Hippoi Athanatoi

A Horse Report

Where did March go? And April, for that matter? Ah well.

For the most part, other than when the car decided to act up, I have been riding weekly as usual. All of March was spent on Nelson, for three dressage lessons and one jumping lesson (plus a theory lesson to discuss the dressage test we’ll be riding in May), and there was in fact some significant progress. Being very firm right off about what’s allowed in terms of rushing away with me certainly helps, though after any break or if Nelson starts to get tired, the lesson is soon forgotten. I had some great results one lesson when we were focusing on “just” riding straight down the center line. Single-minded focus on such a precise task always means I am less fiddly with my aids, resulting in a softer, more relaxed horse. Nelson almost seemed on the verge of spontaneous passage at times when moving up was easier than forward in a straight line.

Another revelatory lesson was with a substitute teacher who employed a different approach than Ulrika. I am a little bit torn on whether it is a good approach or not, but it was certainly very efficient on Nelson in particular. Basically, she asked us to start by shortening the horses so that they’d find it hard to work in such a compressed form and come forward and down because of that (and of course be allowed to come forward and down). For Nelson, it worked very well. He likes to stick his head up and drop his back, but now he found he was simply asked to shorten and shorten whenever he did that, so eventually he came forward and down instead. We also worked on leg yields, with strict orders to keep the horses from slipping away with us, and when we got to the canter leg yields—we never really do this other wise—I had an amazing canter from Nelson. I could have dropped the reins.

Still, is it a good approach? Ulrika usually wants us to engage the hindquarters by riding the horses forward to the hand, not backing them up like this. I certainly have a tendency to collect too much on some horses rather than ride forward and get everything engaged that way. In most cases, I can tell its wrong after I try riding forward instead, but on Nelson its often very hard to get through to him by riding him to the hand.

We concluded March with a jumping lesson where I was perhaps too influenced by the dressage and held Nelson back too much to begin with. But I also had some issues with my back being stiff again.

April started off with Nelson ignoring me completely for the first part of one lesson as he had an abundance of energy. That earned him a stern talking to and all of a sudden he wanted to work. He is definitely starting to get the picture. The week after, however, I was on Shanti instead. We continued to work on turns on the haunches as we had the week before, though most of my focus that lesson was on dealing with some new issues with my seat. Or rather, not new issues, but issues that Ulrika have decided to tackle now that some of the others are out of the way. So, we have been trying to improve my knees as they grip too much and lead to a tense lower leg that is too forward. Shanti,  of course, was lovely and talented.

Following a missed lesson, last week saw me back on Nelson for some jumping in the paddock. We had a new noseband on him and I really like the effect it had; I think that for my next dressage lesson, I will try him without the help reins he’s normally fitted with. I found that (just as on my dear Murphy, still sorely missed every week) when he comes forward without the help reins, his form is better than with the help reins. As for the jumping, we were asked to do gymnastic work, keeping the horses quite short. It went quite well when we jumped on a serpentine-path, but when jumping straight down the line I wasn’t able to hold Nelson together all the way. I think I made the mistake of lowering my hands instead of keeping them up, which made it easier for him to get away.

So, that’s where we are right now. Still all of May to go and a few lessons in June before the summer break. Unfortunately, Heddvig won’t be back after the summer, her owner is taking her home again. I hope she will get well enough before the summer break that I get to ride her again and next semester…well, we’ll see. There’s Nelson and Shanti, but I may have to look at moving to private lessons plus lessons at another stable where they have lovely medium-sized Andalusians.

A Year

Its a year today, but I really do still miss Murphy like it was yesterday. Best little Irish horse ever, stubborn as sin at times and grumpy too, but with such a heart. I can still see him looking over the side of his stall when I was somewhere else in the stable. Mind you, I don’t have any illusions about why; mostly he wanted more treats. But the way he made such efforts for me when I rode him, he must have liked it too. I certainly did.

Back to February

The summary of February’s lessons ought to have been done a while ago, but we have had (and continues to have) a wealth of Game of Thrones news to tackle which have distracted me rather completely. I am also finding myself preoccupied with reflecting on my writing, not just for these lesson reports but in general. I feel like it has stagnated, in part because I read less than I used to and in part because I am finding that it always comes out so…superficial. Why? I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I know my academic writing suffers from my lack of confidence, and it probably plays a part in other kinds of writing too.

