The hard thing about getting Murray fit this year is that I know that there are all kinds of fun things that he can do, but that we shouldn’t do right now. Given the fact that Murray has been essentially sitting in his stall and cruising around pasture with intermittent 40 minute exercise chunks once every two to three weeks, leaping back in t work is bound to come with a tired pony and some sore muscles. I do not want to sour him by making him muscle sore and burned out with a sudden return to the six-day-a-week lifestyle. So I’m trying to be mindful of Murray’s current level of fitness, but still keeping our rides fun and productive.
In some ways we’re way ahead of where we have been in the past, because Murray is so much more ready to work and understands using his body better. I no longer have to wait until we’re most of the way through our ride to get Murray connected to the outside rein, or ride around hanging on the inside rein to get him to stretch down. So I get to focus on our bad habits, and encouraging the good habits.
There’s a lot of walking involved. I hear it’s the foundation of fitness. Also, if I do it right, I can hatch a lot of Pokémon. Leg yield at the walk, shoulders-in at the walk, haunches-in at the walk, free walk (if possible…)… it’s all fair game.
The other day I threw in half a long side of shoulder-in and then a volte and haunches in between four loop serpentines in the outdoor arena. At first Murray was like “what the WHAT, turn AND go straight, are you crazy?!” but after a kick and some coaxing he remembered. And then he was so good with the shoulder-in and haunches-in that I was like “maybe I could try a little bit of the half pass again that I rode at dressage camp?!” But that wouldn’t be fair, since I’m not sure I could ask for it again without coaching and Murray would certainly be confused. Later.
Today we worked on keeping a good outline and spiraling in from a 30 meter circle to a 15 meter circle with good bend and keeping our hind feet under us – enough of a challenge even when we are fit. Then we took a walk break and changed directions.
I did a couple of canter transitions in each direction, and was quite pleased with them. Often this summer, when I didn’t have time to ride or didn’t bring out riding clothes, I would throw Murray on the lunge in side reins and work on canter transitions, as they have bene the source of many comments for us. We had all kinds of problems with them, leaning on the inside rein, throwing our heads or bodies around during them, and most of all tensing up during the down-transitions. But the change in Murray’s transitions from the lunging has been huge. He is much straighter and can even pull out a few round transitions without leaning on me!
But that’s another one where I don’t want to fatigue him. I know that good canter-trot transitions rely on a supple SI, and overworking this trick will not a supple SI create. So I kept it to a few canter transitions and then let us both have a break with some stretchy trotting.
Oh yeah. There has been (and will continue to be) a lot of stretchy trot too.
The key, for me, is going into my rides with a game plan. I have absolutely zero interest in cruising around the arena doing bit trot and canter circles and changing directions across the diagonal a few times – even if those changes do happen to be fancy and flying (not us, yet). I have never been that type of rider. I find it mind numbing and it’s the fastest way for me to get off a horse. So I plan out a little exercise while we’re doing our walk warm up, even if it’s a circuit that involves a few repetitions (4 loop serpentine, 15 meter circle, shoulders in, 15 meter circle, haunches in, 4 loop serpentine, repeat…).
And that’s how we fitness. And with any luck we will get back to the fun stuff soon.
Napping montage brought to you by Murray, the nappiest pony in the world.