Since she played such a prominent part in the last quarter of 2017, I thought I’d give a little update on Suzy’s progress last year. Suzy used to be Sookie, but I can’t seem to stick to one name or the other, so I’ve taken to calling her Suzuki as it’s the best of both names and gives a little hint to the secret, sporty little mare who was hiding beneath all the chub when she arrived. (And Suzukini is just too tempting, since I love to play with words anyway.)
awwww look how short her broodmare tail was!! (october)
Suzy came to our barn as a six year old after weaning her 2017 foal, and had clearly enjoyed the benefits of being in broodmare pasture. Girl was chubby! I started riding her in September, when she’d been at the barn for a few weeks, and lost a few pounds, already. From the very beginning Suzy was sweet and easy to work with on the ground. She was definitely on the lazy side about work, really playing up that whole I-grew-a-baby-horse-in-my-body-didn’t-you-hear thing. When walking to the arena she would habitually try to just veer us back toward her stall instead.
early november: bod getting trimmer, tail getting longer!
Suzy was naturally pretty forward and sensitive. I mentioned this before, but she was sensitive is all the right ways — she would listen to your seat, naturally understood a half halt, and wanted to do the right thing. She was so smart and quick on the uptake. There was a downside to the cleverness: once Suzy figured out what I wanted, she was very quick to offer that as the answer to almost everything. Which meant that things got a little challenging when there were different right answers to different requests. Canter leads were (and sometime still are!) quite a good example of this. Suzy was happy to pick up either lead at the canter — canter was what I wanted, right? And for quite a long time it seemed that she didn’t even understand that there were two different types of canter, so the leads were pretty interchangeable.
early november again, with mare-friend Lucy looking on
I tackled the canter leads problem by using a verbal cue (kiss) for the right lead, and a seat cue for the left lead (swinging left hip forward). I kept the two cues and leads separate, and always tried to set Suzy up for the correct lead before asking. I definitely didn’t solve the problem this way, but I think it did help. As her canter got stronger, so did her ability to pick up the correct lead. It probably shouldn’t surprise me — as her legs got less disorganized and her muscles got stronger, it felt more natural to be on the correct lead for a given direction.
early december — trimming down in all the right places!
And that brings us to her development under saddle, which has been pretty incredible! It’s a bit awful to admit, but it’s so easy to get a bit unreasonably frustrated with Suzy sometimes. She rides like a pretty educated horse, but she’s really just five months off the track (with an 18 month hiatus in the middle!).
When we first got together, I had to ride the Sookini smack in the middle of the arena, far from any walls she could get glued to, or the arena gate to get seriously distracted by. And this is not an exaggeration. If we were by a wall it was like some intense force of gravity was pulling her outside shoulder toward it, and only another intense force of gravity could get that shoulder back in line with her body. Girl had a mighty flexible neck, but almost no ability to bend through her ribcage.
mid december: pretty sporty, huh?!
Though to be fair, I imagine it was pretty challenging to step under with that big belly and thunder thighs in the way. As she’s trimmed down, all the little pieces have fallen into place. Suzy can do baby-ottb versions of all the important moves now: shoulder in, leg yield, bending, even round-ish circles! Her canter is absolutely gorgeous now. Suzy’s canter was a real mess in September — to the point where I wouldn’t canter her under saddle because it was so strange and unbalanced. And she’d break to the trot any time a challenge — pole, turn, puddle, etc. — presented itself at the canter. Now you practically can’t-er stop her! It’s comfy and forward and way more adjustable than Suzy realizes. Honestly, I think she’d be annoyed at the amount of work we can trick her into doing at the canter if she realized it. She just loves cantering now, so she’s happy to sit down and do the work!
the rhythm was still a little funky in early december, but sooo much better!
And she is so fun to jump! Suzy’s still learning, but she’s forward and game and she knows how to go there to the fences. There’s lots of work to do still in the jumping, but she was quick to figure out how to get over the fences. And that clever mind? SO helpful here. She might clobber through a fence on one go through, but the next time around she’s ready to pick her feet up and try something different. She’s even starting to learn how to keep an even pace to the fences and not pull or rush to a super deep spot.
I feel so lucky to have spent the last four months of 2017 working with Suzy. And I’m even luckier that her current owner is happy to let me keep riding her! I dunno — maybe I’m the only one who’s terribly excited by all of this (well, me and Suzy’s owner!), but she has been such fun to watch and feel progress. It’s such a different progress trajectory than Murray had — I am such a more balanced rider now, and she’s got such a different attitude (with different challenges of course). I’m looking forward to seeing where this little girl goes in the next five months (and beyond!).