Two rides, or, how having a plan for a ride doesn’t always work out (in a good way)

I’ve been doing really well keeping Tristan to a consistent schedule with varied work. The last two weeks I’ve had energy and plans and executed them well. When I got stuck at work way late and was cracking my jaw with yawns by 7pm, I swapped days and went out on a planned rest day. Of course, some of that is about to get waylaid by winter (high of 3 on Tuesday and Wednesday!) but I can look at those days more as a planned rest rather than a frustrating interruption, because we’ve had some good rides lately.

Friday, the plan was to incorporate lots of leg yields and lateral work. Supple, supple, supple! Then straight, straight, straight! Back and forth times infinity, at all gaits. Well – that plan didn’t work out. We ended up in the ring at the same time as a lesson with a horse that was being extremely crabby and cow-kicking, so scratch that. I could barely do centerline leg yields without bumping into him somewhere.

So we worked instead on transitions and keeping straight through them. Changes of direction, turns on corners, walk-trot-canter and back and forth between them on a circle. My job, keep my body and hands still and straight. His job, respond to the leg, don’t pop the shoulders, stay in the outside rein. It wasn’t the kind of ride that set the world on fire but we accomplished things, and there was a good progression.

Saturday, my planned rest day, became instead a day of planned poles and hind end action. I laid out eight poles and the idea was to work through them in the walk and trot, then change them up and do some individual poles at the canter to work on hock action and jump. Straight through all things!

Instead, I got on at the walk, and we warmed up straight and forward on a long rein. And he was striding forward beautifully. He’s easily 50% more forward right off the bat than he was even two months ago, and he’s holding it better – my signal that he’s starting to get that muscle back and he’s responding to my drilling the forward. So I started to play with that, picked up the reins enough to feel his mouth and keep a steady contact but not do much more with it.

We ended up doing 30 minutes in the walk, which I’ve rarely, if ever, done with so much productivity before. Leg yields everywhere: quarter line to center line, center line to quarter line, off the wall and back to the wall, into turns, onto diagonals. Straight and even in the reins, riding every step. Cueing each individual step over and then going straight again. Mixing it up, so he didn’t just zoom to one direction or the other. Simple, basic stuff, but focused and thoughtful and good.

I had set up poles after all, eight of them in a row along one long side, and we walked over those from time to time: straight down the middle, go where I point you, stay forward and reaching. I didn’t prop them up to make full cavaletti, since it was already clear that poles were not going to be my focus for the night, but I did jump off and adjust them for trot – they were a touch too close together. God love a horse who ground ties: I literally jumped off, said “Stand!” and he watched me from where I’d left him as if rooted to the ground.

He really likes the poles when I use them as I did, as something to aim him at and trust him to figure out. My job is forward; his is the footwork. He clearly thought of them as an interesting puzzle, and having eight of them – twice as long as I’ve ever laid out for him before! – was a bigger challenge. He couldn’t just power through on a wing and a prayer. He had to have a plan and a rhythm and an adjustable stride.

I did most of the trotting poles in two point, looped rein: something about my posting rhythm wasn’t helping him, and after two or three passes I figured I’d get up off his back and let him use it more effectively without me. We also did a teensy bit of cantering after the poles. The first few times through, he was losing impulsion toward the end despite my aids, and so when we finished I sent him forward into a strong canter on a circle, then brought him out and sent him down the poles again. That seemed to do the trick.

Today, a lighter ride planned – I’m going to be teaching my boyfriend a short longe line lesson – and then Monday through Wednesday off for work insanity (me) and temperature (Mother Nature).

10 thoughts on “Two rides, or, how having a plan for a ride doesn’t always work out (in a good way)

  1. I have to admit, prior to our conditioning kick I liked them but rarely went to the effort of dragging them out. I've been really happy, lately, that I'm forcing myself through the extra effort. I think they can be hugely helpful when used well.


  2. Definitely way more forward, right out of the gate. Even just the fact that after a few turns through the poles he was holding his forward through the whole lines was encouraging – remember how he used to crap out halfway down a gymnastic? Part of what's helping is that over-involved warmup, especially this winter, since he doesn't feel stiff in the trot to start.

    And yes, I was really really happy with all the walk work and how much we accomplished. I knew I'd been working on it for a while but I was really surprised that it had been 30 minutes straight through!


  3. You can never have too many poles! For a dressage-focused barn, we have an awful lot of jumps hanging around and I may be the only one who uses them on a regular basis.


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