But, that’s enough meandering thoughts for now. Last month started off with a dressage lesson on Shanti, the very well-trained not-quite-pony. Since I had mentioned my back issues in a previous post, Ulrika suggested some improvements to my seat that might help. In particular, she felt I wasn’t using my seat bones as well as I could. Certainly, making those changes made for a much better lesson on Shanti than my first and my back felt fine afterwards.

The week after that I was back on Nelson. I tried to find the same sort of seat on him, but I could soon tell that part of the reason my back has been worse since I started riding Nelson is his saddle. Its quite short and deep, making it difficult for me to sit well in it. However, after a rocky start where it felt as if I had two horses instead of one due to the complete lack of connection between front and back, the leg yields we were doing suddenly got through to Nelson. He found his balance and gave me a wonderful trot. Afterwards, I asked Ulrika about the suddenness of that change, and she felt it isn’t uncommon with horses like Nelson who are very heavy on the forehand. Once they do find a better balance and softer and more flexible, it can go from bad to good very quickly.

After that followed a jumping lesson which also included some interesting revelations. As we were warming up, Ulrika told me to shorten my reins quite a bit, saying that because Nelson has such a short neck I could keep them much shorter than what feels right to start with to get my elbows in the right position. It made an amazing difference to the control I had over Nelson. Suddenly I was in just the right position to smoothly control tempo and turns, plus it improved my balance and the way I followed along with his jumps. I could more or less hold onto his ears and be fine, it seems, and clearly I have been jumping him on too much of a “dressage length” rein.

The month finished off with a very tough lesson from a substitute teacher. I was on Nelson again and he was incredibly frisky. We did do some leg yields that helped me get him a bit more under control, but he spent most of the lesson trying to run faster and faster. The pace of the lesson didn’t give me much time to consider what to do and all the trotting just wound him up more and more. The end result was mostly very sore arms.

Riding Recap

A new month and another Tuesday. What have I learned so far this semester?

Well, we started off with a not-so-soft start (then again, the break was pretty short). We worked with lateral movement, using that to have the horses naturally fall into a slower pace with more “wait” built into each stride. A good exercise for Nelson who isn’t one for waiting, though I struggled a bit with not interfering as soon as he slowed down a bit. As with the canter, I need to learn to leave more up to the horse. Ulrika also spotted some issues with my knees getting a bit “stuck” and my lower legs tensing in place as a result of that. So that’s one thing to focus on during this semester; a nice long and relaxed leg.

The second lesson was jumping, and I was halfways off Nelson on a couple of occasions. Ulrika wanted us to jump the horses in a way that would gymasticise them; get in close and get high, round jumps. Another exercise in waiting, both for me and Nelson. Learning to trust the horses to move without me badgering them is still a work in progress. Do less, but be more effective, that’s what I have to keep in mind.

The third lesson was theory and I missed out on it due to a deadline for an exam. Normally, I plan a bit better than that, but January was sort of eaten by my application to the doctoral program (which I won’t know anything about for months).

Finally, last week it was all about serpentines and another new discovery with Nelson. Even when he is more off the forehand (as he was after the serpentines), he still feels heavy. So, I need to try and trust that he will carry himself and not just keep holding him up. I also need to work on my canter seat again; my inner foot wasn’t down enough but at the same time my outer hip wasn’t back enough.

Unfortunately, I think this is now due to my back issues to some degree. Something about riding is hurting my back each week and has been doing for…well, at least 6 months and maybe more than that. I have no idea why it started, or what to do about it, but its becoming a real issue. The sit-ups that strengthened my stomach and helped with my back before aren’t doing anything for this lower back pain/weakness. We’ll see how it goes today.

Back Again

Well, that was a bit of a break. A month and a half of no riding reports, in fact, though just two actual lessons missed. First I missed one lesson due to illness and then I passed on a theory lesson because it was so darn cold (we’re having the coldest December in 110 years, though for the most part I am loving it) and because we were having a substitute instructor anyway. For theory, that usually means watching some video, and I didn’t feel up to braving the cold for that.

