it exists.

And I’m pretty excited by it. The trot that we’re getting by not working in trot is the best trot I’ve ever ridden. The canter is really not bad, considering our track record there. And the walk holds all the challenges we can think up.

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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Lee Pearson Lesson

In the run up to the leeson (what a felicitous typo; I think I’ll keep it!) I was more nervous than I expected. After the last lesson with him went so well I had high expectations for this one. (Here’s a link back to the post about¬†the first lesson.) As a natural pessimist it’s unsettling for me to have high expectations, so that contributed a lot to my nerves.

As things have been going so well for us lately I was reasonably confident we’d do OK but then on Thursday I started to feel the first signs that I was getting the cold that’s been tearing through the office at work; a plague of such virulence that its inexorable progress down the office has led to a plethora of absentees in the last week or so. This did not suit me. During Friday I worked swathed in scarves to keep warm, keeping my fluid intake high and avoiding exertion. I had hoped to ride Friday night, in order that he’d be obedient and moving well on Saturday, but that plan was cancelled to save my strength. Luckily the weather had not been quite so unpleasant that morning, so he did get some turnout.

After work I stopped by the stables long enough to check he’d been out and to grab the bridle. It would have been nice to take the saddle home to clean as well but just picking up the saddle felt too much like exertion, which I needed to avoid. Throughout Thursday and Friday I dumped zinc, vitamins, echinacea and any other immunostimulant cold-scarers that I could think of into my system. Wrapped up warm at home on Friday night I strip-cleaned my bridle in front of the television and went to bed at a reasonable time. On Saturday morning I woke up feeling like I might have convinced my body that we could achieve the lesson with Lee. Hurray!

I fear the cold may have only been postponed, but at least I was well enough to ride.

Filling my flask with a strong echinacea and rosehip tea (one of my trusty cold-deterrents) and grabbing the clean bridle, my plain white saddle pad that I usually only use for shows and the new lambskin girth cover that I hadn’t previously allowed myself to use on any occasion, I headed to the yard.

I was surprised to see I was obviously making a special effort with our appearance. I pretty him up for shows because I have to. Wrong colour saddle pad or loose mane and they could tell me I haven’t complied with the dress code and so can’t take part. But this was the first time I wanted to look the part for us, not because of external pressures. I didn’t go as far as wearing my cream jodhpurs or plaiting him, but I made an effort. I overheard one of the other liveries saying the other day that when they’d been out and about someone had commented on their good turnout. She went on to say that she always wants to look awesome even if they can’t do anything under saddle and come last. This couldn’t be further from my own feelings. I think I want our appearance to match our level. I’d hate to look totally glamoured up so people expect a lot from us and then ride dreadfully. It would be so much better to look a bit rough around the edges but go beautifully. Anyway, what I think I’m learning from this tangential paragraph, is that I think we should dress a little better now because we’re doing a little better. Like a knight earning his spurs, we’re earning the white saddle pad and the lambskin girth cover. Actual spurs, if I ever go there, are a very long way in the future.

So I groomed him until the beginnings of his summer coat shone and put black hoof-ointment on. The saddle got a quick lick and a promise and when I tacked up he wasn’t looking too shabby, for a cob with a clip growing out. As his copious mane blew about I sort of wished I’d plaited it, but I’d had neither the time nor the energy. There was space to warm up in another school, so we had a little bounce around before we went in to Lee.

I was expecting that Lee would be sitting in his red Landrover in the corner of the school, so was mildly surprised to see he was in a new white one instead. I put on the earpiece and battery pack and we began.

I have written recently about trying to keep my reins shorter; I have now officially achieved shortness! Lee suggested they were rather too short. What a pleasure it is to have achieved the skill of shortening reins such that I needed to lengthen them.

The main theme of the lesson from the horse point of view was to get him using his back end more. The big lesson for me was to stop shoving with my seat and do more with my legs.

Lee had me lean back more (or try to) in all gaits (how lucky that Russel Guire recently taught me what leaning back means on a horse!) and get him pushing energy through from the back legs, over his back and into the contact. At times we got it. It felt really strange trotting with that power coming though and me feeling almost left behind because I was not in my usual position.

