It seems after almost a week “off” and copious amounts of pie, I’ve totally forgotten whatever it is I was going to write about last Monday. Oops.
In any case, after a seriously demoralizing drive back from New England (which is lovely in the winter, despite the ice. I sometimes forget how beautiful everything is up there) on Saturday, I got back to horsing around on Sunday which made me feel a little better. First up was a ride on Afton.
His improvement is amazing- much like Rosey, he gets better with every single ride. That he can continue to improve while only being ridden once or twice a week is pretty amazing. In this case, he’d had a full week off when I climbed back on (and of course, I don’t ever lunge first or anything like that). He spooked a little bit (first time ever) because the windows to the ring had been opened due to unseasonably warm weather, and there was a horse next to the ring grazing (this almost always gets horses snorty and looky- I have no idea why). He got over that pretty quickly as we got to work, and I found that his bulging shoulder on turns is almost completely gone. His body is staying in line pretty nicely, and to a point he will move laterally almost to a proper bend. His leg yielding isn’t perfect yet, but he gets the idea and I’m sure will have it mastered pretty quickly.
I only worked on the flat for a little while- we had a bit of a time crunch as I had agreed to go out to the Funny Farm after riding. Then, since someone very conveniently had set up a little crossrail in the ring, we popped over it a few times. The last time I jumped Afton I got a little lecture about the hideous state of my upper body. It’s true, it’s pretty abysmal. I love to jump for the horse, like throwing myself at the jump could actually assist a half-ton animal in getting over a 1′ crossrail. This time I really concentrated on that, and also on not micromanaging the approach. Afton, being green, isn’t the greatest jumper yet- left to his own devices he kind of pauses on takeoff and lurches or stumbles over. My tendency is to want to add leg but also take up more rein, supporting with my hand. While this results in a better-feeling jump to me, it’s probably not the best way to make a self sufficient jumper. Or so I’ve been told.
So we trotted the jump several times, with me thinking about moving my hands forward and keeping my upper body still. I suffered through a few VERY awkward feeling attempts before things started to click a little better. The last time trotting, I felt him use his head and neck, and actually lift his shoulder over the jump. So I suppose that means I got it right (or, more right than I had been getting it). Feeling enboldened I thought that it was the perfect time to try cantering the little fence. Have to say it’s much easier to canter than trot, in terms of holding my upper body up and staying quiet. Being a monkey-rider I will say that I generally have all sorts of anxiety (and resulting issues with my riding) regarding “the spot” and taking off in the right place, but Afton seems to be the type that will find it more or less on his own, and I never felt like I had to worry about it. We got the first one a little long, but the next was dead on, so we quit with it.
He’s a very cool horse- though he doesn’t have cruise control at the canter when we work on the flat (keeping the same rhythm gets a little hard, sort of like a teenage driver who hasn’t mastered the gas pedal), when there’s a jump involved he really keeps a nice pace all on his own. He doesn’t rush or run, and he doesn’t back off either. He stays very comfortable and even, and doesn’t land galloping or any of those greeny things. He canters off like there wasn’t a jump there and will stop in a straight line, or take a tight turn, or lope around the big turn, depending on what you ask.
I think that’s what people are talking about when they refer to “natural balance” in a horse. My own horse (not to pick on him) is sort of heavy in the canter. He has a low set neck and tends to get on the forehand. When jumping, it takes him a bit to recover himself after a jump, and if we’ve done a gymnastic line or even a regular line, stopping in a straight line after can be a bit of an adventure. Not a problem at all for Afton. And this probably plays into why he occasionally throws in a lead change when he thinks we’re changing direction. I don’t actually ask for them- because I’m a somewhat crooked rider and prone to doing strange things with my body, I figure the second I start asking or trying to work on it, I might screw up his natural tendency and make it more of a drama than it needs to be.
After our ride, I headed out to the Funny Farm with a friend who is going to field board one of her youngsters there. So I got to visit and play with all my favorites, including Rosey and Klondike. There was also a nice surprise there in the form of a new arrival, a horse whose last race on Friday was quite a failure (there will be video with the next entry, for your amusement). Additionally, a very good friend of CANTER’s dropped by and picked up a training project, who I hear will be featured in his own blog. That project is none other than Gutenberg, the chestnut who came in with Stephen and who Mikey kept chasing away (see last entry) last weekend.