on progress

I had…. a ride with Speedy today.

It wasn’t bad, at all. But it wasn’t great either. We worked on something hard for him (alignment) and we made progress. But I had a lot more moments of “no, not that” than I like, which made it feel like not-fun.

After our warmup, Speedy was trailing his haunches to the left in both directions, and didn’t really want to bring his outside front foot around in either direction either. When we’d get some nice bend he’d fall to the inside of whatever track we were on, and I found myself wanting to pull on the outside rein to get him back over there.

Going right, we did alright getting him a little more even and bringing his left hind back in line with his body. Going left, Speedy wasn’t really sure he could realign his body. I had to do a fair bit of bumping with both legs — inside leg to ask him to bend, outside leg to keep the shoulder from bulging too much, inside leg back to push the haunches out. To almost every leg aid, Speedy responded with “are you sure I couldn’t just trot instead?” And they were pretty nice trot transitions! But sadly, a nice trot transition wasn’t what I was after.

We did get there and then it felt awesome. Nice alignment at the walk, nice alignment at the trot. We had a quick canter, a couple of really nice transitions, and I called it quits.

I’m definitely going to be using these for a while

While I was pretty happy with how good things felt toward the end of our ride, I found myself wondering when we would get past the looooong negotiations about Speedy aligning his body (although, lawl, reading through my most recent post I can clearly see that this discussion has already shortened considerably). When would alignment be something I could just quietly correct and Speedy would be like “oh yeah, I am supposed to hold my body like that”?

After the rest of the day to marinate on this ride, I realized what progress this ride actually represented from Speedy. In February, I’m not sure moving his haunches independently of his shoulders was even on Speedy’s radar. (In January, we didn’t have alignment problems because Speedy was stiff as a board, hah!) In March, we did “shoulder-in” in lessons but it was a mess of us falling off the wall without any bend through Speedy’s ribcage. In April, asking Speedy to respond to my left leg and then my right leg would have sent him into a fit of nose-in-the-air-zipping. Even in August, trying to address the alignment was an invitation for a stabby, annoyed trot and bulging underneck. And just last month, if I’d asked Speedy to move his shoulders and haunches that many times but insisted he not trot, he would have puffed up against me and balked.

cantering through water is another thing we need to do some homework on this winter

Sometimes I swear he fills his body with air and tones up all his muscles to literally push my aids away from his body and ignore them better. But today, he was soft. Confused, but soft. And after a little bit of insisting that he had to walk and bring his left hind under his body and not stick his right front to the ground and keep walking forward, we managed to do all of those things.

It doesn’t feel the same as progress with Murray, and it doesn’t feel the same as progress in our jump lessons or out on cross country (Murray tolerated drilling/collecting reps on something new way better than Speedy does). But it is absolutely progress, and it’s probably more important than jumping a bigger table or oxer, or coursing with more height.

And importantly for me — and I will fully admit I don’t really have a plan here just yet — is going to be how I handle this progress tomorrow in our ride. I want to avoid bullying Speedy about it, but I also want to get us both to a place where we can find that alignment again and start reinforcing that neural pathway.

We can both be a bit funny about learning.

You know how sometimes you’ll come up against something different or weird in a ride, and then hours or later the solution or best response to that problem smacks you right in the head (often when showering)? I’m definitely deep in one of those phases right now. It happens to me…. daily. Though this time it didn’t work out that way — this time, I got to reflect on something for hours and realize I got a pretty cool response in the moment!

So this is my note to future-Nicole to recognize those moments and remember: there was a time when Speedy couldn’t do shoulder-in and couldn’t align his body tracking left (and there was a time when Speedy couldn’t do much more than run around with his nose in the air!). But you’re probably past that now, and you’ll get past whatever seemingly insurmountable wall you’re staring up at right now too.