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We Are Flying Solo

Showing posts with label schooling. Show all posts
Showing posts with label schooling. Show all posts

November 12, 2014

The Sage Speaks: Better Yourself, Better Your Horse

If ever someone encapsulated the goal & spirit of not only this blog, but my own strong convictions in regards to building equine partnerships through thoughful training...well, the legendary Ray Hunt (I know, big surprise) has done it.

Your food for many levels of thought, from the master himself --

Solo owns Longleaf Pines HT, 2010; Photo by Pics of You

September 21, 2014

Riding Solo Makes Me Happy...And A Tiny Bit Frustrated

Partners
Learning to be an effective, thinking rider is awesome.  And it sucks. 

How Does One Come To This Odd Conclusion?

I actually got to ride Solo yesterday, on the most glorious of Carolina fall mornings.  Even as I fed him breakfast, I could feel the palpable restlessness flowing between us.  It was a quiet, echoing chorus of, "let's ride, let's shine, let's be US."

Part of the beauty of eight years of partnership is knowing exactly which of your horse's joints need longer to loosen & the precise schooling exercises required to stretch the tightest muscles.  Every ligament, every sinew in his body is yours because you have spent more than 3,000 days as a team of two become one.

Trademark Solo "forward walk sux" face
Warming Up

After an obligatory Orange Horse protest on the principle of "forward because I say so," leg-yields were followed by shoulders-in followed by haunches-in suppling aging bodies (ahem, we won't say whose) at the walk.  These are vital for Solo's hocks & back before asking him to step forward in trot.

Moving down to our dressage 'arena,' we coaxed his inside hind leg to truly step into my outside hand & kept that QH butt active.  Creating that kinetic energy gives you something to work with, allowing you to create bend & corners & balance.  We are nothing without forward.

As the days cool, it is harder on arthritic joints (let's not name names here either...), so I kept our canter warm-up brief, but correct because I really wanted to take him over a few very small jumps.  It's a fine line, walked by feel, between pushing to strengthen & asking too much; I am always listening carefully to my horse.

Jumpy Jumpy!

We both wandered to catch our breath as I made a brief jump plan.  Perhaps 8 or 10 efforts, with an emphasis on balance & softness for us both.  I included extra care with my lines: he wears his trusty Cavallo Sport boots on his wussy front feet & there were still traces of dew on the grass.

Not so much like this (8 yrs ago!)
I channeled my inner David O. & found a steady rhythm, making sure to keep my shoulders back & my upper body VERY still so I didn't throw him on his forehand.  My legs had to stay wrapped around Solo's ribs to keep his hind feet stepping under & my hands had to stay connected, yet soft.  Repeating the David mantra of "soften in the last three strides, you can't change anything there anyway," I kept my hand in front of me, yet on his neck over AND after the jump, resisting the ever-present instinct to pull back after landing.

Well, for most of them anyway.  Did I mention learning?  Yeah, it's still a process, a long, stumbling process, but a snail's progress is still progress!

When I got it right, we were...THERE.  If Solo believes you won't fight him (I'm not sure why he wouldn't after our long history of, errrr, pulling matches, heh), he will jump & land & canter away like a lovely beast.  He might take 3 or 4 quick steps, but that is where the trust comes in:  I punch my instinct in the face, stay off his back, shove my fists into his neck on landing, & sit up.  My trust is rewarded by his & we just...flow.

Um, So Which Part Of This Was Sucky Exactly?? 

Thanks to Priscilla & David & my clinicians & in no small part, to Encore, I am finally GETTING how to really use my leg, thigh, core, & upper body.  I am GETTING how to ride the horse into the outside rein without sacrificing the forward energy.  I am GETTING how to feel, process, & respond with the correct aids when my horse needs an adjustment.

Creepers gonna creep...
Emphasis on "getting," there are still plenty of intervals of fail!

We hear these things suggested, yelled, repeated, written to us & at us over & over & over throughout our riding lives, but it really isn't until the 10,000th time we feel the links connect & our brain & our muscles finally digest that feeling, that it becomes truly knowing.

I wouldn't call it a lightbulb.  It's more like...a train.  Sparks fly from wheels spinning on the tracks at first, while the locomotive strains to begin moving.  But slowly, the momentum builds as the effort is put in, until, with enough time, you are rolling down the line.

So now I ride Solo & while I revel in how very little rein I need & how responsive he is to my lateral aids & how much FUN he is...I want to go back & do it all over again!  I want the rider I am now to bring along the horse he was when we began, to do it better, to do it smarter.

As if I'd say maybe to Tennant!
That Whole Big Picture Thing

While it's a frustrating tickle in my head, at the same time, he made me & I made him.  We learned from each other (even if it was "ok, never do that again") & I am still proud that we got here in spite of my fumbling about.  What's that saying about a blind hog & acorns?

Besides, I lack a time machine unless The Doctor shows up.  And even though it may have been a bumpy ride, Solo is still the one who carried me here.  It is his wisdom, his quirks, his baggage, his personality, & his heart that continue to teach me, call me out, & remind me that every step counts.  Both the mental & physical ones. 


July 9, 2014

Meet The Minion: Solo’s Full-Service Provider Shares Her Story

Linda Hoover Obstacle Clinic May 2014 017 (Small)
Thanks for teh staffz, mom!
You’ve heard me mention Erica, aka Blog Stalker, aka She Who Lunges Children, and her amazing appearance in my life a shockingly short time ago.  It has been my surprisingly great joy to watch her discover the unique gift of Solo Magic; it’s like falling in love with my horse all over again.  In return, she keeps my buddy moving, putting the spring back in his step, & fills in as Server Of Noms when I am on travel status for work.  On top of all that, she has quickly become a wonderful friend.  Take it away, Erica!!

Hi, this is Solo’s mysterious minion, Erica! If you follow Team Flying Solo on Facebook (and you should), you’ve probably seen a picture or two of me looking like a dweeb standing next to *** XC jumps, looking like a dweeb massaging Solo’s butt, or looking like a dweeb unabashedly shoveling Bojangles in my face (sweet mother of biscuits, I was meant to live in the South, y’all).  [enter eventer79: perfectly complements my dorkiness, if you ask me]

Did You Grow Up With Horses?

I rode & worked at an eventing barn in metro Detroit during high school, once I finally convinced my folks that this whole “horse thing” was not a phase. In college I rode when I had time & money (read: rarely), but I did play with my university polo team & catch-rode OTTBs for CANTER.  Even then, I was a super timid jumper, and swore off jumping more than once.
 
