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Lesson Recap: Kick Him

Lesson Recap: Kick Him

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.

Don’t believe his innocent face. Also, look at his cute new coat! πŸ˜ƒ

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 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. Terrible horse/rider feedback loop!

The nice thing about having a lesson with TrainerA is that she tells you to quit sabotaging yourself. πŸ˜…

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.

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. She 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.

so much go, no time to hold still for cute photos

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” πŸ˜‚). Once we were at the canter it was my job to keep my leg on and encourage him to lift up through his shoulderβ€”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.

no riding photos, so here’s one of him on the lunge

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.

k, no more fotos little hooman
Lesson Recap: Side Reins

Lesson Recap: Side Reins

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 ownβ€”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.

Definitely headed in the right direction, look at how handsome he is 😍

Last Thursday morning wasn’t a lesson per say. It was more like a training ride, but with a lecture built-in!

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 handsβ€”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.

Notice that the side reins are buckled in above the keepers on the saddle pad, which prevents them from slipping down. Also, holy damn that resistance on the right track πŸ˜“

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 backwardsβ€”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 trotβ€”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.

Ezhno goes back to school!

Ezhno goes back to school!

With Rags back in semi working order and me picking up a small private tutoring gig to help pay for two ponies, my free time has dwindled. At some point I’m going to have to sit down and draw up a schedule of which horse(s) I’ll ride what days, but for now I decided to capitalize on the fact that TrainerA still owes me a month of part time training from all the volunteer work I did for them over the summer, so…

Ezhno will be back in part time training for the next month so that TrainerA can work on his canterlope. I’ll probably still hop on him once or twice a week (so he’ll be getting ridden four or five times a week). I’m excited to see how he progresses, I think they’re going to make a lot of great improvements!

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