Thursday, July 27, 2017

Discretion is the better part of valour

I'm not going to try to recap all my rides since I last posted -- I'll never catch up on anything, at that rate! I'll try to be more on top of posting going forward, though.

My last two lessons on the horse were challenging; my canter two-point is practically nonexistent. I can hold myself up with my heels down IF I round my back. If I try to arch my back instead, I feel myself losing balance. My heels come up, my weight shifts too far forward, and I end up leaning on her neck for support. This isn't an issue at walk or trot. I also feel like, in canter two point, I'm having so much trouble holding my position that actually influencing the horse in any way feels next to impossible. Last night I was trying to ride circles over poles, and found myself only able to use my inside rein OR my outside rein, as I felt like I had to have a hand on her neck to support myself. Ugh. I think I ought to just be practicing my two point on the rail until it's in a better place, BEFORE I add complications -- like jumps, my favourite thing...

On the plus side, the regular seated work felt easy peasy after all that.

I rode on my own the other night, and didn't practice two point then -- just worked on adjusting my canter seat. If I sat up and back, kept my elbows at my sides, and let my weight drop into my stirrup at the right point in the stride, it felt great. Letting my heels drop absorbed a lot of impact, which let my body soften and follow the movement. I rode some half-decent flying changes, too, though not quite as nice as some of the ones I was doing over the winter on her, at the indoor. I am getting a bit better at making the right adjustments to ask for things in a balanced way. Though I seem to cut my corner every time coming across the diagonal. It's like I'm afraid she'll trip or something if I turn her too sharply so I'm lax when I shouldn't be. Need more practice, clearly.

I was also having issues with my right leg coming out an forward again, at the canter, like I used to when I first started riding again. Not sure what was up with that. Maybe still tired from the ride two nights before? I'll keep working at that. I've also been doing basically NOTHING to work on my fitness, other than my bits of riding (which haven't been as frequent as they should be, due to all this stupid rain) so I'm sure that's not helping anything. I went for a run this morning, which felt good but was NOT full of energy or stamina, that's for sure. Really need to get that working for me again. I've also started getting my studio cleaned up enough that I can, hopefully, be able to use the floor to roll out my yoga mat and do some stretches and core work.

I also made a difficult but, I think, wise choice regarding the pony I've been helping with. I essentially resigned, though I'm still going to keep at some of the training with her. She's proven to be a lot more anxious and unpredictable than expected. And even though she's come a long way with things like her separation anxiety, some of her spookiness, and he manners in things like leading and general handling, she still has unpredictable, explosive behaviour that makes my gut say that, no, I should not be riding her. The desensitizing work has been really interesting and I've very much enjoyed doing it -- what's not to love about torturing a bratty pony with a scary plastic bag on a stick? -- but, even after an hour of getting her to NOT react at ALL to a specific scary stimulus, she'll still pull weird random moves like spooking and pulling back because... the BARN??... was scary. She also bolted a couple of weeks ago and dumped her owner's kid in the dirt. It was seemingly unprovoked -- and happened WHILE she was being led! Argh! Too many traumatic memories of Java coming up to the surface. I don't want to ride a horse that's going to make me afraid to ride. The downside of this is that I will have to start paying for my riding again, but that's the fair choice anyhow, as the pony hasn't measured up to original expectations of being useful as a lesson horse, so there's no longer any benefit to my coach in me working with her. My coach agrees that she's not a safe horse to do much with right now, and that the right person for her is going to be one of those devil-may-care, will-ride-anything crazy teenagers who'll ride through the crap and maybe, eventually, turn her into a solid citizen -- or at the very least just put up with all the weirdness. If she were mine I might consider putting her, and keeping her, on a calming supplement, but she's not mine and I don't want to complicate things by paying for something like that with someone else's horse. So. I think I'll stick to groundwork and lunging, take her for some walks, hit her with some fly spray, etc., and who knows. Maybe she won't have a bad end, eventually, but she's a long way from being a safe lesson pony, that's for sure.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Catching up

Whoops! I've had a few rides (four or more?) since I last posted here, but life has been kicking my butt and I haven't made the time to sit down and write about them.

Since I last posted, I had one or two pretty pleasant, uneventful rides on the project pony where we did some nice walk-trot, and I had her doing trot to halt really smoothly and nicely. She's much MUCH less distracted and less counter-bent, generally, too, and is getting pretty good at rating her own speed.