Linda Hoover Obstacle Clinic May 2014 033b (Small)
U ready for dis?
During my junior year, I got the unbelievable opportunity to study  in Northern Ireland, taking classes like equine sports medicine & living in a legit castle, residing in dorms…just above the stabling. Barely three weeks into my stay, I rode in survived my first XC schooling, only to fall off in a 6” gymnastic grid in my next lesson, & snap my wrist. Luckily the awesome instructors continued to include me in lessons on the ground, & I still learned a boat load. I also learned that being an American in an Irish pub wearing a cast will get you lots of free drinks. From there it was grad school, a baby, & a couple of interstate moves, but sadly, no more horses.

So What Made You Decide To Become A Stalker?

I randomly e-mailed Solo’s mom before moving to Durham, hoping she might have some leads on pet-friendly housing. The response was an open invitation to come over for a hack on the red beast!  So last summer I showed up, beers in hand [eventer79: you had me at ‘I brought some drinks’] and jeans on because I didn’t want to seem like I was assuming ride time. By January, we were making arrangements to bring Solo back into regular work. He’s just about the perfect packer for my stage of re-riding-ness: doesn’t give away freebies, but well-schooled on the flat [omg, who would have thunk it…], and will totally take care of my sorry behind over fences.

Linda Hoover Obstacle Clinic May 2014 051 (Small)
He's a tarp pro these days!
And Has Solo Accepted Your Proposal?

It’s being going fantastically, as weather & work allow. In May, I did a horsemanship clinic with Mr. Shiny next door, navigating tires, tarps, pool noodles, & even the ever-challenging single ground pole (Solo was all “Whadaya mean, put one foot over? Ground poles are for CROSSING, lady.”).  I tend to be an “act first, think later” person, so one of my big riding challenges is becoming more aware of my body & the timing of my cues. Having a chance to pause & focus on making a plan BEFORE moving forward was very helpful as I try to convince Solo I really AM trustworthy, I won’t hurt him, & he doesn’t always have to check with Mom to see if it’s okay.

The Calendar Said Something About Jumping?  We Want To Hear About The Jumping, Already!  Win, Lose, Or Draw??

Oh, back to that whole “I’m a candyass over fences…”  If everything is going well, the horse is balanced & we meet the jump on a good stride, ok.  Problem is, I never really understood how to create that balance, & when something goes wrong, I don’t have a toolbox. Thus, I hunch forward, clamp my knees like a crazy person & generally toss all my toys out of my mental pram. What could possibly go wrong with that approach?  [eventer79: I don’t see the problem, it has always worked so well for me in the sandbox…]

Solo & I had a few mini-jump schools that had gone reasonably well. He sometimes lands & roots & scoots & goes “wheee,” particularly if he wishes to point out a tight hand or heel, which can wig me out [eventer79: unfit horse bonus – it only lasts about four strides].  When the opportunity arose for a lesson with TFS favorite, David O’Brien, I planned on an awesome & super tough dressage lesson.  [ROFL, plans!]  Therefore Erica, established darned fool, jumped off a tractor holding a heavy post-pounder [eventer79: I’m rednecking her already!!!], and cracked said sorry behind on the wheel well.  Three weeks later, my tailbone is still yelling.  So what doesn’t require sitting in the saddle?  Oh yes, a jumping lesson!

*Gulp*

Body Demo 0 01 24-10
David: ...then you launch the rocket like this!  Solo:  Sooo...now?  Erica:  Please don't fall off, please don't fall off...

June 21, 2014

Please Press Pause

June Sunset (Small)
Taken from the tractor seat...
Letting the diesel idle, I pause the tractor on a berm in the top pasture.  It’s that quiet intermission when the sky holds its breath as the treetops cradle the last wedge of setting sun.  There’s a marked contrast between east and west; the latter glows in warm orange as the pond reflects a silver version of the same scene and the darkening pines set off the beauty of the painted clouds. 

Off to my left, though, the eastern sky has less placid thoughts.  Bulging piles of pink thunderheads rumble between strobe flashes of cloud lightning.

In between the two – there is me.  Me and two grazing horses, each with an ear cocked to the storm, should it decide to change direction and chase them to shelter.  Tonight, though, the front holds its course, withholding water, but consoling us with a cool wind to dry out the sticky air.  I never want to leave this moment.

If only that were possible.  But I can close my eyes and sneak back there in my mind once and a while.  In the meantime, responsibilities await.  Some are fun (build farm stuff!), some are not (read federal register notices!), most lie in between (find vanishing fishes!).

Horse Things Still Happen

Fenceing Sunset
No more poison ivy rubbing!
To my great incredulity, there is progress in some areas (hey, this is rather a feat these days!):  I have finished fencing taping off the main portion of my lower creek pasture so the horses can enjoy it complain that it's itchy out and there are bugs. 

Encore is back in work, errrr, well, let's use that phrase lightly, shall we?  Look, I sweat A LOT, and when it's 80% humidity at 8 pm...  But he's had a couple very nice long-lining sessions (once we were clear that yes, you do have to go forward even though you are in one of your pastures) and the rest of my focus has been on trotting/cantering hills and small obstacles in a balanced rhythm and some bareback lateral/transition work to build his hind end back up.  That butt strength is his critical and most difficult training need, just as aerobic conditioning was for Solo.

I just might give myself permission to take one lesson as a gift to myself in hard times.  Dangit.  Now that I've typed it, Encore is in his paddock right now, looking for something poky or a rock with a usable edge.  Or a stick.  Or a clod of dirt.  *eyeroll*

Are any of you managing to get in some ride time in the burgeoning sweatbox???

June 4, 2014

My Horse Has Itchy Intestines

Encore Wound
Lovely
Apparently.  Since on Sunday afternoon, I was presented with the delight you see pictured.

While I spent THREE HOURS clipping and probing and tweezer-ing and hosing and de-ticking (at least he’s patient), I told him next time he had an itch, he could just politely point it out so I could take care of it instead of over-dramatically experimenting with self-gutting on his own.  He already looks like burn victim, having used every reachable surface to scratch half the skin off his face.  He’s that little kid that you have duct-tape oven mitts when they get chicken pox so they won’t claw their skin off.  Only I don’t have enough oven mitts for every post.  And tree.  And rock.  And his entire body.

Ah well, I hadn’t used the emergency vet number in a while.  It was just hot enough and swollen enough and oozy enough that I wanted to make sure I had covered all my bases before someone came to check it out Monday and give him a (naturally, expensive) steroid shot.