The last two weeks before Christmas (but not last Tuesday, the stable was closed for the holidays until yesterday), however, I did get to ride. First, a new acquaintance, Shanti. Shanti is a modern “sport” pony type, bred for performance, and perform she definitely did. She is just on the verge of becoming a horse rather than a pony, or possible just over that limit now, but she moves like quite a lot of horse. Either she or possibly her full sister became the 4th best dresssage pony in Sweden last year. She was incredibly different from Heddvig and Nelson and I actually had a lot of issues adjusting to her. My aids are sort of tuned to less refined controls.

For the last lesson of the year I rode Nelson. Like last year, we did a little mini contest. Most canter strides from point A to point B, represented by a pair of rails on the ground (and with some thinking involved to pick the smartest path), least trotting strides from A to B, sideways movement along one or two rails with one set of legs on each side, least canter strides from point A to B and most steps in reverse. I did rather better last year on Fleur, alas. My back was too stiff to ride a short canter for the first test, so I just allowed Nelson to gallop on as he preferred so he wouldn’t start trotting instead. Then, of course, he was keyed up and ended up galloping in the trotting section, for 0 points. He also totally refused to move sideways across the rails, though he did show himself very able to go backwards. He did do well on the “least canter strides” test and really well reversing, but we still came in last. But fun, even so.

Today’s lesson will get a few words later on; still thinking about a new approach to rekindle my interest in writing in a timely fashion. Of course, work and school has sort of been eating up my writing energy.

Ups and Downs Indeed

Looks like last week’s lesson post was misplaced. Together with this weeks its a good example of ups and downs.

I rode Heddvig for dressage last week and afterwards I felt better about it than I have had for a while. We worked a lot on a slightly smaller rectangle than usual and (as always) I found that not having the wall right there on one side really makes me pay attention to my outside aids. Now if I could only get that into my head when the wall is there, too. The main exercise other than that was riding the horse into a halt and then creating a distinct inner side so that we could control which front leg the horse would start moving on. We then tried to take that with us to canter transitions, and I think I managed to be pretty decisive but not too over-active in the transitions this time.

Today, then, I jumped Nelson. The weather (we’re having a bit of a surprise snow storm—almost got it for my birthday again, like when we snowed in some 15 years ago) made him very lively and since I don’t use the help reins when jumping, he pretty much stuck his head straight up and rushed on. I thought my arms would fall out after 10 minutes or so.

Once we started jumping it did improve a bit, since his canter is better than his trot, but by then my brain was kind of scrambled from trying desperately for the first half of the lesson to figure out how on earth to get him to listen to me. I think the way he moved rattled my head too much. ;P

Small Steps

Last week we did more of the same canter exercises as the week before, with a few more things going my way. My back wasn’t as bad, at least not to start with, and I tried to focus on being decisive from the start. I also tried to remind myself to look out over the horse’s outer ear when cantering to get my hips aligned right.

Nelson did end up listening to me more quickly about not just rushing onwards since I put my foot down about that from the start. However, he found another way out of the work; dropping out of the canter earlier and earlier each time. He knew we’d start trotting as soon as we reached the corner, so he pushed the transition further and further back. Once I got around to doing something about it we had to have a bit of an argument which included the firm application of heels (I had set my whip aside because the snow had made him pretty frisky), followed by some bucking and concluding in grudging agreement.

I still didn’t sit the canter very well for the most part, however. And when Ulrika mentioned that I didn’t need to work so hard on Nelson, because he’s got a really good canter so I don’t have to work at it like I was riding Murphy, it really hit me again how much I miss him. I really like Heddvig and Nelson, but its not…well, special. I don’t feel the same connection. But I’ll keep at it, because I do need to keep riding.

Back. Owwie.

This week’s lesson was a painful experience. My back hasn’t been great for a long time but lately its been really bad and this Tuesday was probably the first time I’ve had serious pain while riding.

Needless to say, it didn’t improve on my weak focus. :P I rode Nelson and we worked on getting the inner shoulder into the body in preparation for a transition. We rode straight down the center line, picked which way to turn right off and then rode with the new inner side prepared for that turn the whole way. The transition came a bit after the halfway poin.

To start with Nelson was an awful lot like a sewing machine, his little legs just moving up and down rapidly, and he was not too interested in waiting for me at all. I did take that conflict without prompting from Ulrika, so go me for that, though I wasn’t able to be completely consistent in my application of the rules. But he did stop pulling my arms out of their sockets. However, once we got to the cantering my back just said “owwie” and even though Nelson has a great canter, I just couldn’t sit it well enough which had me lapsing back into my over-active canter riding.

