You know those rides where you suddenly feel something snap into place after weeks of struggling? It hasn't been working and hasn't been working and your trainer is ready to start channeling all sorts of demonic fury at you because they've done everything short of riding behind you and doing it themselves but you still don't GET it and you're stuck because you need that to get any further, but then the stars align and the heavens open and holy mother of pearl THAT'S IT!
And then it's gone again, but that's not the point. The point is, I had one of those rides. One of those rides that goes in the journal with BREAKTHROUGH in all caps. And it wasn't just me, mi papi also had a light bulb moment, which makes it twice as much fun.
My laptop is busted (thanks, Windows) so no tablet, this will have to do
Yes, this is going to be a long, excited babbling about how wonderful Theo is. You have been warned.
Trainer A wasn't done with that grid. She was bound and determined that we would learn to canter through the grid without looking dumb, flailing, trantering (that cross between trot and canter Theo reverts to when the footwork gets tough), or jumping both parts of the bounce at once (yeah, he pulled a Fiona). She's a woman on a mission and has the patience of a saint. I understand the why, we're not going to get anywhere if I can't learn to shorten his canter without a world of resistance and our jumping will never progress if I can't learn to hang on to that canter, that doesn't mean I was thrilled to see the grid being set up again.
Let me say, this is hard. Hard hard hard. I want to get up off his back, soften, and basically get out of his way. That doesn't work for this. Theo requires me to sit down (but not brace), hold (but don't pull), keep the rhythm with my body (never my hands), and remain calm. If I do this, he softens through his neck and back so he can jump nicely. If I don't? He goes giraffe mode, drops his weight on his forehand, and plows through with rails flying. Just sitting to a fence is hard for me. I am a standard American trained h/j rider. You get up off their back to jump, end of story. Trainer A has finally beaten an upright canter position into me and the ability to really sit, so I'm expected to keep my fanny in the saddle right up to take off.
It sucked and it sucked and it sucked until this ride when it suddenly . . . didn't. I had my stirrups jacked up to jumping length but she said 'sit down!', I did, and it was okay. We warmed up just cantering through the poles and it dawned on me that I was finally comfortable with sitting down while he cantered poles. Properly sitting the canter makes a world of difference in my ability to do the 12m turn needed to present to the grid on the centerline of the indoor. Instead of careening in, I can use my whole body to lift Theo up and get him hopping on that inside hind. I don't know what changed, but I finally felt comfortable sitting deep to a fence. And since I was comfortable and riding Theo the way he understands, he relaxed and could offer more. Yes!
Then we started to build on that. Some passes were good, some sucked, but there was a lot more good than bad. Papi would start to resist, then we'd circle and I'd sit and show him that it was okay. Once he was swinging his tail again, we'd go back to the grid. When his footwork faltered, we trotted in, low and relaxed, so he could reset it in his mind.
Especially off the right lead, I had to control his shoulders. If his neck curved and his shoulders bulged, I lost my canter. Okay, then, I'm sitting deep enough. We've been practicing this whole turning thing a lot on the flat. Let's square this turn off and get him off of his inside shoulder and back on his butt. I lifted and cussed and held that left rein and left leg hard through the turn. Then I half halted, exhaled and relaxed my arms while holding the rhythm with my hips, and jumped. He rocked back, kept the shortened step from the turn, and popped through as politely and gracefully as we could ask for. Trainer A was beside herself. Finally, finally, we did it! He came in with about a ten foot stride but wasn't braced and fighting. I held through the whole grid, not collapsing in the name of softness, so he held it to the end. He didn't swap leads, bulge, or anything else. I felt my muscles through my lower abdomen and obliques working hard in a way that's quite new to me. So that's what I'm supposed to be doing!
Funny thing, all of that core work and focus on keeping my body still also helped to fix my snapping my upper body over a jump problem as well. Huh.
After that, he got many cookies from me and sugar cubes from Trainer A while we tucked him in his cooler to walk out. Trainer A didn't say anything new, there was no new exercise, it was just one of those rides where we finally both got it. I'm sure we'll be flailing again when she throws us at the grid in our next lesson, but I feel like we both moved from Conscious Incompetence to Conscious Competence. At least we know how to do it now, even if we're still struggling to do it reliably.
Also, can we all admire the way the beastie is muscling up?
I know it's a terrible picture, I cracked the cover on my phone's camera, but it was definitely one of those rides where we were wondering who this powerful, willing horse was and what happened to the thigh master with such a reputation