Monday, June 18, 2018

Fitness and attitude changes

I've lost fitness since this winter. Well, crap.

It's not exactly surprising. I've gone from riding four times a week down to riding maybe twice a week, on average. And I've been under a lot of stress that isn't exactly helping my body stay happy and supple.

I had finally cured the bounce in my canter on M, but in my last ride on her, it was back with a vengeance, though I warmed out of a lot of it. My right leg was doing it's weird weak/achy/numb thing again, that happens sometimes.

However, I was definitely experiencing some PMS so that might have contributed to some weakness/tension. So it's maybe not all loss of fitness. We'll see how things compare in the next few rides.

There have been some really good developments lately too, though!

For whatever reason, I'm a lot less nervous. Even from the first lesson back at the home barn, I'm feeling much more confident and secure. I'm not getting wigged out by the horse picking up a bit of speed at times. And most importantly, I'm not freaking out at spooks or potential spooks. I think the fact that a few spooks are happening now and then has actually been good for me, because it's shown me that, hey, they're not usually a big deal. And also that, hey, my seat is pretty good! My last ride on M, she spooked twice -- small spooks, but definitely spooks all the same. And my seat didn't budge, and they didn't wig me out. I just rode on normally.

I did adjust my plan somewhat, as it was late in the lesson and I was thinking of trying some canter on a loose(r) rein, or maybe some no-stirrups trot, but two spooks nearly in a row made me think... no, we'll just stick with more controlled stuff. Which I think was wisdom speaking, not fear.

It's definitely a relief, though, to not feel, every time, that SPOOKING = INSTANT DEATH.

So, that's a positive development!!

Also, my sitting trot on that same ride was REALLY good, even if my canter was bouncy and off. So that's great! I can get the canter back, I'm sure. The sitting trot has been a work in progress for a long time now, but I really started to focus on it this winter. I got a lot better with it before the move but it's continued to improve since, even though I haven't been able to ride as much.

So, that's pretty cool.

I can get the fitness back again. And it's nice that I'm gaining some things even if some things are backsliding a little. That's life, I guess.

Rainy spooky day -- conquered!

I've had a lot going on and, unfortunately, haven't been keeping up with my riding journal here the way I'd like to be. I'll do a bit of a recap of my rides over the last two weeks, in the next few entries, as there's stuff in there that I don't want to miss.

Not quite two weeks ago, I went out for just-a-ride on my usual lesson horse. I almost turned the car around part-way there, as there was definitely a storm brewing, and I even hit some patches of rain on my way out there. However, it was still okay when I got to the barn, so I tacked up anyhow and went to the ring to ride.

The sky was grey and the air was thick. There was definitely a system coming in. Just as I was about to get on some wind started up in the trees. Not a crazy amount, but it was more gusty than steady and I was having minor flashbacks to the day in November when similar weather turned this horse into a big spooky butt. However, I got on anyhow.

On our first lap of walk she spooked at absolutely nothing and did a little scoot forward, with the windy woods behind her, so I walked her about 50 feet further and, instead of trying to just ride it out like last time, I did what I SHOULD have done before, and hopped off and lunged her. Fortunately the equipment was all right there so I didn't have to trudge us both back to the barn.

I lunged her up at the "spooky" end of the ring, by the trees, and other than some very mild scooting forward in her first canters, and her wanting to come in on the circle and crowd me, sigh, she was fine. So, I got back on.

I stayed at the "safe" end of the ring and immediately went into some remarkably relaxed sitting trot -- remarkable that I was relaxed in the situation, mainly, haha. The footing was wet and a bit slippy, but conveniently the less spooky end of the ring was also the driest part.

I don't know if she was tired from lunging, or if she was taking the suggestion from me, but the gaits were all very slow, collected and SMALL. Which was fine by me, given the earlier spooky tendency! I rode a ton of transitions. She was super responsive. She slipped a bit once in canter and after that I just avoided canter in that part, and kept the canter we did very collected.

I was really pleased with how well she was carrying out all the transitions. And she was really sitting back and carrying herself in them. It was a powerful feeling. I'm not really one to power-trip, haha, but it did feel POWERFUL all the same to have such control. I tried something I haven't done, which was to try to count out exactly how many strides of canter I wanted before coming back down to trot. I got it some times. I missed it mostly, going a stride or two or even three over. But it was a cool exercise that I should do more of.

