Finding Softness

I’ve had some major gains with Cooper recently. In the last couple of rides, I’ve started to notice the faintest film of foamy goodness on Coopers mouth after my rides! It’s a nice topping for my blood, sweat, and tears latte! I take it as a good sign that Cooper is becoming softer in his jaws and neck and less stiff and braced.

cooper-foam

Also, I’ve finally started to make a bit of head way with getting Cooper softer on the bit and softening his shoulder (without running out and drifting to the outside). It’s a real pleasure working with this little guy, because he tries his heart out for me, even when I ask him to do something hard for him. He’s finally started to give me a few fleeting moments of roundness, shifting his weight back and working valiantly to overcome his down hill physique. I’ve been playing around with teaching him some in-hand work to try to clarify where I’d like his head to be. I’m keeping my expectations reasonable with him and I try not to ask more than he can physically perform with confidence.

More-so than any horse I have ever worked with, I feel that he really needs me to “hold his hoof” through difficult movements and transitions. If I don’t keep my hands and eyes up, he won’t keep his head up. If I’m crooked or leaning forward, he’s going to pick up the wrong lead or fall on the forehand. I’m really having to train myself to SIT BACK and hold my head high when I make the transition from trot to canter so I can stay straight and I don’t throw him into the wrong lead or send him into a running jackhammer trot. Also, it’s been interesting finding the delicate balance between seat and hands with Cooper. He’s a pretty laid back horse and he’s not one to volunteer lots of energy. He gets hesitant if I don’t allow with my hands enough, but I also have to work on not nagging with my legs so much that he starts to ignore me. As of right now, I ask with my legs lightly, then move on to the whip, but I’m considering breaking out my little nub spurs.

Another interesting development in my riding recently is sweat. I guess he’s better conditioned now and I’ve been spending a lot more time in trot and canter during our rides. He’s au natural for the winter, as he lives in a 24/7 pasture turnout with shelter situation. Plus, he’s not mine and the owner isn’t interested in having to go out and change his clothes all the time. Cooling out is a long process. He takes a little longer anyway to get his respiratory rate down, but now I have to factor in sweat too. I went out and bought him a cooler so I can throw it over his bum right when I get off, then walk him out with the cooler until he dries off enough to turn him out. It’s one of the older style WeatherBeeta fleece coolers with the underbelly straps and the fit is kind of wacky. It runs shorter on the top line and super long on the sides, but I don’t really mind. I’m not going to be strapping it on him and then leaving him alone or anything. It’s strictly for throwing over him while I cool him out so he doesn’t get a chill. Plus he looks amazing in green!

I had an amazing ride on Thanksgiving and managed to bribe my dad to come ride with me while we waited for the turkey to cook (ie. sit on my friend’s super pony Piper and take pictures of me and Coopie-let’s be real folks). My dad loves horses, and he was asking me all these questions about dressage and what I was doing with Cooper, so I was trying to explain the concept of leads, and…holy smokes! Cooper now only wants to pick up the right lead, when before he preferred the left lead. I guess I worked on the right lead for too long and now I have to re-balance my training all over again. With Cooper, you really have to set him up for the canter to get the correct lead: nice trot, half-halt, and position slightly shoulder-fore, then ask. I’ve been doing a lot of figure eight canter circles changing leads through the trot, which is a great exercise for us because it takes so much preparation.

Okay, now I need to half-halt. And again, ummmm one more time. Slow it down. Rhythm, rhythm, RHYTHM! Oh, wait, guard the outside shoulder, we’re falling out. Now sit-BUMP, THUD, OOF- so sorry, honeybear! Now the left lead. No, your other left. Oh, I’m crooked. Sorry, Coopiekins. Take two!

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While watching the footage later, I was a little embarrassed by the cantering snippet. Finally, I’ve learned to keep my butt in the saddle (can we say “major win”?!) but now I just look vaguely…turtle-ish. Thoughts? I think my problem is that I need to sit back and try to keep my head up “string to the sky” style and my shoulders back. But I was extremely happy with the bits of leg yield that we did. We are still working on his leg yield and there are some definite improvements we can make, but I was super proud of his straightness and the lovely moments of cross-over he had in both directions.

Also, I’ve ditched #nostirrupnovember, since I’ve come to realize that what’s good for me is not necessarily good for my partner. Cooper’s upright shoulder and pasterns make his trot rather hellish to sit well (for both of us) and while I can manage to go through the motions and sit his trot somewhat, it’s far from harmonious and it makes him stiff and unhappy with me, less willing to work with me as a partner. So I’ve switched to strictly rising the trot, which is better for his choppy, quick trot anyways.

I took out my friend’s horse Finn (my hunter pace buddy) last night for a quick bareback ride in the rain. With great trepidation, I shortened the reins and asked him to pick up the trot. Before I could even manage to start posting, I found myself shuffling along with him as if it was the easiest thing in the world. I pinched myself, and yes, my bum was still in full, comfortable contact with his swinging back. Smooth gaits (most importantly, the trot) is still my number one absolutely non-negotiable horse trait for when I go shopping again! While I love the challenge of working to improve horses that have physical limitations, I also live for the feeling of riding a well-built horse that your body easily “meshes” with, automatically making all the other movements easier and more fluid.

I couldn’t stop giggling and I almost cried with joy and relief.

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3 comments

  1. aHorseForElinor · November 29, 2016

    I’m with you on the No Stirrup November – not sure it’s quite for me.
    My mare is young, and I care greatly about her well being, so, I just can’t justify working solely on my own seat for a full month. With inevitable bouncing on her back when she doesn’t lift it to meet me enough.
    Posting the trot a lot… But, as we go along, I’ve noticed I can sit her trot a little bit more toward the end of each ride now. Taking off the stirrups all the time, neh, she’s not ready 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • needforsteed · November 29, 2016

      I know, right! There are SO MANY duckies you have to get in a row before it’s even possible and/or beneficial to sit the trot for any length of time. It makes me feel better that even the great Charlotte Dujardin is an advocate for using the rising trot on both young and experienced horses.

      Liked by 1 person

      • aHorseForElinor · November 29, 2016

        Yeah, lots to think about there. Today, I finally decided that my mare needs to get over her self and got in sitting trot for a bit longer time. We do it, but there’s still a bit of build up to slowing/resistance, and then I find I really need those stirrups right there – so I can immediately go back to posting. Softening through a corner, and then maybe sit back down in the second corner.
        I have a lesson again in about 2 1/2 weeks from now, and I plan to have my instructor check us out in the sitting trot and see if she thinks I should just persist and sit longer. It’s tricky to know…

        Like

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