Did you hear that horrible squeaking noise earlier this week? The one that sounded like a 50 year old bike being pedaled up a hill? That would have been Ike and me in our dressage lesson. Sheesh, it sure doesn’t take long for Ike to get a little stiff and rusty, and seemingly lose all the progress we’ve made towards Second Level. It takes even less time for my riding to fall to pieces. I suppose that is what happens when you are down to riding once a week.
Such is the plight of the average rider in the middle of winter. We are at the mercy of the weather since we have no indoor arena. Why am I not riding regularly? Too wet, too cold, too frozen, too windy can all be used to explain why. People like me are not able to leave our jobs, homes, and family and spend the winter in Florida playing with our horses every day. We live vicariously through videos posted online; we jealously stew over their short-sleeved shirts and shiny, mud-free horses.
It was probably a good thing that I didn’t ride in the gale force winds that blew through the mid-Atlantic region. Ike had a very busy day applying a mud mask to all exposed parts of his body. It took me a good hour or so of grooming to get the dried, caked mud from Ike’s head, neck, legs, and tail. There was even mud under the blanket – I’m not sure how he managed that feat. I was as dirty as he was just from taking off his blanket. As you can see from this photo, there was a clear line of demarcation between the land of the blanket and the mud flats.
While I cursed the blanket for sharing Ike’s mud with me, I also was thankful that it was in place or my task would have been even more daunting. When I was done, even my teeth felt gritty. A friend suggested that I get some Orbit gum for my dirty mouth.
Thankfully, Ike did not reapply his mud mask on lesson day, so grooming was quick work and we could get straight to our lesson. It. Was. Not. Pretty. Ike was stiff; all body parts were moving, but all parts were not moving together. My fingers were stiff in the cooler weather which meant that my reins kept getting too long and uneven and I was always a half a step too slow for a proper half halt. Transitions were our saving grace. It took a good 25-30 minutes, but finally Ike’s body started moving more fluidly. Ah, he is like a diesel engine – he just needs some time to warm up before getting to the more strenuous work.
Once the engine was humming, our work improved 10 fold. We starting working on our leg yields to supple Ike even more. I still have trouble keeping the correct alignment. All too often, I leave Ike’s hind end playing catch up as I let the shoulders bully their way ahead. Just half halt that outside rein to stop it they say; I say bully to that. Once Ike’s shoulders take the lead, it is all I can do to slow them down. I also have to be careful that I maintain the proper flexion since Ike is more than happy to demonstrate his half pass ability. (which by the way is lovely.) We tried the new First Level Test 3 movement of leg yielding from K to X and then from X to H. Make sure you have control of those shoulders well before X – it is way too easy to overshoot X and end up with a very steep line to H.
We then moved on to shoulder in and started introducing the Second Level Test 1 pattern. Holy moly! We can actually do it! I am still in shock. There is a dim chance that we might actually be ready to try Second Level at a schooling show in April. Ike and I can finally ride the first 8 movements of the test with some level of success. We are able to show a change between a collected trot and a “medium-like” trot. The medium trot is still a work in progress, but work has stalled with the poor footing. We are really in a correct shoulder in position and don’t just have an over bent giraffe neck. We can ride smooth square turns onto and off of the rail. Reinbacks are decent. Luckily, Ike can already walk and free walk, so movements 7 and 8 feel like bonus points.
But that is where are work ended for the lesson. The footing was not safe enough to push for medium trots or canter. Call me a wuss, but I’d rather err on the side of caution then end up with a tendon injury that sidelines any work. Warmer weather will be here soon enough and we will be back to full speed. I am still practicing my impatiently patient skills. They too are a work in progress.