I’ve been procrastinating writing this lesson recap because it left me in an odd headspace for a while. And then many things happened at once so posting this fell to the wayside. But it was just a weird day in early January. There must’ve been something in the air – we were expecting an incoming storm (which was just clouds and a temp drop and didn’t manifest until Monday) but boy Saturday wasn’t a good day.
It’s really heartening to hear that your trainer likes the way you ride their horse lol. Trainer G has told me a few times that she thinks I ride Soxie very well, and this does bolster my confidence in riding her. I am a worrier, and I worry when I can’t do things, when I can’t be the rider a sensitive horse needs, but at the same time, I know I am not perfect, I make mistakes, and we learn from those mistakes, and to a certain extent the horse has to be able to work with you on that. Soxie is deceptively calm – she starts out like a cold diesel engine, but once it’s warmed up and you want it to go, boy it’ll just fly. But relatively in the beginning of the ride, I startled her. And she got upset at me. And then I pulled a little more than I was trying to. And that kind of set the tone for the rest of the lesson.
We started off with a simple exercise – trotting over a pole on either side of a raised cavaletti. Soxie was dragging her feet a little, so we were just working on getting her to pick her feet up, but also for me to stay balanced and posting instead of going up into a two-point which was my first inclination. We did the exercise both ways until I could remain posting even with her lifted stride. She was a super girl through that. Then we were going to go over some ground poles set far enough apart for a trot in, canter transition and then canter out. Pretty simple.
It was not lol. Soxie felt good, and I like to set things up, prepare a little extra, and be soft and measured in my cues so that then the horse can do their job. But I looked at the limited space between the poles, and decided that I will ask sooner, and I will be determined. Well, I was determined all right, and too determined for poor Soxie. I completely underestimated her responsiveness. I goosed her a bit with my outside leg – in wanting to get the exercise and give Soxie plenty of time to canter, I reverted to my western cues – and poor thing scooted into the canter, had no right leg of mine at the girth to help her stay straight, and then I did some ugly pulling, we completely missed the pole, and stopped by the fence. I was laughing at my super goof, and trying to reassure Soxie that it was all my fault and I am so sorry. I had scared her though, because after that any cue met with leg and she was like “omg I’m so sorry; I’m going!”
I always get way too hard on myself, and I’ve found that laughing is a good way to ease not only my emotions and get myself out of a spiraling, negative headspace, but I also feel like it’s helped the horses settle their emotions, too. But we had to scale it back after that. Trot in, walk out. Trot in and out. A good 3-4 times. I finally had the lightbulb of “oh hey, so when you tilt her upper body back that miniscule inch, Soxie is right there for you in your half half.” It was a good lightbulb. I just couldn’t do it very often, or sort of like…at all haha. I was focusing on a lot, and that little inch just wasn’t on my radar most of the time. It should have been, because it would’ve helped, but it takes time to break habits. Anyway, when Soxie was calmer, Trainer G gave me the choice of repeating the initial exercise, or trotting in and out and cantering in the corner. I chose the latter. Better to be easy. And it turned out really really well. We moved to the left, and it worked well until just past the corner. And then Soxie took the bit and started running.
To quickly preface, putting that left leg on and asking for the bend in the turn is one of the things that gets to Soxie, and it tends to show up when she gets into a worried headspace. I was aware of that from the start, so when she did that I just sort of shrugged. I let her go for a moment, asked to come back, let go for a moment, asked to come back, rinse and repeat. She came back to me after a lap, and we carried on.
We did manage to jump a few times, and she was really good to the right. I accidentally kept catching her mouth, riding a bit too defensively with my hands which I don’t like doing but what can ya do sometimes? I was already focusing on a lot, so that little bit of body weight shifting back just wasn’t really registering when it should have, and I’m just not there yet where I can really separate my arms from the rest of my body for a better release over the jump. Turning left after the jump, she really wanted to turn and burn, and some outside rein helped break the thought up a little. And then I had to just suck it up and do it right – left leg on, bend to the left around the corner. I stuck my left leg on, asking for that curve, and she took the bit again. But just like before it was no big deal, and she came back to me again.
We ended on some long and low trotting. I kept getting sucked into the “if she’s fast pull” instinct, and only when I started to circle, over-exaggerating the bend and really insisting inside leg to outside hand would she round and come into a frame and relax and take a breath. Fast again, rinse and repeat. I nearly got a long side with her in frame and relatively relaxed, and just decided to quit there. I was hoping for a whole long side, but I’d rather quit on a good note. I walked her out, pet her, blew in her nose.
It wasn’t a bad lesson. In terms of me being able to handle the horse, not getting scared, still being a thinking rider and trying to make good decisions and succeeding in certain exercises, it was a success. That type of ride just always saddens me. I’m not unfamiliar with it – I had a good year and a half of rides that were consistently saddening with Whisper as I tried to earn her trust bit by bit. I wasn’t scared with Soxie running off with me because I knew it was her fight response developed from fear some time in her early training. Sure, she was a little pissy at me because I wasn’t releasing with my arms like I needed to, and I was being more handsy than both she and I preferred, but that kind of thing happens, and I get that. It helped that her running off isn’t very fast and is actually quite controlled. I mean, it’s much faster than I’m used to, and you can feel it’s a run and not an increase of speed. But, it always saddens me to feel that kind of flight and consequently fight response in a horse I’m riding, especially if I unintentionally caused it.