It started to drizzle. I kept riding. It felt kind of nice.

My favourite moment in the ride came when we had just been doing OODLES of transitions and I went to shift my seat at the walk... and she started doing this incredibly collected walking-speed canter, very up-and-down, carousel horse feeling. I actually laughed and said "What are you DOING?" I brought her into a walk again and gave her a pat. It was so funny and cute.

The ride wasn't long but it was productive and fun. I'm pleased with how I handled a less than ideal situation. What could have been a total bust, or a spooky anxious experience, turned into one of my favourite rides in the last little while.

A few missed posts

I've been keeping some blog entries elsewhere too, and haven't always been posting them to both places, so I'll put a few older entries here now to keep things together.

May 20, 2018

The other night, I had another lesson on the bouncy little Pintarabian. BOY do I ever find her difficult. I've been cruising around pretty relaxed, pretty confident, on the big warmblood I was riding all winter. I got to know her really well and got very tuned to her. We could read each other extremely well, and subtle aids and movements really started to connect.

But now, on this weird little short-necked bouncy hony? I am LOST. 

Which tells me that she's probably exactly what I need right now.

Where the big warmblood is like a freight train, big and long and low and running on a very STRAIGHT track, this little horse is high-headed, has next to no neck, and noodles around all over the place. She's responsive to leg aids and will bend nicely if you ask correctly, but it's NOT easy. Straight lines are... challenging...

My relaxation (of which there was not much) wasn't helped early in the ride when she decided one corner of the ring was spooky, and would only go past it by dropping her shoulder dramatically and turning her head almost completely sideways to the outside. She didn't actually spook, but the build-up was there and there was definitely "spooky potential." I will admit I gave that corner some space, from that direction, for a bit of the ride. Nothing "happened" but I wanted to keep it that way. At one point we could see something moving around in the bushes there, so possibly some turkeys or deer were rustling around. There was also a strange big booming noise coming from the nearby woods.

Let me take a moment here to say that it's actually rather BIG for me that I was -- relatively -- okay with all this. At some point, as a rider, I have become so afraid of spooking *as a concept* that I started to be more nervous, at the prospect, than most of the horses I've been riding. I'm not actually a nervous rider in an all-round sense, but if I'm in a situation where I think spooking has a high likelihood of happening, I am generally NOT OKAY. However, I know my coach trusts this horse and that she's done a bit of everything with her, so I had some faith in the horse but also in my seat and skills, and I rode through it. Repeatedly. And I did. Not. Freak. Out!!

So, that was pretty cool!

The canter work was slightly better this week. I only lost my stirrup the FIRST time I cantered her, hahaha. It was on the left lead again, but instead of losing my left stirrup, my right one shot to just the end of my toe. I'd have done better to let it drop but instead tried too hard to keep it and got dreadfully unbalanced. I precarious winged around one corner like that before bringing her back and trying again. We did lots of trot-canter-trot-canter-trot transitions to help me get used to her striking off, as she definitely goes SPROING in a way that I'm not used to, and was unbalancing me to some extent initially.

The balance issue isn't helped by how much narrower she is than the other horse(s) I'm used to riding. It took very little to find myself leaning on one stirrup or one hip more than I ought to, and my forwards/backwards balance (which is usually pretty solid) was tested a lot more than I'm used to, too.

Even if I'm mentally okay with exploring new things in my riding, my body has its own ways of protesting changes. My coach REALLY wanted me to relax and sit the canter, but my body was begging me to stay in a defensive half-seat while it tried to figure out what was going on!! 98% of the time I at least TRY to do what my coach asks me to, but this was a case where I just needed to do what I needed to do! I'm sure I'll get to a place where I can work on sitting it, but that was not the night for it!

Over all... it was pretty rough! But not quite as rough as the previous ride. So.

I can look at how hard I'm finding this, after feeling like I was really starting to NAIL things on my usual horse, and I can see it either negatively or positively. Negatively, I could tell myself that I'm not actually a good rider, and that even though it did take a LOT of work to get where I did with that horse (two and a half years!), that I didn't really get much better at riding. That I only got better at riding THAT horse.

