Hippoi Athanatoi

Wrapping Up

This week, the last week of the semester, I finally managed to get around to private lesson in addition to my final regular lesson. Its been a few months since the last one, and I have been feeling that lately. I really wanted to get some serious work in on the weaknesses that have troubled me the most lately; my poor sense of rhythm and my lack of co-ordination. And, of course, I wanted some quality time with Murphy.

But before I dive into the lesson on Monday, what did happen last week? Well, I wasn’t alone there, so we had a theory lesson. Horse anatomy, in fact, and Campino and Nikita got painted up with green marker pens to show various bones and angles. I enjoy these sorts of things (the anatomy, not putting green marks on horses), and it fit in well with my homework about dog anatomy for the show training class I have been attending for a few Thursdays (the last one was this week), though I am not very good at it so far. I imagine it takes a lot of practice to get an eye for what is or isn’t a good angle, for example.

Back to the actual riding. As usual, Murphy was ever so sweet to get ready in the morning, while the stable remained pretty quiet and empty. He also proved to be quite eager to get going once I had him down in the paddock, and the rain didn’t seem to bother him the least. In fact, it seemed to perk him up. Must be his Irish heritage. We weren’t, however, set to ride in the paddock, I just had to start there while they removed the sprinkler from within the arena. Someone had missed the fact that there’d be private lessons and started watering on the inside. Oops. Once we did get to switch to the arena, Murphy found the random dark spots on the ground a cause for some concern, but being pretty sensible he just gave them a good look.

Once I had finished warming him up on my own, I was joined by my instructor. We discussed what I wanted to focus on, and she decided to start by taking a look at the rhythm. Being alone, and feeling rather perky, Murphy kept a nice pace on his own and I was able to concentrate on other things than getting him to move. Overall, she thought it worked quite well, and she suggested that I seemed to ride him better without his help-reins. It may be true, as I often get him to work nicely at the end of a jumping lesson, when I don’t have them on. I may have to keep trying without them, to see.

Since the plan was to do some lateral work, she started me off riding diagonals from every other corner. She wanted to make sure I had Murphy’s outside under control before I started doing the leg yields along the diagonal. A simple exercise like that, where I concentrate on one or two things (and where I don’t concentrate on Murphy’s form) is the best way for me to start getting a horse into the correct form. I try too hard if I actually focus on the form as such, but if I am just told to keep his sides (especially his outside) under control, it sort of comes naturally.

Once we started on the leg yields, though, I ran into my usual problem. I lost a bit of my centering in the saddle (I move over to the side that we’re supposed to move towards) and I pulled my outer leg up when using it. Especially when my left leg was the outer leg. I also didn’t get my hip position right. Aftre a few diagonals, we stopped for a bit so she could show me how to sit properly. She then asked me to do the diagonals at a walk for a while, and now it started clicking for me. Given more time, I was able to concentrate on all the elements: keeping track of his outside as I turned his forequarters onto the diagonal, making sure my hipbones were almost parallel to the short-end, resting my outside leg (and refraining from pulling it up when I did use it), keeping myself centered in the saddle and making sure he didn’t bend as I asked him to move sideways.

It didn’t happen all at once, not even at a walk, but slowly I got the handle of it. And all of a sudden, Murphy decided it was time to start working. Its amazing how well he can collect himself when he decides that he wants to do his best for you. He starts huffing and puffing and putting in so much effort, and his balance both at the walk and at the trot is miles better than it ought to be considering gis conformation. Eventually, we did move onto trotting again, and now I had a good enough grip on the right feeling that I was able to get all the bits and pieces right even at a trot. It was just amazing.

We finished off the actual work with a bit of cantering, and Murphy was incredibly soft. His canter is still not great, but I managed to keep from trying to carry him forward. At the very end, she asked me to put a little more pressure on him by going into canter with shorter reins and asking for a bit more work and then a more engaged transition to trot. Poor Murphy was so eager to please at this point that he tried to transition straight to walk instead. It wasn’t smooth, but he definitely tucked his hindlegs beneath him. We then concluded the lesson by jogging him a few laps in a more relaxed form before I took him up to the stable again. He really puts in such an effort once he decided to start working, and it was so nice to get such a good feeling for the leg yields.

For the final lesson of the year, this Tuesday, I was put on Sammy, which was a little more painful than I had hoped for. I love riding him, but he does put a bit of a strain on me physically, and I had quite a few aching muscles following the private lesson. Fortunately, we didn’t have anything too strenous planned. In fact, we got to pick what we wanted to do. I didn’t have any specific ideas, but someone suggested serpentines and lots of circle-work, and that sounded good to me. Especially on Sammy, who can get very good at just going faster and faster unless you get his shoulders under control. And my arms were a little too achey to manage that well.

What I did get out of the lesson were some more good realizations along the lines of what I came to think of during the private lesson. How you mentally approach your riding, and your problem-solving while riding, matters immensely. If you focus on the wrong thing, it can get in the way of getting anywhere at all. Our instructor asked us after a while if we thought the suppleness of either side of our horse had improved. Despite the fact that we had ridden serpentines and circles, almost no one said yes. However, most of us had had some improvement. We were just too caught up in other problems we had run into.

She then asked us what we felt was the strong side or sides of the horse we were riding right then. After we had identified those, she asked us to take advantage of those strengths for the rest of the lesson. With Sammy, that meant cantering, since that’s something he does very steadily and very roundly. Excellent for me to work on. So, I did. It was definitely nice to get some enjoyable riding out of the last lesson for about two months, as now I get to feel very horse-deprived until the 12th of August.

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