I also had a really good lesson on my usual lesson horse, at my coach's place, where everything was REALLY clicking and felt great! She was stepping under herself and her canter was really lovely -- and she was moving well even through some seriously muddy patches. I was highly motivated to keep her collected and lifting -- it was self preservation so she wouldn't trip in the mud!!

This lesson also included the smoothest flying change I've ever had on her. Normally she drops her head heavily and kind of falls onto the new lead, but this time it was *like butter*.

The next week, though, I went out for a quick lesson on the pony, and things did not... err... go so hotly. Usually I either hand-walk her around a lot, or else lunge her, before I get on, and when I do, it's at the mounting block. She seemed to be in an okay mood right after tack-up though, and I know the kids who have been riding her at their place don't lunge her first. So my coach suggested I just mount from the ground right outside the barn, beside the other horse.


That was not a good decision, apparently.

She actually stood all right for the mounting part, but as soon as I was in the saddle she panicked, ran backwards, got her legs tripped up in the manure pile, and actually fell over and half-rolled. I of course fell off, as staying on wasn't a possibility. Luckily I was unharmed, though it could have gone very badly.

We wrote it off as a fluke thing, walked her around a minute, set her up and tried again -- sloooowly, with a few bounces and... same thing but worse. As soon as I was sitting, she flung her neck up and CRACKED me right in the face, and scooted and kind of sat-fell and half rolled again. It was more violent this time and had even more potential to be dangerous. If she had clocked me two or three inches to the left, I'm certain she would have broken my nose. I also hit gravel instead of manure and bedding this time, so my elbow got so badly scraped up it tore the thin running jacket I was wearing to keep the bugs off. It also scratched up the side of my helmet, so -- not that I needed it -- further proof THAT thing is a necessity!!!

I was PISSED OFF so the other girl had a short lesson in the ring while I just angrily lunged the pony for a bit. She was super pissy on the line (not just because I was mad -- I was being firm but not really taking it out on her) so I pushed and pushed her, both direction, and she was pulling and resisting and was obviously not in a work mood. Eventually she settled and started to bend and drop her head.

Sooo, moment of bravery: I mounted her again. But in the way I usually do, post-lunging and from the block, skipping the stirrup. Before I got on, I did some leaning and hanging off the saddle and *actively* tried to annoy her into a reaction, but she couldn't care less, this time. I got on and had a nice 15 minute walk-trot ride while my coach helped and made sure everything was okay. She was actually perfect once I was on -- THIS time. Little twit pony. :(

That was just over two weeks ago, and I haven't ridden her since, as she's been out on loan to the kids who ride her. They've had zero problems with her, at all. Which I'm glad to hear! Next time I'm out I'm going to focus on groundwork and getting her working and thinking -- and also a LOT of desensitization. I want to work on getting her okay with having a rope slid over her, and fly spray sprayed on her, and move up to a plastic bag on a stick. She needs to be way less reactive, because while she isn't generally spooky, she does have the ability to explode when her anxiety ramps about something. I like the analogy Warwick Schiller uses about the cup of anxiety: you don't want to let it get full, because it'll run over. So, I need to do some small things that keep that cup from filling in the first place.

I also don't want to ride her next time unless my coach, or someone to assist, is around. Just in case. My safety matters most. Also, I think her problems aren't related to the riding part -- she's perfectly fine with that. It's getting her mind in the right place. Her general anxiety HAS come down a LOT since I started with her this spring. But as that mounting disaster demonstrates, she still has a long way to go.

More to come on the other two rides since I last posted...

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The nature of progress

I think, when I started back into riding after my sixteen year hiatus, I thought... Well, first of all I thought it would be very easy to "get back to where I was." I thought that, with a few weeks or even a couple of months -- max -- of regular riding, without outside guidance, I'd just pick it all back up again. Because obviously I must remember everything I once knew, and what I once knew must have been everything I needed to know, right?

Well, as it tends to be with these things... it did not go that way, not at all.

Sixteen years of growing from a teen to an adult, sixteen years of not having to use my body symmetrically, or stretching or working those muscles and tendons. Wow. Sure, my brain remembered a lot of the theory, but the majority of my feel was gone, and my flexibility and strength had definitely left the building a long time ago. Confidence had left along with them.