OR. I can look at this as an extremely important learning opportunity to expand my horizons. If I can learn to ride BOTH these horses well, my ability as a rider will have a lot more range. I can also be happy that I'm finding new challenges to overcome. That I'm finding all kinds of new holes in my riding that I can fix in this situation -- holes that I could never have fixed on the other horse, no matter how much farther we progressed.

This isn't actually a permanent move away from my "usual" horse by any means, but she is being shown and partially leased, this season, by a woman who takes about four lessons a week and plans to show her, so her availability is much more limited. I'm sad, but I also don't have the time or money to have leased her instead myself. I'm sure the option would have been there, but it's not something I can do. A little part of me is jealous, but the much bigger, better part of me knows she's not "my" horse no matter how much I've ridden her. And I also know that I very much need to ride other horses now to progress. So, it's definitely bittersweet. But I can probably still ride her on a weekly basis, or so, so it's hardly something to get upset about.

May 27, 2018

So I accidentally skipped writing about my last lesson. It's been a busy, stressful week, and while it was a good lesson, it was pretty standard. Things that stood out: the normally easygoing horse -- I was back on the big warmblood schoolmaster I usually ride -- was being weird about one corner of the arena. The same corner the other horse had been weird about on the previous ride! Again, she didn't really "do" anything about it, but previously I would have been really wigged out by the potential for spooks. Instead I just rode through it and had faith in myself and my horse that it wouldn't turn into something that I couldn't handle. And it didn't! I'm getting a bit braver about these things. Baby steps!

Tonight I just rode. Not in a lesson. Again, back on the lovely big warmblood I rode all winter. It was super humid here, and the bugs were bad, so not totally ideal riding conditions, but I enjoyed myself anyhow and definitely didn't overdo it. Still, it was a good workout for both of us.

In rising trot I was aware of my upper body wanting to move a little too much, instead of letting my hips handle most of the motion, so I worked on that. I tend to tip more in rising trot when I'm nervous or when I'm trying to get a "going somewhere" pace happening. I think it's an instinctive thing. But it doesn't actually accomplish anything.

My sitting trot was hit and miss. I would bounce a bit. Then I'd get in a groove with it for a bit. Then I'd bounce some more. I had really been starting to nail it when I was riding more often, but now that I'm back down to once or twice a week I'm backsliding on a lot of my skill and fitness. It sucks, but it's unfortunately a fact of life for me right now. Ugh. Still, nothing will truly "undo" the work that I put in this winter. Even if I lose some of the physical fitness, I know what I went through to get there, and can hopefully get it back more readily the next time I have the opportunity to ride my butt off again like that.

Canter work had some pluses and some minuses. She wasn't very willing with it tonight, probably because the air was so hot and heavy. Her transitions into canter were actually great. Nice and snappy, and no running into them, which she is sometimes prone to do, especially on the first few tries. However, I was getting a wrong lead sometimes. Going to the right, she gave me the left lead twice instead. This hasn't happened in months, so that was a bit odd. But not a major thing. The GOOD news is that her flying changes tonight were like butter. Some of the best and smoothest and most balanced that I've ridden on her. Normally she only does them when she gets so awkward that she feels like she HAS to, and dives into them, leaning hard on the reins in the process. Tonight though, despite her not wanting to stay in canter for long, she gave them to me when I actually asked, and they were much more light and balanced! Score! It was so nice to just kind of cruise around the arena in big loops and swoops and just get that change at the right moment for the next curve. The changes were by far the highlight of the ride. I used to NOT be good or confident with them on her, so it's a wonderful improvement. Even if other stuff feels like one step forward and two steps back.

She definitely feels different now that I'm not her only rider, but that's to be expected. I do miss that "customized" feeling one gets as the primary/only rider of a horse. Now that different people of different levels are back taking lessons on her, she's not quite as tuned into every subtle little thing. Which is over all a good thing, really, given she does a lot of beginner lessons. But... *wipes tear*... It was so nice while it lasted!!! She's still wonderful though, and DOES respond to subtlety, don't get me wrong. But I do feel the difference.

