Friday, November 17, 2017

Building Back to Course Work

In my lesson this week, I was not able to get any media (boo) but it was a great lesson and so I'm going to write about it anyways.
No photos from the lesson, but here is my horse sticking her tongue out at me :P.
Trainer had us start the lesson with some basic trot work. Nothing fancy, just bending circles and a bit of transitions between the walk and trot. She didn't give a ton of input for this, mainly because it was going really well. Casey is finally starting to really "get" the idea of self-carriage. It is not at all consistent yet, but in the past week or two I've noticed moments where I can feel that she is truly holding herself correctly without my assistance. I don't really know what that looks like from the ground (although I can imagine), but I can feel the moments when they happen. It feels like all-of-the-sudden she becomes super light in the bridle and floaty in her movement (watch the video to see evidence of this from our hack earlier in the week). I'm sure that it looks as good as it feels and so I'm dying to get somebody to come take photos of us to try to capture it. Trainer said that it's ok that right now it's just moments when that happens, because Casey is still building strength, and that the key right now is to try to connect those moments. Eventually the goal would be to have true self-carriage for an extended period of time, not just those little moments.

The one piece of feedback Trainer gave me was that I am relying too much on my leg at this point at the trot. She encouraged me to stretch my leg down long and to only use it occasionally to help the bend. The reason being, if you use leg all of the time, your horse becomes dull to it. She's completely right and that is something that I've been noticing about myself, so I'll just double my efforts to correct that. I think it is a result of trying to be less reliant on my hands to get a bend, but I went too far the other way!

After trotting, we did some basic canter work of just going around on the rail. Again, Casey was being a star, so Trainer didn't give any corrections. Trainer commented that my leg is great at the canter, super stable and strong, and that I should try to get that leg at the trot. This piece of feedback actually meant a lot to me, because for the longest time my leg at the canter was my Achilles' heel. My inside leg used to slip a lot and I definitely wasn't secure, so it feels to hear that Trainer thinks this is now one of my strengths. Also, it was helpful because I know how my leg feels at the canter, so once she told me to aim for that it was really easy to correct my leg at the trot.
My leg a year ago
My leg now
After the flatwork, we started on the jumping. Trainer had us start with a single outside line consisting of a crossrail and a small vertical. She had us do trot in to both jumps, meaning I would have to pull Casey back from a canter in the space between the jumps. This was fairly easy and so after a few times we did the line trot-in, canter-out. Then we switched to the other outside line which consisted of two cavaletti (about a foot in height) and did trot-in, trot-out for that line. Although this line was coming home, Casey still stayed together and it was easy to get the trot back after the first jump.
Jump layout in the lesson
We did this line a few times and then we did a mini jump course consisting of the two outside lines (crossrail-vertical then end cavaletti-home cavaletti) followed by the diagonal line (diagonal cavaletti-end cavaletti). The trick to the course was Trainer wanted the line coming home to be trot-in, trot-out while the other lines were trot-in, canter-out. It's obviously a bit harder to get horses to slow coming home so it was a good challenge. The course rode really nicely. Casey stayed calm and responsive the whole time. She was so mellow going into the line coming home that she didn't even jump the end cavaletti, just kind of hop/trotted over it (knocking it very slightly) and so I didn't even have to get the trot back, because she just kept it in the first place. The diagonal line rode very well and she jumped the end cavaletti BIG (I think she was offended that it had "hit" her the time before).

Trainer asked me if I wanted to keep going or end on that and again I opted to end a bit early. The lesson was only 45 minutes instead of a full hour, but at this point with Casey, if she is being good, trying hard, and keeping her head on straight while jumping, I'd rather jump less. I'm completely terrified of her getting injured again and so don't want to push her too hard all at once. Plus, she was so good the entire ride that she really did deserve to end early. I'm all for ending rides on good notes, even if that means that they run a bit shorter.

After the lesson, Trainer and I recapped together. Her main observation was that Casey is being incredibly responsive. She would come back to a trot within a stride or two after a jump (if it was a line that I wanted her to trot-out), which Trainer pointed out means that Casey is listening to my body language before and during the jump to anticipate what I wanted after the jump. We both couldn't stop gushing over how good Casey is being. Really, it's like she is a completely different horse. I know that I keep saying this, but she amazes me every day. If somebody had told me a year ago that Casey would be calm, responsive, and a joy to ride I'd have laughed in their face. There's a reason I got her for a dollar, people. It's because she can be a total impossible-to-work-with diva that just also happens to be a hot Thoroughbred.
Hot Thoroughbred warning
At this point, I'm just so excited for the future. I cannot wait for the jumps to go up to see how Casey acts then. I hope that she is just as good as she's being now, because we'll be able to do amazing things if that is the case. Also, I think I might try to get one of my riding buddies to try riding Casey, because I'm really curious if her good behavior will carry over with other riders. I would imagine that it would, but I don't know how much of her behavior is impacted by our relationship. Having somebody else ride her would be the ultimate behavior test.
The face of a horse trying so hard to be good (aka, not murder my Chiweenie)

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