Today’s lesson went amazing, and left me holding the reins.
My coach has been building us up to trot over ground poles at a steady pace. We nailed it over and over again. We trotted circles, patterns; we kept going until I ran out of breath. I caught my breath, and we went some more. Max and I have practiced so many times that we were practically falling asleep.
Our coach suggested we walk around in Max’s field. We had practiced in there a couple days ago, and Max walked all over it for me without hesitation. Today was different. My mother-in-law went along on her lesson horse, and the two horses formed an impromptu herd. They only wanted to go where the other horse went, which became a problem when neither wanted to go anywhere!
Once again, Max is stepping up into the role of Master Coach. I didn’t know what step would take us to the next development in our partnership, and he pointed it out. We can trot around the arena in a semi-mindless state, but riding outside the arena and out of sight of the barn ramps us both back up to where we started a couple months ago.
I was eventually able to annoy Max into going where I wanted. We even trotted about ten feet. I got worried when he started to feel rushed, so I pulled him back into a walk.
I’m looking forward to more pasture practice. I want to translate our progress in the arena to the uneven ground and hard to see past hills out there. Our partnership is a constantly evolving journey of trusting ourselves and each other. It’s kind of like the arena is level one, and the pasture is level two.
I learned to trust my horse a little more today. My coach had us focus on two exercises.
She had us trot a figure eight through some empty jump standards and over poles. (Today, I learned that they are called standards)
She also had us trot around the arena and do a twenty-meter circle in each corner. Something about that last exercise — or it could have been the four hours of YouTube that I binged on before our lesson — gave me a huge aha moment. I developed the trust that his body was going where I told it. I felt his shoulders leading, and the tension that I’ve kept in his neck finally release. We did circles, and that’s a big deal! Once I had that moment, I felt so much tension slough away.
My coach asked if I was ready to canter him yet.
I told her that I wanted to canter him on the longe line first and develop a strong voice command, so I didn’t have the half an arena super trot while he tries to figure out what I want (while I’m scared out of my mind and not really wanting it, especially the more super his trot becomes). I told her how I’ve been trying to get him to canter, but he just speeds up his trot. A smart coach, she gets out the longe line and sees if she can get him to canter.
Guess who cantered with one little kiss sound? Today I learned you’re supposed to ask for a canter with a kiss. Shouting “CANTER” means absolutely nothing, but a tiny little kiss sound means CANTER. I didn’t make the rules! I’m not sure how I never learned the kiss command before, but at least I know it now.
When will I be ready to canter him? Probably soon. My priorities this week are to:
Practice riding with a crop under my thumbs to keep my hands from waving around like an idiot.
Trot over poles until I get over it. (haha)
Trot between standards until they become less scary. (Yea, they scare me.)
Learn how to make amazing kissing noises at Max while he’s on the longe line.
Maximas is finally worked down. I got on him today, walked him around a few times, and braced for the zoomy trot — but I got a lesson horse trot, instead! He settled into one speed, exactly as fast as I made him go, and went where I told him to go! I was amazed. I was able to check his shoulder and make sure I was on the right diagonal. I could let him go around on a loose rein. I don’t know what caused it to click for us, but I hope it stays that way.
I saw a Reddit comment a few days ago that has been helping me a lot. They advised me to put my weight along the outside of my foot. It’s really helped me drape down and around, as well as find my balance easier. While I was playing around with that, I found a nice groove to fit my legs into, and the combination makes me feel like I’m finally balanced and snug. I can go right up into two-point. I’m still working on maintaining two-point, but that’s a given. It’s easier to practice with a horse that’s not trying to win the Kentucky Derby.
I could have worked us for hours today. What if I don’t have another good day for weeks?
I was able to look up, which I’m always getting in trouble for not doing in class. I could feel Maximas’ shoulders, and I started getting the feel for giving little half halts and leg nudging when he lost balance. I also worked on lowering my post. That one did a number on my abs. I’ll take a number on my abs over jackhammering Maximas’ back.
Tomorrow, I plan on laying out some cones and poles and trotting us around/over them. My trainer spent our last lesson trying to get us over poles. We threw ourselves at it with the gusto and anxiety of a Grand Prix jumping course. I’m looking forward to redeeming ourselves in our next lesson.
After our ride, I popped my helmet on the kid and led Maximas around as he gave her a pony ride. She’s going to start lessons this summer. I wonder where she will end up in the horse world. English or western? Trails or competitions? I wonder if Maximas will be her partner, too. If I keep riding him five days a week, probably not!
I made a massive breakthrough with my riding! I am so excited. In my last couple of entries, I’ve expressed how frustrated I have been with my lack of security. It’s caused me to be heavy on the reins. I freak out whenever trying to trot. Today brought me a giant step closer to overcoming that block. I can’t say that I’ve entirely broken past it, but I think I’m pretty darn close.
All I had to do was make better use of a piece of tack that I’ve already been using. In my opinion, everyone who rides English can benefit from this piece of equipment.
I originally started using this running martingale at the advice of my first trainer. Maximas’ teeth grow very fast, making him a rodeo horse unless the dentist floats them every eight months. I had to “randomly” deal with a rodeo horse before I knew that about him. His mouth pain would trigger him to jam his head up into the air, twist it sideways, and off we would go. (and off I would go) My trainer advised me to use a running martingale to prevent him from doing that to me. It works by threading each rein through a metal loop that affixes to an extended piece from a breastplate.
“Running martingales help give the rider extra control by discouraging the horse from raising its head beyond the point that the bit works correctly in the horse’s mouth. It works by stabilizing the reins and applying downward pressure on the mouth via the bit and reins when the horse raises its head too high.”
Horse and Hound
While I was riding today, I remembered one other essential function that my trainer had pointed out – the breastplate “seat belt.” I held onto the breastplate that loops over the horse’s neck, and I suddenly felt at complete ease. I had an anchor for my hand that kept it from flailing all over the place. I instantly felt the difference in Maximas. He evened out into a rhythm and relaxed (a little bit). I wasn’t able to send him crazy signals to his hypersensitive mouth just because I have spastic, noisy arms while I come back into riding. I’m hoping that a few rides with that anchor will help me to imprint that consistent hand position into my muscle memory. During this first ride, I kept one hand anchored to the breastplate. If I needed to pull on that rein, I would switch my other hand to the breastplate.
When I first started riding, I held onto the front of the saddle when I felt unsafe. As I learned better riding position, I felt more insecure when I moved my hand that far back and down. When I use the breastplate as a handhold, I anchor my hands at Maximas’ neck base. There’s enough give in the breastplate that my hand can raise a few inches in the air. I could maintain a safe balance in the saddle between my feet in the stirrups and my hand(s) on the breastplate if we have another rodeo moment.
My trainer was in the ring with another student (it was a beautiful day out, just before a winter storm comes into town, so the arena was full of everyone riding their horse). She turned and boggled at me a few times while Maximas and I happily trotted around. I’m not saying we were the picture of perfection, but at least we were going all the way around the ring, I was letting Max have his head, and I was able to take on the role of soothing “good boy!” rider instead of freaking out and yanking on the reins the entire time.
I signed up as an Amazon Affiliate for this post. I wanted to link to the exact running martingale I use. I know from experience that it’s stressful to figure out which product out of an internet full of brands will work. I’ll probably link more products in the future for that reason, so I figured I would go ahead and set up with Amazon. I buy everything from Amazon because of their fast shipping and how easy it is to make returns. I had one fantastic experience when Maximas tore up a brand new $200 blanket on the first day. They took it back and gave me a full refund, even after throwing it in the closet and forgotting about it for a few months.