After Tristan’s great work on Tuesday night, I gave him Wednesday off, and then went back out last night. I waffled on my plans for the evening, all loosely centered around the idea of a short dressage schooling session. I couldn’t decide where to ride: in the fields, with the uneven terrain adding a good balance element? in the outdoor, where I wasn’t sure what the footing would be like after the rains? in the indoor, the boring but most focused choice?
I tacked up, and settled on the indoor, and then I stood at the door to the indoor and looked outside and just couldn’t. It was 7:15 pm and still beautifully light out. We went outside.
I started off by warming him up at the walk in the fields, and made my decision there. They were too soggy in too many places to leave me enough useful space for schooling, so we went to the outdoor to test the footing. It was just fine – the rain had actually compacted it nicely, settling the loose sand that had made our lives harder last time.
I told myself to pay attention to how his feet were moving – the last time we were in the outdoor he tripped and I came off – and started him off.
He started off the trot warmup very up and down, so I stood up in the stirrups and let him have a bit of a canter. Not too much, since he wasn’t up to it yet, but enough. He wanted to charge ahead but it was a good core workout for me to stay up in a two-point and yet holding him in. One of the best things to come out of our dressage work in recent years has been the ability to modulate his gaits from my core like that.
When we tried the trot again, he settled into it much better. My goal was simply to see what I had, and to get him to a good place to quit on. He started out like a 2×4, stiff and head-flipping, but pretty quickly steadied on the bit, and then started yielding to my leg back and forth off the quarter line. Once I had that re-installed, we worked on a 20m circle for a bit, opening the inside rein to soften up, pushing him out onto the outside rein.
We changed direction a few times, and then I asked for a very short canter to see what I had to work with. Again, he wanted to charge off, but I sat deep and held him in, and asked him to round up just a teensy bit. We started left, his trickier direction, where he has more power but less adjustability. He gave me a pretty good canter, and listened when I asked for some bend and softness.
After a minute or two, we took a long walk break and I kept an eye on his breathing. Thankfully, there was a good cool breeze coming down from the mountains, in advance of our predicted overnight thunderstorms. It was low 70s, and the breeze meant that when I wasn’t actively riding I had goosebumps on my bare arms. Vermont! Even in mid-June you’re chilly outside.
His breathing recovered quickly, so I picked him up tracking right again. I put him back together at the trot. Usually after a walk break he is a complete jerk, flailing and flinging and all don’t wanna. Last night he actually got that over with a minimum of fuss, and within one or two laps of the outdoor was back between my legs and hands and ready to work. I put him on the bit, sent him a little deeper, and asked for the canter.
It started off disastrously: heavy, heavy, heavy, stiff as a board, alternating lagging with charging ahead. I was firm, and held him where I wanted him to be, put him on a 20m circle, and took zero shit. I was pretty pleased with how firm I was, actually, because I knew I didn’t have all day to let him canter around like that – he was tired, it was getting late, and I didn’t want him to overheat.
And then he put his head down. And he lifted his back. And he was a round bouncy ball for one, two, three strides – an entire 20m circle. I yelled GOOD BOY at the top of my lungs, and whooped, and then made a conscious effort to ride a solid down transition, held him together through a gorgeous, lofty, powered, light in the bridle trot for half the arena, then down to the walk, then dropped the reins and told him he was the best pony in the history of ponies.
We walked up and down the road for a bit to cool off, but his breathing came back remarkably quickly, and he was only a little warm by the time we got back to the barn, only the tiniest bit damp under the girth. He got a full rubdown and lots of treats.
Thus marks our first real dressage schooling session in over six months!