I was also constantly messing up where I was looking; I kept looking inwards which of course had my hips turning the wrong way. I have to remember to focus on the outer ear when cantering, but it just feels wrong somehow. Towards the end, I did manage to get my eye right at least and I managed to sit somewhat better, but overall I could have done much better. Fortunately, my back is now a good deal better following some pills and an acupressure kind of thing that you lie down on, so I am hoping next week won’t be so bad.

Missed Opportunities

I haven’t actually missed two weeks of reporting, just one. Last week was theory and I wasn’t able to go then anyway. Unfortunately, I will also be missing next week, which really sucks because its a jumping lesson.

What about the dressage almost two weeks ago, though? Well, my memory is sketchy. ;P Heddvig was still feeling a bit so-so, so Ulrika asked me to make sure I was getting enough forward momentum before I start to ask for collection. Normally the momentum is there, but now I have to readjust for her being a little more laid back. Once we got to the cantering (more counter-canter by way of a curved line along the length of the arena), she did better. Laid back definitely goes out the window once we start cantering. ;) She really struggled with cantering along the whole curve, but mainly it was her giving up when it got a little harder. Once I asked her to keep going, she did pretty well.

I am definitely feeling a lack of motivation, though, and its leaving me a little less focused. I enjoy the riding, but I feel a bit lost. I guess things are much the same as they were before I started riding Murphy; I ride because riding in itself is fun, but I don’t necessarily feel I am accomplishing much or making any tangible progress. I like getting better, but when riding once a week and with my fear issues, I will only get so much better. So, being able to improve a horse and develop alongside of him was a new, fantastic experience. And now that I have done that, going back to “just” riding feels like its lacking something. Then again, can’t rule out that Heddvig won’t keep improving as well—she’s made a lot of progress, as it is—so we’ll see. But right now, I keep looking for something that isn’t there.

Hit and Miss

I’ve ridden Heddvig the last two weeks as well and its continued to be a little hit and miss. The second to last time we tried a new saddle which moved around less on her broad, round back but which ultimately ended up being a little too low in the back. The main thing I took with me from that lesson was to keep working on being more decisive; I need to ask for quicker responses and I need to assume that she will play along. Once I did that, towards the end of the lesson, I got some really nice canter departures. Oh, I also need to work on how I sit her canter at times, since I don’t quite have my hips aligned right. But I think the saddle made it worse than usual.

Last week we combined the canter departures exercise with the riding good corners exercise and rode a curved line along the length of the arena so that we effectively were riding a counter-canter through that curve. Heddvig once again started out feeling a little off—Ulrika isn’t quite sure what’s up—but once we got to the cantering she got rather charged up and we had some pretty explosive departures. Still, I hope they get a handle on what is bothering her; it seems quite subtle, but its hard to say if its just something seasonal or an actual issue. She sweats a bit more than she should (though she is a bit overweight and not in super shape), but that’s the only really clear sign of anything.

The main issue for the these last weeks have otherwise been my back, which has been fiercly bad. I am pretty crippled for a couple of days following each lesson, so need to figure out what I can do to strengthen my lower back and limber up better before the lessons. I suspect its Heddvig’s broad back that is the culprit, at least in part.

Two for One

The chaos continues, so no wonder that I completely missed writing about last week. I’ll just have to make it two for one.

The previous Tuesday we had our second of two jumping lessons. I had Nelson, just like the week before, and we continued to work a lot with turns. The trickiest part of the exercise was a two-jump line across the middle of the arena. We were asked to start turning just right before the second jump and I kept underestimating how fast Nelson would turn. It felt like a very useful exercise for getting a better sense of turns and how to prepare for them. We also jumped some more straight-forward lines, again focusing on letting the horses sort most things out themselves, and Nelson and I got to jump a bit higher than usual which always is fun. We generally keep the jumps pretty low to keep from wearing on the horses too much, but its one of those things I like doing because its something that could scare me but it doesn’t. Have to appreciate the little things.

This last Tuesday it was back to dressage and back to Heddvig. Good canter departures was the theme of the evening, from walk on a small circle and going into canter on a larger circle around the others. I wasn’t really happy with how I did, on the whole. Heddvig was very sweaty before the lesson and Ulrika pointed out that she has sweated a bit much lately. So, when she felt a little less energetic than usual to start with, I think I ended up being cautious about asking too much for her. And cautious Linda tends to mean way too cautious and generally ineffective.

