Hippoi Athanatoi

From Myth to Reality

I haven’t horseblogged in ages, but I am currently having a major procrastination phase (my Master’s thesis may turn into my dissertation proposal or I may switch my basic idea for the dissertation from horses in Greek myth and religion to Roman horse racing or possibly even defixiones) so I am finding all sorts of things to do, bouncing from one to the other like I’ve had too much coffee. Except, I don’t drink coffee at all.

This semester we shifted to riding an hour instead of 45 minutes and it has been making quite a difference. Before, we often felt that the horses were just getting somewhere when it was time to quit.

In August, I rode Nelson twice and missed a theory lesson in-between the two. My back was bad for the first lesson so I took it a little easier than usual. It actually improved some things—it curbed my usual over-riding issues—and the transitions in particular came out rather well. Especially once Ulrika suggested that I think “start walking” instead of “stop trotting” for transitions from trot to walk. The second riding lesson I tried to stay with the “doing less” idea. I also tried using longer stirrups for a softer back and a deeper seat. I made a mental note of a few useful pointers in regard to how to ride Nelson. He needs a firm hand from the start, its good to start lateral work pretty quickly and I need to keep my hands up and watch it so he doesn’t push me to the right with his strong left.

September continued with more of Nelson, starting with shoulder-ins. I kept twisting my hips instead of sitting straight, sometimes slipping into a leg yield. Eventually, I put up my stirrups and that gave me a much better seat. I came close to over bending him, so Ulrika suggested I should think of every step as potentially being the last of the shoulder-in. Combined with the lack of stirrups, that led to some great work.

After the initial dressage lesson, we jumped twice in a row. I rode Nelson for this as well and I felt very pleased with the results. I just need to keep working on keeping my hands up, especially my inner hand, and keeping my weight in the inner stirrup. For the second jumping lesson, we had Carina instead of Ulrika, and that was interesting since different teachers always remark on different things. I had some issues with shortening him, but after I managed to really get some upward bounce in, his back came up so well. I also had some problems with a particular line of jumps until I stopped being so focused on making sure he wouldn’t canter in. The final exercise came out so well, perfect balance and he was very responsive on a tight turn.

The last lesson in September was on Blacky, a new horse that was such a treat to ride. He was nice and soft, not at all tense or hurried. Something about him reminded me about Gamir, probably the slow and rather deliberate way that he worked. He also needed to get started up properly in back from the get-go, with no fussy hands or too much “carrying” of him. His canter was just incredible and even though Ulrika let me feel him out a bit for the first lesson rather than asking too much right off, it was a really rewarding lesson. Afterwards, she noted that he was using Murphy’s saddle; no wonder I felt so at home.

October started off with Blacky. This time, I had some issues with his right side and one definitely needs to ask for obedience for the right-side aids right off. Not to mention keeping his hindquarters engaged; he’s good at pretending by just bending that pretty neck. Alas, this ended up being my last lesson on Blacky for a good while since both he and Shanti ended up badly kicked by Wilson a couple of weeks later. Thank you, Wilson, for putting two of “my” horses out of commission.

So, next dressage lesson was Nelson. I tried to put my thoughts from earlier in to practice, but even though I rode him decisively from the start, there was something off about him. Neither Ulrika or I could pinpoint what it was, however. But obviously I didn’t ride him full out under the circumstances. We followed up with theory the week after. For that, we brought a few ponies down into the arena and studied how each of them responded to pressure and whether they were co-operative or contrary to their nature. Very interesting and very illustrative. The month finished up with a jumping lesson on Nelson. He had worked the lesson just before as well, so he was more mellow than usual. It always takes me a few tries to adjust my style to him when he’s not his usual over-eager self, but he still jumped very well.

November has so far been a month of new horses. It started off with Paris, a horse they are borrowing to cover for Blacky and Shanti. She reminds me a lot of Fleur; a sweet girl who is a bit fussy with her mouth, likes to curl her neck prettily and let her hindlegs just tag along. I had to work on keeping my hands very steady, despite her fussing with her head and mouth, while asking for more hindquarter engagement. Overall, she is quite uncomplicated. She’s easy to place, easy to work with and has a sweet disposition. I also rode her this last Tuesday and I tried to get her more engaged right off. But then Ulrika asked me to feel if she felt different, so maybe I spent a little much time focused on that. Her canter certainly felt more off than the first time and it seems she does get a bit stiff from not being used to quite such demanding work (she’s used to being ridden mostly by young children).  I did discover that she responds well to leg aids a little further back when it comes to engaging her hindlegs and that she, like Fleur, gets friskier when its cold out.

In-between the two lessons on Paris I rode Digression, the first larger horse I’ve sat on since Sammy was retired. I am not sure if it was intended or not, but with no ponies available I ended up on Digression. I was nervous at first, but he seemed pretty calm and not at all tense, though he did glance at a few things in a slightly watchful way. I was pleased to find out that he has a rather short stride, so he didn’t feel too big at all. At first, he curled up a bit and objected at being nudged forward, rather like Gamir with his back. He is ridden without a whip since he is a little nervous around them, but that suits me just fine and he wasn’t hard to get moving even without that. He has a really nice trot once he gets started. Overall, I tried to keep it uncomplicated and it seemed to suit him as well as me (since I do lose some boldness on a bigger horse).

The really interesting part of the lesson was when we switched to trying out some one-handed riding and some Working Equitation exercises that relied on a lot of leg aids. It felt surprisingly natural—and Ulrika asked if I had tried before, which I hadn’t—and afterwards…wow, what an amazing trot. Ulrika said she hadn’t seen him work that well in a long while. Less hands, more legs, I really have to beat that one into myself and focus on that for the remaining lessons for this semester. Next week its jumping though: straight lines but at varying angles.

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