When I was a child, my family owned boats – a daysailer when I was very young, then we sized-up to a 25 foot sailboat, and finally, we shifted to motorboats which were better for fishing. My mother used to call them “holes in the water that we throw money into” since it seemed sometimes that the boat spent more time at the dock than on the open water. But, even when the boat was stationary, there were still expenditures that drained the bank account. A few years ago, my parents finally plugged the last hole and got rid of the boat.
Now that I own horses, I better understand what she was saying. When I am forced by powers beyond my control to cease all riding, it can be very frustrating. Even when I cannot ride, there are still board checks to write, vet bills to pay, and apple expenditures. So after 15 days of no riding, I finally got my butt back in the saddle and rode Ike through the slushy remnants of the blizzard. Desperate times, people, desperate times.
Fortunately, some warmer temperatures melted those last stubborn traces of the snow and the ring was back to its pre-snow condition. I took full advantage of the situation and scheduled a lesson with Ms. C. She had warned me that the horses had displayed their naughty wintertime behavior earlier in the day. One of the horses she rode decided to exhibit her airs-above-the-ground skills. So with that cautionary advice, I heaved myself onto Ike’s back and began my warm-up. Just when I was lulled into a false sense of confidence, Ike reminded me that he could at anytime be in charge of our ride. Luckily I kept my ass in the saddle and quickly regained control.
In my lessons, we have dabbled with flying changes and half pass in preparation for Third Level, but the focus is mainly on the basics – is your horse through and working over his back? Is your horse straight? Seemingly simple concepts in theory yet challenging when you add motion and power. Ike can certainly give the outward appearance that he is through at the trot, but I know when he is faking it. The challenge is then to correct the lack of throughness. There are times that the only way to establish it is to go back to the walk. It is usually easier for me to win the argument while moving slower. Once we achieve the throughness, we then are starting to add more power. Note to self: You had better get into better aerobic shape in order to ride that powerful trot!
Straightness can still elude us at times…well, for full disclosure, it happens more often than not. Yes, we can regularly trot a straight centerline, but straightness at the canter and on a circle or bending line? Hmm, I struggle to know what is going on with the caboose. I can think we are going straight, but if you look at photos or watch videos, you can see Ike’s hind end is not quite on the same track as the front. And while I know that we should be cantering with a slight shoulder fore position, I struggle to know if I have achieved that correct positioning. Ms. C frequently asks me if I think I have a straight horse; I frequently respond with, “Umm, I don’t know” or the popular “Maybe.” Needless to say those are not the correct answers.
Things get even more challenging when I try to recreate the throughness and straightness when I ride on my own. Do I have it? Should I praise Ike? Or did we completely miss the mark and I’m rewarding the wrong thing? The struggle is real, but thankfully, I have learned that I am not alone with this struggle. I’ve found a group of like minded dressage riders on Facebook. We lament working on our own and worry that we are doing more harm than good. Luckily some riders with more wisdom reassure us that our horses are forgiving creatures. Most of them want to please us. Stop worrying about making mistakes – it is part of the learning process. Just enjoy the journey even when you end up on the long road.
So the plan is to enjoy the unscheduled time off from riding to just enjoy my horse’s company and stop kicking myself when we make mistakes. Success comes when you dust yourself off and try one more time.