Long overdue snow and cold weather decided to put in an appearance this week. It probably won’t last too long (alas; I’ll take snow and cold weather over rain and wind any day), but while it is here I am enjoying it and so are, apparently, the horses too. I said before I went to the stable that I really didn’t want to ride Fleur today (in cold weather, she turns from occasionally flighty but very placid to always flighty and not the least placid), but she was actually an angel today compared to the horse I ended up riding. ;P
Murphy, being rock solid, had clearly been used for all the beginner’s classes today. So, I got Nelson. The white, fluffy and vaguely polar-bear like pony I rode a couple of times during the autumn. The first had gone okay, the second not so well, but I tried hard to mentally prepare myself for how to work on his issues and figured I could probably manage to make this ride fairly useful. Of course, the fact that our regular instructor had the day off was a cause for some small concern, as I always find it hard to switch.
Once down in the arena (after slipping like Bambi on ice on our way there), Nelson and I had some differences to sort out. Such as the fact that he had no plans to stand still while I was tightening the girth or, for that matter, trying to mount. After a while, however, we got that sorted out and I got up on him. As we started walking them, I could tell right off that he was way more stressed than usual. He does have a tendency to get a bit rushed and high-stepping, but today it was almost impossible to walk him on a long rein without having him rush off a a trot instead. In short, his usual problems had suddenly been multiplied by a not insignificant factor.
As soon as we started the warm-up, I decided to put down my whip. I really didn’t need that today. I then tried to focus on getting him more relaxed by encouraging him to lower his head. I tried circles and halts and I tried to remember to sit and breathe more slowly. For the most part, it had very little effect. And then we started to trot ...
If he had been the only horse with issues there, it might have worked okay. However, Pojken was in the lesson too, and now I got to see with my own eyes that yes, this placid-seeming pony can go pretty nutty at times. Apparently he’s thrown quite a few people already. I mean, sure, he did sort of get a bit bouncy during one of the lessons I had on him, but that seemed to be a result of me charging him up a lot before a canter transition. Today, he sure didn’t need to be charged up. We hadn’t trotted very far at all when he seems to have exploded, just behind our backs, and Nelson then had to do a sympathy explosion. Fun. ;P Two more of those followed pretty quickly, and then the instructor suggested we keep as far apart as possible as they seemed to be egging each other on.
If Nelson had been much bigger than he is (he’s not quite 14 hands), I would have been scared witless. As it was, I got a bit tense, but decided that no little fluffy white pony would get me nervous. So, I kept at it. However, I can’t say we got much of use done. I did not feel like putting too much pressure on him, especially since he easily gets stressed and he was pretty worked up as it was, so I pretty much continued to focus on trying to get him to relax just a little.
Unfortunately, we were supposed to continue with half-passes today, and that happened to be an exercise that stressed Nelson further. He is fairly young, rather ambitious and doesn’t have the best control over his legs. So the first few attempts he got really rushed and it was very hard to keep him from not reacting too strongly to either leg. The instructor then suggested I just ask for a few steps sideways at a time, and once I switched to that it worked better. I was able to work out that he could take a very light pressure from the leg that is supposed to ask for the sideways motion and the other leg had to be kept very still but close to him. I couldn’t get a very noticeable half-pass, but I did manage a few where he wasn’t stressed but still moved a little sideways.
After we had finished up doing the half-passes, we got to another interesting part: cantering. I had almost decided not to, but then I changed my mind. No chickening out on a pony. As it would happen, it wasn’t that bad. He took the canter aids pretty well (he doesn’t always) and I was able to keep him under control. I couldn’t give him quite as much inner rein as I would have wanted, so he did fall back down to a trot a few times, but it was passable even so. I think I managed to stay pretty still too. Overall, it was okay. And afterwards he actually relaxed quite a bit in the trot, with his head suddenly coming forward and down. Of course, he got a bit more stressed again after a while, but not as bad as before.
So ... interesting experience. I would have liked being able to ride more effectively, but given that I don’t often get a chance to practice keeping calm—not to mention trying to influence the horse to be calm, too—on a difficult horse, it was useful for me even so.