So, there I was, starting basically from scratch. Even though the road ahead was clearly going to be a little (a lot) longer than I had anticipated, I still thought that progress would be something that happened in a linear, steady fashion. Well... no.

Welcome to the game of "got it, lost it."

Many things HAVE played out that way, but many more things have not. Sitting the trot, for example: couldn't get it, and then after a few rides on Syd, I FOUND the motion I needed, and it translated really wonderfully to my lessons. And then... I lost it. I haven't found it again since, though I'm working at it.

Sitting the canter: I was bouncing and bouncing and bouncing for my whole first season, and then, in my first lesson on the same horse, after four or five months off... I could sit it smoothly and effortlessly. It just happened. But then, in the very next lesson, back to bouncing. I'm only now able to sit it smoothly again, a year later, and only if I actively think about it!

Also, most notably, I've just gotten... abruptly better this season. I don't know why. Everything is just clicking, and I feel strong, stable, in control, and able to give more directed and specific aids than ever. My confidence has also increased a lot. My lower leg has stabilized a LOT -- it's in just the right place and feels so strong and stable! My leg is right under me -- no more chair seat -- and where I used to ride off the back of my leg when I had just restarted, I now use my calves and the inside of my legs for impulsion. Swinging my leg back for a canter cue, and a well-timed push with my seat, is becoming deliberate and easy in a way that it hasn't been in yeeeeeaaaars. Last night I even rode the easiest flying change I've had since I returned to riding -- smooth and balanced and relatively effortless.

My left shoulder, which has a habit of creeping up and forward, seems to have mainly been tamed, and I'm keeping nice and straight instead of collapsing my right side. My hands feel much more stable as well.

I wish I could say all these sudden improvements were the result of fitness efforts over the off season, but... no. No, it just seems to have happened. I'll take it! And hopefully... I've got it!

Strange but good sudden progress

I had my second lesson of the season last night. There was some trot and canter in two point, some posting trot, some seated canter, and lots of changes of direction. And lots of walk to canter, canter to (okay, almost) walk. I was apparently on my GAME, and everything was looking great! Which also felt great! My coach told me lower leg had improved so much, and was stable and controlled enough, that I could, if I wanted to, actually ride responsibly with stirrups.

It's very strange. I seem to have suddenly improved this spring, and I'm not entirely sure why. It's not like I was riding diligently throughout the winter. Instead I had, basically, four months off. I didn't even do anything to stretch or exercise to keep myself fit for riding. Yet somehow, my position is suddenly and drastically better.

I have been doing a LOT of thinking, and reading, and just doing little positional things when I'm sitting or driving or working on stuff to try to straighten and correct my torso and shoulder. I think that's been part of it. I've retrained my default position to something straighter. I've also been thinking about starting my turns by just turning my shoulders; very little else really needs to happen after that, as it's enough for most horses. Even the green pony seems to instinctively understand. I think, also, those four jumping lessons in North Bay, where the instructor was after me to get my leg further back under me, helped me adjust my position in a positive way. It's like the inside ball of my calf has been able to "lock in" and now that I have the feeling, it's so nice and solid that I don't want to use my leg any other way! It's also possible that changing saddles has helped a bit too; I'm pretty convinced that the lesson saddle I was using for most of last season wasn't a good fit for me. I think the stirrup bars were too far forward and it was encouraging a chair seat.

My seat definitely got tested at one point last night, when the horse ABRUPTLY pulled her head down to the ground to cough. I was caught off guard and was YANKED forward -- but my lower leg stayed put and kept me on board!! Whew! Actually, the yanking was a sign of another positive development, amusingly enough: it means I'm clearly no longer riding with an open hand.

New material covered: keeping my hands higher while cantering, similar to where I hold them in the two point, to encourage the horse to lift her front end and not get as heavy. I did feel like I was driving and half-halting with a lot more instinct and control last night. Felt really rewarding! I also feel much stronger now, and like I'm driving more correctly with my legs, and with my seat when I do use it.

My canter seat is a lot better as well. I can actually sit and follow (though I still have to consciously decide to do so) without bouncing, especially when I have her lifting and moving under herself. My hands are able to have some give without actually pumping in the canter. I didn't hear anything about my elbows or shoulders, so that must be looking better as well. My circles were pretty round, too.

