lesson time

Okay, so I’m going to do something different here. I was getting spammed at my LiveJournal account so badly that I deleted it, along with my online riding journal. That’s why I removed the link from my homepage. But I still want to keep my online riding journal and maybe some of you will enjoy learning as my horse and I learn to dance together.

Just a little background…I have been riding for nearly thirty years, since my mother was dating my stepfather, a farmer/rancher. In the beginning, I rode good old cow horses whenever we’d get together with neighbors (um, neighbors in western North Dakota count even when they’re twenty miles away). That’s how I learned. By the time I was in high school, I had my own horse and started showing in 4-H. I learned about grooming, health, etc. then, but my heart led me to english riding. Only after college did I really get to immerse myself. In 2007, I sold my trusty but cranky Paint mare to buy a warmblood yearling, and I started him under saddle a year later. I’ve started all but my first horse, so I’ve had plenty of experience there, since that added up to over half a dozen horses before Beau.

Beau and I have been training purely dressage, because that’s why I bought him, and I’ve done all his training. I’ve been with my current instructor for nearly ten years and have completely dived into the intricacies of this artful equine dance. I love a challenge, and my horse is certainly that. If he doesn’t like something, he’ll let me know. I was a good rider when I started him, but I’ve progressed a lot and we continue to learn together. After a bad year starting in Dec. 2010, when he was sick for a month with a streptococcus infection known in horse lingo as strangles, he recovered in time to injure his front proximal suspensory ligaments. We spent much of the rest of 2011 with him resting and recovering. Luckily for us, I caught the injury early and started treatment. I’m also glad I trusted my gut and took him to a specialist, who diagnosed it correctly.

Now, we’re back on track with dressage and, in six months, have returned to where we were in November 2010 in our training. Actually, we’re doing even better than we were, since I moved him to the same barn where my instructor boards. This has helped immensely with his recovery and my education.

Tonight, we had another lesson. (We’ve been taking steady lessons again since our regular vet gave us permission to get back into full training.) Because I trained my horse, I developed some bad habits. As a friend told me, young horses will destroy your equitation. Indeed, she was right! Aargh!

Tonight, my instructor nitpicked (I love when she nitpicks!) and got after me for letting Beau rely on me supporting him with the left rein. He is learning to carry himself and bring his left hind leg under his body to carry his weight. He’d prefer to carry weight on his right hind and tries to cheat, but if we’re going to advance up the levels, he needs to bend around my inside leg in either direction. My job is to teach him and correct my bad habit at the same time. To do this, I need to be ultra aware of my left hand coming back. By the time that happens, it’s already a couple of strides past the point when I should have recognized him not responding to my leg and tapped him with my whip to reinforce it. If we can get this together, he’ll build that muscle faster and everything will get easier.

The other part of our lesson focused on recognizing how to achieve the more expressive trot that Beau is developing. (This is a regular part of our lessons.) To do this, he needs energy in his gait and balance, and straightness. voltes, half-halts, halts, and halt-reinbacks all come into play to¬† bring his haunches deeper under him so he can lift his forehand. But he can’t slow down. His hind legs need to stay active to keep the forward energy so that it can come through his back and into my hands through the bit without being heavy on the bit. It’s an amazing feeling to achieve this, but by sending him into a bigger trot and bringing him back into a smaller trot, he can do it. And once we have it, we can do nearly anything…walk-canter/canter-walk, leg-yield, even counter-canter.

We’re pretty solid in our First Level work and schooling into Second Level, as you can see. It’s new territory for us, but it’s so much fun to ride this with my own horse and to always learn something new.

Now, before you think he must be something fancy, let me say that Beau is not some elite/premier/ster/other top class of warmblood. His sire did well in dressage but his dam was a grade mare. Beau has nasty respiratory allergies which must be closely monitored to prevent heaves from developing and a bit of an attitude about how he thinks things should be done. But he’s also a sweetheart in many ways with a very calm temperament. Beau is a high-maintenance horse and nowhere close to Olympic caliber, but he’s mine, and he’s teaching me even as I train him. We’re in this together and I hope we can go all the way to the top!

I will keep up posts about my horse here from now on, but I quit for a while, until my instructor asked about my riding journal and I realized that I should keep it up somewhere. So, here it is, among my writing posts, one more aspect of my life.

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