Within the trot we played with speeding up and slowing down, keeping the energy from the back end, and trying to maintain the energy into walk. We do need to do serious work on our walk. Lee correctly assessed that we both use walk as a coffee break, not a working gait. That needs to change.

I’ve mentioned before that we have issues with free walk on a long rein. We worked on that too, which really pleased me because it’s one of those things I knew was weak but didn’t know how to improve.

On to the canter. It is in the canter that my shoving with my seat is most obvious. People have mentioned before that I need to be stiller in the seat, but never in a way that I understood. By getting me to lean back and … well I can’t really remember how he got me to do it, but eventually I got to a point where I was still but moving; following not shoving. And I lost it again. I gained it and lost and gained it again. When I had it, I could sort of see how much more use of my legs I will have when I get used to riding like that. I suspect once I’m used to it cantering will be a lot less tiring and I’ll have more control. Of course as far as Drifter was concerned the changes of rider style were a bit concerning, so we had unwanted transitions and a few moments where he was off without the brakes, but at no point did we come near to crashing into the walls or Lee’s car, so we had much more control than last time ūüėČ

When we changed to the right rein we both struggled. I could not find how to sit without shoving on that rein! I had a tiny flash of getting it at one point but it was much harder. I asked Lee whether it was harder because of me or because of Drifter and he said it was both of us. Drifter struggles on that rein and falls in and out; I overbend him because I’m (subconsciously?) worried we’ll crash into a wall if/when he falls out.

We went down to a walk to finish off, stopping near Lee’s car so I could talk to him better and then walking off to keep Drifter moving. As I did so he noticed that to walk I’d just shoved him on from my seat and not used my legs at all. After he showed me that I could see how to be stiller in my seat in the walk as well. When I manage it and it frees up my legs I can see how I can use my legs better, but the muscles aren’t used to working like that yet. It’s going to take some serious practice!

So the homework is to learn how to use my legs and not use my seat, to work in the walk, to get the energy coming from the back end, to get some reasonably different speeds within canter on the left rein and some small adjustments of speed in the unbalanced right canter. Is that it? ūüėÄ

About two-thirds of the way through, when I was already feeling dazed from the learning and exhausted from the cantering, Lee asked did I mind the trainer/dealer who works out of our yard showing him a horse? I was glad to have a breather to be honest, so I didn’t mind. We had a walk and did our best to keep¬†out of the way while the other horse’s paces were shown. I actually found it really interesting to hear Lee Pearson horse-shopping. Having only bought one horse in my life it was interesting to hear what someone more experienced asked. One of the questions I liked was “What’s the worst thing he’d do?” He asked about¬†riding it with a whip and without spurs. He seemed interested and I’d like it if he ended up having it; it would be pretty cool if he ended up competing on a horse that used to live on our yard. He asked for videos and said he might come back to ride it at a later date.

We then resumed my lesson and ran over the end to make up the time. It was quite nice having had a break for things to sink in.

Once again, I finished with an extremely sweaty horse! As he’s fully clipped on the body now, unlike last time, and I have a better cooler rug, I didn’t feel that a bath was the only way to deal with him ¬†this time and although he took a long time to dry it was a lot more manageable.

If I can get a fraction as much out of my homework from this “Leeson” as I did from the last it will have been an absolute bargain again. So I’ll say again what I said before: if you ever get a chance to have or watch a lesson with him, you really should. Find the time, find the money and do it!

As for the cold… I’m feeling a bit off-colour and I suspect it will make a reappearance, but at least it let me have today the way I wanted. Hopefully it won’t be so bad that I can’t practice my new skills sooner rather than later.

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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The Christmas Show

Between my cold and the left over fear from the jumping the day before, I did not sleep much the night before the show, which was unfortunate.