So…end result wasn’t so inspired. I am getting better at just taking for granted that she will canter and not overdoing my aids, but the work outside of the canter wasn’t focused enough from my side.

Jumping, Part 1

I’ll just pretend that its entirely on purpose that I am posting last week’s riding recap on the day that I am going riding again. ;P And in any case, I can’t think of too much to say about this lesson. We jumped for the first time this semester and I was put on Nelson. He’s a pretty uncomplicated jumper and as we carried over some of the dressage work from last week (like working on making sure the horses do not turn until asked to do so) he caught on to the exercise pretty quickly. Looking at some photos afterwards that were taken during the lesson, I do need to keep working on not getting too far forward over his neck when he jumps, however. We’re jumping again today, so I will try to keep my own position in mind since he doesn’t really need a lot of help.

White Pony Week

Things continue to be rather chaotic around here (I am not sure, for example, if I am doing 1, 2, 3 or maybe 0 classes this semester), so a lot is slipping through the too-wide cracks. Hence, just a few short lines about last week’s lesson before its Tuesday again.

Black pony (Heddvig) was exchanged for white pony (Nelson). Continued focus on good corners, but the main exercise was transitions. This is very good for Nelson who is very good at picking his own pace at any gait and barrelling along, putting a lot of weight in your hands. You really need to get him a bit off-balance in order to be able to affect how he moves and find a calmer, more balanced pace.

In the past, this has been a definitive issue for me as my own sense of rhythm is shaky. But something really does seem to have clicked over the summer and I was able to get Nelson to a stage where he carried himself quite well at the trot and even came down and forward with his head and up with his back. Considering the set of his neck (he’s got a very well-muscled underside and a very short neck), that’s a good accomplishment. We also managed some pretty decent canter.

Of course, I can’t put my finger on quite what I am doing differently now as opposed to before the summer…

Cornered and Straightened Out

Oh, look, its Tuesday again. Life has just piled up on top of me lately. I am hoping this weeks lesson will help perk me up a bit and if it goes like last week, the chance is good.

We stayed with the theme of very controlled turns and straightness without the help of a nearby wall. To start with we worked on weaning the horses off from automatic turns at the corners by riding straight into the corner and coming to a half as soon as they wanted to start turning on their own. Heddvig responded quite well to this, though she did get a little stressed at one point but Ulrika reminded me to make sure to always make it clear to her what she needed to do to get away from any pressure. She made the point that mares often get stressed more easily since they have to think about protecting themselves and a foal, and Heddvig has had some foals as well.

Once she felt we rode the corners fairly well, we added turning in down the center line. The turns onto and off the line were important, of course, and also the straightness of the line itself. Again I had some issues with turning too late to the right at first, but after a while I had the hang of it and Heddvig ended up very nicely balanced. She often gets a little rushed, but her trotting towards the end felt very good. Its probably the best balance I’ve had out of her so far, so that did perk me up a bit.

First One Down

So, time for the autumn semester at the riding school. Or rather, it was time for it about a week ago, when I had my first lesson for a while. The second one’s coming up tomorrow.

I rode Heddvig (so far, that’s an “of course”, don’t really have any other options right now) and we didn’t exactly get a soft start, though Ulrika didn’t push us too hard either.  We worked on straightness and tracking by way of turning in across the arena and riding towards the central mirror. Turning onto the line and turning off the line was done with minimal bending so that straightness could be achieved faster afterwards.

On the whole, Heddvig is fairly straight. She throws out her right shoulder a fair bit when coming towards the turn away from the line, so it took a bit of work to avoid making the turn to the right too difficult for her, but other than that she tracks pretty well both at walk and at trot. We also managed some decent cantering towards the end, though I had forgotten which side was her difficult and tried going right at first. That wasn’t so successful to start with.

She seems to have stayed at more or less the same level as before the summer in terms of cantering, though she seemed to tire a bit more quickly. But hey, so did I, and my legs felt it the day after.  As for my motivation…well, its still a bit lacking. I feel pretty directionless with my riding right now and that is very odd because I didn’t really realize I had a direction before either. Not until I lost it.