Next lesson out, I'm going to take a lesson on yet ANOTHER different horse. This is another one that needs some tuning up, and that I can ride for free, so that's great for me! Hopefully I won't be quite as at sea on this one. I have ridden her once before, but it's been absolutely ages.

I've recently had a few helpful, positive thoughts about riding. Instead of beating myself up for how difficult I'm finding other horses, I need to remember that what I'm feeling is really just a small taste of how lost I was when I started riding again. In some ways riding a variety of different horses was less difficult for me when I re-started... because they were ALL difficult for me!! Now that I'm really used to one, I notice a lot more of what's different and what's "wrong" instead of just accepting that every horse is going to be different and that some have pretty steep learning curves. In some ways, horses are like musical instruments. And some are more different than others. A master cellist is going to have a hell of a time trying to play a violin, no matter how good they are at the cello. I'm NOT a master, but I am certainly much more skilled on one "instrument" than I am others. And that's to be expected because 98% of my practice has been on that one!

April 6, 2018

I had a lesson the other night, again on the big warmblood I know so well now. It was a good ride and a productive lesson. I'm actually pretty sore from it -- the good kind of post-workout sore -- which hasn't happened in a while, so I know I worked hard!

It's funny, I can't actually fully remember what we worked on specifically. I mainly remember feeling good in the ride. We did lots of walk/trot transitions to get the horse a bit more on the ball. Trot serpentines, extensions, canter work with some lengthening down the long sides, with a 15m circle in the corner to collect her back up, and then proceeding at a regular working canter to the next long side. Repeat.

I also figured out why I've occasionally been getting the wrong lead on the right rein lately. I just haven't been pushing her ribs out enough into the bend. It isn't usually a problem but it comes up now and then, so it's great to know the fix!

My seat was being mostly on good behaviour. The bounce I was having in my canter last week was gone again, thankfully, except in the extended canter -- which I'm not used to. Putting on more leg, plus the bigger motion, plus just the unfamiliar feeling had me popping up a bit, though not as dramatically as I used to while nervous at canter, so that was a lot better!

Our downwards transitions aren't as lovely as they were towards the end of the winter, when I had been the only one riding her for months, but it's not surprising now that she's back in regular lessons with multiple riders of different levels. They still feel pretty good though. I do have to work a little more at them than I had been though. By the end of the winter, it just took a slight stillness in my seat to immediately bring her down a gait.

On the topic of other riders on her... I actually got a really nice compliment from my coach. She said she wants me riding her as much as possible because I really help keep her tuned up, and she feels like she doesn't need to be putting tune-up rides on her herself with me riding her regularly. Apparently I've been really making her carry herself well and she's very happy with my progress and the horse's current fitness and responsiveness.

I also had a good conversation with her about me feeling like a bit of a mess on other horses. She says most of the "problems" I'm having are in my own head and coming from a lack of confidence, and that I need to trust myself more. And also be more forgiving of the fact that of COURSE every horse is going to feel different, and to allow myself the time to adjust and get comfortable. I'm going to do a lesson on a different "new" horse in the next couple of weeks, too, so we'll see how that pairing goes, too. In the meantime I think I'm going to try some visualization exercises I've been learning about, trying to retrain my brain and body to have more helpful responses when I do end up on a different horse. Will see how that goes.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Tonight I went out and put in my first "non-lesson" ride since the horses returned to their regular summer barn. It was warm and sunny, and I rode late enough in the evening that I missed the heat of the day, so it was *almost* a comfortable ride....... except for the flies that were really into swarming right in my, and the horse's, face. About 30 seconds into the ride, one flew up my nose and has yet to come out again.

I was on my usual big easygoing warmblood lesson horse, the one I rode all winter. She was a bit bothered by the flies, and a bit tired from an earlier lesson in the day, but she was a good sport about everything, and the flies really dropped off once we got moving. She was a little on the pokey side tonight, but did everything I asked and didn't fall out of her gaits at all. I used to lose her canter constantly -- and I mean CONSTANTLY -- so she and I have both come a long way with that. I'm also no longer afraid to tap her back up with the whip if I need to, which helps, though in hindsight I don't think I had to touch her with it at all tonight.