Here I would like to pause and note the already employed strategery.  This adorable, wonderful, maddening horse is wearing fly boots, fly sheet when it’s not too hot, fly mask, eats garlic, gets fly spray, is treated with a tick drench, and is groomed often.  I will also note that Solo, aka I Used To Be A Giant, Accident-Prone Parasite Magnet…is fine.

He got his shot and I got permission to spend even more imaginary money on things that aren’t even fun, like antihistamines for the season.  He likely got a bit itchy from tick bites, started scratching on the TREE WITH THE FATTEST POISON IVY VINES and then the oils worked their way into broken skin and it all became a systemic cycle of itchiness.  I moved him out of pasture with said trees but then jinxed myself by observing on Saturday that he was healing nicely.

*pause for multiple eyerolls*

3'7 0 01 23-30
Remember this horse (2012) casually loping 3'7" in the chute?
On the plus side, he had the good grace to at least injure himself in a “no tack goes here” spot (I had noticed the scabs and thought movement from a ride might work out the fluid of the swelling; it did, but by the time I got the saddle off, it blew back up and on closer examination, the depth of drama was revealed).  Time is hard to come by at the moment, but I was determined to carve out 20 minutes, climb on and at least remind Encore what standards look like.
 
That ride…was our first proper jump school in – I’d actually have to look in my own archives it’s been so long – at least seven months.  We hacked next door to Trainer Neighbour’s Jump Field, adjusted a few rails, and assured Encore he would not die alone while OTHER HORSES DID INTERESTING THINGS RIGHT OVER THERE!

After perhaps two or three dressage schools over the last two months and a couple good trail rides with hill work:  The Pro still has it!  I channeled my inner David O. voice, focusing on being patient, consistent, and soft in my hand while not forgetting I have legs (what, I STILL have to think about them?) to keep his butt engaged and his poll up.  When Encore got antsy, I heard Becky in my head repeating, “Don’t torture him, give him something to do with that energy!”

C'mon, let me take you for a ride! (High Time Photography)
Reward:  Encore didn’t touch a rail, and our final jump was a 3’4” vertical from a solid rhythm where I stayed soft, kept my shoulders up over the apex, kept my butt off his back coming down, and we cantered away forward, but relaxed.  That arc where we both get it all right at the same time – I have a vague memory of that feeling.  Definitely time to get off now and don’t screw it up!  

Maybe we should all spend a little less time beating ourselves up for not riding “enough” (who defines that anyway??) and lower the pressure by just enjoying time on the back of a horse.  Letting ourselves be pleasantly surprised when picking just a detail or two for focus results in an improved bigger picture.  It doesn’t have to be a jump.  It can be a transition into a trot, three steps closer to that horse-eating tree stump, a more responsive halt, a more accurate turn, or even an anxiety-free hack in the woods.

That's a challenge for all of us -- let me know how it worked out for you!

January 2, 2014

Are You Riding Your Horse Or Just Reacting To Him?

Well, everyone has ambitious lists for 2014 and lovely summaries of the past year & I have enjoyed reading each one (although I am going to admit that The Owls Approve is my favourite, pure awesome) -- I hope that horses stay sound & safe & riders get to achieve even more than they thought!

Competition?

I'm not one for goal lists, which is not to say that I am goal-less, but perhaps since my brain has never acquiesced to operating in a linear fashion, it doesn't understand partaking in that process.  My heart still burns for the T3DE jog strip & a little part of me was hoping I could qualify Encore for Southern Eighths in May, but I know that is both fiscally impossible & an unfair level of sudden pressure for my horse.  I know, as part of the event staff, we want people to ENTER ENTER ENTER, & every inch of me wants to fill out that form, but I can't do it alone, I need my partner to be ready too!

There are no guarantees that we will even be able to compete at all this year, as all of my money has fallen into a sinkhole named Flying Solo Farm.  Any of you who have hung around here long enough know that I do not event for the competition, but it IS the only way you get to run a correctly designed, marked, & wonderful cross country course.  Why do you think we put up with all the other craziness, duh?!!

Appalachian mountain high.
I'll Take My Favourite Rides

I hope that we can make it out a little, as I'd like Encore to get some more formal Training Level experience, but honestly, I take just as much delight (well, more, due to lowered stress level!) & education from getting out to lessons & the trail fitness adventures of BFF & I.  Schooling, miles of trots & canters through the woods, fine-tuning skills, those are all things I will be able to do, & for FREE since I can ride out the back gate (all that searching pays off!).

The Big Goal

There is one thing that I want to drill into my body & mind (what's left of it) this year, however.  It may seem small, but the past years of watching & listening oh so carefully have shown me that it defines the effective, thinking rider:

I want to become significantly more aware & more consistent of riding the HORSE & riding the gait/movement/line I want & not riding the horse's behaviour.

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming...
I've improved over time, but I still fall into that trap we all know when your horse spooks or resists or has a 'moment' & you react.  You might kick him or yell at him or smack him with the whip. 

When instead, an effective rider just. keeps. riding.  She does not change her request, her position, or her goal.  She informed the horse, "We are going to trot a 20 metre circle, connected, & forward, & in the shape of an actual circle."  And that's it, she RIDES the circle.

The horse may throw his head or wiggle or be excited or get distracted or do all those things that horses do, but he will come back to find the same set of aids creating the same space & energy for him to move in. 

THAT is what I want to achieve for Encore more often.  It is a big little thing because it is a huge mental challenge to remain that patient & focused & non-reactive (even when I'm not on the horse).

It's even harder when it's 98 degrees & 4500% humidity.

So I suppose that is my goal for 2014:  to ride my horse(s), as simple (and as difficult) as that.

August 28, 2013

Clip Clop Clip Clop BANG BANG Clip Clop...

Know what makes that noise?

Wait for it....



...an Amish drive-by.  HAHAHAHHA.  Ok, yes, I love jokes in poor taste, it is a weakness.

That is also the sound of a llama TB speed racing over trot poles.  Bugger.

In good news, he is looking and feeling sounder on his feet.  I still have not seen anything blowing out of his front hooves, but he does seem more comfortable on them.  We had a nice little ride on the grass on Monday.  Of course, he is also getting daily bute, so...

I confess we did have a terrible ride last night.  I should just not get on when I am tired and it is heinously humid.  Things degrade quickly, we end up frustrated and I ponder a hobby of goldfish.  Or rocks. 

Part of the problem is that right now, I just do not have the money to take the lessons I should have with the trainers whose eyes I badly need.  David is a two-hour haul -- well worth it, but hard to find the diesel money at the present time.  The truth is, as I know I've said before and as became very obvious to me with Becky this spring, to make real progress, you simply must have that pro time.

