dressage · no stirrup november

Transition Within Gaits

I have been going to the barn but only riding sporadically. Mostly, I’m really loving free longeing right now, and so is Tris. It gets us both moving and enjoying each other’s company, and he is really looking substantially better from start to finish. It’s not without its flaws – for one thing, he is refusing to track left consistently, which is about half brattiness and half some body soreness – but it’s working for us.

That said, I did ride last night, for a solid hour, which was a lot for us. Usually I’m on for 20-40 minutes, depending on what he needs that day and at what point I see a good quitting time.

Last night, I free longed for 15 minutes (mostly walk and trot, some canter), then tacked up. We did lateral work at the walk for another 15 minutes, then picked up and worked mostly in the trot for 15 minutes with some moments in the canter.

He was feeling good from the free longing: his trot was bouncier and more uphill right out of the box. I took that opportunity to really work more on getting him to sit, and for that I pulled an old exercise out: transitions within gaits.

I’m not necessarily talking about collected-medium-extended; frankly, Tris doesn’t have that kind of finesse in his gaits. That’s certainly one way of transitioning within gaits, and it’s something like what we did, but we did the much broader version of it.

Which is to say: in the trot, I slowed him down and shortened his stride in a gradual way down a long side, held it through a short side, and then opened him up again down the long side or the diagonal. It was taught to me by a working student some years ago as: bring him down, using half-halts, to when he’s almost┬áready to break.

When you hit that point – when you’re suspended and need to make a decision – you can do one of two things with it. When I’m working on getting Tristan forward, I then rocket him out of that moment. I drop him down almost to a walk and then make a BIG ask to go back forward. Repeat frequently, as many as ten or twenty times in one lap. It has the dual effect of sharpening him to the leg and making him really frustrated at being told to slow down, both of which make a more forward pony.

The second thing you can do is hold it, and that’s when you’re aiming more toward a collected trot than just a slowed-down one. Because if you hold it, what you’re really trying to do is maintain energy even in a shorter-strided gait, which is the essence of collection. When I’m doing that I keep the half-halts going and a strong leg, I work on suppling and keeping him soft in his mouth, and I use my core to ask him to sit.

We alternated doing that with more lateral work, and then started combining the two into spiral circles: slower and slower trot as we spiraled in, bigger and bigger trot as we spiraled out. That had the benefit of teaching those same lessons while getting more bend activity in the hind end. At the end, we played with sitting down more in the canter for just a little bit.

After an hour of work, he was pretty tired! His respiration took probably 30 minutes to come down while I fretted. We walked around under tack for a while, and then I handwalked him in his cooler for a while longer. He cooled down reasonably well but was still breathing a bit too heavily. I finally put him in his stall and left him quiet for 15 minutes, then checked again. This time, I checked with a stopwatch in hand instead of just counting seconds in my head; it’s way too easy to count in time with his breathing and think that his respiration is higher than it is without empirical evidence!

With that final check, he was down to 16 breaths per minute – still higher than I want, but for an out of shape 21 year old horse who’d just worked harder than in the last 5 weeks, I decided it was pretty good.

That said: I did all of this without stirrups, and this morning, I discovered that I might actually have abs underneath the 5lbs of post-election belly fat?

no stirrup november · stupid human tricks

No Stirrup November

I’m still struggling, but on Tuesday I suited up for my first ride of November.

I actually thought, well, I should make my body hurt as much as my heart and brain. Maybe that will be distracting. So I took the stirrups off my saddle.

Confession time: I’m kind of loving it.

Yeah it’s not this green anymore. Mostly putting this in because I need something to break up the text and we both look happy and focused.

I longed him first, to warm up his back. I pushed him through his fussiness, let him get a few good bucks in, and once he was moving freely and easily I brought him back in and jumped on.

I didn’t quite plug in to my seat in the trot, and as a result he never really came through his back. I get that. I was ok with it – I was not exactly helping him.

But it felt good to just focus, fiercely, on something. I didn’t check my phone. I didn’t swallow back bile thinking again and again about people I love(d) who have embraced hatred. I just kept pushing myself to keep trotting, to follow the motion.

Wednesday, I was sore. I worked a 13 hour day, so no barn. Thursday, I went back out and did the same thing: longed, got on, pushed myself through.

Both rides mapped out about the same, 10-15 minutes longeing, 25-35 minutes riding, 10 minutes cooldown. Both times I was glad I had clipped him – he was warm but cooled out quickly.

[repeat caption from above]

Thursday, things went better. I felt more plugged in, had found a better way to engage my core and soften my shoulders to follow. I asked Emilie and the barn manager if I was leaning too far back; consensus seemed to be that I was sitting too far back in the saddle, but not necessarily leaning.

I spent a few minutes thinking that through as I listened to my body’s feedback, and I found that I wasn’t engaging my core quite enough and was sitting just a hair behind the motion. I settled my seatbones in but kept my upper body soft, and worked that through for a bit.

I’m sure it’s no coincidence that toward the end of that trot work – which I interspersed with short canters whenever I was getting too tired – I got a couple steps at a time of lovely soft throughness.

I’m sure it’s also no coincidence that last night was the first in 10 days I haven’t woken up with an anxiety attack from a nightmare.