To clarify, when I say I was previously "afraid" to use my whip to reinforce my leg, what I mean was, I used to assume that the error was always mine as a rider, and would err on the side of not using the whip as I didn't want to tap the horse for my own shortcomings. Now, I'm much more confident about timing with it when it IS needed, though I'm sparing with it still and only use it enough to get the job done.

I worked on sitting trot quite a bit tonight, and it was really clicking. I had a bit of bounce at first as I shifted my pelvic angle around trying to find that sweet spot, but once I was there everything was nice and loosey goosey and my bum didn't leave the saddle at all. I was even able to maintain it at a not-painfully-slow trot, so that was cool! All that practice, thumping around over the winter (sorry, horse!) is finally paying off. I don't feel like I have to FIERCELY CONCENTRATE to keep it all together anymore. It's coming to me a lot more naturally, though I still have off days, and I do have to make frequent adjustments.

The canter work was decent. She was a bit stiff to one side, which isn't unusual for her, especially when she's tired, but unfortunately we did end up in a bit of a "stiffness loop," as feeling the stiffness in her was making me tense up a bit as the movement felt a bit different. We weren't as good at staying properly on the track in that direction, but I focused more on the movement itself than on precision steering. My right leg kept wanting to creep forward on me, which was an old problem I had when I was just starting back into cantering again. Every now and then it pops up again. Don't know why, and fighting it doesn't really help either, but I've learned to ride through it and just shrug it off as a "thing."

However, that aside, we did do some pretty nice 15 and 10 metre circles at both canter and trot! I did a 15m circle canter figure 8 with a flying change, twice in each direction, and she stayed balanced through it, the circles stayed pretty round, and she gave me the lead change when I asked for it instead of just when she felt like it!

We wound things down with more sitting trot, and did some serpentines. By now I was really warmed up and so was she, so she was easier to sit to and it felt great.

I also worked on using mostly my seat muscles to collect her trot, which was a fun exercise. I'm still not sure how to break down exactly *how* my body is telling her to collect but stay trotting, but whatever it is, it seems to be working. A combination of a very slight blocking with the seat, and a shortening and repeated slight half-halts with the hands, while keeping my leg on to keep the "gas pedal" on and keep her in the gait. Conversely, to extend, I open my hips and knees, let my seat completely go with the flow, add leg and have a giving hand.

It's so very cool to ride such an adjustable horse, and one who's such a good sport. She's chill enough to carry total beginners and very small children, but has the training to keep allowing someone to "unlock" different aids with her. As my riding has progressed, I've gotten more and more out of her that was there this whole time. I just didn't know how to access it!

After all that, I walked her back to the barn, and my coach said "Oh, did you give up because of the bugs?" Haha. All that and I guess I had been riding for MAYBE 25 minutes? I guess I packed a lot in, because it FELT like a long ride!

In summary: my body was doing some funky canter stuff, but it still got the job done, and my sitting trot was some of the best I've ever ridden on this horse! Even though it wasn't as "OMG YES" as Friday's ride was (I still haven't recapped that one -- oops!!) it was really satisfying, and I've come such a very long way!!!

Friday, May 11, 2018

Man, what a ride!

I just had a super stressful week, with work eating up just about every waking minute of my life. I kept trying to get out to ride, but invariably the work day, and/or other obligations, and in one instance weather... would conspire to get in the way. 

I wasn't sure how tonight's lesson would go, as I hadn't ridden since last Saturday, and have abruptly gone from riding four days a week for most of March and April, to abruptly cutting back to once or twice. BUT! It was so good!

My body usually fights me after a tense week, but tonight I think I was so pumped to FINALLY get to ride, it decided to really cooperate. I was super limber, strong when needed, felt balanced and my seat just felt so "on" that it was like I was part of the saddle.

It's late here now, and I'm sitting on my tired butt eating a bunch of Haagen Dazs brownies and cookie dough ice cream straight from the container while my partner is dead asleep in the other room. I really do want to recap the ride properly though, so I think I'll revisit that tomorrow at some point.

I will say briefly though that I did sit a spook and totally just went with it, physically and mentally. That's actually HUGE for me, because I tend to be a bit of a nervous rider. But no, she spooked at a LEAF. On the GROUND. It wasn't even moving. And it was so bizarre from this unflappable horse, that the instructor and myself just laughed at her about it and we carried on. I was, amazingly for me, in no way traumatized by it.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

It's easy to be humble...

