Scarlet and I had a lesson on Sunday. It was really needed and I’m glad we had it but boy was it hard. Now that we have developed a little more muscle, my trainer is asking a lot more of us.
I had a lot of things I wanted to work on. Our walk was never very energetic unless I really got after Scarlet and he would only keep it up for a few steps and then would get lazy again. So it would be me constantly working to keep him going. My trainer had us to a very standard exercise- ask lightly and if he doesn’t respond ask and make it matter. I had been trying to do that but I always ride better when someone is watching. After a few bouts of that, Scarlet started to respond to a light squeeze of my legs and he maintained a more energetic walk.
I explained that I’d been having difficulty with Scarlet’s right bend still. I had been doing the exercises from our last lesson but I still felt like I was trying to steer a motorcycle if I wasn’t on a circle. I also mentioned that I felt like he was raising and diving his head in order to avoid me asking him to use his back. The first thing my trainer did was give me a dressage whip to use. I have a crop but I really should go buy a dressage whip for flat rides as it gives me an easier method of tapping. She then explained that a lot of the up and down head movement was due to me. I allowed him to play with my hands and get out of work by not keeping my hands in place when trotting. She showed me what she meant by tugging on the reins. I really didn’t have a great base for my hands. She said to press them as hard into his withers as I could and keep them there while riding.
That was so hard.
It was a lot of strain on my arms to keep them there as Scarlet did NOT like that he was not able to move his head whenever he wanted. It also put a lot of strain on my legs as I had to use them more in order to do the circles and such that I was doing in order to work on Scarlet’s bend. However, it did result in better riding ultimately because I was using my legs more.
As for transitions, she said that I need to try to ride “transitional steps” in order to put force Scarlet to carry and accept more weight in his hind legs before allowing the transition downward. Basically, ride him in really slow steps at whatever gait but still using my legs to keep the impulsion up and then ask for the downward transition. It definitely works but is really hard and, again, not something Scarlet is happy with.
At the canter, I am apparently stiffening up more than I realized which is, in turn, exacerbating Scarlet’s stiffness. She asked me to really emphasize my hip movements when going at a canter. If I didn’t feel like that was working, she wanted me to two-point for a bit to take pressure off Scarlet’s back until he relaxed.
It was an extremely difficult lesson for me and for Scarlet and it proved equally as difficult to put into practice on our own.
Monday started off badly. A horse in the neighboring property got free as I entered the arena and was running up and down the road. All of the horses got excited and Scarlet got really riled up. Even when the horse was caught, he didn’t really relax. Which meant that there was more resistance than normal to bending and such. It was a nightmare. He wasn’t going crazy but it felt like I was in a battle with him. I was getting super frustrated and letting my emotions take control. My arms hurt, the reins were choked up and his head was still in the air with an inverted back and bend. It was awful. At the very end, I did get some really good trot work in the other direction with my hands pressed against his withers but overall the impression of the ride was bad. It was pretty discouraging. I know that
I know that bend isn’t something that is going to be fixed overnight. It’s a flexibility thing and it comes with time and practice. But it felt like I was fighting my horse and I do not go out for a fight. I go out for an enjoyable, relaxing ride with my horse. It’s my me time and my wind down from work. I didn’t know what I was going to do if Wednesday turned out to be the same.
However, after a day off and some time to think about it, it wasn’t as bad. I had calmed down and was not expecting perfection right away. I know I shouldn’t have been in the first place but I have the habit of focusing on one aspect way too much sometimes. I have to control that when I get around horses as you never know what the day is going to be like but it is easy to forget or let it slip.
This time, I only asked for a moderate lift in his back and a moderate bend before I finished the warm up. After the canter work, Scarlet was more accepting of being asked to lift and bend. It still wasn’t great on the right side but I didn’t feel the strain of fighting him as much as I had on Monday. I will try to keep warming up completely before asking for more than Scarlet can give and I will focus on keeping my expectations reasonable. With enough repetition, we will get Scarlet more flexible on the right side and it will not be a problem.