After my lesson, I worked with my project pony. She had been away being used in kid lessons for the last couple of weeks, and was apparently a little superstar! I had a bit of an ordeal tacking her up last night. She decided that bug spray was TERRIFYING and pulled free from the cross ties on the very first squirt. Sigh. So I then corralled her in her stall where I tried to find a balance between spraying enough away from her to desensitize her, but not wasting all the product. :/ I could have done a better job of it than I did. I think next time I go out, I'll bring a spray with just water in it and work on the desensitization with that so I don't feel like I have to be so economical.

After I got her sprayed (I bribed her with carrots and sprayed her while she was distracted by chewing them), I put her back in the cross ties and she pulled loose AGAIN when I towards her with the saddle. This time she definitely wasn't scared. She just did it to be a shit because she knew she COULD. Next time I cross-tie her, I'm keeping a short lead with a chain on her nose so I can actually DO something about it without putting her or me in danger. Grrrrr. That, or I could have a rope halter under the nylon halter, with a regular lead tied to that. Just something to grab and get leverage if she decides to be an idiot, so she doesn't think she can get out every time.

The ride itself was great though! Mounting wasn't perfectly smooth, but it was all right. She also didn't want to stand at a halt during the ride, at any point, but given how many bugs were out that wasn't quite that big a deal. Even the seasoned lesson horse hates standing at a halt. You can only do so much, sometimes... I felt the most confident yet with her at the trot. She still had some resistance about heading toward the mounting block corner, but didn't put up as much of a fight as she sometimes does. She also wanted to avoid the part of the fence where I usually tack her up, haha. I guess she doesn't have the greatest feelings about those parts of the ring. XD  She got over it after a few passes, though, just by *riding* her straight and through. Despite the fact she didn't want to STAY halted, she was halting on a dime, even from a zippy trot. Her head was in the air most of the ride, but she didn't feel completely distracted or ever like she was out of control. All in all, this was my best ride on her!

At the end of it, she didn't pull out of the cross ties again. Although, one of the horses behind her escaped from its stall (I must not have latched it right. Oooooops!) and was wandering around, but there was no drama.

All in all, last night was a total win! I'm feeling really good about things, even though my legs are  basically jelly today! :D

Friday, June 2, 2017

A few updates

I haven't been super on-the-ball with this lately. Oops! I've had a few rides since, and they've all definitely been better than my last doom-and-gloom post.

I've been out to work with the pony at least once or twice since, and she was much better. I'm continuing to do the hand-walking on the trails before lunging and riding her, and it really does get us both in a better headspace. Last time I did this, I even took her out on the road. Although it has basically no traffic, it was still somewhere new to check out. She was more "up" and doing her anxious snorty thing a little, but not anywhere near as bad as a few weeks before. She decided she didn't like a culvert at the side of the road and gave that a wide berth, but was otherwise cooperative. I do really wish she'd stop crowding me when she's anxious, but she's getting better. I keep giving her a good few jabs with my elbow when she does it, and she's a bit more respectful.

The last time I rode her, the bugs were SO BAD. She wouldn't stand still for tacking up or mounting and was miserable. I can't blame her at all, poor kid. There's now some bug spray available, so I'll be better equipped to deal with that next time! I rode her walk-trot, with another rider in the ring, and she was a good girl despite all the bugs. It's been at least two or three weeks now since I've ridden her, though, as she's been on loan to some clients for their private use. When she's in company with her best buddy horse friend, she's so cooperative she's actually safe for small kids. It's quite the change. I'm going to keep working on the separation anxiety angle with her, because that does seem to be her most significant problem.

It does seem to be getting better, though! Has a long way to go, of course, but it's come down a lot. I went up for a lesson a week and a half ago at the private barn, and rode the other horse. The pony had to go and wait in her stall alone during this time, and my coach said "She's probably going to have a fit in there the whole time." But, other than being a bit antsy at first, we only heard ONE neigh the whole lesson, and she seemed to settle fine on her own. Not bad!!!

Speaking of that lesson, on the horse, it was good to get my butt kicked again, haha! I did walk, posting trot, and canter, both seated and two point. I rode in the arena, but also out of it! The place has big sliding doors, so the arena doubles as a shelter for turnout. I trotted and cantered the horse out of the ring, along the fence line down a little hill, a big circle around the round bale, and a MOTIVATED two-point canter up the little hill and back into the ring!

