Flatwork Bootcamp.

Nay Nay posing for a selfie
Such a goofball

I was super excited to sit down and write this post and now that I’m here, I’m struggling. I think it’s because I have zero media? Hopefully I can remedy that next weekend (I’m pretty sure we’re going to hit “It’s too hot to ride” temperatures this weekend, but you never know).

We started our flatwork bootcamp in the last lesson I wrote about using the controversial draw reins and I’m going to say, the changes in how much progress we’ve made have been incredible. Now, even when I’m not DOING anything you can see improvement. This was the connection that Nay just wasn’t understanding and I wasn’t able to teach him. For know, we’re primarily working with his front end and adding forward impulsion from behind.

My first solo ride I primarily stuck to the walk and trot (I thought about cantering but we were both exhausted and then people showed up and I decided just to quit). Going to the left has been great. But, I was visibly struggling to the right. Nay would lock up and I’d have to work really hard to get everything in place: bending, moving over, AND moving forward. Honestly, at times it was just too much. When it’s too much, we tend to work on making the good better which is probably why the right sucks so much?

Which brings we to lesson 1. Immediately the crappy right was brought up and I was advised to stop working to the left (so much). Ugh. Yeah.

After seeing how hard I was working, I was given a small spur for my right leg. And then we spent so much time analyzing my right side. See, it turns out my entire right side just sucks (my words). I am so weak to the right, BUT I also have like no turnout in my right hip so I struggle to get the spur in or my heel in at the girth. It actually hurts. So we worked on my right heel. I can turn my ankle out, but we wanted the turn out to come from my hip to give me greater control. Lots of stretching in my future. So we spent a lot of time at the walk and trot at the right working on that bend with my heel in.

Nay was…less than thrilled. You see, there were horses in the ring which is fine, but they were there in his space WHILE he was trying to learn knew stuff and a spur was bugging him. It was kind of all too much for him. But we pushed through.

Post ride bath looking like a goat
Post ride bath for the win!

We cantered left first and it wasn’t pretty. I had to keep the spur off him and keep him forward AND keep my reins short enough (new canter theme) so we did a bit of bouncing vs forwarding especially when I lacked so steering… Ugh. The right was better but I about killed my shoulder by not keeping my reins short and someone kept launching me forward. He tried so hard, but it was a lot for him to take in.

I had homework for the next day and directions for no spur. So we worked on all the same things and the ring was quieter (9amish again — we were all trying to beat the heat), but just 2 horses. He was much better, but so tired. The heel lesson the day before seemed to stick and suddenly he started moving off my heel which ACTUALLY STAYED IN THE CORRECT PLACE!!! Everything felt good except for the canter which was messy and I couldn’t keep my reins short enough despite constant shortening…

Which brings me to Thursday’s lesson. This was the hottest, muggiest day yet for out 9:30 lesson. All these rides in a row really paid off. We initially talked about riding with the spur again after the day off, but after Nay was so good on Wednesday (and I couldn’t find my super tiny vs only tiny spur), I decided just to risk now wearing one. When my trainer saw just how good he was without it, she was on board with the plan. The new plan? Wear as needed for a ride here and there and he’ll either get used to it or it’ll just be a good tune up. Either way, my leg will get stronger. But for now, not wearing it was the correct choice.

At the walk Nay Nay was FANTASTIC. I warmed up on my own a bit just to press his buttons. The ring was quieter (Nay’s preference), but we weren’t alone. My trainer was finishing up a lesson and someone was hacking and there may have been another horse in training. But it didn’t feel chaotic. Once it was our turn? Nay showed his stuff. We started to the left and quickly were told that we didn’t need to practice that direction. To the right? It was also very good. When we were standing still, I was corrected for something I was corrected on last lesson and I guess over corrected. You see, last lesson Nay, when relaxed, always looks left, so I was to praise him when he looked right. Now? I need to ask him to stand straight and look forward. So we worked on not letting him shift to one direction or another. To be honest, I don’t actually care as much about this, but I’m willing to be conscious about keeping him straight when I ask.

Next we working on trotting around to the right, using both the entire ring and also circling. The difference from last lesson was that we did a lot of nothing vs constant reminding to bend. He had the carriage for the most part when trotting around so my job was just to do nothing unless I felt him start to slip, then add heel then hand as needed. He was so good. Towards the end, I got tired (mentally) which showed (physically) so we lost it a bit on a half circle. Future point of reference, stop before you get to this point.

We took a walk and water break and then did small circles. Points to remember: get the bend and connection BEFORE you circle. Easy enough but it’s not that I remembered to do this. I really struggled with the place I was told to circle. However, we were circling around another horse and I’m pretty sure Nay just did NOT want to be that close which is why we kept losing it all. The second we made the same circle in 2 other places? All good. Only difference? No other horse. Even circling right by the gate.

Finally, the canter. Even though we worked only to the right, we still cantered left and started out that direction. Before, we discussed my rein issue. I THINK a huge part is that it’s been so freaking hot out that Nay is so sweaty that my reins just get wet and slide out of my hands. Anyway, for now, the advice is for me to not ride with gloves* and to knot my reins. I can knot each individual rein or just knot them both. Yesterday, I just knotted them both and it worked really well. If I go the individual route, I’ll probably get crappier reins to knot. For now though I like this method.

dripping with sweat following our lesson
He’s melting! That was HARD WORK.

