Another weekend, another opportunity for SellerH to drag me out of my comfort zone for another adventure off property! This time we went south, to Tally Ho Farms, for a lesson with a local CCI* rider/trainer.
We started our lesson out at the trot, talking about the idea of rhythm (the consistency of the horse’s gait) and tempo (the speed of the horse’s gait). Our aim was to find a good rhythm for our horses. We control rhythm at the trot with our post, so TrainerMF encouraged me to stop fussing with my hands (guilty! LOL) and focus on keeping my shoulders even and my post steady without letting my hips get crooked.
Somehow it doesn’t matter how many different trainers tell me to stop worrying about where Raglan’s head is and focus on riding correctly until he settles in, I still keep trying to micromanage him. 🙄
Once we found our rhythm, TrainerMF had us come over a cavaletti set up in the middle of the arena while keeping the rhythm of our post. It was important to keep our eyes up and our body very straight. Rags hesitated slightly as he went over the pole the first couple of times (“wat is THAT?”), but we quickly moved on from figure eights to a couple of serpentine loops with cavaletti along them.
Something I found curious: SellerH and I were polar opposites for this exercise. Her rhythm was too soft, mine was too hard! She needed to focus on her front to back balance, and I needed to work on my left/right balance! It was kind of fun to see that our problem areas are so different.
For our transition into the canter we went back to figure eights with the cavaletti in the middle. We cued for the canter over the cavaletti. Raglan was such a star, he nailed almost all of his leads over the cavaletti—and the times he missed them were when I stopped keeping my body straight (go figure).
Then it was time for the main event: a little green cross rail!
I aimed my giant horse towards it and pushed my weight down into my heels. Raglan trotted up to it, glanced down slightly, and then jumped me right out of my tack. We’ve jumped over tiny things back at KW, but never like this—he used his body in a way that I haven’t really felt before. I kind of crashed straight into his neck (#totalprofessional), but because we stayed straight I was able to recover.
We fumbled our way over it a couple more times (including one where I lost an iron and pushed for the canter anyways, trainers love that no iron perseverance LOL), until TrainerMF had me two point my way over the cross rail and suddenly everything made sense. This is going to sound funny, but I’ve never really felt like I needed to actively two point before! Even when I took Belle the Pony over 2’6″ stuff I stayed in my half seat and then let the jump happen, I didn’t actively focus on going into a traditional two point.
It was definitely amateur hour on my part during our lesson, but I’m still super proud of myself! Before this lesson we’d never even cantered off property, let alone jumped. I think doing new things in a lesson setting was really good for me because I didn’t really have time to get anxious or overthink things.
My biggest takeaway from this lesson, though, was how ridiculously wonderful my horse is. Even when I kept biffing it over the cross rail he didn’t hold it against me. He never even considered stopping, despite me clinging to him like a flea as we approached the tiny jump. Raglan’s the perfect partner for me and I can’t wait to see where we’re at a couple of years from now.
As always, life with a green horse is full of ups and downs. The end of last week rolled around and Raglan didn’t have a lot of gas left in the tank, so I decided to give him a few days off while I hung out with my comrades at our annual Friendsgiving/Secret Santa party.
Needless to say, when I came back on Monday Raglan was a complete butthead. I put him on the lunge and let him romp around like a loon, tacked him up, lunged him again with the side reins on, and then climbed aboard only to have to cajole him into doing anything that wasn’t sidestepping every time I asked him to go forward, jigging in place instead of trotting like a normal horse, or trying to smash me in the face with his bulbous head. I got nervous, so I got off after only a few minutes of his shenanigans.
Tuesday morning I spent extra time working with him on the lunge in the side reins before I got on. I focused on coaxing him into stretching his neck out and relaxing into the rhythm of his trot/canter. I originally scheduled the lesson with TrainerA to get an idea of what I should be looking for at the canter, but I wasn’t sure if we were going to get that far with how terrible he’d been the day before. I wanted to be prepared for whatever TrainerA threw at us.
Part of me was hoping that once I got on him he would suddenly be a perfect angel. He wasn’t, of course, but that meant I had the chance to work through our problem spots while TrainerA helped coach me.
