May 15, 2010

Stupid Circles

Sweat is pouring down my face.

It's approximately 95% humidity, 85 degrees of drip-inducing goodness out.

I am torturing Solo with some dressage schooling, his absolute favourite. If horses are capable of sarcastic glares, I think I got one when I got on.

One of David O's favourite exercises to torment warm us up with is flexing the poll while cantering on a circle. Sounds easy, doesn't it? Ha. It's not.

I am determined to conquer this exercise. Solo's interpretation of this little gymnastic endeavor is to either fall on his inside shoulder while lifting his head around the turn, or pop his outside shoulder out and ignore the outside rein. If you do get close to convincing him to bend, he feels it is impossible to do so while maintaining forward motion.

We've had a little success on a previous ride under jumping tack. Which means I had spurs and the elevator bit so it was easier to use a light aid that Solo could not simply brace himself against and ignore. Today, though, I was in dressage gear, so we had the plastic boucher and no spur.

The canter transitions were going well and the rhythm was cadenced and Solo's back was soft. We began our circle in good balance and I closed it down to 15 m while asking him to flex.

The sweat burned my eyes and my completely non-breathable polo shirt from work that I had been too hurried to change out of clung to my back.

Hot, sweaty Solo said, "No. Flexing is hard" and tipped onto his forehand and leaned.

It happened. I was tired and my patience buckled. I made that fatal riding flaw, goaded by the ugly monsters of heat and fatigue: I got mad.

"Good god, horse, it's not that hard, just BEND!!" I tried to insist with gritted teeth and an outpouring of frustration to the hand on the rein and the heel in his side.

Solo, however, is unfailingly honest in his assessment of my riding finesse on a given day. And he got mad right back, as they unfailingly (and rightfully) do when we try to force our hand too fast. And flung his head up in the air in protest and skittered off to the side.

Immediately I knew that I had pushed too hard and with too little patience. I went back to a walk, letting Solo stretch and myself try and breathe and forget about the swampy air wrapped around my brain.

When I attained some semblance of calm and thought through what went wrong, I picked up a soft contact and asked for our cadenced canter back.

Solo was wary, one ear cocked back, warning me that I better be good up there, he wasn't going to take any crap. I asked him to come into the outside rein a little and asked for a single circle, just 20 m this time, one challenge at a time. As he bent around my leg, I sat up and asked for only a step or two of poll flexion to the inside. I did not force him to hold it very long as he is not there yet. He gave me my steps, I rode him out of the circle and let him continue straight and then we quit.

This is a lesson I must learn over and over and over. A lesson that I know, but that is so hard to stay true to when things get gritty. The moments when I lose it are rare indeed, but serve as an important reminder that impatience has no place in riding and training. If we find ourselves angry or frustrated, we MUST stop, breathe, and jump start our brains because that's where the solution is. Not in force, not in brawn.

We are making progress. We'll get there. As P says, one step at a time. If you get three good steps going one way, and three good steps going the other way, well, then that's six good steps. Maybe next time you'll get eight, then next time eleven and soon, you'll have a whole circle...


  1. I love reading your blog, you are so humble! I have little to no patience sometimes and try to stop myself before I get to my breaking point. olly being even less experienced makes it so difficult sometimes. i learn so much from your good and even bad experiences. Thanks for sharing. I feel like I am actually there when I read. Good job and I hope next time you will be able to get your whole circle.

  2. Aw, thank you PruSki! Solo certainly keeps me humble -- dare I ever think I am some infallible rider who knows it all, he makes sure to remind me that that is most certainly NOT the case, I'm just a guest on His Shininesses back and I'd better mind my p's and q's!

  3. I have to agree, I love reading your blog. It's nice to hear someone talk about not only their successes but the downfalls as well. Good to know it's not just me asking Mr. Shiny Pony for forgiveness on an all too regular basis :-) Although I'd say you lucked out with Solo's idea of correcting your naughtiness; Mosco BUCKS if he thinks you're too quick to correct (What?! You would dare HIT ME????) Lol.

  4. And some days you take 20 steps back!! HA ha! Ah, horses. I relate to all you had to say and completely agree. Isn't it wonderful that our horses are so forgiving? Well, mine is anyway. My trainer comments on that often. We are the green team. Green horse and green dressage rider (jumper/hack rider background :) so that makes it super hard. But I would like to event and I also know that our dressage training will make all the flatwork for jumping that much better. And the heat? Yeah. Texas here. Last summer I had an AM dressage lesson, puked and then passed out. Luckily not while still on Jackson! UGH. Inferno.

  5. Ah yes, the backward days! I try to forget about those as quickly as possible. I feel you on the puking, I always have to run to my trailer after a jumping lesson and lay in the shade. It's a race to see if I can make it to the shade before passing out in the driveway...

  6. Yep, I feel you. It's easy to get frustrated sometimes, especially when it's all hot outside.

    I just constantly remind myself where we've come from. "Last month I couldn't get you to relax at all...last month your canter had no rhythm....but now you relax sometimes and now we get six steps of rhythmic canter."

    Then I ask for seven steps.

    And yes, I hate those backward days. But - here's where the blog comes in handy - I think about the good days, and the progress we've made, and I know we'll have a better ride next time.

  7. You are totally right, mm, and the blog has really helped with that. When I get frustrated, I think about the several years I spent with no decent canter at all on this horse and then I think about the totally awesome, round up transition I got today into an uphill canter, it does help to put things in perspective.

  8. Thanks for the reminder! Always good to hear that we're all prone to the same mistakes, and it's not just little ole me that will sometimes get quick to anger. I always find that when I stop 'telling' and start 'asking' I get more of what I want and faster too. I hope for more good days and baby steps in the future!