So I dragged myself out of bed, collated everything I needed for the day and headed to the yard to start grooming and plaiting. Thankfully he was relatively clean. On Thursday he was clipped, this time taking off the¬†hair everywhere except his legs and face (i.e. cheeks and bottom jaw clipped, upper jaw, eyes, ears etc. still woolly). This did make for much easier grooming. Plaiting has got quicker and easier with practice and familiarity with my horse, and did not take nearly as much time and effort as I feared. I was quite aware that my fancy dress costume was not 100% finished and once he was groomed I got onto this. With hindsight I should have tacked up and used that time in warmup, but time managed to escape me and I hadn’t realised how short of time I was. I wanted a 20 minute warmup. I got about 5 minutes if that. We entered the dressage arena feeling rather underprepared. All of our recent workouts have been on the fast and furious side, topped off with the jumping the day before. There was no way I could convert that to a submissive dressage test with only a 5 min warmup.

Overall I felt the test went about as well as normal. That was disappointing as I know I’ve come on so far as a rider and he’s come on as well since we last did this test in August, but considering the preparation and my cold it was understandable. I thought the circles and the turns onto the centre line were better than previously and at one point I actually enjoyed myself, but the serpentine was inaccurate. Submission was lacking, but I hoped we made up for it in impulsion. He did not like the judge’s table at C, but was manageable about it. I wanted the improvements we’ve made to show in our test and in our mark, but they didn’t. For the first time I did the test with no fear that we’d fail to make a transition or do a recognisable movement, and yet it wasn’t really any better executed than the times I’d wondered if we’d even manage to stay in the arena.

No one seemed to know when we’d get the dressage marks, so we went back to the stable to make the transformation from wannabe dressage divas to fancy dress idiots.

I hadn’t been going to do the fancy dress until last week when I saw the following hats for sale.

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Some kind of insane genius made me think of turning my black and white horse into a Christmas Humbug. It would be in keeping with Christmas, but not the same-old reindeer/elf/Father Christmas festive fancy dress. Originality is rewarded, although I’d already decided I wasn’t going all out on this one the way I had on the dragon costume. If we came last, so be it.

My first idea was to tie white bandages around Drifter to make the white stripes, but Poundland didn’t have any old-fashioned bandages and I needed to keep the expenditure down. What they did have were rolls of wide white masking tape, that would be easily removed from fabric. As our black rug is not as black as it might be (it has red trim as well as not being that clean at present) I borrowed a rug from one of our new friends on the yard and humbugged it (with the owner’s permission).

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I had a stripy black jumper for myself and could masking tape some black trousers much as I’d done the rug, but what else?

Also in Poundland (no, they’re not our official sponsors ūüėČ ) I also picked up these girls’ socks.DSCN4529

I was hopeful that I’d be able to cut off the pink bits and stretch them over his hooves to wear on his legs.

But how to get him to wear his hat? I’d thought that I’d be able to split the side seams so that the white band would go across the base of his ears, with an ear coming out of each side seam, but this was too restrictive on the base of his ears. After playing with a few ideas I ended up making the band smaller and having one ear coming out of one side seam. Then, as he was still plaited up after the dressage, I sewed it both to his forelock and the first plait at the top of his neck.

I did manage to get the socks onto his legs. I would really have struggled to do this alone (I’d managed it in a test run but really you need one person to hold up the leg and the other to ease the sock over the hoof) but thankfully Mr S offered his help and did a sterling job. As a finishing touch for D I had some white “curling ribbon” (uncurled) to sew to the plait in his tail and for myself as well (as one of the Bah-Humbug hats) I had a basket containing humbugs, to assist anyone who didn’t get what we were dressed as.

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While there were only 3 entries, there were a lot of people dressed up. Entry no. 1 consisted of 2 of the teens and their horses, with reindeer antlers on the horses, elf outfits on the girls, festive saddle pads and tinsel on the tack. Entry no. 2 was a whole family dressed up, down to the dog. The horse was very dressed up, with long red and green stockings on (matching those worn by the rider and the rider’s mother, and a lot of other things I can’t remember. The rider, who was the girl who fell in yesterday’s jump lesson, was wearing a very cute commercially produced elf outfit, the mother was another elf, as was their little dog, and the father was … Father Christmas!

As their effort far outstripped ours I was very happy for them when they took first place and very pleased to be awarded the pretty blue rosette of second place. Everyone did a victory lap. I felt a little odd being the only one unmounted (it didn’t actually say being mounted was optional this time, but I assumed it was based on the summer show) but we had an in-hand trot round and then got out of the way of the cantering!

