twin schooling part 2

Among the challenges of schooling cross country for the first time in a year is remembering how to ride cross country.  On Sunday we waited until the kids were pretty much done with their XC rides before getting Murray tacked up and ready to go.  Since he did so well on Saturday, I wanted to just school him over everything once and Aftermake it a bit more “run” like — stringing together six or seven fences in a go — so that we could get the feel for running and jumping in sequence back.


down banks are really not my strong suit

Murray was definitely feeling the work from Saturday, and wasn’t quite as peppy or forward as he had been earlier in the weekend.  But that was an important aspect of the ride to me.  I need to be able to ride Murray when he is tired and punky and not his fresh XC schooling self as much as I need to be able to ride the supercharger forward pony.  Fortunately, despite being a little tired he was still right there with me.  When he got a little sticky to the base of a few warm up fences I just kept my leg on and he went right over them – no problem.

We cruised over the first few fences in the course, a coop and a turkey feeder, then I took a wrong turn and headed over to the intro course for a little house and hanging log.  I backtracked when I saw the real hanging log we were supposed to jump, and went back for that one and another go at the half-coffin.  This was where I made my first real mistake.  I assumed that since Murray had seen and jumped everything the day before with such professionalism that he would be okay right off the bat with them on Sunday.  Not so — he still needed a hard second look at the ditches, so he stopped at the jump element of the half-coffin as he peered down into the ditches below.

Half coffin with the silly 🏇. My fave part of all the videos is @_ac_eventing_ cheering us on! #notoriousottb

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After we schooled back and forth over the ditch we headed back up to the top of the half coffin and it wasn’t a problem.  Then it was up the hill to the upper plateau and some of the benches that Murray literally flew over on Saturday.  I skipped the water since there were a bunch of people schooling there and headed over to the down banks.  After our stop at the coffin I decided that I was going to give Murray a good chance to look at everything technical if he showed any hesitation — I’m more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt after so many months without seeing this stuff!  So we trotted over to the down bank and let him look at it.  He walked a couple of strides then went down without a problem, so we schooled up and down the bank again just to solidify it in his mind.

This video is from his first look at the bank on Saturday.  What I love so much about it is how he’s thinking.  There’s a little bit of “can I get away with not doing this?” but once he understands the question and it’s clear what I want, he’s just like “oh okay, down we go!”

thinking pony from Nicole Sharpe on Vimeo.

After the down banks we came around to the wine barrel table again, which I pulled Murray to a stop in front of so he could look at it again.  I didn’t want to fuss with him getting spooked by it again, and wanted him to really have the opportunity to stare the fence down.  It might be just me, but it seemed like most of the questions we had problems with were painted black — not something we see a lot of at our barn.

The last few fences were little roll tops before and after the water, a jump on a small mound (giving you just a little something to gallop up and down), and some straightforward tables toward the finish.  Murray finished strong even though he was soooo tired, and lifted his head up to look at the next fence when I made it clear there was still work to be done.

murray: I am not touching that weird black wood

I can tell that we have some fitness work to do before we will be ready for the event, but we have a few weeks for that!  (More running for me, more trot sets for pony.)  And it feels absolutely awesome to know that Murray is ready to go out and jump our BN fences and then some.  I just need to get my show nerves under control and learn how to give him a supportive and forward ride, especially if he is tired. (Hahaha, “just”!)

back in the game

We left to school Twin Rivers on Friday at noon, though not without significant disorganization on my part. I packed everything that seemed to be absolutely essential — the horse, a saddle, girth, bridle, tall boots, and helmet — and then kinda threw anything that seemed like I might need it in my car and stopped at Target on the way.  It worked (ish): I ended up with three hind boots and only one front boot, and only three standing wraps, but me, my horse, and all of the other essentials got there just fine!

