Energy and Expectations

I was in a piss poor mood this morning. My kids were on my nerves, I was sore from working out and I was just generally cranky. Thursday is always my day to ride, but I considered not even bothering because of my lousy attitude. But I am planning to do a show in April and I knew I needed to make the best out of every opportunity to ride, so I dropped my kids off and headed to the barn. I couldn’t handle any more disappointment or irritation, so I decided to scrap all my goals and just enjoy sitting on my horse.

Typically when I ride, I show up at the barn with an agenda. I’m a planner; I need clear goals and I feel very unsettled if I don’t have a plan. I also am impatient and get frustrated when my goals seem to take for-ev-er. I think this agenda and impatience has had a negative effect on Baron.

Today (when I had no agenda) we had the best ride we’ve had in a long time. He started out walking briskly but relaxed, the perfect working walk. He offered to trot and I let him, and it was a perfect working trot, exactly what I hope to get in the show ring. It was even tempo, slow but still energetic, and a joy to ride. Since he was so mellow I decided we would try cantering, and again, he was perfect. He gave me immediate transitions, no fast jog-trot before breaking into the canter. It was like he was reading my mind and knew exactly what would make me happy.

Why the difference? Maybe it was his mood, but I think my lack of pressure and expectation freed him up to give me what I want. I think my hyper-focused, aggressive, go-go-go, stick to the PLAN kind of energy is unsettling for him. I do get the feeling sometimes when I ride that he gets worked up because he senses me getting frustrated. I’m never mean to him and I never punish him, but I know that I have in-your-face kind of energy. That’s just my personality. (I hope that makes sense; these things are hard to explain.)  I can tell that he’s sweating and thinking and focusing on me, just trying to figure out what it is I’m asking him to do. I always praise him immediately when he’s done something correctly, but sometimes he’s already too worked up to relax.

From now on, I’m going to try and replicate the energy I had today. I was so proud of Baron today and I want him always to be that relaxed, soft and giving. Hopefully I’ve learned how to set him up for success.

One last thing: he did so well today that I wanted to reward him. I let him stop several times and I petted his neck and told him what a good, smart boy he is. After those perfect canter transitions, I hopped off and called it quits for the day. We only worked for maybe 20 minutes, but I want him to know that when he gets it right, I won’t drill him and work him into the ground. I think our work should be short, effective and enjoyable. No boredom or drill sergeant-ing! Back at the barn he got even more scratches than usual around his ears and poll and lots of extra cookies. It was one of those rides that makes all the expense and effort of horse ownership worth it!


Riding is my drug of choice!

Baron and my two year old

I forgot to tell you a funny story. The other day I went to ride and it was awfully cold outside. I thought I would be clever and ride in my Ugg boots. So I go to the barn, tack up, go to get on my horse and realize, “Oh crap, my feet won’t fit in the stirrups!” Ugg boots are so fat that the toe won’t fit in the stirrup. I managed to haul myself on Baron’s back somehow, crossed my stirrups and did my whole ride without them. It was a fantastic workout! I only walked and trotted, no cantering, but did a lot of sitting trot work. By the end of a 20 minute ride, my thighs were burning. Sitting trot is a gazillion times easier with no stirrups because I don’t have anything to brace against. So, long story short, it was a very productive ride.

Yesterday I rode again, this time with the other lady at my barn and her elderly mare, Lyric. We rode in the big pasture that Baron is terrified of, the one in which I got bucked off. With Lyric there, B was ever so much calmer; still a little jumpy, but manageable. At one point he spooked at a lone duck sunning itself next to the lake. Really Baron, a duck? You weight 1100 lbs, so if the duck wants to brawl, I’m pretty sure you could take him. After the duck spook, we jumped a little creek, more like a brook, and B was quite proud of himself. He did his best prancy canter; it was cute. 🙂

After yesterday’s ride, I was on such a high. Nothing spectacular happened, just the sheer joy of sitting on my horse and feeling the sunshine on my face. Riding is definitely my drug of choice. It’s as expensive as cocaine, but much healthier!

Thoughts and plans…

I googled “hunter pace” and this is what came up. There is a hunter pace not too far away in March and I would LOOOOOOOOOVE to go. This is something I’ve wanted to do since I got Baron and I’m hoping to get some friends together and take part this year. I am fascinated by fox hunting. I picture nattily dressed members of the upper crust bounding through the English countryside in pursuit of that wily ol’ fox. They meet for cocktails and fascinating conversation afterwards (just the people, not the fox). Here in small town Georgia, the hunter pace is as close as I’m getting to that landed English gentry fantasy.

Secondly, since I want to do a Walk-Trot-Canter class at the show in April, B and I had better get on the ball and learn how to canter prettily around an arena. I rode this weekend and tried to do walk, trot, canter transitions. They were awful. Walk to trot was fine; trot to canter was ugly. Baron would either trot faster or just swish his tail in annoyance and keep the same pace. Clearly I need to refine my aid for the canter. After a few tries I got a nice, quick transition and a few slow, controlled canter strides. As soon as he got it right, I hopped off and quit for the day. I wanted to reward him for doing the right thing. But clearly we have work to do. Isn’t is amazing how even the simplest things require so much practice??? Nothing about this is easy!

To show or not to show?

I have previously said that I wouldn’t be showing in 2011. I wanted to save money and spend my time polishing and fine tuning before going into a show ring. B and I have a lot to work on and it makes sense to forget about showing and just practice, practice, practice.

There’s just one problem. I really, really want to show! There’s a well organized hunter schooling show series close by that has adult beginner classes and I want ever so much to attend. The first show is at the end of April. I’m thinking about going. It’s a schooling show and it would be a beginner class, so I’m not expected to be perfect, right? I fear that if I don’t show until I think I’m “ready,” I’ll never get to show. When I ask myself the question, “What do I want to do with my horse?”, the answer is, “I want to go to horse shows!!!”

An added bonus is that the show is putting on a clinic with the judge the day after the show. So I would show Saturday and then do a clinic with the judge on Sunday. My husband may divorce me if I’m gone 2 days in a row with horse-related activities, but what a great opportunity to hear from the judge about our performance and how to improve!

So for now I’m keeping my options open. If our schooling goes well between now and April, I just may find myself trotting around a show ring!

You’ve come a long way, Baron…

This video was made when Baron was for sale back in 2008, straight off the track. The girl riding him is an instructor and quite a good rider, but still Baron is trotting around like a giraffe with his head in the air. He still looks like a racehorse here, nothing like a hunter.

Fast forward two and a half years to my most recent video, and he’s actually starting to look like a hunter. We’re not perfect all the time, and he still has moments of giraffe-ness, but overall I’d say he looks a lot better. Someone with more time and money than me could have made these changes at warp speed instead of a snail’s pace; but even though it’s taken me a long time, I’m proud of the work we’ve done. I’ll turn into a real rider and he’ll turn into a show horse yet!