Most often, I ride with other people — an instructor and up to six people in a group lesson, an instructor and me in a private lesson, or with a friend or two going out on trail. But today, my primary instructor is off to Paris for her honeymoon. That means the days that she usually trains Charlie Brown are now up to me. <gulp!>

Not being a professional, and never having trained a horse before, I’m always questioning what I should be doing during my rides, what I should be trying to teach Charlie, and whether I’ve accomplished it or not. Having an extra pair of eyes that’s more experienced is a big help to me.

Being an amateur, I work during the day but now, I’m juggling my calendar to see when I can sneak off to the barn — in between picking my daughter up from school, and cooking dinner, and managing my business, and all the other activities I seem to cram into my day — all the while being mindful of when group classes start at the barn, when therapeutic riding classes are being held, and what arenas are and aren’t available. I think I’m going to have to work from home quite a bit for the next three weeks…

Daylight savings time is going to be a big help. Not only can I go out for a hand walk in the morning before I get ready for work, but I can still make it back to the barn again to ride before the sun goes down. If I can make a mid-day ride work, then trail becomes a possibility. I just don’t like to push the daylight envelope and wind up on trail when it’s dark.

So assuming I get the ride times worked out, my mind then goes to what to work on. I don’t want to repeat the same thing every day, or both Charlie and I will be bored out of our minds. So I’m thinking up things to do. In no particular order, here’s what I have cooked up so far:

  • Light aids — I’ve heard a million times from a thousand different instructors that the rider must whisper their aid, and the horse’s response must come as a shout. Charlie can be sluggish sometimes, so we will work on getting a proper response to my light aid, correcting any errors with a tap of the whip, and re-testing the light aid to make sure he has it down pat. Hopefully we will get this down to about a five to 10 minute exercise that can be an automatic part of our warm-up.
  • Trail with hills — We have great trails in the park, and some decent hills. The loop south from the barn includes both uphill and downhill portions. That usually take about 60 minutes with all the extensions. And if I double back to take each hill twice (up-down-up or down-up-down) it should run us about 90 minutes. Those hills will be a great workout for Charlie’s hind end.
  • Trail with creek — If we go north instead of south, there is a place we call “the ford” which used to be a car crossing. It’s a good place for Charlie to play in the water, which he loves to do! Then maybe he won’t be annoyed with me when I get us lost because I don’t know the north trails as well.
    • Lunging — Charlie is particularly good at free lunging. The point here will be to give him practice with verbal commands (“walk,” “trot,” “canter,” and “whoa”), voice commands (one cluck for walk, two clucks for trot, the kissey noise for canter, and this trill I picked up from a Danish friend for whoa), and hand commands about which direction to go. We’re still working on getting him to stop squarely on the circle and wait for me to come to him; he fidgits. I’ll keep a pocket full of treats to reinforce his successes at a square halt.
    • Transition rides — We need to work on making our transitions more crisp. So working from an exercise we did in dressage class, the plan is to practice transitions during a ride where you do lots and lots and lots of them. Start off easy with 10 strides of trot and 20 strides of canter.  Then shorten it a little bit at a time, working down to three strides of trot and six strides of canter. The other option is, if I can get a large (way bigger than 20m) circle set up, we’ll do 1/4 of the circle at walk, 1/2 of the circle at trot, and 3/4 of the circle at canter, working our way up and down through the gaits.
    • Circles — My eye isn’t automatic for those 20m circles just yet, so the plan is to set out cones 20m in from A/C/B/E and practice those circles until we both have them down pat.  Bit, round, no popping his shoulder, and no caving to the inside. But I’ll skip some randomly, just to keep Charlie listening to me, and hopefully keep him from anticipating too much.
    • Leg yields — I need to practice using my leg for more than just moving forward. I need to work on using my weight as an aid, as well as my leg.  It turns out Charlie is very sensitive to these aids, and they are very useful, but we need to practice together so we are both expecting the same response from a given aid.
  • Balance and endurance rides — I’ll set my stopwatch, and do trot sets and canter sets, working our way up from two minute sets to five minute sets, with breaks in between. I’ll work on holding the entire set in two-point or galloping position.

I’ll let you know how it goes…

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