My dressage mark, when I received it, was disappointingly low at 56.5. I think this judge marked lower than those I have met before, but as detailed above, I was already of the opinion that we hadn’t made as good a showing as I would have hoped we could, so it wasn’t really a surprise to read the comments, some of which I could have predicted to the letter, others of which surprised me (I thought the circles were pretty round…). There were 3 adult walk-trot competitors, so I was already expecting to come 3rd, and in this I was correct. This is the first time I’ve come 3rd, which filled in the gap in my rosette collection nicely.

The dressage part of the day felt like a bit of a waste of energy. I’ve had so much else going on with my riding of late that I wouldn’t have bothered, save that I paid my entry fee months ago. But I am pleased with Drifter-as-Humbug. Unfortunately the pictures do not do justice to the cuteness of him. Peering over the stable door when we were waiting for fancy-dress time and seeing him eating his hay in hat, humbug rug and stripy socks was the highlight of my day.
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A lesson with Lee Pearson

Following my last experience with having a lesson with “someone from outside,” I was somewhat worried about having a lesson with the holder of 10 gold Paralympic medals and a CBE, among other accoutrements. Had I not paid a deposit ahead of time I would not have gone through with it this close to the last one.

But I had paid, so we were doing it.

As quite a few people had had their lessons before me I was able to find out what to expect. Lee Pearson would be seated in his (beautifully shiny red 4×4) car in the corner of the school and would be speaking to me through a microphone/earpiece. I would wear the earpiece and battery pack. Everyone seemed to have enjoyed their lessons, but I wasn’t placing too much store in that as last time everyone but me enjoyed their lessons.

D being generally easy-going about such things I knew I wouldn’t have to worry too much about the car being in the school, so at least all I had to worry about in that regard was not crashing into it. That would be embarrassing, to say the least.

Owing to my little holiday, I hadn’t ridden for 3 days beforehand, which felt like a ridiculously long time, so I was keen to get on board for bit before the lesson. Luckily I managed a 15 min warm up before my slot and we pottered around. I’m glad I did as it helped me to go into the lesson more confident and I’m sure the warmup was good for woolly-boy.

The preceding rider was the eldest of the teens, with her immaculately groomed horse plaited and herself looking smart in white jodhs and a black jacket. She’s been riding her horse for 8 years so they’re a pretty “together” package. On the other hand my horse was a bit grubby, desperate for a mane pulling and I was head to toe in purple*, more by luck than judgement.¬†Ah well. If I spent energy stressing about the way we looked I’d have little left for the lesson.

So my slot rolled around and we entered the school and introduced ourselves. I explained where we were with the canter (i.e. me barely cantering at all these days). If he’d have said he didn’t want us to canter I’d have been fine with that, but I was pleased to hear that he did want us to have a go.

And by Pegasus** we cantered!

But first a little trot work. In trot we did a delightfully fun exercise – within the trot we varied the speed to the min and the max. We tried to find (and sustain) the slowest trot he was capable of without it becoming a walk and the fastest trot without it becoming a canter. The slow trot fascinated me and focussed me; the fast delighted me.

Since I got this horse I have been told “steady the trot,” “slow the rhythm,” “stop him rushing,” “tick-tock, slow and steady.” A constant litany that I should be holding him back, slowing the rising, steady, steady, slower. And being obedient, so I have done. I have almost never urged him on in trot – always the constant insistence that he slows down. So to let him go and even ask for more speed was such a release. It was hard to find the balance of asking for more but staying in trot, but it was great fun trying.

The idea was then to ask for the canter from this trot, because horses, if left to their own devices, or on the lunge, run into canter. This was in complete contrast to anything that had been suggested before, but I’m always happy to try something new. The other big new concept for me was that if he went on the wrong leg we would keep cantering and come onto a circle. To let him feel that cantering that way on a circle is harder than doing it properly. To make the circle smaller if he didn’t seem to get it. To come back to trot for only a few strides, make sure I had inside bend and ask again for while the legs were really active under him, helping him to strike off right.