I’ve had the good fortune that whenever I’ve had this type of ride on a horse, it’s been one I own or one I rode daily, and I could ride first thing the next day and fix myself to have a good ride. I couldn’t do this with Soxie unfortunately – not only did I need an adjustment period with starting school and falling into a routine with that, but Trainer G also got badly hurt that day. I was thankfully there to help her. Plus that’s when Amber’s vet visit and subsequent shoeing was coming up, so I was sidelined on lessoning for a few weeks. I wanted to lesson at the other facility, but Wednesdays were their best days (it was quiet, and my introverted self likes the quiet, and they’re quite booked on weekends) and I started using Wednesdays as a homework day so I still have weekends free to relax. Now that Amber is able to walk too, I may be able to hop on her in the future to at least get some walking ride time. We’ll see how that pans out.
But I was finally able to sync my schedule with Trainer G for a lesson on Soxie, which was just this past Saturday. I was originally going to have a lesson last weekend, but I was suddenly having very excruciating spine pain that even sidelined me from work, so Trainer G and I decided to wait a week, which was for the best. I was feeling better, and eager to hop back on my fav lesson horse. I’d had a good 3-4 weeks of no lessons and no ride time, so I had a lot of time to think about what I could do better after my last lesson. I reread my lessons, looked at pictures, and was finally able to see that when my body is weak I perch too high, and Soxie just does better when a rider sits back – almost a dressage position. So I need to sit, and unfortunately I’ve gotten in the habit of perching.
In a saddle with a deep seat and a lengthened leg, when Amber really gets her collected canter down, it’s lovely to sit. One of the easiest things in the world. But it was just easier to 2 point in my jump saddle, to not sit on her back because she’d get choppy. And instead of fixing it I would just 2 point and perch. So, there’s a habit that I definitely need to break lol.
Keeping in mind that I needed to sit my ass down in the saddle, we started our lesson. We were only working on the flat that day which was perfectly fine with me. After not having ridden in weeks, coupled with the fact that my back pain was slowly starting to fade, flatwork was great. Plus, it was on the flat that I made my mistake last time, so it was a perfect opportunity to iron a few things out and fix my goof.
And man, Soxie made me work for it haha. Since it was flatwork, the lesson focused on us both equally. I hold my left shoulder weird. Which causes the weirdness in my elbow and wrist. I lead with that shoulder too. So there was a lot of left upper body fixing going on for me lol. Trainer G also had me working with draw reins to start getting me used to holding two reins, and while the draw reins were never engaged, it was an excellent reminder of “dear god, Mandy, close your damn fingers” lol. I’d grip the draw reins, and as usual let the braided rein slip through my pinky and fourth fingers.
While my brain understands and agrees with the needs and benefits of inside leg to outside hand, no matter how little I’m bending a horse’s head around I completely drop the outside rein – a product of many years of colt breaking and teaching them the one-rein stop. So this was a great lesson in keeping steady tension in my outside arm while (attempting) to put on my inside leg. Soxie is very defensive about her mouth, and it took her a little while to trust my hands. But Trainer G and I were steady and patient, making sure she stayed in front of my leg and focusing on her energy from behind and her straightness while ignoring where her head was. We stayed on a circle, and this time, I was pleased with myself that when she got fast, I didn’t get defensive with my hands. I sat up a bit straighter, slowed my post and really engaged my abs, and she was right there for me to half halt and was very responsive. A win!
We cantered early on – Soxie is definitely a horse that loosens up after cantering – and I made sure to keep my butt closer to the saddle, and my upper body back. I had also lengthened my stirrups a hole to encourage myself to sit a little deeper, and I think that really helped me. But as we kept cantering, it was juuuuust a little too much for my poor little brain to keep the half seat and the upper body, and my fingers and wrists and arm tension and shoulder and abs and inside leg that I ended up sitting Soxie’s canter lol. This time when asking for the transition, I asked correctly and she didn’t dive. Yay for me haha.
I had a good lightbulb moment as well – towards the end of the ride as we were cantering, Soxie was finally starting to trust me that we weren’t going to mash her into any frame, and she started pushing ever so slightly into my hand. As soon as I felt that it was like “oh. OH. OMG hurry and put your leg on and hold tension! OMG we got it!” lol And then she pushed up into it and softened, and while it wasn’t perfect, sometimes you just gotta feel that beginning feeling of rightness and then you’ve got it. I did that for about a half circle before walking – I’m always better if I feel something and hold on to it for a few seconds and then pause. It solidifies the feeling in my brain without it getting muddled by the wrong feeling if we try to hold it for too long.
After that Soxie and I were really starting to communicate better. We were doing a good exercise that was mostly geared for me of trot circle, canter circle, trot transition and immediate semi circle to help her stay on her hind end. I tend to let horses fall in downward transitions, so the immediate, tight semi-circle really made me sit up and back, engage my outside rein and inside leg. I felt like I was pulling soooo much on that outside rein when from the ground it probably just looked like tension LOL. But Soxie and I had one great round each direction, with her pushing into the contact nearly the whole time, and being very responsive at the trot. She came back with my half halt, pushed into the contact, and remained very active and forward with her hind end. We did an extra circle with her in frame, with me sitting up and back and keeping tension in my arms. Once we got there, it was soooo easy – I felt that even in my unfit state I could have trotted her like that all day. So we ended there! A very successful lesson in my opinion.
It was the perfect goodbye ride. While she’s been my fav horse to ride so far for sure, Soxie has still been for sale, and was sold to a good home. I’m certainly sad to see her leaving, but I’m so glad that she’s going to a good place with a wonderful set-up for her, and that I got to have a good, last ride on her before she heads off to her new owner. Rocky will be my main lesson horse for now, which is great since I do like him lol. And who knows? Perhaps a chill, ex-reiner is the best to continue forward for right now. And I’m also so glad that Trainer G is doing better (but please still send her healing thoughts if you could!) and that I still get to lesson and that Amber is continuing to do well. Success all around!