Hippoi Athanatoi

Shouldering the Work

Last lesson of the year today. On Sunday, we visited a Christmas market in town, and I stopped by in a little shop to pick up a present for our instructor since the group had forgotten to discuss what to get last week. Olive oil with garlic and champagne balsamic vinegar sounded good to me, at least, and hopefully she’ll enjoy it too (I did taste the balsamic in the store, and it was divine). Wasn’t so easy to get it handed over, though, as she was running late. That also led to a bit of confusion about the horses; I was on Murphy first, but ended up on Pojken again, since he needed to be exercised and this was the only lesson he was supposed to take part in. I didn’t mind too much, though, since I hope to have Murphy for the extra lessons over Christmas.

Err, well, the extra lesson, that is. Turns out one was canceled since I was the only one signed up, leaving just the private lesson. But I’ll be trying to squeeze in another private lesson instead. Need my Murphy fix over the holidays. I did make sure to give him some extra treats today and wished him a Merry Christmas.

Pojken, just like last week, started out by trying to be a bit of a bully. He tried to sink his teeth into my behind once or twice, and he was making some threatening motions with his hindlegs too. Plus he wouldn’t move that gigantic butt of his to let me into his stall. We had a talk about all that, though, and he got the idea pretty quickly that he wasn’t dealing with a beginner. More or less got the idea, anyway. He did make a few attempts later on at moving off when he shouldn’t, and since he’s very good at folding himself up he managed to squeeze past me in some odd ways. Very much a tricksy little pony.

I was determined today to work on lengthening out his topline from the start, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that he started responding (or so it felt to me, anyway) almost immediately. I made sure he walked on fairly briskly, without it getting rushed or hurried, and I allowed him a fair bit of rein instead of trying to work for collection and good connection back to front immediately. I could actually see a difference in how he moved when we approached the mirror at the end of one long side; he seemed a lot freer and more mobile in the shoulders and his neck definitely looked like it was stretching forward and down in a good way.

For the warm-up we then started working them in circles, at first walking and trotting and then later on adding some canter. The walking continued to come along nicely, but as soon as I started trotting his head would come up and he’d get rushed. My instructor suggested that I work very hard on getting his inner side soft before attempting any transitions and that should also do a lot of transitions. It certainly improved the situation, though the trot was still miles worse than the walk. After adding some canter, however, it improved a little further. Like last week, the canter was quite good, and one of the transitions was very nicely balanced. I could really feel the difference. I managed to sit pretty still today too (maybe I got a little too active at one point when he felt a little too much like a rocking-horse) and I remembered to push my leg down most of the time as well.

Once we had concluded the warm-up we moved onto the main exercise; shoulder-in. At least, I think that’s the English term. ;P Either way, you ride the horse straight forward while keeping it curved around the inner leg. Essentially, you keep the horse bent as if you were starting on a circle. This means the hindlegs will be on one line and the front legs will be on another line even though the horse is moving forward with all four legs. A horse that is curved in the body and not just bent in the neck is what you want, and you want to make sure the inner shoulder is tucked in as much as possible. To help us find the right feeling, we were supposed to ride a circle in a corner and then keep the horses curved for that circle when riding out onto the long side. Once past the long side and the next corner we were supposed to do a transition to trot or canter.

We started off to the left, the more difficult direction for Pojken. He had already shown that he wasn’t too interested in obeying my inner left leg and kept drifting to the left all the time. The first attempt was not unexpectedly fairly mediocre. I also had some trouble with my co-ordination, as my inner leg went too far back and my outer leg went away from his side whenever I used my inner leg. After a few tries, I was at least getting better control over my own body, and Pojken was doing okay. But I was still pretty pleased to turn around and start working on his right side instead. I knew the trick would now be to keep him from overbending, but that he on the whole was likely to do better.

Which he did. I was quite pleased with him, though I always find shoulder-ins difficult as its hard for me to feel if he’s bent enough, too little or too much. I also felt like I could have used a bit more energy. He’s not at all lazy, as my instructor had heard from some, but its hard to get a real sense of that good tension between the front and the back. That is, until Gamir did a bit of a canter transition a bit ahead of us. For some reason, that made him bounce. He swung out his hindquarters (since he couldn’t just dash off at a canter himself) and did some odd sort of bucking movement. No shortage of tension (but with a soft inner side) after that,  I might note. My instructor even suggested I should probably ride after someone else than Gamir to not get too much energy. Oddly enough, he did just fine behind several other horses, but then we ended up behind Gamir one more time, and again I got a little explosion. And a pretty good canter transition after that.

Once we were done with the shoulder-in work, we finished up with some walking and some trotting intended to stretch out the topline. The walk was excellent by now, I have to say. It really felt as if he was using his whole body and it felt like I had one horse instead of two separate parts. The trotting was better than it has been earlier on, and I think that given some time I might figure out how to get his back up more when trotting too. In fact, I might have gotten further with a bit more time today, but he was getting pretty tired and had quite a fast heartbeat as we finished up. He’s eager to work, and he’s better schooled than you’d think, but he’s not in the best shape.

Its too bad he’s just on loan until the summer, as I am quite liking him and I think he suits me quite well. My instructor thought it was much better today than last week too. That wasn’t so shabby either, at least not my canter work, but I guess I managed to get him working much more nicely overall today. She was particularly happy with how I managed to get his shoulders in quite nicely during the shoulder-ins, which considering how wide he is (remember, this is a little tank that looks like an ardenner with short legs) is quite hard work.

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