The ponies had about ten minutes to settle in after we arrived before we got on for a dusk hack.  My goal for the weekend was to see how feasible it would be for Murray and I to show at Twin in April (a mere four weeks away!!!), i.e. show him the fences, see if he remembers anything about cross country, etc.  But I also wanted to use my newfound skills of expecting professionalism and telling him firmly exactly what I expected of him (with frequent rewards).  (Murray is also modeling his fabulous new rainbow rope halter from Sundance halters, which I am IN LOVE WITH, and I love my rainbow neck strap EVEN MORE.)

At a new venue Murray is often, predictably, looky, spooky, and bucky under saddle.  He was all three of these things during our ride, but the amount of looking, spooking, and general silliness I got was SO much less than I have experienced in the past.  He was awful to tack up because I was in a rush, but once I got on I just asked him to keep walking forward.  In the schooling arena I brought him back to a walk from a jig, or a trot, and when we did pick up the trot I immediately asked him to pick up some semblance of contact as well.  And what do you know – it worked.  He stopped looking for things to look at, and got down to business.  There was a little bit of bucking and swapping in the canter, but I got up off his back and let him have a little canter around, and then asked him to get back to business, and there he was again – right there with me.

It was super.

 I find hanging logs really weirdly intimidating, despite my attempts
to adore trakehners. Murray don’t care.

On Saturday morning I watched the kids at a couple of their young rider lessons, then got tacked up for my cross country schooling with B.  We decided that we would try for a longer, more educational school on Saturday with a short, review + XC-run-simulation on Sunday, provided that Murray’s brain could handle it.  Murray came out ready to JUMP.  It was like we haven’t taken a year off from XC and competition, and he was attacking the warm up fences.  The course is in the middle of some fairly big changes right now, so I jumped a few sizes of each element. I wanted to school mostly beginner novice fences, with an eye to a possible move up in the Fall.  But we will be showing BN until I can get my show nerves under control and give Murray the supportive ride that he needs to be successful.  Schooling bigger definitely helps me feel more confident, but I wanted to make sure that I gave Murray (and myself) the chance to look at everything we might see on a course.

Murray was SUPER forward to the fences, literally pulling me to most of them.  All I had to do was keep my leg on and get out of his way.  Of course, that meant I kept getting left behind because I’ve been riding somewhat defensively for the last year, and I’m pretty weak and rusty.  I’m not used to riding this forward jumping horse, and I also didn’t want to let myself get sucked back into the old mistake of assuming fast = confident.  I checked Murray a little too much to a fair number of fences, but he persisted despite my bumbling in those cases, and every re-approach got better!

We did have a handful of stops at technical questions that we haven’t seen since our last XC outing.  The ditches and down banks all posed a big problem for us at first, and I had to walk Murray up to them and back and forth in front of them before he was willing to go.  Once he remembered what ditches and down banks were, he was fine, but it took a few tries.  At a second set of ditches on course he slowed and I let him come down to a halt, but after a second of looking he pulled us right over them!

We schooled a brush roll thing that I thought was Novice, and Murray stopped at it when we came up to it the first time.  I think we both realized that it wasn’t a Novice fence at that point, but it wasn’t terribly oversized.  The thing that had me worried was the terrain — immediately after the landing to the fence was a steep but short downhill, and jumping into a downhill landing is something that we can always do to practice more.  I think Murray wasn’t sure of the fence itself — he’s never seen a brush roll before.  We came back to it with a little more determination and he cleared it easily, landing off the edge of the landing pad and partway down the hill with no problem.

I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t super pleased we so easily schooled a Training level fence.  Even though it wasn’t our goal when we came out, it’s a nice little feather in our cap to know we can do it.

Of course, there is a whole list of new mistakes I’m making that I need to work on now!  The classic problem is strength and my position — I still need to sit up a little straighter and get used to these long, two-point canters.  I will need to study a little more video of riders with a similar body shape to mine to see how they hold their bodies on cross country.  I also need to practice following and staying with Murray more over fences.  The defensive position works for us in stadium because he so often gets behind my leg and super deep to the jumps.  But out on XC he was leaving strides out (read: using an appropriate take off point for any other horse), and jumping me right out of the tack.  And for the first time ever, I kept pulling my reins too short, and noticed that my elbows were locking.  So I will have to get a new set of reins (mine have an inconvenient tear in the rubber grip), and work on those elastic elbows.

