Here, I thought I was making progress. I am back to trotting and cantering Charlie Brown. They aren’t always the perfect quality of gaits, but I’m doing them, and working on their characteristics as we go. We’ve gone back to the basics of rhythm, tempo, and light aid.
Most of our lessons are intensive at walk and trot — focusing on getting really good quality at these lower gaits. Walk means really marching forward like we had somewhere to go, not just sauntering around. Trot is to be crisp and light, not just a foot-dragging shuffle.
Lack of movement off a light aid means a swift and sharp correction, followed by a re-test of the light aid. Charlie has to really be in front of my leg. We are making him responsible for his own gaits, taking off my leg completely to see how long he will maintain the requested gait without reminders from me. We work on getting him on the bit and staying there. We work on bending around an inside leg, which he often fails to respect. We work on leg yielding onto and off the rail. We circle incessantly, with the goal of tracing a round and symmetrical orb in the footing. I now officially hate the word “oval.”
Working at just walk and trot has been kind of a relief. But the focus on extreme quality had been a new kind of pressure. My inner perfectionist rears her ugly head. Most nights we do alright. Far from perfect, but acceptable, with flashes of victory that are enough to salvage my opinion of the ride.
But sometimes we struggle. And tonight in class was one of those nights. I thought we were going to go well early on, but it quickly became apparent that tonight, we had nothing — no rhythm, no tempo, no synergy. And thus, that meant no canter. It wasn’t fear factor on my part, and it wasn’t for a lack of trying. But the timing between Charlie and me was just off. I couldn’t ask at the right time, and I bounced all over the place during what should have been a smooth transition, so he didn’t strike off at a canter, but just sped up at the trot, with both of us getting more discombobulated as we went along.
One of my trainers’ most repeated admonitions is for me to get a little bit behind vertical with my body so my hips can start swinging more fully. As a “senior” rider, I’m significantly stiffer than my 20-something counterparts. I have to work harder to feel the movements than I used to. And I have to exaggerate until I get it all going the same direction. But since my fall, it feels like nothing is down pat.
So like a golfer who re-builds their swing to better their game, I’m having to re-build my seat and leg — not to mention my thoughts (or over-thinking) and emotional reactions.
So we start at the beginning: leg at the girth, hips moving with Charlie’s movement, back straight, shoulder/hip/heel aligned, breathing with the gait. We’re trying to keep it simple, but it can quickly become overwhelming, like it is tonight.
Charlie and I labor to get most of that to happen, hopefully along with a high quality trot. But tonight it’s only mediocre. Not wanting to fail to canter, I ask again, and Charlie moves up. It feels like a big move, almost a buck. But he’s half Friesian so that’s just his natural motion, and my currently over-emotional interpretation of it.
I hear the call from my trainer for more speed so we get a better rhythm. Oh, those basics again! Maybe another night, because tonight it just isn’t happening.
My only victory tonight is that I didn’t fall off. For now, I’ll take that…