There are some more local options to explore.  The simple fact is, I'm not having fun right now, which then saps my motivation.  Therefore, the point is being missed!  Whenever I catch this phenomenon occurring, I know it is time to take a step back, inhale, exhale, and plan something light-hearted, relaxing, and...FUN.  I am fairly exploding with impatience to get back out on the trails, the Devil Belly-Stabbing Bugs need to hurry up and go away.

What do you do when this happens?  How do you uncoil those springs and relax with your horse, rediscovering that oh yeah, my hobby is supposed to make me happier?  How do you keep working towards your goals yet take some of the pressure off so the pot doesn't blow its lid? 


August 15, 2013

Serene Solo

It makes him so happy...
When I swung my leg over and settled into Solo's dressage saddle, I remember how close to saddle heaven your butt gets to be in that thing.  Delicious! 

That's right, I brought Mr. Shiny down to the arena for a change since Encore continues to symie us with his particular feet.  I really didn't plan on much; for once, it was only 80 degrees with a refreshingly mild 50% humidity -- it practically felt like fall!!!  Solo wandered nonchalantly through the gate with the clump of his front boots and the swish of his sparse tail.  Ah, my follicularly challenged friend!

I had woken up in a funny mood and the idea of some time with my best buddy was especially appealing.  With some lateral work and transitions within the trot, we both woke up and rather to my surprise, my often-uninspired chestnut found a bright rhythm as I felt his back and withers lift and the base of his neck reach into an extended trot.  His lovely, balanced canter has always been easier to sit than Encore's (not quite the same level of horsepower back there), like riding a hammock, and we even did a couple of flying changes in a figure eight and a fakey gallop.

He felt great!

As we wandered back up the hill, I couldn't repress my smile and enjoyed the peaceful vibe of my horse.  Solo's still got it, buttons are intact, and what's more, although he would still much rather soar than shoulder-in, now that he is on the more "finished" side of the training continuum, he enjoys the work so much more than when we were both grasping at straws, trying to figure things out.  And thank you, Encore, for making me a better rider with a deeper, more educated feel and more polished technique. 

Heck, maybe I should put him on the fitness trail and visit a show for fun.  That USEA registration is a lifetime one...

June 10, 2013

The Overachiever Achieves Not

She also achieves naught.

I've been sucked into this trap.  Where I get on Encore, we warm up, he is going well enough.  Then, because I'm tired, because my brain checks out, because I'm hot, it's late, blah blah, I begin to pick.  No, you've dropped your shoulder.  No, you need to step under.  No, you need to relax your jaw.  No, you need to slow down.

Pick, pick, pick.

And we both end up annoyed after rides that are too long.

Because in this, there is too much no.  When what we really need to get back to is yes.

After I get done being angry at myself for not thinking more clearly when I'm in the saddle, for making the wrong decisions, for focusing on the wrong things, for losing track of our forest path among the trees...

I reset our conversation to the affirmative.  Yes, that is a lovely contact!  Yes, that is how you move away from leg!  Yes, that is the perfect rhythm!  Yes, I would love for you to move forward!

I remember to choose a clear goal:  ride the line is a soft rhythm.  Pick up an uphill, balanced canter.  Bend through your body on the circle.  When we have achieved our ride goal, we are done.  If we make a mistake, we simply ask again, seeking not so much to correct the mistake, but to reward a better attempt after creating an opportunity, a space for that attempt to exist.

Ohhhmmmm, grasshopper, feel the zen of yes.

May 18, 2013

There And Back Again

It feels like we’ve been away.  Lost in some nebulous pocket of time where we’ve been bouncing in circles, up and down the emotional roller coaster for so many hills, I've lost count.

He's sound!  Not sound.  Oh wait, yes, he's...oh, maybe not.  No, he'll be great!  Or perhaps...no?  Yes?

It's exhausting  to contemplate.

I scrambled madly, struggling to pick up pieces of Encore falling apart and stick them back in proper order, all while trying to be five other people at once.  There were thoughts coming at me from all directions, tugging me back and forth between hope and despair.

Everyone should own a horse.  It makes so many of life's other aspects seem so easy!!

Since our field season at work is well and truly underway, I won't have a regular schedule for quite some time.  As a result, once I decided to rest Encore a bit more post-Longleaf, I did mostly long lining and slow, brief schools during the sporadic intervals when I could squeeze him in.

April and early May, with their many trips and the whirlwind of Southern Eighths 3DE, came and went and finally, I had a couple weekends to myself and the resolve to nudge my horse back into some real work again.

What I found when I picked up my reins was a horse who had not only processed and finally accepted the contact thanks to the lines (go figure, that Holder lady was right), but one who felt like a horse again, instead of cobbled together parts, when he was doing it!  I was too tired to jump up and down, but when I'm not riding like an idiot, I get off my horse with a smile these days.

Because Away Again is away again again again again again.  Hmmm, I might have left out an again or two?

In the post-game analysis, I can see that his back and hind end were not strong enough yet for the intense work he did at Becky's.  We were so close, but as hard as I worked to bring him back after my knee surgery, I fell just a bit short.  Hence his back flare-up, causing soreness, which I can tell you from my own experience, just begets more soreness!  I am glad I made the decision to re-inject when I did and very glad I was able to pull up the blog archives from last year to remind myself of the healing timeline.

Which brings me back to now.  Given the aforementioned time pocket in which I had plenty of time to think.....mmm, just about everything to death, I did manage to clarify our path forward, armed with a much-beefed-up understanding of what Encore's body needs to be great.

Returning soon to theatres.  Except with even sexier neck.
We focus now on building topline and hind end strength and lateral suppleness.  I ride bareback and spiral and leg yield and pivot and bend and unbend and re-bend to get the closest possible feel of my horse's back and feet beneath me.  We powerwalk hills, stretching forward and down while moving the hind feet up up up.  I continue work on the lines, which become a more and more sophisticated tool as I get more practice.  With trial and error, I've gotten the right feel and better body control and been able to graduate from asking him to step into contact to teaching him to lift and bend the base of his neck and his whole spine (REALLY REALLY haaardddd, says he!).  I'm still playing with the best rein setup for that and he has only mastered a few steps at the walk that were truly great, but it's an excellent start.

Encore has had a year and a half now to mature mentally to his new life and job, as well as giving his rider time to clamber up the learning curve, complete with spectacular backslides.  It seems like such a long time ago and it seems like such a short time ago that I was explaining that poles were for going over and necks were for flexing and there was indeed a gait between trot and gallop!  So it feels pretty damn spectacular to be discussing fine-tuning transition accuracy and lifting that back to the next level.