It all went pretty smoothly, although I did let her drop out of canter a few times when I shouldn't have. It wasn't her though -- it was very much me. Although everything was fine, I'm not feeling incredibly confident right now after all the time off from instruction. I didn't feel up to full strength in my legs and back and core, but apparently I actually looked really good! I've somehow managed to improve my position, especially my lower leg position, since I last had regular lessons in early January. I think part of it was having those four jumping lessons in North Bay. What the coach said really clicked with me, about getting my lower leg down and back, and using the backs of my thighs as a supportive extension of my seat.

So, apparently I looked a lot better than I felt like I looked! I'm still rounding my back a lot when I'm in two point, and I have a LOT of trouble convincing myself that it's okay to not have my butt tucked under in readiness to influence in the saddle. Still riding defensively. I also need to work on my core strength because even when I CAN convince myself to straighten my back, I can't maintain it for more than a few seconds. Oh well, a year and a bit ago I couldn't even stay in two point at ALL, sooooo.

It was also my first outing in my new tall boots!! Woooo! They were a bit slippery at first but they were great after about ten minutes. I didn't even really notice them, which is pretty ideal for a first ride in a pair of boots that haven't been broken in. I think they might be a touch too big, but nothing that an insole or a thicker pair of socks won't remedy.

The mare and the pony have been up at the private place for a couple of weeks now, so last night I went and rode a horse I never have before. This boy was my coach's personal horse, but he's proven to be too mentally fried from a very intense life of competition to handle the mental strain of more advanced dressage any more. He used to be capable of grand prix movements, but he's since made it clear he's DONE. Her idea is to get other riders on him who will get him to relax into less taxing work, so he can maybe decompress and learn to like having a job again.

He was a total gentleman to brush and tack up, but when I got him out to the ring he would NOT stand still for me to get his reins and throatlatch arranged for lunging. He just kept spinning and spinning and spinning around me in a tiny tight circle while I held on to him. Ugh. So I just let him spin and spin and spin and spin around me while I held onto him. Probably looked pretty comical. But I eventually got him ready. I had the lunge whip in my hand but I obviously didn't need it as he took off right away, tearing around me unprompted at a rushed canter and tripping in the deep footing. Sigh. "Just lunge him first." Hahahaha. I can see why! He was pulling and the bit actually slid THROUGH his mouth, so I had to carefully reel him in (still cantering until the circle was TINY, mind you) and redo the setup so the line was through the bit ring and over the poll. Then everything was fine.

I let him run around both ways until he was willing to slow to a walk on his own. He still seemed UP, but I was like, "Welllllp, this might be as good as it gets." I'd heard he could be a bt of a dinkus about the mounting block, but he wasn't that bad, at least this time. I had to chase him with it a bit like I do with Syd, but he was still easier to get on than the pony!

Once I was up, twenty minutes of walk commenced, with him trying to jig and me closing my knees and yanking on his face. There was a lot of hold one rein, pulse the other, hold one rein, pulse the other. My stirrups were about two holes too long, which didn't help the situation. I just pretended I was riding stirrupless and thought about using the backs of my thighs to hold and balance me.

This was definitely my most "hot horse" experience in ages. He seemed like he was never going to settle, and had those radar ears pointing straight up and forward, which as one of my friends put it, "usually precede my butt landing in the dirt." I remembered the advice to actually keep a soft hand and leg ON on a horse being hot, so I tried different variations of that. I also tried to keep him thinking by leg yielding, which he did beautifully one direction, but took as a cue to go faster the other way. Whoops. At one point he seemed SLIGHTLY better so I asked for trot and got a canter stride instead. Brought him back immediately and halted.

I did a lot of walk-halt walk-halt and eventually I didn't have to use EVERYTHING I had to halt him. I'm not sure what the exact moment was, but his head started to come down, and he started to round and relax a bit. I did do a little trot (awkward with my miles-too-long stirrups and his big movement!!) and he settled in some more.

By the end, my coach came out and we were chatting, and he was just walking calmly with his head down, on a loose rein. Like a totally different horse. Apparently this was actually his first time being ridden in that ring, at least the first time this season, so his nervousness made a bit more sense. Despite that hot beginning of the ride, I'd ride him again. He's VERY sensitive, which can of course be good and bad, but I think if I'm just very thoughtful and careful about how I ride him, it could be quite lovely to work with a horse who has so much knowledge, despite his attitude issues.

