Saturday, February 8, 2014

Leaps and Bounds

Look at those pricked ears!  We sure do love being out and about :-)

Rode Starbuck again on Wednesday and it went just as well as Tuesday, we did some exercises attempting to lengthen / shorten strides at the canter between two ground poles.  So if you have two poles about 15-20 yards apart, and you canter between them counting strides and you end up with say 5, then the next time you try to squeeze 6 in, or you can lengthen your stride to try to get 4.  I find this exercise really difficult, especially since with the bit I was hesitant to use the reins as much as I normally would.  But I really enjoy it because it forces me to be rhythmic (we count the strides out loud and it seems silly but you pay way more attention to rhythm that way) and to really think hard about and try to visualize what I want Starbuck to do.

This "thinking" thing is a concept Marina introduced me to and that seemed like a bunch of hippie bunk at first but I find really works.  She regularly tells students on nervous horses "don't give any leg aids, just think "canter".  And I remember I was trotting with Starbuck for the second or third time and she said "think about her hind legs, visualize them coming further forward".  And what do you know, she started tracking up!  There was a horse at the beginning of the 19th century called "Clever Hans" who could do math - I mean pretty complicated arithmetic.  His handler would ask him say "What is six times seven divided by three" and Hans would tap his hoof 14 times.  And it wasn't just his handler - other people could ask him and damned if he didn't get the answers right something like 90% of the time.  So there were a bunch of trials and finally figured out that if the handler knew the answer to a question, so did Hans.  But if the handler didn't know the answer, Hans didn't either.  He was watching for the near invisible building up of tension in his handler as he tapped and its involuntary release when he reached the right number.  I think that horses are so sensitive to body language that they can really tell when we think "whoa", "canter" or even "make your stride go upwards instead of forwards".

But all this is easy to forget, especially when you're busy thinking "heels down, shoulders back, hips forward, hands still, thumbs up, shit someone's coming out of the bar, knees open, calm down Starbuck, breathe deep...".  And this exercise gives you 20 yards to put your full attention on "ONE, upwards, TWO, slower, THREE, upwards, FOUR, don't trot, don't trot!, FIVE, oh shit the pole".  And OK, we're not very good at it and we didn't ACTUALLY work in 6 canter strides without a stray trot stride, but we very nearly did and we both felt at the end of the class like we'd really worked hard and accomplished something.

Friday I lent Starbuck to my friend Virginia whose mare Coco is recovering from a booboo and can't be ridden at anything but a walk, and I rode Marina's lesson pony Vent ("Wind" in Mallorquín) without any stirrups for the whole lesson to work on my seat.  Which went very well except for the very end when I decided to try a jump - between the no stirrups thing and the fact that we took the jump from way too far off (still not very good at judging distances) I ended up making a crash landing.  But still proud of making it through the whole hour of walk - trot - canter without stirrups.  Virginia had a little trouble at the canter with Starbuck (I'm used to riding with very little contact and Virginia as an experienced dressage rider is used to using more) but schooled her very nicely in the lateral movements which is a huge help to me - I'm still not 100% sure when she's really crossing her legs or just scrunching her neck around and faking it.

And today we had a lovely morning lesson with markedly improved shoulder-ins and leg yielding and some very nice, fluid jumping from Starbuck, followed by an even lovelier hack out through the blossoming almond tree groves.  Starbuck for the most part behaved very well and only got a little worried a couple of times (mostly about the footing since the land had just been plowed and was very soft) and I was able to ride her along the tiny (like 300 yards) stretch of rural highway we have to go along and across, which is great because the last time I had to get off and walk with her.

The only negative issue to report is that I noticed this morning after our ride that the bit is apparently pinching the corners of her mouth because she had some sore spots there, so I'm going to add some bit guards and see if that helps things.

So all in all a terrific week filled with progress, fun and an object lesson in not being so reckless just to prove to myself and others I'm no chicken.

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