Oh, and it should amuse you to know that it took me until I was done writing this entire post before I got my own unintended pun in the title.  *facepalm*

April 25, 2013

The Becky Diaries: An Afterward

All eyes are turned to my favourite patch of turf right now, a park filled with history in Lexington, KY and an event that continues to change, but still offers the amazing spectacle of horse-human partnerships giving their all in an incredibly difficult test of courage, grace under pressure, and preparation.

Just before lunch today, behind those rolling fencelines, our hero and teacher, Becky, and her workhorse of an OTTB, Can't Fire Me, laid down the gauntlet in the dressage arena and I was lucky enough to watch online as they smoothly cantered into second place, just behind the legendary Andrew Nicholson.  While they are up there, checking and double checking jump gear and legs and footing for the days ahead, I figured it was the perfect time to wrap up my training series with the last few tips from the woman herself.  Turn your sound up!



When watching other jumping lessons, I'd often noticed Becky yelling, "Keep your body between the reins!" at a rider's cantering back.  I'm a very visual person, so the concept seemed obvious enough.  I had no idea that I did not practice it!  Becky demonstrates above in a way that makes it very clear to me why you NEED to separate your eyes from your body.  I have a very hard time with this and I also am mostly unaware of it unless I specifically think about it.  After repeating our jump line while working on this concept, I immediately felt a sharper, more accurate response from Encore too!



I think we've all done it (do it!) -- as we approach a drop, we slow down so the horse has time to read the question and he is not tempted to launch at terminal velocity, leaving an unsuspecting rider on top of the bank wondering if she found a crop or lost her horse.  This often takes some, er, convincing on the rider's part, so the horse's head comes up against the rein as we "discuss" this strategy.  We then arrive at the edge of the drop with an inverted horse who then might put his head down with a snort and skid to q stop to investigate the sudden appearance of a cliff at his feet.

What we should be doing instead is using our body and balance to ask the horse to shift his weight back while we let out the rein several strides early (see above video).  This encourages him to lower his head and neck so he can see the edge and put his body in the right shape to leave the bank rounder and softer and we now have far less of a chance of catching him in the mouth.  Another one that seems obvious, yet takes thought to get done.

Finally, a conundrum I have puzzled for many years.  There is an insistent chant in the horse world that when you first mount, you MUST let your horse walk around, stretch out muscles, and not ask anything of him for X period of time.  But my horse spends 23 (often 24, ha) hours a day walking around, rolling, galloping, stretching in the field he lives in, is the prior statement not better applied to horses who are primarily stalled, standing still?  I've gone back and forth in dressage and schooling warmups and never settled on either side of the fence.  So, after watching her school one of the youngsters, I just asked.

Becky confirmed my suspicions.  PARTICULARLY if a horse lives outside for all of much of his time, he's already moving.  When you get on, it's work time.  You can have a lap to check out distractions if you need it, but after that, we pick up the reins and get to work.  Of course, you still retain your common sense -- your starting work might be in a longer frame or focusing on serpentines or other figures to supple his body, but he is still asked to immediately move forward into the bridle, step under himself, and lift his back.  And asked is the key word.  He is working towards this -- a green horse, an older horse might take longer to get there, but he still has to be trying.

Talented young RJ (Telperion) out for a test flight.
Thus endeth the Becky Diaries of 2013 and one of the richest training experiences of my life.  Becky's graciousness, eye for detail, phenomenal instincts, positive teaching approach, insistence on correctness, and systematic approach to building a horse in both strength and skill all impress me endlessly.  She deserves nothing but success and I hope that this year is her year to shine in the Rolex spotlight.  I will certainly be waiting with bated breath until Teddy clears the last jump in stadium!

I can  honestly say that Becky is probably one of the best, if not the best, instructors I have ever worked with (and that is some stiff competition), both in terms of teaching skill and compatibility with my style of learning and riding.  It was truly a gift and an honour to live and ride with her for those two weeks (although my horse was probably less excited about the Raising of the Bar), thank you, Becky.  Thank you again to everyone I met and watched and learned from, thank you to Amber for coming down and helping, thank you to Encore for showing up for work and trying his hardest every day, and thank you most of all to my mother, who made it possible.

March 29, 2013

Happy Happy Happy Sad

I have a few more Becky insights to share with you, but to share the most recent reason why only crazy people own horses:

I did our first home long lining session on Saturday and although it took a bit for me to get sorted out, I got some REALLY nice trot work from Encore!  Happy!

Solo and I warm up at Tamarack in 2009.
Monday, after being very patient and positive and ignoring all his silly head flinging and eye-bugging on a cold, windy day, we finally settled into a dressage school and he was connected, moving over his back, and just generally awesome!  Happy!

I noticed on Monday that his left lead canter felt quite disjointed, but I attributed it to post-training muscle soreness and gave him some bute and a few days off.  No problem, a little rest and we can still go visit the Emersons' lovely farm in Southern Pines, Tamarack Hill, for their fantastic schooling HT series (if you haven't, you should go, EXCELLENT courses, Denny and his wife, May really make it a welcoming, educational experience for the horses).  Still sticking with happy...

Today I got on for an evaluation ride so I could make sure he was ok before spending diesel money and getting up at 4 am.  NOT ok.  I have the horse I had a year ago and my gut says he needs his back re-injected.  He is stiff, running around on his forehand, stumbling behind, and very anxious about his back.  Naturally...because we have already entered Longleaf.  And we definitely won't be heading south tomorrow, I will not run him when I know he is uncomfortable; it's a waste of time and money and will only jeopardize future outings.  Sad.

Post-XC Tamarack 2009 -- yeah, it was that good.
On the plus side, I called Tamarack to scratch him and May was very, very kind and generous and has offered to send us some entry money back, which is unheard of in eventingland, yet is like water in a desert to this house of poverty!  Thank you, Emerson peoples!  I am very sorry that I won't get to run their course but I hope we'll get to support their efforts in the future and oh, did I mention, YOU SHOULD GO!  There is another one on April 13th. 

Countdown to Monday morning and call Dr. Bob.  Already emailed the NCSU vet school orthopedist who worked on Encore almost a year ago.  Of course I did.  Sigh.  I don't mind the maintenance at all, but it would be a little less brain-exploding if it had been mentioned that we might need to repeat when there are big changes in strength and fitness...

February 10, 2013

Camp David 2013

Almost exactly a year ago, Encore and I went down to SoPines for two days of my invented Personal David Clinic.  Five days from now:  Camp David II.

In a whole year, we have...ummm...tried really hard? 