*I hate gloves. I FINALLY got myself consistently riding with them a few years ago (it took YEARS) and I struggle with the idea of not riding with them. So, for now I’m pulling them at the canter and only at the canter.

To the left the canter was amazing. Once again, we just picked up the lead. It’s just been there. None of the popping issues existed and we just let him canter around and stayed out of his way. It was fantastic. Probably the nicest left lead canter I’ve had. To the right, the transition was lovely and the canter was pretty good. I did circle because I’ve gotten so used to circling, but again, it was good. I need to work on not leaning in and dropping my outside shoulder will help, but otherwise? Unlike the last 2 rides, the canter felt significantly better.

Anyway, all of this to say, I finished my lesson and for the first time in a long time, my trainer and the person watching (who rode with me the last 3 days) commented on just how much progress he made since Tuesday. It was truly astounding. We worked hard. He worked hard. And was dripping with sweat to prove it.

He’s getting Friday off and I’m going to try to drag us out early Saturday morning (on my 8:30?) before we start yet another day in the 90s.

I’ve got gadgets and gizmos aplenty

I had a very eye opening lesson this morning. I debated not blogging about it because, honestly? Everyone has opinions. But, at the same time, this is my horse, my journey, I can blog if I want to, right?

I approached my trainer about my current mindset. And let’s be real. I’m struggling. I need direction. Getting back into riding this spring after everything we went through from mid fall through March, taking it easy WAS the right choice. But, we’re both relatively healthy now. And now I NEED more to keep me motivated. Light and low-key is good for winter or when I feel like crap (which will be back, I’m sure, I have chronic health issues), but I actually am doing OK. So I basically said that.

Since we overhauled me position (still a work in progress), my trainer said that if Nay was her horse, she’d overhaul his body awareness to improve his flat work with an ultimately goal of teaching him his changes.

None of that, in and of itself is controversial. Or, at least I don’t think. But, my trainer is a believer of using draw reins and using them properly (hence my thoughts on not blogging).

See, I’m not against draw reins OR any other tool. But I want to know why I’m using it, how I’m using it, and I want to know that I’m using the tool properly. We used them briefly a year or so ago prior to me getting sick and I ended up not feeling comfortable using them on my own so I stopped. This time, there is no winter circuit so I should actually get some lessons IN the draw reins in between practice rides to reinforce the lessons rather than me just learning something once or twice and getting lost.

Anyway, we spent a good 1/3 to 1/2 of the lesson at the walk just work on bending and changing direction and changing the bend back and forth while being aware of the bend and avoiding the counter bend. Plus, maintaining a marching walk. We weren’t focused on the hind end today, just the front end, the forward, and the bend. It was a good way to see that tugging my inside hand back really DOES get him unstuck. I’ve been told this constantly, but I only seemed to get it today. Plus, as always, inside hand to belly button to around turns which is finally becoming second nature.

A tired Nay Nay post lesson
One tired Nay Nay

Next, we moved the trot and applied the same thing with less turns and change of direction. But, the same idea. Interestingly enough, we’re far better bent to the left than the right. I like the left, but Nay’s been better to the right recently? Whatever. We started loose with a tighter braided rein just emphasizing FORWARD (key of the day). Then shortened the draw rein slightly. The goal here was to maintain the bend (easy to the left, harder to the right, but we got that) AND maintain forward. So, it was shorten and leg forward so that we emphasized that shortening the draw rein didn’t mean to slow. Praise (I had to find a word other than good boy since that = halt… er. “Yes” seemed to work well). Then do it again. We started VERY long so we never getting him short, but rather working with him to feel the contact and such. He definitely was not upset by it and less confused by the end.

Finally, we tried the same at the canter. Just on a half circle each direction. We started to the right, his good canter direction where we picked it up and promptly lost it… but after recollecting were successful. Interestingly enough, the right was HARD, I had to work hard. Granted, he was very much on his front end and not using his hind end which we’ll be addressing next lesson next week, it was a lot of work. To the left where we’ve been 50/50 with picking up the lead? Easiest canter transition I’ve had in forever. All the bending we did early on, he just stepped right into it and I never felt like I was going to lose the canter. Usually I struggle to keep the left but not today.

So my homework is to practice primarily at the walk and trot like today. Then toss in a couple half circles at the canter. We’ll regroup next week and go from there, bringing the hind end into our training.

In a rut

I’ve been struggling with this blog lately. I haven’t really known what to write. My rides have either been decent or I’ve been riding a ball of tension. I’m not entirely sure what to make of it. Overall, I’ve just been in a bit of a rut. And, when I’m in a rut, I struggle with motivation to ride which makes the problem…worse?

I’ve had some good and some bad rides, but mostly I’m just struggling TO ride.

One thing he is good at is hanging out at the trailer.

Between the weather (hot and rain and storms) and health (fly spray chemical burns and vaccine reactions — Nay is a hothouse flower plus me having some fun allergic reaction some sort of insect bite), I have not ridden consistently over the last several weeks. The less I ride, the harder it is to ride.

Over the last few months, I’ve taken fewer lessons, taking off the pressure. But, at the same time, I think I’m in a place where I need lessons to force me to ride? Or a ring at home. Since the home arena isn’t happening, lessons it is. I have one this week and 2 next week. Hopefully, this will be enough to get me back on track?

Anyway, riding now, good or bad I’m trying just to ride. And good or bad, useful or pointless, I’m also trying to blog.