Taking a little break in the Midsummer eating & drinking (well, eating, anyway) before it is time for the cake, the whipped cream and the strawberries to write a short concluding post for this semester at the riding school.
For our last lesson, the weather was a bit windy and chilly, so we rode inside. We had the option of riding bareback and I gave it a go on Heddvig. I did last year too, on Murphy, but that worked a little better as I actually managed to canter then. On Heddvig I could feel when I tried it that while I might manage the canter itself, the transition would likely see me on the ground. Other than that, I was able to ride her pretty efficiently at a walk and at a trot while bareback, so that was still very good. I was just as amazed this time with how aware it makes you of how you sit on the horse, and I wish I had the opportunity to do it much more often. Heddvig seemed to like it too.
Now she gets a lighter workload for some weeks and then a complete rest for 3-4 weeks. I expect her to be rather round in August… For my own part, I don’t think I will get a chance to ride anything before the lessons start up again around mid-August, though perhaps I will see about arranging something. I will busy training Ringo, though, so that might have to be enough. I am hoping I will feel a little better about it next semester, too, though it might take longer still to get my heart really back into it.
This week we finally got to jump out in the field and we all had a great time. There’s not a lot of jumps, just a few logs, but that was plenty for Heddvig. She has shown herself uncertain about new jumps indoors and logs in a field were clearly very scary. I had quite a few refusal and it took a bit of work each time to get her over the logs. However, her actual jumps were rather wonderful, with no effort spared. She has very quick legs and tucks them in nicely, not exactly what one would expect from that kind of horse. I was certainly pleased that I didn’t find myself at all unnerved by her being a bit skittish and that I was able to firmly tell her what I wanted her to do.
And, for extra fun and games, someone was there with a camera…
I couldn’t help but to feel sad that I didn’t get a chance to do this with Murphy though, as he would have loved it so much.
Of course it rained during the day when we had planned for some jumping out in the field. So, more dressage and more counter-cantering, though at least we could ride in the paddock. Usually its too dusty by the time its warm enough to be outside, but the rain made it just right.
To get us thinking about riding for counter-canter, we started off riding the horses bent against the curve in corners and on circles. I think it worked surprisingly well on Heddvig; I probably concentrate more when doing it the opposite from “normal”, which would account for some added efficiency. But that’s about the only advantage I get from doing anything reversed. The rest is…confusion.
Left and right is not something I handle well as it is and I can easily confuse myself about just which leg do I sit down on in a rising trot (not only do I suck at sensing it, I also find it impossible to see if I am sitting down on the correct leg so I usually think of it as rising with the opposite leg instead) and how to tell which canter I’ve got (again, I suck at sensing this). Imagine what happens when I am asked to make the inside the outside and the outside the inside, to keep sitting down on the correct leg (which is now the opposite of what it normally is) and to ask for counter-canter.
So, yes, not only am I trying to do this on a fairly hot-headed draft horse (albeit of a fairly light model), I am trying to do this while being confused about what is what. Given this, the result wasn’t too terrible, but it still annoys me that anything like this gets me so confused. The best part was probably after Ulrika helped me sort out how to ride Heddvig before canter when she’s getting really charged up; I could really feel it when I found the right balance.
Last Tuesday’s lesson was one of those that didn’t necessarily deliver any “wow” feelings during the lesson, but I guess I did alright anyway. When it came to cantering Heddvig, I assumed that she would manage fine. I used the whip to just tap her on the shoulder during the canter to keep her going, and didn’t get all worked up about keeping her going. I just rode and expected her to manage.
And for the regular canter, she did. She really is capable of keeping it together for quite a while now.
Then we got to the counter-canter, and this week Ulrika told us to just ask for counter-canter without the aid of a circle or a turn that would make it more like asking for regular canter and then ending up in a counter-canter. It felt like a tall order, and it was, but I did try and on a few occasions Heddvig actually managed. Afterwards, Ulrika told us that she had asked us to do something too difficult on purpose, just to see if we’d keep riding decisively. I’d say that worked pretty well for me.
Last week was a theory lesson (discussing training methods and horse behaviour) and this week Ulrika was missing in action after an encounter with a rusty knife. So, we had a substitute and we did some strengthening exercises for us riders.