Encore came out well in the spring, hopped up to Novice, and was going strong over the summer.  August gave us the lovely gift of a pulled SI ligament.  That it took his dense owner two months to figure out.  November rolled around and I was in the OR, getting my knee innards sandblasted, effectively putting me on the curb for about two months.  Meaning I could only provide my muscle-y young horse with hotwalker and longe line sessions and an occasional ride from a friend.

It could have been worse.  Had I gotten my originally intended surgery, I would still not even be able to fully bend my knee at this point, much less walk around fairly freely.  So I was able to start actually Riding Properly in mid-January.  It was still enough time for Encore to lose a lot of that sexy muscle I worked so hard for

It feels like I've been back on longer, until I realized that we have not had any type of jump school until our light XC session at a local farm last weekend.  Doing the math, I've only been back in the saddle with focus for maybe four weeks?  So I am excited that Encore is strong enough now to actually step up into the canter again without running on his forehand and jumping evenly and roundly (and regularly saving his rider's rusty butt) once more.

We've lost a lot of time, but we had a dressage lesson Saturday and good (first since October!) stadium school today.  Even better, after spending the winter reading and thinking and watching and thinking some more about straightness and engagement and contact and all the other enigmatic processes of correct riding, I am riding better.  Encore was softer last summer, but he wasn't really connected because despite all the knowledge and years in my head, my body didn't get it until it got it.  Connection and straightness FIRST, then soften.

Yes, yes, we all know.  But do we really REALLY do it?  I wasn't.

Why the training pressure now, you ask?

Because we only have four weeks left until.....

January 30, 2013

I Have No Words

So you'll just have to read it yourself.

You see, we have been busy.  Physical therapy is momentarily taking over my life, but I've been doing my best to squeeze in Encore wherever and whenever we can build strength. 

Although the dork went and kicked himself in the front fetlock sometime yesterday, so that was nice and hot and swollen, sigh.  Please be just a knock, please be just a knock, please be just a knock....

It's been a bit of an opportunity to reboot things, though, and one that I've found has offered a chance to elevate the sophistication of our training.  The details are very, very difficult to elucidate, so much of it is feel and reaction and less contact and more contact and energy direction and waiting and very careful thought.  The basics are the same simple paradigms of correct training:  ride the back end of the horse and ride the horse straight.  But as we all know, there is NOTHING simple about that and as George Morris quite correctly stated in his training session this year, it only takes about 30 years to learn how to do it.

Thus, probably disappointingly, I give you my reading material of late, which has led to just a few tiny adjustments which in turn caused a big change in my horse, letting go of the tension, saying goodbye to wrestling, and although it requires MUCH more patience, is creating a much more solid foundation this time around.

Via arr.de -- which is also well worth reading.
Watch Deb Bennett's lectures, selectable from the sidebar.  Yes, they are a bit over-wordy, I confess to skipping through sections, as they could have been reduced to about 30 minutes and still been effective.  And of course, watch George and Anne teach, especially when riding -- I still learn every year, new skills and new layers to add to my toolbox.

Read the three articles in the right sidebar.  The biomechanics of straightness and the freedom it gives your horse, with some excellent mental images for your contact, really resonated with me for some reason.

A large part of what I've taken away thus far is that I need to do MORE engaging of the inside hind through lateral exercises as THIS is what creates straightness and impulsion in my horse.  I was rarely able to truly engage Solo over his back successfully; now I can and think I am finally on the track as to why.

Wow, life would be simpler if I just had money to buy lessons every week.  But then, I wonder if I would really dig as deeply if I did. 

January 22, 2013

Night Rider

Bow before my cuteness!
This guy.  Me.  Twilight (sparkliness- and self-esteemless-whiny-girl-free, thank you).  Bareback.  Quilted quarter sheet wrapped around my legs.  Bliss.

Everything seemed so easy.  Every part of my body responded instantly to every part of his, correcting, flexing, straightening, suppling.  We just did a short session of transition work in the grass to build strength, but he was so happy and eager and ready and he felt so good!

I think back to the years I spent training, arguing, yelling in frustration, begging, the whole year I was afraid to canter him because it would only spiral into an unholy mess of gallop (I don't do bolters).  To the bottomless rage that caught in my throat as we left dressage arenas and skulked back to the trailer where I wondered why he wouldn't just cooperate.

Now, I get on and he is poised and waiting at attention for anything I ask.  I am undoubtedly a better rider (thank you, Encore) which I am sure Solo greatly appreciates.  This horse who drove me to fury (immersed in love though it was) is now soft and receptive at the end of my reins and I just...enjoy.  I know him down to his very blood cells, literally, and he gave his whole soul to me and reads my mind; there are no words which encapsulate the kind of gratitude and happiness that filled the cold air tonight. 

Thank you, buddy.

January 20, 2013

Through The Chute

Inspired by the ongoing Retired Racehorse Training Project's 100-day challenge, I decided to coerce ask Amber to help me build a jump chute for Encore yesterday.  We'd just put together a simple crossrail-two strides-oxer and see what he had to offer.  I figured about 30 minutes or so?

Horse time does not equal real time.

We managed, through Operation Material Hunt, to devise a very professional chute (I could only find 3 barrels) and, quite satisfied with ourselves, turned Encore loose to have a go.  I began by leading him through, then let him trot through on his own, then added some ground poles.  He quickly figured out the route, so I added the crossrail first on its own.

Ummm, yeah, cleared it, buddy!

Simple enough, so I added a single pole to the second jump to make a small vertical.  Encore put his brain to the task immediately and found a much more efficient way to complete the task.  PS I am sorry, I cannot figure out how to turn off the autoplay of next video in Youtube.  It's making me insane.  If anyone knows, let me in on the secret!



After a slight modification to our construction, we were able to explain it was a JUMPING chute.  Then I added the back pole to the oxer and he amused himself at will!  Although he insisted in staying near the fence on the muddy half when there was perfectly nice footing 12" over, sigh...



Once he got the game, he quite enjoyed practicing!

Finally, mum lets me do something fun in the arena!
 From then on, it was just a matter of raising the poles and see how he went.  He didn't even have to start trying until we got to about 3'3", sheesh!



We finished around 3'7" to 3'9".



I'm not sure he'll have the scope for Training...or Prelim...or whatever.  Since this is the best he can do when he's a bit fat and out of shape.  Another racehorse (not) ruined by three years of racing...

A crying shame...that jr. is AWESOME!

I could stop here and say everything was wonderful.  But any of you who have read for a while know that one of my core rules is honesty:  training isn't a path of a sunshine and roses and I, for one, am very grateful that horses are forgiving creatures and don't shun me for my errors.  I hate that I make them, but I try my hardest to learn from them, which is why I share them.

