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.