The first right canter was on the wrong leg, so we sailed around the school at great pace on the wrong leg. I won’t say I’ve never done this before, but it’s the first time I’ve done it without feeling bad about it! Yes we were unbalanced, but hey, we were both learning things!

The next time I asked for canter two amazing things happened.

1) He picked up the correct lead

2) It felt better than the wrong one

Point 1 proved that Lee’s method works for us. Point 2 probably also supports that, but also suggests that the weak leg is stronger than it was. Last time I cantered him on the right leg on that rein it felt just as wrong as being on the wrong leg. Progress has been made.

Of course all of this was a bit worrying for the woolly-boy. And when he worries he goes faster. Which is how we ended up flying round at great speed in little circles, not always on the right leg, with no brakes. Having a humorous and chilled out voice in my earpiece was rather helpful at these times and although there were hairy moments where I argued briefly with centrifugal and centripetal forces, there was only one moment where I felt the pull of gravity and knew all my weight was in one stirrup and wondered if it and the girth would hold me. There were also a few moments when we wondered if we would hit a wall (or worse – Lee’s beautiful shiny car), but every crisis was averted, one way or another.

So we didn’t have brakes or, at some points, steering. But we had speed, we had canter and we had fun. We also had a flying change at one point, apparently.

Was it a controlled, elegant ride? Nope!

Was it the first time I’ve ridden my horse like we’re both alive? Maybe.

Was it out of our comfort zones? Yes.

Are we going to ride like that again? Hell yes.

That was the canter exhilaration I’ve only had at Caeiago before. I didn’t know you could get that in a school. I didn’t know¬†I could get that in a school. I didn’t know¬†we¬†could get that in a school. You may recall that in previous posts I’ve been pretty excited about cantering a single 20m circle? Well I had no idea I/we were capable of the canter circles we did with Lee.

We discussed lunging, briefly. Lee recommended, as under saddle, that if he goes on the wrong leg on the lunge, fine, let him canter on the wrong leg, but bring him into a smaller circle to help him learn that it would be easier to go correctly.

I feel that what I learnt from Lee (apart from that I can stick on better than I thought ūüėČ ) is a way of helping Drifter learn for himself rather than a way to teach him. This feels right to me. I can’t teach a horse how to canter. I am not a horse. I am not an experienced horse-woman. He is the horse, and the responsibility to learn is with him. Yes I will learn alongside him and give him all the support I can, but I can’t do his job as well as mine.

I realise that I have written little about Lee Pearson. This was not my intention, but on the other hand I don’t want to delete anything I have written and I don’t want this to turn into another epic post.

The most important thing I can write about Lee is that if you ever see an opportunity to have a lesson from him, seize it. Everyone I spoke to who had a lesson from him came out glowing and beaming and asking when we could get him back for another day of lessons (I believe February is a possibility). We were riders and horses of all different ability levels, personalities and experiences but every one of us had a positive experience.

What else should I say. That he was funny? Undoubtedly. That he kept me calm when others would have panicked me? Definitely. That he made me feel capable, positive and empowered*** regarding my riding and my horse? Certainly.

But these things do not capture the character of Lee Pearson, and he has a great deal of character. Instead I will try to quote a few of the things he said to me. It is inevitable that I will have remembered these in my own words, which is a shame, as I would rather offer you his, but I cannot do anything about that. I’ll do my best to capture the spirit. For the full experience read them to yourself with a grin.

“I want you to leave today as a canter-whore.”

“Your horse has energy a lot of warmbloods don’t have. It’s good to see in a native breed.”

“I don’t know you from Adam but I’m proud of you.”

“I’m so glad you didn’t end up hitting the wall because then you would have left with this being a negative experience.”

Readers, I think I might be a canter-whore.

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Lee Pearson links: http://www.leepearson.co.uk/id2.html

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lee-Pearson-CBE/182388078495516

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Pearson

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*Well not actually head to toe Рhat, boots and half-chaps were black(ish), so actually I was knee to neck in purple if you want to be exact.

**Insert deity of choice.

***I tend to avoid this word or use it ironically because it’s so overused in certain circles. But in this sentence it’s here to do a job without irony.