Because then, proceeding to make the most basic training mistake of all time, I registered that he was jumping a bit tired, and somehow allowed sneaky brain to go, ok we'll just go one more hole.  Sigh.  You'd think I'd have learned by now.  Poor Encore's butt was t.i.r.e.d. and the correct thing to do would be to take epically awesome, stop, and stuff horse with treats.  Alas, I yet again let my horse down by not listening to myself.

Bless his trying heart, he jumped it!  Well, mostly.  His front half easily cleared all three feet and eleven inches of poles.  Unfortunately, his worn out bum dropped his hind legs after the first pole of the oxer, so he took the back rail down quite spectacularly.  But it was an unfair question really and one that I know should have waited until he was stronger.

So we then had to rework through the chute over a much simpler 2'6" oxer just to make sure he hadn't lost his confidence.  He was a very good boy -- so much so that as Amber and I were disassembling the chute, he kept coming through it, despite our attempts to wave him off!!  We had to throw all the poles on the ground in a hurry just to prove to him that we were done!

I'm so proud of him and ECSTATIC to see that he shows no signs of his strained ligament from last fall.  Now it's just burning fat and building more muscle.  Oh yeah, and finishing PT and neither of us hurting ourselves again.  Yeah, that's all...

January 16, 2013

It's So Easy, Even Klimke Kan Do It

So what's your excuse?  Oh, you're not Reiner Klimke?  Psssshhh, look, all he did was make an adjustment in one second and his horse was perfect.  I can totally not do that! 

But in all seriousness, this video elegantly and simply illustrates incorrect and correct.  We are all guilty of it at some point I think.  I absolutely admit to losing my focus and wanting "pretty archy neck."  But we cannot fall into that trap which leads to a dead end.  Bonus points if you speak German.  Because it's "Dr. Reiner Klimke war der erfolgreichste Dressurreiter der Welt. In dieser Lehrfilmreihe widmet er sich detailliert den t├Ąglichen Problemen des Trainings auf dem Weg zur Klasse L."  Which means "Dr. Reiner Klimke was the greatest dressage rider in the world.  With diesel film, he tackles the sick details of lichen-based training problems auf dem Weg on Klasse L."  Um, obviously!  

Ok, all you have to do is watch the horse.  Watch his back behind the saddle and his hind legs.  On the surface, he "looks pretty," with nice suspension and rhythm.  But with his neck overflexed and his head behind the vertical, his lower back is stiff and hind legs aren't really active, moving up beneath him.  Let go of his face and ride him forward with magical Klimke power...

Now his lower back is loose, lifting and swinging behind the saddle.  His hindquarters and hind legs have changed subtly and are now actively moving forward under his body and pushing up into the bridle.  He is happy to stretch down and even then, his back remains soft and his hind end is engaged.



Voila!  It's that simple.  Ha.  Go ahead and watch it 20 times.  I did.  But we do all need to remember to forget about the stupid head, to erase the word frame from our vocabulary, and ride our horses FORWARD, for lichen's sake!

December 27, 2012

In Which I Once Again Prove That I Am Daft

I've been working with Amber and Solo, teaching her how to dig out his trot from beneath the turtle shuffle veneer.  In the process, I have her with very little contact, just riding his butt forward.  And we all know that if you ride the hind end forward correctly, the back and withers lift, the neck becomes soft and round, and the horse reaches into the bit, right?  Which is exactly what I watched my horse do today.

Aww, I miss Muscle Solo
Which is exactly what I've been trying to get Encore to do.  I even said it out loud to Amber:  "Well, damn, looks like I can teach it, but I can't ride it..."  I spoke half in jest, but....

When we were finished, I got on Encore.  Thoughtfully.  I've watched David ride him.  I've watched Foy ride him (see Micklem review post below).  What did they have in common?  Both rode from the seat and leg with a longish, very soft rein.

I know it in my head.  I know it in my body.  I got another rider to do it on my own horse while I was on the ground.  I even get it with Encore, but can't keep it consistent.  But it didn't all mesh together and I wasn't riding it.

Idiot!

I was riding Encore into contact, but I began to wonder if it was too heavy.  Was I using too much rein?  I often feel as if I am in his face more than I would like.  I am not heavy-handed and I have become consistent and following with my hand, but I still feel like I am doing to much in the bridle.  David had said, both after riding him and watching him in our lessons, "The key to this horse is going to be a very light hand."

So even though our footing resembled a cranberry bog after yesterday's rain, I gathered up my reins and asked for a trot.  I rode almost entirely off my lower body, my contact barely there, just at the level of okay, I can lightly feel you but I shall remain passive and just give you the space where you should be.

Yes, yes, we know how this ends -- SURPRISE!  It clicked into place, even in the ten minutes of squishing around that we squeezed in.  When you ride correctly and thoughtfully, you get correct results.  It is slower in the beginning than pushing them into the shape that you want, but -- I know, ever more surprise *insert dry sarcasm here* -- you lose the tension in the horse's body.

Oh, we are SO getting that left lead back!
It's hardly epiphany -- if you've ridden for any length of time, you hear "ride back to front, don't worry about the head, ride the hind legs and the front will take care of itself."  Basic equestrian gospel.  Yet so counter-intuitive to let go and trust the process.  To REALLY let go and do it right.  We think we are doing it (or at least, I thought so) but then something causes me to make a tiny shift in my approach and I realize what I WASN'T doing.

It seems too obvious to even write about.  But one of the biggest challenges of being the (financially challenged) adult amateur who cannot do consistent lessons is that your training is a slow process of trial-and-error.  That starts over when you have an entirely different type of horse.  Encore is able to physically give so much more than Solo could, that to get more, I need to do less.   

From the Master of the Obvious, you're welcome.

December 21, 2012

Up Down!!!!

OMG OMG OMG!  I CAN POST THE TROT!

Whoever thought such news would be cause for excitement?  But I could barely contain my glee Wednesday evening as I cautiously put my feet in the (very long) stirrups and asked Encore to trot.

The ortho squad has given their approval for me to proceed, just letting pain be my guide.  Brian, my completely awesome PT, is a bit more conservative but is still very pleased with progress.

And it didn't hurt.  Second gear is now mine again.  Which means I get third gear back too.  Thrilled does not even begin to describe it.

Encore himself remains a bit of a puzzle.  He seems to be healed up (hoorah!) and is moving well.  The new saddle just needs breaking in but he still seems happy with it.  But mentally, the big youngster remains a little enigmatic to me. 