One of the things I struggle with as a rider is that I usually know what the problem is and how to fix it, but sometimes I lack the courage to really assert myself. Logically I knew the right answer to the majority of our problems was to put more leg on and really drive Raglan forward, but it’s one thing to mentally understand that you need to use your leg and another thing entirely to act on that knowledge. On Monday every time I’d go to put leg on he’d suck super back and then I’d grab onto the bit out of insecurity. I knew I needed to stop hanging on his face and use more leg, but the more upset he got the less I wanted to let go and the less I wanted to let go the more upset he got. Terrible horse/rider feedback loop!
The nice thing about TrainerA is that she’s really good at telling you to quit sabotaging yourself. 😅
When my leg goes on he needs to go forward. Period. End of sentence. She didn’t care if his head was in the air or if he coiled up underneath me like a dragon and then trotted off with an irritated shake of his huge head. At one point I dug in with my spurs and he did a bit of a bronc thing (from a stand still, not impressive at all LOL), but TrainerA didn’t give a flying fish. Leg on = horse goes forward.
We spent the first twenty-five minutes fixing up his trot. My new-to-me paddock boots are still super stiff, which made keeping my irons more of a chore than it should have been, but using my calf more also made my lower leg steadier, so it was a win-win situation. Once we got the forward figured out, TrainerA coached me through widening my hands out sideways to lighten him up whenever he felt like a freight train. It was awesome to get to show off some of our circles and changes of direction, since I’ve been working hard on his ability to switch the bend of his body and lift up his shoulders through curves.
TrainerA also taught me a cool new exercise: square turns! We’d ride super deep into a corner, until Raglan’s nose was almost touching the wall, and then pivot (at the trot) and go straight down the next wall. It was amazing how much lighter and more responsive he was after we rode a few squares. He really had to pick his shoulders up and put his weight back on his haunches to make the turns.
By the time she told me to take a walk break I was ready to thank her for a lesson and take a nap right on top of my horse. Imagine my surprise when I looked at the clock and we still had thirty minutes left! The amount I learn and improve whenever I lesson with one of my trainers is mind-boggling.
After our walk break, I had TrainerA talk me through the process of picking Raglan back up from a loose rein. He tends to get super offended whenever I try to pick up the contact, but she had me soften my hands up a lot more whenever I went to shorten my reins and we did the whole thing in stages. I’d pick up some rein, put leg on until he settled, and then take a little bit more until we were back at normal length.
We got back into our groove at the trot, then went into the canter work. She had me get him working correctly at the trot, then really put on my leg and push for the canter. She wanted his transitions to have a sense of “jump” to them (tucking his hindquarters under and launching into the canter; she said “you bought a jumping horse, he’s not a pleasure pony” 😂). Once we were at the canter it was my job to keep my leg on and encourage him to lift up through his shoulder—which was exciting, because the good feeling I’ve been having when I cantered him on my own was the same thing she wanted to see from him.
He felt great on the left lead. TrainerA had me put him into a circle (without touching the wall) and I felt super powerful sitting on top of my giant horse. When he’s going well I can 100% imagine us coming up to a fence and jumping the snot out of it—we’re getting so close!
Of course, things fell apart when TrainerA had us try for the right lead. I pushed for the canter and he biffed his hind end, then the next time I tried he just… didn’t go. I got jarred around in the saddle pretty bad and reverted back to trying to grab his face, which just made him go right back to jigging wildly. I was so frazzled that I lost my nerve and had to stop for a pep talk from TrainerA before I could continue. We never ended up getting the right lead, but TrainerA encouraged me to keep trying during my rides, and if he missed half of his lead to just push him forward anyway because any time he’s moving forward is good.
TrainerA is pretty sure that eventually things will click and he’ll just start offering up that right lead when he gets strong enough. I’m inclined to agree with her, we just have to put in more time at the canter under saddle so that he can build up his strength and stamina.
