My biggest feat this week is that I actually rode my horse. That may not sound like much but with the way I have been feeling lately it is bigger than it should have been. I've been lacking any and all motivation to ride the past couple weeks or so. I have no good excuse as to why. I have had time and the weather has been amazing. I get a feeling of guilt over it but ultimately I know it is just where I am at right now. Then I get on my horse after a long break and I realize it has in no way set us back and in some cases it helps. It's almost like hitting some sort of reset button. Before I lost my motivation I had a couple 'exciting rides'. One I took Steady out for a hack through the fields. I could tell he was extra high about it and it had been a while since we had done this and even longer since we did it alone. He marched out energetic and brave all the way through our long 15 acre field, I was quite proud of him, but when we reached the end of our property and crossed the road he started to loose his head. Since he marched out so nicely I figured he had done enough to make me happy. If you have been around this blog for a length of time you may remember how much work it was to get him to hack out alone. I use to be happy if he would go 10 feet farther then the day before but he is much improved from those days. So I was pleased and turned toward home. We get to a small ditch and he does this strange bunny hop rear and spin move about 5 times in a row. The first one I am fine, second he gets me off balance, third I loose a stirrup and fourth I resort to grabbing onto his neck and waiting out the tantrum. WTH?! Dude?? We were on our way home I thought that is what you wanted? After that we had 'words' and went back to work in the arena to let him know he was not getting out of work after that stunt. A couple days later we are having a glorious ride. I mean he felt so good. I decide to hand gallop a bit for some fitness work. That went great but then I, not thinking at all, flopped down on his back in an attempt the break to a trot. Well he did not approve of plopping and took off bucking. First time ever he has done that. He has been known to throw in an attitude buck here and there but the running off and bucking was not acceptable, flopping or not it's not acceptable. It is frustrating because the ride was over that was the last thing I was going to ask and then he does that and I feel I have to start the ride all over again. Those rides just kinda left a bad taste in my mouth and for some reason didn't help with the lack of motivation.
My goal for this ride was to get on and have an enjoyable ride and then get off. Mission accomplished! It was quite a nice ride. He felt very great. We had nice trot work with leg yields, we had turns on the forehand and lovely canter transitions and I called it a day. Though to me that in and of itself may have been a big feat I don't know that it qualifies as a 'great feat'. In the title I was referring more to a great feat in training that Steady and I hit yet never mentioned it here yet. I have thought of it but just never have.
We hit this great feat a couple months ago. In the spring I set out on a mission to get Steady to learn to stretch down. If you remember I accomplished that and then some cause now he Loves to stretch. If you saw our last dressage test I couldn't have asked for a better free walk(though it scored way lower than what I thought it would.) Once he got the walk mastered I moved on to get some stretch at the trot. The biggest challenge here was going to be some well known faults of Steady's. When he starts to move more forward he can snowball with too much forward momentum. Then add in the aides for getting stretch #1 leg #2 more rein. So you tell me what you think might happen when you put your leg on and give with your hands on a horse like Steady? Yeah, rushing was his first response. But like with everything else he does it doesn't take long before he starts to catch on. I started with a looong and very low walk warm up. I take up some more contact and ask him to collect a little more but still stay stretched and low with him very much on the bit. Now with all the walking stretch training when I add leg his initial response is to push into the bit and stretch down more. So as soon as he pushes I ask for a trot. Of course he initially comes up and with longer reins I loose the contact but being very quick with my hands I get good contact and push him into the bit with my leg a little. Again at first the response is to speed up. I half halt and continue to 'push' with my leg all the while keeping very solid contact. At the first sign of him pushing onto the bit the contact immediately gets softer. Being careful not to give the contact away because that is not the reward. The reward is soft contact not no contact. Once he pushes onto the bit I give with my hands slightly and push more with my inside leg. Then slowly but surely he gets lower and lower and when he gets low enough that I am happy with his progress he is much praised and I get him to stay there for as long as I feel he can keep it. At first that is a stride then it goes to two and so one and before you know it you can do an entire lap around the ring with his nose below his knees and stretching through his back. And viola you have long, low stretchy trot!
It is such a cool feeling for me that when I add a soft inside leg Steady's reaction is immediately to stretch and feel for the bit. Not to rush off which was his natural tendency but to seek for contact and stretch. The accomplishment is that much sweeter because I can say I did that and though to some who jump on a horse and the buttons are installed and you have a great ride I am sure it feels great. But to get on a horse that you took straight from a long career on the track and slowly but surely install those buttons yourself the feeling is indescribable and irreplaceable. This is one of our greatest feats yet! But yet the beauty of this sport is that though one milestone is met it just gets us one step closer to the million more yet to come.