When I drive up and holler my greeting out the truck window, both horses prick their ears and turn happily in my direction.  No doubt in that never-ending equine hope that every truck dispenses carrots and other palatable goodies.

Yeah, I'm watchin' you, lady.
But when I enter the pasture to fetch said equine, Solo immediately turns towards me and waits with bright eyes, with an expression full of happy and hopeful that the halter is aimed for his stripey nose.  Encore, though, moves behind him, watching for a treat, but keeping his distance from the halter.

I am puzzled -- BO says both come right to the gate and Encore offers no issues being captured for hotwalker duty (which he is not all that fond of) and I know all the staff spoils both boys rotten with treats and pets, so it's just me.  I wonder if he STILL begrudges that one time I caught him by surprise with a shot months ago. 

If I move quietly and softly put the rope around his VERY watchful neck, he is then easily haltered and transforms back into Mr. Amiable Businessman.  So why the stand-offishness?  He enjoys getting out and doing things.  We have lots of variety.  He used to walk right up to me and offer his nose.  Is he secretly a woman in his TB brain, never letting go of my one surprise stab?  I know they remember the strangest details, but he has had shots since in the same place with no issues (once I learned surprises were bad, oops, sorry, Solo prefers no warning).

Has anyone invented that horse telepathy hat yet?   

November 21, 2012

The Wheat From The Chaff: Separate It Does

This story is a little overdue, but no less worth telling.  Because it is a perfect illustration of the line of horsemanship those of us one side of it know perfectly and those on the other side are convinced does not exist.

Last weekend, Amber came out to practice her bending and I wanted to get her in a basic two point and cantering before I was laid up (ah, back when The Plan was still alive).  As we warmed up, she was doing worlds better with her bending (as in, Solo was bending!) in serpentines and circles (ok, I still tied her hand together) and making serious progress relaxing her upper body and guiding Solo with her eye.  We worked on trying to get a more forward trot and I even saw a couple steps approaching a trot that was awake -- not bad for three rides! 

So, let's do a couple of canter circles and we'll be done,  k?

No problem.  And she'd been great cantering on the longe, very well balanced and smooth.

I stressed that it was important to sit up, keep your leg wrapped around him, and to keep your spurs off of him when he was cantering and just keep a light seat, he might get excited.

She picked up her canter at A with a fairly prompt transition and made a nice corner tracking left.  Going down that long side is a bit of a down slope, so I saw Solo fall on his forehand a bit and cheat his way through by just going a little faster.  Before I knew it, he made a motorcycle turn across the arena and I yelled, "Half halt!"

He was pointed almost straight at the arena rope now and I saw the conflict on his face.  Never jump out of the dressage arena!  But she's pointing me at a thing and digging in her spurs and saying go!  NEVER jump out of the dressage arena!  But she's telling me to go faster!  NEVER JUMP OUT OF THE DRESSAGE ARENA!  OMG!!!

Fortunately for the long run, Solo made the correct decision and politely said, no ma'am, you have requested the wrong thing, and slid to a stop with his ankles against the rope.  Amber, less fortunately, had lost her leg behind her and tipped forward and did the MOST superlative Superman impression out to the side that I think I have ever seen.  We're talking full-body, stretched out, completely level airtime here.

R U OKZ?
She hit the ground on her butt, rolling (yesss, someone who knows how to roll!) and Solo sidled two steps over to me with worried eyes, saying I'm sorry, mom, but she was wrong.  I yelled to Amber not to move, patted Solo and told him it was ok, he did the best he could.

I knew Amber had a pre-existing back sprain, so I didn't want her to get up (I never let people get up anyway), to just take a minute and breathe.  She popped up a little soon, but insisted she was ok and climbed back on the horse to walk it out.  I had her walk around, stretch everything out, breathe and chat, and just relax.

This, this is where the line starts.  After calmly assessing she was unhurt aside from some road rash and bruising, she climbed right back up and said, "Let's do this because I don't want it to be a thing."

Right on.

I re-emphasized the spurs; "Now we know why we don't dig them in, yes?  Do you feel like you know where they are right now and that you can control them?"  Because Solo is nearly impossible to ride without a spur and he knows it.  She thought she was good, so I said, ok, let's try this again.

I always cantered Solo perfectly.  Ha!
We did the right lead, his easier one.  It was perfectly uneventful and had some nice strides on the short end.  When he got unbalanced, I had her take a tug and then release to rebalance in a crude sort of half halt, but she was able to keep Solo from slithering down the hill. Yeah!  So we changed direction and hit the left lead again, although I had her stay on a 20 m circle at one end this time.

Solo picked up his canter and after the first few strides, I saw Amber get a bit wobbly from nerves.  Solo shifted a bit and tried to keep his balance under hers as they turned towards me.  I love my horse.  But as they turned in the arena corner, she tipped forwards and lost it again and rolled over his shoulder, albeit much less dramatically this time.

I will say now that I HATE when people fall off when I am teaching.  I know it is part of the process, but standing in the middle of the ring, I am responsible for everything that happens there.  It's why I've been keeping our work mostly in the small grass dressage arena from which I've removed all the rocks and know every inch of the footing.  Much nicer than the bigger arena down below where you land on rocks and a very hard base....  

But Amber hopped up immediately this time (I'm going to have to work on that!) and came back over and climbed up again.

That's the line, right there.  Many people walk away after the first fall.  Most of the rest are gone after the second.  Especially within 15 minutes of the first.  Given of course, that no injuries in need of medical care occur.  One must, of course, take of those first!  

Well, I'll be.  She's the real deal.  She's someone who knows that Rome wasn't built in a day and it is definitely not a painless process.  Colour me impressed.

The second fall really gets your adrenaline going though, so I made sure she spent lots of time wandering around, relaxed, doing breathing exercises, talking about other things.  Oh yeah, and I took the spurs off.  I felt confident that Solo was awake at this point. 

I said, "I'd really like you to canter a left lead circle one time before you leave, so that this is resolved.  However, if you are not feeling comfortable, that is absolutely fine and we can pick it up next time and I have no problem with that."

Her reply, "No way, I don't want this to be a thing and I want to DO it."

RIGHT ON.

So she picked up her trot, settled her shoulders back, asked for the canter and I yelled "Relax your leg and sit up!"

And she did it.  Then we dropped back to trot, did a bit of stretching for Solo's back, stuck a fork in it, and called it done.

I hope that Amber went home feeling very accomplished (well, after she got the dirt out of her pants), because it was indeed a big thing.  It takes courage, dedication, and a heck of a lot of try if you really want to ride and she displayed every one in spades.  I would have been ok if she had just wanted to fall off once, but I guess she had something to prove...