This wasn’t the lesson I thought I’d have when I originally asked TrainerA to schedule me in, but that doesn’t make what I learned any less fantastic. Not because my horse was particularly well behaved or talented, but because time and time again the moments where he scares me or makes me nervous always lead to huge developments in my courage and my tact as a rider. This horse challenges me to be brave. I’m so blessed to have the chance to mold his strength into something beautiful, and doubly blessed to have trainers that push me to improve not only my skills as an equestrian, but my mental strength, too.
As an amateur with very little Financial Capital to work with, every second I spend with TrainerA is worth its weight in gold. Whenever I lesson with her my goal is to study the techniques and strategies that she uses to improve Raglan’s training so that I can apply them on my own—and to make sure that Raglan and I are on the path to success, that we’re taking the right steps in the right order.
Last Thursday morning wasn’t a lesson per say. Outside of cooling Raglan out at the end, I never even got on my horse. But I think that watching a professional work with a horse (especially your horse) is an integral part of a rider’s education. It was like a training ride, but with a lecture built-in!
We’d been having a series of no good rides. Every time I tried to pick up the contact, Raglan’s response was to yank the bit out of my hands, duck behind the bit completely, or fly backwards instead. My goals for Thursday were to learn how to use side reins, get some advice on Raglan’s avoidance of contact, and have TrainerA get a closer look at what needs to happen for us to be able to pick up the right lead canter.
Side reins can be a controversial tool. Some believe that they’re a valuable tool for teaching young horses about contact, others think that they create tension or are even downright dangerous. The idea behind side reins is that they simulate a pair of rider’s hands—if said hands never pulled or wiggled and were always ready to give when the horse relaxes. They’re meant to help the horse learn to stretch down into steady contact, plus they can improve the horse’s top line and the quality of their gaits.
Side reins have to be used carefully, though. Because of the nature of the pressure they put on a horse any backward motion can easily escalate, so the handler has to really be on top of their control over the horse.
We started with just the outside side rein clipped in on the loosest setting. TrainerA also showed me how to run the lunge line through the ring of the bit and then clip it to the D-ring of the saddle to create a bending rein. We had one small moment where TrainerA had to pop him on the butt with the lunge whip to stop him from going backwards, but from there on out he behaved like a proper riding horse.
Lunging with side reins is a middle ground between lunging and long lining. The whip represent the rider’s leg (driving him forward) and the line/side reins are the hands (holding the energy). The goal is to have the horse seeking the contact so that he keeps the slack out of out the lunge line. You should never feel like you have to step backwards—in fact, TrainerA wanted me to make frequent changes to the circle and move down the arena wall (sort of like driving) to ensure that he was keeping the line taut.
TrainerA also wanted me to focus on the quality of Raglan’s movement. We want to encourage him to stretch his neck down and out, then relax into the contact until his neck softens (TrainerA said he should look “jiggly”). His trot should be forward, but not so forward that his feet get tangled up and he loses his “floaty” quality. She worked a little bit on his transitions into and out of the canter, but for the most part she built up his strength at the trot—and she did most of it on his right side, since that’s where he’s weakest.
By the time she was done lunging she had both side reins clipped in on the loosest setting. She gave me the go ahead to tighten them up a notch or two the next time I lunged, too!
Once we were done with the lunge, TrainerA hopped aboard to check out the contact problem. She’s a lot more aggressive than me in the saddle, so she easily nixed some of Raglan’s attempts to avoid the bit. She used small bumps to loosen him up when he tried to pull, physically lifted him up whenever he ducked under the bit, and pushed him into a beautiful trot that made him lift up and work hard.
The canter problem was a little trickier. She tried a couple of times to get his right lead, but he just wasn’t having it. Even though TrainerA has much longer legs to me (and therefore has access to more real estate on his sides), he wouldn’t let her push his hip in. He wanted to fall into the canter instead of engaging, and he kept lagging behind her leg when she cued for the transition. It took a lot of fiddling for her to get his body into the correct position for the right lead, and then she really had to support him through it.
For now TrainerA wants me to focus on using the side reins to keep building up Raglan’s strength. She thinks that the right lead problem will start resolving once he’s stronger. In the mean time, I’m also supposed to start introducing turn on the forehand (for haunch control), keep incorporating canter work into our rides, and continue improving the quality of his walk and trot under saddle.