I had the best ride I’ve ever had on Bonnie today. I’m still managing to get up an hour earlier each day to make sure Bonnie is in a consistent program, I’m impressed with myself that I’ve kept it up for a couple of months now! Sky puts a smile on my face and keeps me grounded and riding two horses consistently over the last few weeks (Sky has been here almost a month now) is finally getting me back into some semblance of shape as far as riding. Nothing is more frustrating than knowing what I need to do when I’m riding but not having the strength in my position, especially my core, to actually carry it out!
As you all know Bonnie has been a very frustrating horse for me to bring along. The inconsistent stop/start riding schedule was not helping this out any but even when she’s been in the hands of a pro for awhile she has been a hard greenie. She has not been hard in the sense of being difficult in regards to spooking, bucking, or acting out thank goodness. There was a point where I wondered if this beautiful, talented horse would ever even be able to canter correctly under saddle. It baffled me because she is a gorgeous horse as far as conformation and I was constantly saying to myself that everything should be so easy for her instead of hard.
The last few weeks I have really been concentrating on me and what I’m bringing to the picture with every ride. When I’ve been riding my mantra that I repeat to myself has been that the horse can’t brace and lean if you don’t give them anything to brace against. I’ve made a real effort to be soft when my natural response to her actions is to brace against her and pull. I know better but I’ve been out of the saddle more than I’ve been in the saddle for a few years now so it is easy to want to slip into habits that I’m fully aware are incorrect.
I’ve also been really working on visualizing what I am asking of her. I visualize a soft, balanced horse accepting a steady contact with her back lifted and swinging. When I ask for anything such as a counter bend, a leg yield, cantering a 20 meter circle or a transition I visualize how I want it to happen as I’m asking for the movement. This has been really helping me to focus on exactly what I’m doing and thus communicating more clearly to Bonnie.
I can’t say I had amazing results right away, and as usual I was having to tell myself to stay with the plan and be patient as the weeks went by. Little by little I started to feel Bonnie soften into the contact more consistently and to feel the elasticity and swing in her back for longer and longer periods of time. She’s starting to trust and believe in the softness in my arms and hands and respond in kind. The connection to the bit feels so much more alive and functional. As I was cantering a 20m circle to the left today she started to get a bit strong and I just quietly sat a bit deeper and gave a soft half halt. I did it without really thinking about it and out of habit. Instead of being met with resistance I was met with a horse that understood and responded to the half halt, lifted her front end, and softened her entire body.
When I realized what had just happened (I didn’t “visualize” the half halt as it was just an ingrained reaction on my part to ask for it in response to her getting a bit strong) I started praising her like a woman possessed and we came down to the walk so I could relive the moment in my head over and over again. Part of me wanted to stop as I felt like I had just won a gold medal of sorts, but part of me really wanted to know if it was a fluke or if we’d really, finally made a big breakthrough.
We went back to the canter (through a nice upward transition!) and I cantered down a line of three ground rails I had in the arena. Between poles 2 and 3 she started to get strong again so I gave another soft half halt and received the same response, and we cantered softly out of our line of poles. I was elated and after we cantered another 20m circle we came down to the walk and called it a day.
I know it doesn’t seem like much but after all the trials and frustrations I’ve gone through with this horse it was a huge deal for me. It FINALLY feels like we’re really starting to live up to some of our potential and get somewhere. I also felt today like my position was a lot more solid and that I was doing a much better job of holding my position and being able to ride her more effectively. She has a big stride and again even though the muscle memory to sit correctly was there my ability to actually do it effectively was lacking. We’ve done a lot of work over poles on the ground and last summer during one of our riding stints we hopped over a few tiny fences. I’m looking forward to introducing her to some simple gymnastics in a few more weeks and starting to work over fences as well. Riding Sky has been so helpful to me in so many ways.
Hopefully we’ll continue on our upward trend but our ride today was enough to keep me going for awhile regardless! And now on to some pictures . . .
Sky, Norman and Traveller; Norman decided he wanted to be with Sky when she started going out in a group so he spends a lot of time in her field now