We schooled Sunday too and he was just as faboo!

shut it down

Almost a year ago in a lesson with Yves, I got a little talking-to about how I needed to put a lid on Murray’s celebratory naughty behavior when we are jumping.  I was playing around in the lesson and it was all fun and games, but Yves told me seriously and in that horrible way that makes you know you’re really, really not doing the right thing, that I did not want Murray thinking that this was okay.  Not now, and especially not as we moved up the levels.

And of course my response was oh it’s fine / it’s no big deal / it’s not that bad / it’s all in good fun / I like him like this / it’s cute / I’m an idiot.

Now I’ve finally realized while it’s not that big of a deal, and it’s not that bad, and it may be all in good fun (MAYBE), I do not like him like this, it’s not cute, and I’m totally, totally an idiot.

I got on tonight for a flat ride in my jump saddle to prep for Hawley.  Murray decided that every single noise another horse made in the arena was a fantastic excuse to drop his hind end and fling his face in the air and run forward, which was super awesome.  The best part was that Murray’s screaming and spooking would set off a chain reaction with the other horses, so they’d all spook at one another and make more noise and spook at the noise and make more noise etc.

After we jigged our way into the trot and had several ridiculous mishaps and near misses with the other horses I set some clear boundaries.  Bucking, kicking out, and screaming were not going to get Murray out of work, and the best way to convince my lazy, recalcitrant horse that antics = more work is to kick him forward.  So kick him forward I did.

Our warm up, which I usually try to keep stretchy and relaxed, became a monster 20 minute session of moving forward forward forward, direction changes, canter transitions, and transitions within gaits.  I was willing to soften whenever Murray complied with a reasonable request for some kind of change without fighting me on it first, but he wasn’t really willing to offer up reasonable responses at first.

The best part was when I tried to push Murray forward into the bridle and a slightly bigger trot and I felt my upper body pitching forward in anticipation… of nothing.  I tried again for a bigger trot and again: nothing.  Little kick?  Nothing — maybe a reluctant duck behind the bit.  I pony-school kicked Murray and got a cranky canter transition.

You know what you can’t do if your horse responds to your leg by doing nothing?  JUST ABOUT ANYTHING.  You can’t push him into the bridle, you can’t ask him to carry himself, you can’t transition within gaits, you can barely transition between gaits.

Image result for shutting it down gif

So  it was back to the drawing board.  The entire ride became a discussion of “leg means go, and it means go now”.  I used a strategy Tina taught me and if Murray chose to move up to a canter when I asked for more trot I made sure he moved up into a BIGGER CANTER, so he didn’t just use a shitty tiny canter as an excuse not to push in the trot.  Then when I asked for more trot (a little more quietly), I could reward for the right choice — more trot — fairly easily.

I tried, tried, not to get too out of hand with kicking Murray forward.  I only put my crop on him once, and it was a love tap to control a wildly swinging haunch (and I was rewarded with a kick out anyway) when we were walking.  I guess I could have wailed on him for antics at some point, but realistically I didn’t want to get into that fight while riding in jeans and not at my strongest.  But I’m going to pretend that it was also a strategic decision to avoid fighting, because picking a fight isn’t really productive either.

This obviously isn’t going to be solved in a day or even before this weekend.  I do hope  I have some kind of go-button before the weekend.  I suspect it’s going to be an uphill battle for the rest of the winter, and I’ll have to be very diligent and stay on top of it.  Of course, I probably won’t, and come April we’ll  be having some kind of similar discussion once more.

