In light of our runaway at the endurance ride, and after struggling with keeping him under control during my mini-marathon, I had a riding lesson on Friday to focus on installing brakes on TK.
It was a great lesson. Chris is a great instructor who really helps me understand what I am meant to be feeling. So rather than saying “move your right hand like this” she will ask “are you feeling the weight of an apple in your hand?” or “does it feel like he is lifting you up?” and so on.
Our lesson really got me focused on my body position when I am asking for a slow down or stop. I have plenty of long-standing bad habits and have had plenty of advice to help me out, and have survived this long. But I knew I wasn’t doing things right, or I would have felt safer and more in control on our last few rides.
TK isn’t just slow at the walk and trot when we’re training, he’s also slow to respond to gait changes, so it takes several strides to increase pace and decrease pace. This is probably not the fault of the horse, but of the rider (me), who has always had light and easy horses up to this point, so I ride rather carelessly. I haven’t ever needed to think about my body position because I was always ‘good enough’ and had a natural seat – but good enough isn’t really cutting it here. I need to feel much safer and in control to confidently get through the Blackwood.
I really felt my body awareness improve and really started to feel TK respond to the body before responding to the reins by the end of just one hour! The best thing that Chris did was take hold of the reins to imitate having the horse pull on me (as when TK did the runaway) and by being in the right body position, this pull actually drops the rider (me!!) deeper into the seat and makes me more stable! So even if we’re running away, I won’t be bouncing around in the saddle feeling as if I might pop off and hit the ground at any moment.
Talk about a light bulb moment!
It was great! When I struggled a little with a few stops – it can take me quite a few tries to integrate fine motor control movements – Chris did the reins thing again, and with just pressing my knees down and back, squeezing my inner thighs, initiating a pelvic tilt and bracing through my core, I actually pulled her forward, without even adding any extra pull through my arms! Awesome!
I do find it hard to get all the pieces of finesse riding figured out in a short time. Because there are so many little thing happening at once, and you’re thinking of what the horse is doing, what you’re doing with everything from how your head is settled on your neck, down to what your pinkie finger is doing, it can be a real challenge to get all the pieces to come together.
By the end of the lesson I had a horse that was attentive to me, and not to the kid hooning in the her car, or to the guy exercising his horse on the track, or the kids and dogs running around either. Instead, TK was going nicely on the bit most of the time, was responding to requests to increase and decrease the pace of his trot through changes in my body position and stopping in under two strides. And often (if I had my reins even) he was stopping square, which impressed the pants off Chris!
As it turns out, TK can be very light and sensitive once I have his full attention. This comes through when I am focused and attentive to what I am doing and asking of him. The more thoughtful I was of what I was doing, the more clear my messages were to him. As a result, he was really able to respond appropriately and I was so very impressed with him! It seems so logical and ‘duh obvious’ but there you go! The lesson here is for me to be attentive and focused as I ride.
Now, this bracing thing might not be the exact answer we’re looking for in a runaway situation. However, if he’s responsive enough to my body, he may (no, he WILL) start responding to my body position before my hands and therefore will not have the hands to brace against. But we did discuss other strategies for dealing with him going back to racehorse mode. These include bracing the body as described above and either pulsing the reins so he has nothing to hold against, or bracing one rein and drawing him into a circle with the other if possible, or weaving him so he can’t hold his stride, and, if necessary, riding the gallop out.
I have a big three day ride coming up in Manjimup in two weeks time. There will be 50 horses, and lots going on. It’s paid for, I’m going. There will be lots of people on their pleasure horses who may not appreciate a freaking out ex-racehorse, so I hope to get two more lessons in with Chris before the ride to really have this control and focus honed in both of us.
I am hoping to use TK as an ‘all-rounder’ after the Blackwood. So rather than having just one job, I want to be able to just give anything a go! A little dressage, jumping, reining, cutting, trail rides, and drill team. So I also hope to become a better rider. I think I might invest in this book/DVD on Pilates for the Dressage Rider, especially if it is going to help with muscle awareness and control. I feel like a pretty body-aware person, but I think every little bit can help!