...when you've spent the entire winter riding one horse consistently (aside from those two Paso rides) and then try a new one of a completely different size and shape, and find yourself mysteriously and completely losing one of your stirrups in canter.

Specifically the left lead canter, and the left stirrup. Point in my favour, though: I was able to carry on quite well without it, and actually got it BACK once!

Anyhow, getting ahead of myself. So. This summer, there are two lesson horses at my barn that need a bit of post-lease rehab from having another barn's beginners bombing around on them and letting them move like strung out giraffes. Both have picked up some bad small habits, none of them dangerous, but that need to get sorted out. One is recovering from a minor injury and can only have very short, light rides right now. The other is fine but needs to start carrying herself better under saddle. So, tonight I rode that one.

I normally ride a big warmblood with a wide barrel, long back, long neck, low head carriage, and who is a pretty level ride. Tonight's horse was a small, narrow, springy, short-necked short-backed Pintarabian. My usual horse rides like a train, pushing straight and smooth and powerfully forward. The little horse tonight was like riding a little deer. Still nice but SO different! Which is actually GREAT because I worry that riding only the same horse all the time is going to make me a bit complacent and start overestimating my abilities. Nothing is more humbling as a rider than trying a different horse and suddenly feeling completely at sea!

However, I didn't feel COMPLETELY at sea by any means, so that was a good sign. I found trying to gauge how she was moving, and how quickly, was quite difficult because I had no point of reference from any previous lessons on her for what "her" working trot, canter, etc are supposed to feel like. So I listened to my coach (I do that, yes I do!) and adjusted accordingly.

She did a lot of wiggling her head around, and tossing it, and the longer I rode the more dramatic her head tossing became. (This was apparently an evasion tactic with the beginners.) I was having a bit of trouble working with it at first, but developed two strategies that helped. One was to take up the random slack in the reins by widening my hands instead of constantly readjusting my rein length, which was getting a bit ridiculous. The other was, as her head tossing got more dramatic, to stop really thinking about her head at all and just ride her from her back end forward, if that makes sense. That was actually helpful on several levels because it helped make my seat feel immediately stronger and more independent, and it made me semi-tune-out the fussing happening in front of me and think of the bigger picture.

My leg was really ON tonight, and even though I was riding in a different saddle than I'm used to, as well, I felt very secure. I was in a jumping saddle instead of a dressage saddle, so did have to ride shorter to be effective (and in hindsight should probably have ridden even shorter. Maybe.). I saw some photos after the ride, and was pretty shocked to see how DEEP my heels were. But that wasn't all of it. My whole leg felt engaged and like it was working to support me. My hips weren't as open as they are in the dressage saddle, but that's to be expected. I really did feel all my muscles working together to support me and to get the job done.

What needs improvement: my right leg seemed to be moving a lot to try to be effective, whereas my left leg was just kind of quietly there, but still on and strong. My feet wanted to come forward on me, especially in canter! I think that's maybe why I was losing that left stirrup on the left lead, but I'm not exactly sure. My coach said that something about that horse's stride does tend to want to push your leg forward so it wasn't just me. She also told me that my heels weren't coming up and I didn't seem to be shortening my leg on that side, so actually losing the stirrup was pretty bizarre. I lost it three times that direction, haha! But my seat was ON tonight and I just kept riding without it. And I actually got it BACK once! Woohoo! But immediately started to lose it again... There was a LOT of sand and grit on my boot soles tonight, so that might have been part of the problem, but I think it was probably 90% something I was doing (or not doing).

I was also a little bit tippy side to side at moments. Not in a major way, to where I lost my balance, but it snuck up on me! I think that came from not being used to a narrow horse. My legs and hips and body were a bit confused. Less bearing surface, haha.

All in all, though, a good ride. Very cool to have a new and so very DIFFERENT horse to ride regularly! I might actually start to get well rounded. :O

A great takeaway from tonight: I'm starting to feel like my seat is getting strong enough that if a horse I was on WERE to do something a bit wacky or act up a little, I could keep my seat and just ride it out. Not that I'm seeking out scenarios to test that any time soon. ;) Still, it's a great feeling!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Yesterday I had my first ride of the season back at the "home" barn, in the outdoor arena.