Episode 2: Electric Horsealoo #horsehubby #previouslyonnicoleridesahorse

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short and sweet

Murray and I are getting really good at taking advantage of time-limited rides.  The work-life-riding balance has been bananas lately.  I’m not going to pretend that I’m the most productive or efficient person around.  Sure, I value efficiency, but I get sucked into the Netflix vortex as much as the next person.  And this has been ESPECIALLY true in grad school/the general past.  But for the last two months, and in particular the last four weeks, I have been doing nothing but Image result for runnin rhinomy paid work (aka job), commuting to said job, working on one of my un-salaried projects, and riding every other day-ish, blogging infrequently, and I STILL don’t have enough hours in the day to get everything done.  To say I have been a productivity machine lately is underestimating it!  I was clearly a monstrous slacker in the past.

Of course, this means that I come to the barn and have less than my ideal amount of time to get the horse tacked up and ridden.  My average barn trip calculation is 3 hours from sitting on the couch at home to walking back through my front door.  When someone takes +/- 20 minutes just to get the girth on and you are a big fat blabber mouth… this is not surprising. I’ve been doing it in under two hours lately which is SUPER IMPRESSIVE to me.

img_20161120_084307On Sunday I got both Murray and Logan ridden and fed in under 3.5 hours which is, frankly, even more impressive of a feat since Logan is living in pasture right now.  Thanks to some horses being super incredibly reasonable equines, I was able to let Logan hang out and start to dry while I prepped his and Murray’s grain. I realise that this was a potentially sketchy choice, but I was about 98% sure it would be fine, and it was. So yay.

In our shortened rides I work with Murray on either quality of gaits or straightness, and the two seem to be pretty intertwined.  But if all I want to work on is quality, I can do it on a circle.  I can’t personally seem to wrap my head around straightness + circling yet.  Need more trainer hours.  The crux of this is pushing him into the contact from behind while encouraging him to lift his shoulders and front end with half halts through my thighs and seat.  It’s a workout for everyone involved.

On Sunday I kept us going down the long side instead of circling so I could use the wall to help me get Murray’s hind quarters lined up with his forequarters.  He is such an inside haunches drifter!  It took us a while to warm up, and then there was some EVIL SPOOKY GARBAGE in the indoor arena, but we made it work.  Murray got pretty straight in the trot work, but at times I could see and feel his neck flexing a little to the inside, and I’m worried that I’m over-using the inside rein and shoulder positioning to get the straightness, instead of actually moving his haunches around.  But we can very reliably get a quality working trot immediately after (and often during) warm up these days, which is a huge improvement over eight weeks ago.

At the canter Murray was tiiiiiiiiired.  For work this demanding (and I was being demanding), at our current fitness, I can really only focus on getting really good, straight work on one lead per ride.  I chose the right lead, since I’ve had problems with moving Murray’s haunches around on the right lead in the past.  Murray wiggled a lot and did not want to line his hindquarters up for more than a stride or two at a time.  I tried to focus on quieting my aids for his haunches to move over, asking and releasing with my leg (instead of nagging or just hanging out with my right leg basically touching his hips).  We did get straight, but it wasn’t on the bit or through.  But at least it was straight and powerful?

dress-8cantering is easy. cantering straight + well is hard.

Going left Murray was tired and fell into the “can I just go faster?” trap.  Megan told me a while back to never forget to ask for balance with forward, so I tried to encourage lift in the canter through my seat and half halt back into balance.  This resulted in a couple of changes of behind but not in front (wtf?).  I went back to a 20 meter circle to make it easier on him and Murray was a little more compliant and willing to lift and sit instead of just thundering down the long side on the forehand.

Logan was excellent as always, and kept his head on his neck and his neck on his shoulders and none of that shit in my face in a crowded indoor with a tractor driving just outside of it.  We worked on relaxing his neck (which is hard for him), and keeping a steady contact and pace as we changed bends (hard for both of us!).  He’s a quick study once things make sense, and we were quickly doing happy, relaxed, five-loop serpentines around the arena, avoiding other riders where necessary.  It’s so much fun to work with a baby horse who is so eager to please and easy to teach!