This basically involved starting out with what we thought were stirrups for jumping and successively shortening them until they really were. ;P Seems all of us had gotten used to jumping with rather long stirrups. I know I have from riding smaller horses, because really short stirrups for jumping makes me feel too tall. But, actually, it didn’t feel so bad on Heddvig with four holes shorter than usual. Although, it was a bit hard to follow her jumps from trot like that and to help her find her canter after the jump. But just galloping her like that worked quite well, and she once again managed a pretty nicely balanced and not too fast canter for several laps on a circle.
My legs also managed just fine, and no sore muscles the next day. I’ve got pretty fabulous thigh muscles, it seems. ;)
More of the same this week; I am still not feeling that my riding is quite “right” but Heddvig is making rather amazing progress. And, admittedly, this week I did get something of a good feeling with some of the canter, with things clicking both mentally and physically.
Ulrika told me that Heddvig actually cantered a full circle in one of the lower groups last week and that she’s not seen this sort of development in a horse before. Certainly, it is very striking how she’s progressed over (I think) around two years at the riding school. For the first few months, she was apparently pretty difficult (I don’t think I got a chance to ride her more than maybe once during that time), and then I guess she made slow progress during the following year. And now, in the last few months, the pieces have started to fall into place.
The main exercise was the same as last week, with a change from one circle to another to produce a figure-of-eight pattern and where we would start with regular canter and move over into counter-canter at the changeover. I was mindful of my co-ordination issues and tried to concentrate on not changing my seat at the change of circles. It was easier to focus on that this time around since I was also told to let Heddvig handle the cantering mostly on her own, just supporting her with the whip on her inner shoulder and a properly pulled-back outer leg. In the end, we managed half a circle of counter-canter on two occasions. Very well done of a horse that a few weeks ago couldn’t manage a full circle of regular canter.
In other news, I was drooling over the latest addition to the stables. Sort of a bigger version of Heddvig, at least in terms of his looks. He’s Zimba, ten years old and half Frisian. I think I would like to try him, but I am not sure I can handle him. He looked smaller than I had thought at first but he seemed a little frisky. Maybe I will consider taking a private lesson on him to see. Gorgeous horse, at least.
This week continued the trend of improvements from Heddvig but a slight feeling of dissatisfaction with my own riding. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is, so it might just be my general mood, admittedly.
We stayed focus on cantering this week too, though we started with an unusually lengthy trotting section. That gave me plenty of time to feel out my own seat as well as my effect on Heddvig. I tried to focus on the corners, in particular, and on using them together with half-halts to get her more together and off the front-end. I suppose I had some intermittent success at this.
It does seem to have set her up well for the canter, at least. To begin with we just cantered 20-meter circles to get a feel for what they were like on the day, and Heddvig showed quite remarkable improvement in her left-lead canter; she was able to keep a much less rushed pace and was able to take cues to keep it up for several laps. The right-lead canter was still a bit more rushed than what is practical to manage several full laps when there’s other horses around, but it was improved as well. Ulrika told me that now I need to make sure to switch gears, basically, and adjust to being able to ask for more of her. It probably will take me a little effort to make that change, because I didn’t expect her to improve this fast.
Of course, the next exercise was still rather tricky; going from canter to counter-canter by riding a figure-of-eight. At first I made the angle too steep when crossing over from the first circle to the second. Then I had issues with shifting my seat too much so that I ended up sitting as if I wanted to switch to the regular leading leg once on the second half of the figure-of-eight. My co-ordination (or lack thereof, rather) definitely becomes an issue with counter-cantering, but I must say Heddvig did quite well. I really didn’t think she would start developing like this when its gone fairly slowly up until now. But maybe she’s reached a stage of fitness and balance that allows a lot of pieces to fall into place all at once.
A so-so lesson this week (last week, btw, was a theory lesson I was unable to attend as it was scheduled later than our usual timeslot). I had a choice between Heddvig and Nelson and went for the former, but considering the amount of cantering, Nelson would have been a little wiser. Especially since cantering Heddvig went far less smoothly this week than it has recently.
The lesson started off well, though, with Heddvig chewing on the bit and coming up a bit through the back of her own volition. She couldn’t keep it up in the trot, but I think its showing her continued progress. We warmed up with quite a bit of trotting, during which I tried to focus on good corners and my own seat (and not looking down!), and then went straight into a good deal of cantering. At first, just along the whole of the arena, paying attention to good, balanced corners. Ulrika reminded me not to just let her canter until she fell back into a trot once it became too difficult but to transition back down to trot regularly to make sure it was done when I wanted it done.