Now, one strange effect of riding in the indoor arena all winter, in the DEAD QUIET, was that every single noise stood out, and the horses were jumpy at even tiny changes. The horse I leased over the winter is normally pretty bombproof, but even she had some small spooks at sudden noises in the extremely still arena. My last outdoor ride on her had been on a VERY windy day, and it had been the only time I really thought I was going to fall off of her, in two and a half years of riding her, as she was spooking and sort "pinging" randomly around the arena. Very out of character, and at one moment I had felt that sort of swell of tension in her body and had that "Oh crap here we go" feeling that a shy and bolt was going to happen. And while it DID happen, it was short-lived and I stuck it out, but it left me jumpy and rattled for quite a while after that. It's funny. In a horse that's normally spooky I think it would have shaken me less, but in her it was so sudden and strange that I carried a worry for a while that she might spook in a zero-to-one-hundred way at some point that I wouldn't see coming.

However. She hadn't done a single BIG spook since.

So, I was actually feeling pretty good about yesterday's return to the outdoors. However, the afternoon started to have some bad weird weather, with -- oh boy -- big random gusts of wind coming through. A perfect copy of the weather that had set her off outside the last time. I thought about cancelling but decided to just wait and see. And, PHEW, by the time my lesson was about to happen, it had all cleared up and was totally pleasant (if humid) out!

I hadn't ridden since Friday, and this would at one time have been a perfectly normal span between rides, but as I was riding four times or more per week over the last month and a half, I did notice some stiffness after that gap. It didn't help that I just started running again this week for the first time since January, and my legs were still sore from that. However! The ride went, and felt, much better than expected. For some reason I was REALLY pushing for a fast trot, and clucking a lot when I'm normally actually a pretty quiet rider. I kept having to be told to bring her back a bit, when it's usually the opposite with me. The horse felt very different this ride -- not just my stiff body -- and it was interesting what a bit of time off, a change of scene, and the reintroduction of a couple of other riders into her schedule had done to how she felt. I had been the only one riding her for months, so we were very tuned in to each other. Maybe a little too much, as I think it's good for both horse and rider to change things up a bit!

We rode over some poles at the trot, and I was stiff enough that I actually had to go up a hole from my usual dressage saddle length as I just wasn't draping quite as long as I usually do when I'm really relaxed and open in my hips. My coach's advice is to "ride the best you can with the body you have" on a given day, though, so up went the stirrups and I rode in a slightly lighter seat. My canter seat -- which had been so much more open in the hips and following so much better lately -- was wanting to bounce, so I let myself float above it a bit instead and let a lot of the motion drop down into my heel (keeping your advice in mind, DDN, thanks!!) and was able to still ride pretty well despite my tired body fighting me. I managed to do it without popping right up into a half seat, which would normally have been my default on a stiff day. My old hunter lessons frequently kick back in (involuntarily) despite the fact that I haven't had one in nearly 20 years!

We also did a lot of canter work, including quite a few transitions, and some 15 and 10 meter canter circles. My canter to walk transitions were not so great as my body wanted to post the one or two strides of trot that would slip in there, which didn't exactly help. We also did some flying changes on a figure eight, and my recent failure at staying in counter canter had taught me that a much lighter ask for the change was enough, and those went a lot more smoothly.

Riding in the humidity, plus my tired post-run legs, made me feel like I was having much more of a push ride experience than I think, in hindsight, that I actually was. Still, it was really interesting to feel the difference being back in that ring again after so much riding this winter. I felt so much better, more in control (even though my steering wasn't amazing -- but I think I just need to relearn my spatial awareness in there, as my steering was pretty spot on all winter). My body is so much stronger and more balanced now.

And despite my stiffness, my sitting trot was actually really good! Go figure. Bodies are so strange.

I also got some good news, in that I can continue with my usual horse this season for a very reasonable fee, AND ride two of the less-used lesson ponies for free, to tune them back up. I also have access to a nice Western horse, at a different barn, that I can put some rides on for free. All in all, it seems I will be rolling in ponies this year!