It’s a scary world out there when you’re all alone
My trainer has been at a show the past few weeks, so Fin and I have been on our own.
On the weekends, when we’re riding in the daylight, things are peachy.
At the walk, our baby leg yields have started to turn in to real leg yields: staying straight and starting to actually cross over with the hind leg. He’s figuring out how to move his haunches and shoulders independently, and we’re working on developing an actual shoulder fore. At the trot, we are doing baby leg yields (moving sideways but not really crossing) on circles and straight lines. We’re staying straight during them now, rather than leading with the shoulder, but he’s not as confident about the lateral work as he is at the walk so I haven’t started asking for more sideways/crossing yet.
We’re doing a little cantering, as well. I want our upward transitions to be sharper before I ride him in the dressage arena, but we’ve gone from big 30 meter-ish circles down to being balanced and comfortable at 20 meters once we are cantering. Given his large stride (the hunter riders would be green with envy), this is saying something.
Since we have been playing with some of this new stuff on our own, it’s been a lesson in communication for both of us. Fin really wants to do the right thing, and when I ask him for something new and he’s not sure how to respond, he gets tense and tries to rush out of it. Something like improving the leg yield is not a problem, because he had the general idea of sideways from our baby leg yields. But when I asked him to just move his shoulders or haunches independently, while staying on the same track, tensed up and tried to blow through the aids and turn it into a power-walking leg yield.
I figured out that I needed to be quicker with my praise and ask for fewer steps before letting him out into a normal, straight walk. As soon as he figured out that, yes, all I wanted was one quarter to take a step in one direction and keep it there, he relaxed and we were able to start adding a few extra steps forward each time. By the end of that ride, he was walking down the long side moving his haunches in, haunches out, shoulders in, shoulders out, without any tension between each movement. By the end of the next ride, he’d figured out how to stay in shoulder fore. Then we lost that the next ride, but that’s babies for you.
With a trainer present, these things would go a little more quickly, because we’ve have more help on the timing. But I’ve also noticed that, as the two of us figure things out together, he’s starting to learn that mistakes are ok. He still gets tense when I ask him for something new (or, in the case of last night, for something we hadn’t done in a while: turn on the forehand), but he doesn’t get as tense as he did. I think it’s partly that I am quicker to break it down into smaller steps, but I also think it’s partly that he’s learning it’s ok to just try, and if it’s not exactly right, it doesn’t mean he needs to get tense and try to rush away from it.
The only real problem we are having is at night, under the lights. He thinks the world outside the lights is fun and interesting and much more captivating than working in the arena. I think it’s full of hyenas. We are still doing very long walk warmups at night—I don’t want to shut down his forwardness through my tension, so we take 10-15 minutes for him to be a little distracted and me to let go of work and start focusing on the ride. Last night was the exception—there were birds flying in and out of a bush or a plastic bag rustling in the wind or something, and both of us were a little jumpy if we rode past it when it made noise. I finally put us both to work, to get our minds off it, and we were fine.
We have the rest of this week to keep playing around before my trainer is back. I think she’ll be happy with us. We’ve definitely made some small but important advances on our own, but the real victory is just that he and I are figuring each other out and starting to trust each other. Six months ago I would have given him these last couple weeks off rather than take over all the riding, with maybe some lunging to keep him fit.
Still—I can’t wait until we get longer days and don’t have to ride under the lights any more. We’re doing it, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not my favorite thing.
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