Fun fact: I used my bridle on him. The one I last used on Razz over twenty years ago. I conditioned it with Leather CPR before I went out there, and it looked PERFECT and brand new. It was actually a bit big on him, which is funny, because he's considerably larger than her. Just has a dainty head, I guess!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Not my best night

I went out last night to work with the pony some more, and put a ride in on the older horse to drill myself a bit. The whole evening felt off and I was a bit dismayed coming away from there.

For one, the pony was edgy and anxious, and I didn't get the chance to do the pre-riding groundwork I usually do with her first, as I was getting a bit of a lesson on her last night and didn't want to hold up the process. Well, that was a mistake. She was pulling back while tied, and was being a dumbass at the mounting block, despite all my careful work to improve that behaviour. When I swung a leg over, she started walking and backing and turning and would not stand. I thought was going to come off before I even got on! But I finally got her settled-ish. She was edgy and distracted the whole ride, and was drifting out on all her turns. Cared more about what her friends in the field were doing than what I wanted. I did do a lot of trotting on her, but I didn't feel comfortable at all with her the whole ride. I was also riding her in a way that I really didn't want to at this point. I don't know. It just felt bad and like steps backward with her instead of the slow but steady improvement I'd been working and hoping for.

After that, I rode the older lesson horse -- not in a lesson, but just to get her moving and to give myself more of a workout. Last time I rode her, though, she stumbled really badly in the trot, after a short canter, like she couldn't get her legs back under herself. I was really worried she would actually wipe out! Her painkillers are being increased, as this is what happened before when she needed to start on them. But it shook me a bit. So, last night I just did walk-trot.

There's a lot that can be done at walk-trot, though, so I just focused on that. My sitting trot is still a mess, so, realizing I was pulling on the reins too much in trying it, I instead let them out very loose, and when that didn't seem to help either, I bridged them in one hand and grabbed the pommel with the other, and PULLED myself down into the saddle with the other hand, to force my body to follow. It was actually REALLY effective! And man, did it ever kill my abs!! Felt good though, in that hurts-so-good way. I was able to periodically let go and continue to follow the motion for a bit, and then I'd pull myself back down for a while, etc. Going to keep going with this for sure.

Other things I'm noticing with my riding: I seem to be transitioning my leg position to something new and, I think/hope, improved. Those lessons in North Bay made something really click for me. I'm now able to get my leg back under me AND get my heel nice and deep. Before, I could not seem to manage to do both. I'm also finding the inside ball of my calf is much more engaged, stable and effective, and I do remember that happening in my teen years with Val and how much better that felt.

I'm also no longer having to weight the outside of the stirrup to get my toes to come in. When I push my knee down and back into my heel, my toes are aligned AND my weight is even across the stirrup bar! Score! Hopefully this will go a long way to help eliminate the ankle pain I was experiencing while sustaining two-point.

I'm trying to fix a few muscle-memory things. I'm finally starting to make some headway on the left shoulder issue, though it still presents itself more if I'm tense, nervous, or distracted. I've also been catching my hands bobbing and getting too high when I post the trot. Ack. So, I'm trying to think "down" with my hands when I rise, which instead of actually pushing them down is keeping them in place. When I remember. I'm early in trying to fix this, though.

On the one hand, I'm really frustrated right now. I feel like I'm ready to step some aspects of my riding up for this season, but I'm not convinced the opportunities are going to be there for me. On the other hand, I have access to several horses to ride for free at any time, so I think this is really a "suck it up, buttercup" situation for the short term. And who knows how things will actually play out! Meanwhile, I DO have a lot more knowledge and self-awareness now, with my riding, than I did previously, and the opportunity to just quietly practice things myself and work them out will be incredibly valuable, and make me a better rider in the longer term.  I do often wish I loved somewhere with more facilities, more sense of community in riding here. I'm feeling pretty isolated right now.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Ground work, and first "real" ride in a bit

Today I went out with the intention of getting two rides in, but when I got there I knew my time was limited, as it was supposed to rain pretty hard by mid morning.

I started with the pony, thinking I would just lead her, then lunge her, than maaaaaybe get around to riding her after I put a ride in on my usual lesson horse.