After some of that, we moved to a circle at a walk at the start of each long end of the arena, canter out of the circle and down the length of the arena, trot along the short end and back to walk for a new circle-to-canter at the start of next long end. Going clock-wise, she struggled a lot to get the right canter, though once I kept her pretty straight, kept myself still and was quick to apply the whip on the inner shoulder, we managed a couple of times. Going counter-clockwise, the main issue was how she’d launch herself into canter, which took some adjusting to. On one occasion she almost lost her canter part-way down the arena and I managed to remind her to keep going, but then we ended up going back down to a trot too quickly after that. Ulrika told me that its better for her learning that if I have to reissue the canter aid to keep her going, then I should keep cantering some distance after that to avoid confusing her.
There were bits and pieces that worked, and bits and pieces that didn’t. Pretty normal, all considered. Though going to the stables and being there still doesn’t feel normal; I just miss Murphy too much for that. And right now, its quite a struggle for the riding school as a whole, as we have lost a lot of horses this year and we have a lot of sick or injured horses right now. It doesn’t look so good for getting another horse I can ride, either.
So, yesterday was “proper” jumping (as opposed to dressage with a suspicious amount of jumping), but this time I was on Heddvig and I had stirrups. If not, I would probably have found myself on the ground once or twice, I don’t think I am quite ready to jump her without stirrups. Though, Heddvig did start off being a little more laid-back than usual as well as more attuned to my aids right from the start. Quite a difference from just a few months ago. She also cantered quite well during the warm-up, again showing continued progress with her transitions.
And then we moved on to the jumping. We started with the same curved line as last week, going into it at a trot, cantering in-between and landing at a canter after the second jump. Once again I found it very easy to place Heddvig just where she needed to be, as long as I have a good eye for where I am going. She’s quite responsive and, I think, quite well-balanced, even at this stage in her canter.
The second jump we did, a diagonal line over a white-and-black jump, gave her a little pause at first. Coming one way she hesitated but jumped and then when we later went the other way, we had one refusal. But the second time she sailed over. She did have issues, however, with landing in the correct canter when going to the left. To the right worked, but she’s a bit slower on her left. We tried a few times, but decided not to tax her too heavily; I was doing it right, Ulrika said, but she was not quite sorting it out yet.
Overall, though, it was a very nice experience, and I’ll definitely have to get some photos and film of her jumping, to see how its looking from the ground (both for her and me). She’s eager, agile and learning fast, not just when it comes to the jumping, and she does suit me very well. I don’t have the emotional connection to her that I had with Murphy, but at least I am starting to feel as if I am having an effect on her and that we’re starting to move forward together. I asked after the lesson if they instructors have been riding her lately to educate her further, since she’s made such progress, but no. She’s just learning from the lessons, and Ulrika said that my riding her does leave lasting effects on her each week. So, I am a bit hopeful.
Hearing something like that feels very good in several ways, because at this stage in my riding I am very much interested in improving both myself and the horses I ride. I am well past most girlish fantasies about riding competitively (unless I do win lots of money soon ;P), so just improving my own riding isn’t quite as satisfying as also improving a horse at the same time. And improving the partnership. I may be a little of a one-horse person when it comes to that aspect, which admittedly is awkward when you ride at a riding school.
Tuesday was good and bad. Bad was riding Nelson who is now stabled in Murphy’s old stall, and it was hard going in there. Bad was also finding out that Martino, who came to the stables from the same previous owner as Murphy, had died from colic during the weekend. We’ve now lost four horses this year, and Fleur just before the end of last year, and we have several currently injured. After a very good 2009 in terms of overall horse health, 2010 is looking bleak.
Good was the mishap down in the arena which ended up firmly distracting me. Last week someone had put on Heddvig’s stirrups the wrong way, so that the safety rubber band was on the inside instead of the outside. I ended up fixing that a little clumsily by opening the stirrup leathers and switching out the stirrups instead of just switching the whole stirrup from one side to the other. This week, Nelson’s were wrong too, and I decided to do it properly and pulled off the whole stirrup on each side to switch them.
And then neither me nor the instructor could get them back on. Oops. So, I had to ride without stirrups. For dressage on Nelson, not so bad in general. Except we were doing preparatory work for jumping and some actual jumping. But I did it, and I stayed on. And after jumping I got some really nice trot out of Nelson too, that seemed to get to his back and hind legs very effectively. I felt quite accomplished, and it was a very good distraction.
This week felt less odd than last, but something’s definitely feeling off for me when I go to the stables. And I can’t quite focus as well as earlier.
