There came a point in this last year-ish of leasing Ferda when I realized he was not the (forever) horse for me. He is sweet, kind, a lot of fun, and a pretty good learner, especially when treats are involved. But he has limitations that hold him back — a touch of hock arthritis, some funny conformation, and being… well, really not a very talented jumper.
For a second, that realization had me annoyed. I want to move up. I want to put in the miles at 3′ and beyond. I want to kill it at First level and Second level and beyond. And I know beggars can’t be choosers, but man it felt like a bummer that I was “wasting” my time on endless circles and straight lines trying — again — to work toward a better understanding of connection and alignment.
But I am nothing if not an optimist, and it would be truly unfair of me to characterize my time with Ferg as “wasted”. What he has given me is an incredible opportunity to practice and hone skills that (my trainers assure me) will be important with every horse I move forward on. There’s no such thing as a horse that comes pre-installed with a perfect connection (and I bet if there is, I can ruin it). And every horse and rider is crooked in some way or another, so knowing how to work through and improve alignment is key.
More over, riding a horse while practicing skills I’m relatively familiar with has given me the chance to really focus in on noticing my riding and what I’m doing. Is the horse doing something funny? What am I doing to create that? What am I not doing to fix it? I tend to suck my right leg up and my right seatbone away from the saddle — can I anchor those back down and make myself sit deeper through my right side? What about fixing the left twist to my hips — are my hips even? Do I need to draw my right hip back a little more to even out? Will that help Fergus keep his right shoulder underneath him a bit better?
Toward the end of Saturday’s ride, the canter got a little quick. Ferg likes to move his legs real fast, push his neck back at you and duck behind the bit, and then motorcycle around those turns. I could feel myself about to grab a bit more of his mouth but then I paused — could I slow his feet down with my seat instead? I slowed down my canter mechanic and added a ton of thigh, and Fergus came back to a trot. I reminded him that we were working in canter and did the same thing again and what do you know — slower feet, less tension through the neck, and even a little bit of reaching for the bit.
Working on “movements” that I’m super familiar with has been so much more beneficial to my riding than working on movements I’m pushing for or struggling to learn. I think this year was probably even better for me than riding a true schoolmaster. I didn’t have to worry about undoing training, sitting massive gaits, pressing buttons I didn’t know existed and didn’t want to access. I really got a chance to focus on myself and change some of my own riding patterns for the better. Which is absolutely not a waste of time at all.