I brought her out and went straight into just leading her around on the property. Lots of walk, whoa, back, walk, etc. She has pretty major separation anxiety, so I want to work on getting her past that, and paying attention to the person working with her. I led her down one of the little trails that goes behind the paddock and around the pond. It would be close enough to the main part of the property that I would be unlikely to get into trouble, but far enough that she would be out of sight of her ladies.

She was actually remarkably good about it today. I led her down the path, then, when she was standing quietly, I gave her a carrot. We carried on and I did more in-hand transitions, led her over some brush on the ground a couple of times, and let her hand-graze just a little.

She really did NOT want to go on the muddy part of the path around the pond, and kept trying to pull back, but I eventually got her through it. I led her along that trail, back to the grassy patch by the ring, then over to the archery targets where she gave a little spook at one, then stopped caring about them at all.

Once we got in the ring, I tried and tried to line her up for the mounting block in its normal position, but eventually had to switch to the along-the-fence position that had worked before. That's going to take a little longer to resolve, I guess.

One problem with the normal block position: she can swing her hips away, end even tapping her with the whip, she'll swing the OTHER way to avoid the taps, instead of towards the block. Sooooo she's calling my bluff there. :/  I'm going to need to work on getting her to yield her quarters from the ground before I can expect her to do it at the block, I guess. So, that's on my to-do list for her.

Once I got a *little* success there, I took her out and lunged her. She was SOOOO much better today!!  She cut in a bit on the same side she always does, but eventually all but stopped doing that. She was much more relaxed and consistent, even stretching down quite often. I did have trouble getting her to understand that WALK is also acceptable in lunging; she seems to think "okay, it's trot time!" and if you slow her she just stops and faces in. :/ I did get some walk though!! It was the slooooooowwwwest walk everrrrr, but it was a walk! And she kept coming in on the circle, doing it, but at least she wasn't stopping! I'm getting better at the lunging, too, for my part.

She broke into canter a couple of times, but not as much as she usually does! She was cross-firing on the one lead though. Hmmm. Once she's more adept on the line I'll try adding a smidge of canter to try to help work her through that and develop a little more balance. She'll need to learn the aids on the line before she starts it under saddle anyhow.

After the lunge session, I brought her over to the block AGAIN, in the modified position, to do one more session. I think part of why she's backing up isn't just evasion: when you step back to get on her, she thinks she's supposed to move back to stay beside you. Huh. So, still have to get her to learn not to do that *in that instant* but at least the behaviour is coming *in part* from a well-intentioned place. I also figured out that she's turning her head in towards me in a seeking behaviour (whether for attention, treats, rubbing her head all over me... whatever) so in giving her a treat this time, I gave it from the opposite side, which was WAY more effective! Going to continue to do that going forward. She finally stood well and I leaned and bounced on her back while she did, and she got to munch her treat. We'll get there!!

All in all, she did really really really well today! I was happy and impressed.

Next I rode the lesson horse. It was funny to be back up on a BIG horse again, as I've mostly been riding little ones the last few times. I have to say, it was nice not having a war at the mounting block, though she does have a tendency to want to walk off immediately once you're on, which isn't super fun, but still more manageable. I did a lot of walk to warm up, then trotted some circles and figures. I actually felt pretty good! My lower leg was really stable. I kept thinking of pushing my knees down and back, into my heel, which gave me a good position and some additional stability. I was pushing into my heels to post, this way, instead of my stirrups.

My canter was pretty good too!! A little bit of bounce, but only very very little. Less than usual, even! Not bad at all. I wasn't tucking my seat under me quite as much as I maybe should be, but it was pretty good all the same. All felt very controlled and nice. Only broke into trot unintentionally just once. My transitions were sloppy and I was a bit tippy and bouncy in them, but it'll get better. She was VERY heavy in the bridle today, so I was trying to work that out with transitions, and some persistend outside rein half halts combined with extra leg. It honestly didn't help much at all. I suspect she might be extra heavy on the bridle and forehand because she's had so much time off over the last few months, so hopefully that will improve going forward.

I was surprised at how good I felt. Sloppy transitions, yes, and my sitting trot was a tragedy, and my left leg felt weak. All of these things can be fixed, though, and I'm pretty confident I'll get it figured out. Just need a pile more saddle time, which I can get, so that's pretty great. And lots of stirrup-less torture once I get a bit more conditioned.