Murray gets a 7 day vacation for Thanksgiving, and then it’s at least three weeks of grinding for him before Christmas.  I’m hoping to get some progress pictures taken as soon as he’s clipped again, as the development in his back muscles has been awesome!  Finally, baby’s got back! (But actual back, like lumbar muscles and sacro-iliac flexibility, not like booty.)

revelations all over the place

This has been a good week for revelations.  On Tuesday I had a little pre-jump lesson jump school.  These days I like to pop Murray over anything new and weird in the arena before our actual jump lesson so that during my trainer’s valuable time I can focus on jumping exercises, not teaching my horse how to get over a flower box that OH GOD IT MOVED FROM LAST WEEK’S LOCATION.

spankAhem. Yeah.

Anyway, I’ve been trying to bring a little more dressage lyfe into my rides in the jump saddle so that rules and expectations are more clear.  Things like yielding to the outside rein, proper transitions from the hind end, etc. etc.  I hear it will also help our jumping!

Thanks to a conversation with a friend on Monday, I realised yet another thing that Murray has incidentally trick-trained me into doing, which is riding back to front, especially through the transitions.  When I sit up and put my leg on for a transition more often than not Murray sucks back and/or hollows his back and pops his head up.  My natural instinct after that is to wiggle him back down into the connection (because inevitably my reins are too short), and then there’s no transition.  So my choices are between a shitty, hollow transition, or no transition at all — but a proper transition coming from the hind end simply isn’t one of the options.

Instead of focusing on Murray’s face, which is what he “wants” (who know what that horse really wants), I should instead focus on his hind end and getting that transition to happen in a forward fashion.  I tried it a few times, and it was ugly, but it got better as I rode.  So that was neat.

Another revelation came during my canter-trot transitions, when Murray would lean heavily into my hands and almost curl under.  In the past, Murray has occasionally done this to avoid holding himself up and get on the forehand, but more recently he’s just been really heavy in my hands after down transitions.  Since I want him to be more comfortable in that “heavy contact” place, I figured I should let him stay there — in balance, of course — and not bump him up off my hands as has been my wont in the past.

trotthis is probably as curled as he actually is, it just feels insanely curled/heavy to me

Additionally, as we were trotting a circle in this new, heavy contact I notice myself crossing my right hand over Murray’s withers to stop him from falling in so much.  I know that is verboten, but I didn’t realise it was something I did (or maybe it’s not really, except when Murray is really heavy and falling?).  I tried to consciously release my inside rein and push Murray over with my inside leg instead.  It wasn’t terribly successful as he’s quite over that right shoulder and very good at ignoring my right leg, but at least it was more correct.  I hope that with more improved human position (which I forgot to work on during my last few rides, whoops) I can get a higher quality bend out of Murray, and start to chip away at that laterality.

So that’s three new things I learned in one ride!  Four, actually, but the fourth one I will talk about tomorrow.

yves sauvignon clinic

On Saturday, before I rode with Megan, I got to ride with Yves Sauvignon, who is a local trainer (based in Sebastopol/Santa Rosa area), 3* rider and trainer, and all around awesome guy.  In addition to being French, Yves is a great coach.  His standard coaching technique both encourages you and pushes you to keep doing better, and his ride philosophy includes a lot of technical elements and precision.  At the same time he’s really understanding of different horses’ strengths, weaknesses, and uniqueness, and helps you play to their strengths.

yves2

We started out with a trot placement pole, which Yves usually places 9ft out from the base and often serves as a canter pole as well.  Murray was on point.  At first Murray needed to get a bit more forward in the trot, so Yves suggested that I loosen up/relax my knees a little.  I learned a few months ago to distribute my weight into my thighs to help balance and regulate one of the speedier ponies I rode, and have apparently incorporated that into my riding of Murray pretty thoroughly!  Yves explained that this squeeze through the knees* is part of the half halt, so while I was trying to push Murray forward I was also rebalancing him, and needed to relax my knees a bit to allow him forward a bit more.  It took me a minute to figure out how to ride with loose knees again (uhhh apparently I’ve been weighting my thighs a lot more than I ever realised), but after that it was smooth sailing.

yves1* I don’t (think) I pinch my knees — I feel like I would have been cured of that really quickly by being absolutely launched over Murray’s shoulder — but will be investigating this more.

yves3Murray, in addition to being on point, was also on one and expressed many and varied opinions.  Through both vocal and body language.  Fortunately his opinions did not detract from Murray’s desire to jump the jumps.  So jump we did.