That said, we had a different instructor since Ulrika is on holiday, and a different way of teaching means you pay attention in a different way. You’re not necessarily more attentive overall, but I feel you need to concentrate a little more on the instructor when its someone unfamiliar. So, that kept me from focusing entirely on myself and Heddvig but it also limited the random thoughts.
Going to the stables this Tuesday wasn’t easy, but in the end I decided it was best to get it over with. I suppose it won’t be as bad from now on, now that I’ve been there once with no Murphy waiting for a treat in his stall. But I am not looking forward to it in the same way. The riding still helps me refocus and clear my mind, but going to the stables has lost some of its lustre when “my” horse isn’t there.
Still, Heddvig is a darling. A very opinionated darling, but I do like those best. And we are making progress. Just some weeks ago, I could not canter her without helping her out with a little tap of the whip on her shoulder. Now she is taking canter cues much, much better. We even counter-cantered several times, and kept it up past a (very shallow) corner. I am not sure if the instructors have been riding her some to get her to improve like this or if its more a matter of me figuring out how she works. Either way, it does feel good to make that sort of progress.
Its done now.
I had more contact with my instructor over the weekend, and she really felt it was a very bad prognosis, especially in terms of Murphy’s discomfort. The spavin in his hind legs had not yet fused, according to the vet it was at a rather painful stage of inflammation. That was why the inflammation in the front legs just kept worsening over the last 5-6 weeks, even with the rest from riding and just hand-walking that was done. He basically couldn’t relieve them enough with his hind legs being at that stage.
It was perhaps not impossible, looking at what I have been told and what I have read over this last week. But it wasn’t certain that it could work out either, and I guess one would want better odds to put a horse through that amount of discomfort and a lengthy rehabilitation process.
My main regret is that I couldn’t give him a few years in a quiet little stable, away from the riding school. He had probably been kept mostly outdoors before he came to Sweden from Ireland (and apparently he came here as a stallion too, at 5 or so) and at first he really disliked being indoors. He settled in with time, but he was always insecure about having lots of people around him when he was indoors. If you came in early in the day, though, as I did for private lessons, he was so much more relaxed and eager to socialize.
He’ll be sorely missed, not just by me. He wasn’t a favourite for a lot of people (which just made me identify more with him), but he was a very safe, solid and dependable horse for the less experienced riders and amazingly willing to work when he liked how you rode him.
A while ago I got what I thought would be the text message that my instructor had promised to send after it was done.
But, no. An emergency elsewhere meant a delay until early next week. I am trying to tell myself it doesn’t really matter and that it doesn’t mean anything will change, but of course something is whispering at the back of my mind, telling me to ask more questions, search for more answers on the Internet, and so on.
But I am pretty sure its just fate really, really expressing its dislike of me.
Rode Heddvig today. I got a somewhat better grasp of how to bend her properly and how to ride her into a counter-canter out of a corner. I tried too hard to slow her down when she ended up rushing in the trot, because I felt I needed more time to bend her. But that made it easier for her to just continue with the trot, so I had to demand more in the trot so that the canter felt like an easier option. In the end, we got what we wanted and she even cantered through two (shallow) corners. First time for her, Ulrika said.
But…I also said goodbye to Murphy tonight. On Thursday, he will be put down. I am not sure I have fully grasped it yet even though I was told on Friday evening. Since then, I’ve tried to come up with a solution, but it wasn’t to be. He has been resting for the last 5-6 weeks, but until he went back to the vet last week, they had not realized how bad it was. His hind legs are affected by spavin and his front legs by an arthritic inflammation, and the rest had not improved his front legs at all since even resting he won’t take enough weight off them to give them a chance to heal.
If I have understood the second hand reports from the vet correctly, he would need to work his hind legs regularly to keep them from going to stiff, but he needs to rest his front legs to give them a chance to heal.
I always thought that eventually I would, somehow, end up buying Murphy. He’s been at the stables for seven years and my riding has improved so much thanks to him. He has also improved alongside with me, and he has done this despite physical problems that probably have affected him for a long time. If only he had shown something much earlier, perhaps something could have been done. And now, if only it hadn’t been so bad, I was fully prepared to buy him and sort out the economy of it somehow, even if he would have needed a year’s rest before he could be ridden again and then just for walks in the woods.
Right now, I just keep thinking how I wish I’d noticed something, how I wish I could just get to ride him one more time and that I don’t know what to do next Tuesday. For the last few years, the last thing Elio has told me each Tuesday as I left for my lesson has been “say hello to Murphy”.
And today I had to say “goodbye Murphy”.