Friday, September 9, 2016

Cracking down

There's a lot of upsides to riding for a long time.  I can read equine body language easily and can often spot a problem early enough to stop it from escalating.  I have a weird set of skills for doing things like cleaning tack, taming manes, and explaining how to post the trot.  The downside is that a lot of this time was spent in a discipline that I have since left behind.  And our knowledge of how a horse should be ridden changes over time.

Back in the 80's when I was a pony jock keeping my cantankerous pony Terry from dumping me in fences at Short Stirrup, dressage was still a new fangled idea.  These crazy Europeans were talking about making horses supple and obedient and trotting around with their noses down.  But hey, those Lipizzaners were awesome!  So in rural Louisiana, right around the end of the 80's, my trainer started to follow dressage.  About the same time, I turned 10 and started to ride well enough to muck around with the ponies on my own.

I learned what a shoulder in was.  Sort of.  Mostly I made my pony trot sideways down the long side.  And we leg yielded!  I booted his resistant butt until he gave up and moved over.  And if he threw his head in the air?  Just slide the bit back and forth until he puts his nose in.  I remember standing in the center of the ring, practicing doing this at the halt on my pony Hotshot.  Less troublesome than Terry, he tolerated this new set of rules with more grace. 

Fast forward a couple decades.  I've now been 'sliding the bit' to make a horse go 'round' for a long, long time.  Because it works and in the hunters, close enough.  We weren't looking for a dressage way of going, anyway.  But my hands have been see sawing for so long it's now instinct.  Horse starts to brace and go above the bit?  Left right left, knock that off.  9 times out of 10, I don't even know I'm doing it.

I got my keister merrily handed to me this week as Trainer A put the hammer down on me taking control of my hands.  I'm not going to make it past where I'm at if my hands don't quiet down when I have a contact.  I can do quiet hands when I am riding off just my seat, but put Theo on a contact and the second he braces, my hands go nuts.

Of course I'm exaggerating.  I am not sawing on my horse's mouth, this is a subtle move.  I've been doing this long enough that it's a quick left right left with my fingers.  Incorrect but no, not abusive.  Just figured I'd mention that before people think my hands are cruel and Theo is being mistreated.

So I spent the ride being told 'don't you dare!' every time my hand would start to move incorrectly.  Instead I closed my fingers on a rein, held it, then opened them on command.  And you know what?  Worked just fine once Theo realized this was the new language.  He was softer, more supple when he didn't have to worry about my hands becoming possessed and sliding the bit around.  But it's hard as hell to break a habit that you're not even aware you're doing.  Frustrating and tiring.  And I was also getting busted on using my legs correctly to get that lengthen.  So my hips were killing me.  Ugh.

I know this needs to happen and the results were excellent (real lengthenings, yay!), but I really felt the pressure.  It was my first private in a couple weeks and the whip was cracked hard.  Use my seat, quiet my hands, keep my rhythm, where the hell were my hands going?, sit down, don't pick, don't rush, more energy!, push with your seat, don't you dare with your hands!, breathe, sit deep, HANDS!

Good gravy.

Riding on my own today, I had to do my best to crack down on myself.  At one point I had to physically look down at my hands and watch them while trotting on a circle.  Seriously, the little fuckers are possessed!  Theo seems to approve of my even quieter hands.  Just a couple rides and he's starting to understand that softening to closed fingers gets him a quick release of pressure.  He doesn't have to brace against my rude hands.  But it's hard.  It's running over letters because I'm looking at my hands and not steering hard.  And I know it's not going to make any difference for Saugerties because two weeks is not enough time to reprogram that much muscle memory.  This will take months.

But if I don't get started, I'll never get there.  I can't keep putting it off until it's a good time.  I'm back to my body pillow and Icy Hot for my hips.  I haven't even written about the chewing I got for not doing my part in getting mi papi's hocks engaged.  I may need to start picking up ice cream after lessons like that.  I certainly feel battered enough . . .

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