Yves has a strong philosophy of show-and-tell for horses that are a little less confident, and doesn’t think that surprising horses a lot does them much good in the long run.  He wants his horses, especially young ones, to be brave with all different types of fences.  Fortunately for us, Murray didn’t require any show-and-telling, and while he was a little backed off to some flowers the first time we saw them,  he jumped them beautifully and in stride.

yves4

One of Yves’ big suggestions was to put a bit of a lid on Murray’s antics.  While it’s nice to know your horse is feeling good and has a sense of humor, it is (apparently) not so much fun to ride a goofy possibly bucking horse through the lines and not know if there’s some extra goofy behavior coming.

yves7Y u not want to ride dis on XC?

Yves also really appreciated Murray’s ability to balance himself up to the fences and add strides where needed.  Even better — during the lesson, Murray was also taking the long spots when I asked him to, and even changed leads a few times (though only when I tricked him).  Overall Murray was super responsive to my leg, both laterally and in terms of speed and power — he would step up the pace the moment I put my leg on, and it resulted in a ton of adjustability.

yves5Can’t complain about jumping with this backdrop!

It was a short lesson but a very good one. Murray was feeling awesome, and Yves said I had done a great job with him so far.  I so love riding this forward, game horse!  Yves also validated my slow-it-down strategy with Murray, and said that he likes to slow it down even more with horses like this, and keep cross country to a controlled canter and trot the fences where necessary.  I worried to Yves about making the time, and he said he’s made it at Novice while still trotting quite a few fences, and assured me that Murray’s canter was more than adequate to make time without any freaking out or galloping needed.  I’m not sure I tooootally believed him (based on experience and the fact that it feels so slow!), but it was a good, powerful, rhythmic pace so I couldn’t complain.

yves10

Maybe not the biggest fences in the world, but some solid coursing that was totally confidence building for both of us!  Yves also said that I have done a great job with Murray, which made me feel awesome.  It’s incredibly rewarding to hear that I am taking this little quirk ball in the right direction!

A Enter Spooking Clinic

If you’re like me, if you’ve read some of Megan’s really interesting, fun, and educational posts on dressage theory and mechanics, you’ve thought “damn*, it would be cool to take a lesson with her!”  Well friends, you are correct.  IT IS COOL TO TAKE A LESSON WITH HER.

IMG_8822-2um HELLO DRESSAGE HORSE

* I actually intended to write “man” and somehow my fingers just typed out “damn” instead.  Take that as part of my review of her teaching, not of my potty mouth.

The day itself was an adventure, but that part of the story I will save for another blog.  For now, I’ll talk about the nitty gritty of my lesson, which was all about getting Murray’s body parts lined up in a reasonable way, and not in the way he wants them to be.  You see, Murray has too much lateral movement — far too much — and instead of carrying his body so that his hind legs are in line with his front legs (or even so that they are really carrying weight),  he wants to fishtail his hind end around and carry all his weight on his front feet.  Almost as if he is pivoting around his inside front a tiny bit in each step was how Megan put it.  Instead of this pivoting, Megan wanted him to take some more weight on the outside hind and pick up his inside front a little faster.  Those pesky diagonal pairs.

IMG_8795(Little warm up trot pic for comparison to our more put together pics later!)

Even on a 20-ish meter circle Murray is  busily working to evade using his body properly.  So instead of me holding him together with “even” pressure on both reins, Megan had me lighten up on the inside rein and really push Murray over into the outside rein.  But since he’s so wiggly I had to catch his haunches with my outside leg, and even encourage them to be a tad to the inside.  She said (not just to me, but also to other riders) to think of having the ribcage more on the outside than any of his feet.  I was to bring his outside hind towards the middle and his inside hind toward the middle.

IMG_8849This involved a lot of “haunches inside a little more, push him into the outside rein, open the inside rein and move your hand forward, inside leg at the girth, catch him with the outside leg, that’s too much haunches in but it was beautiful…” etc.  Megan gives A LOT of instruction — she said she only expects you to take in a third of it — and it’s true that it’s a lot to hear and process.  But it really helps you ride every step more correctly and keep you on the right “feel”.  A huge part of the problem for me is that Murray’s crookedness is what I’m used to, so I really have to reprogram myself to feeling Murray’s body when it is going the correct way.  Lots of reminders helped me keep putting Murray into the right shape, and reminded me not to rely on my old squeeze — the inside rein.

IMG_8830-2After I got the feel of this straighter body shape in the trot, we moved on to some transitions.  Murray likes to bounce around in the walk even more than he does at the trot, so I had to really pick my moment to ask him to trot.  Most importantly, I wasn’t allowed to hang on the inside rein, and even if we lost our straightness a bit in the transition I had to work immediately to regain it and not tug on that inside rein.  Unfortunately, this new way of going pretty much trashed the smoothness of the transitions.  Murray felt that I was no longer there fore him with the inside rein and bounced up into the trot instead of stepping smoothly into it.  But as I continued to push his body into the right shape with my legs (“You can go to the inside rein,” Megan said, “But only after you’ve done everything else right with his body to make him get round.”), moving his ribcage out and keeping those haunches from falling too far out, and helping him bring his outside shoulder over with the outside rein, he got more and more used to the idea of the up transition without the oh-so-desireable inside rein.

IMG_8845The same thing happened for the trot-canter transitions,  but since Murray is less wiggly in the canter it was easier to put him together.  Megan called me on one of my oldest weaknesses immediately, and reminded me not to lean in to the canter transition.  Murray was even less on board with filling the outside rein in the canter, so I had to work a lot harder to get him moved over with my legs and seat without going to the inside hand. And then suddenly his gait got really big.  He had been forward all lesson without too much urging from my legs, but we went from a little canter to an “oh crap I don’t know if we’re going to be able to turn” canter.  And I grabbed the inside rein.  Megan and I were both laughing about that in the next walk break, because I quite literally said “It was scary!” and she said “You jump cross country, it’s not that scary!”

IMG_8883Murray does not appreciate this new way of going

But it was!  His gait got HUGE and I didn’t have control of it in the way that I was used to (inside rein), and all I could do to control it was push him out with my inside thigh and catch him with that outside rein and it wasn’t doing anything except making him canter BIGGER AND BIGGER AND BIGGER.  Fortunately, Megan also had me sit back more on my right seat bone to help get Murray’s right hind under him, and with that alignment in place all I really had to do was think “trot” and boom — down to the trot.  Only it was a giant trot that I was not used to and I got scared and pulled back on that too.

IMG_8886 IMG_8887Murray was really very honest and straightforward in our lesson, which was somewhat miraculous given the start we had to the day.  He didn’t like that I was pushing him into the outside rein and not letting his haunches swing around willy nilly, but he took it fairly well and only tried each evasion once (or twice).  And I have lots and lots of homework!  I haven’t even gotten down to everything I learned from watching Megan teach Peony and another rider, or even everything from my ride!  There were a few subtle adjustments to my position as well, which Megan explained really well using Murray’s crookedness and position to help me understand why I was pointing that way or sitting that way.

(How funnily identical are the two above pictures?  Extra special thanks to Andy for taking pictures of both me and Peony!)

IMG_8875Body almost lined up the way we want!

I’m excited to get Murray straighter and stronger and more through without relying on the inside rein so I can start employing it for more of the fun stuff!