To repeat my last title… riding is hard.
It’s been unusually cold in Maryland over the past week- the temps were peaking below twenty, the ground is frozen solid and rutted, and it’s just generally been no fun. So, since I’m sort of lazy, I haven’t been out to ride since last Tuesday. One of the things that’s cool about Afton is that he generally is the same to ride, whether he’s been ridden regularly or not. I really like that in a horse- I hate rituals of having to lunge before you ride, etc.
Today, though, started out a little different. From the very beginning, things were a little off. He wouldn’t stand at the mounting block very well, a skill he’d steadily been getting better at. And as soon as I started warming up, it became clear that his goal for the day and mine were drastically different.
Seeing things from his perspective, he had to be just bursting with energy- he hadn’t had any work in five days, and I doubt he did more over those five days than walk between the hay, the run in shed, and the water. The ground was far too frozen and rutted for much running or playing, and it was so bitterly cold I’m guessing he wasn’t in the mood anyway. So as soon as we were riding on a relatively soft surface, he probably was just thinking “wheee!!!! I get to moooooove!!!!”
I tried very hard to get good relaxed horse back, but any rein I gave him just resulted in increased speed. Trying to use my leg and get some bending going also increased speed. I’m fond of using patterns and circles to do the work for me, rather than getting into any fights with horses, but Afton is pretty good at taking turns without slowing down, apparently.
So, I called it in. Every once in a while I pride myself on knowing when things just aren’t going to work as planned. You have to ditch whatever thoughts you had about the ride, and put your plans in a box for next time. Afton had loads of energy today, so instead of fighting for his focus, or getting frustrated with him, I just let him go for a while.
He was so eager to canter he swept right up into it, eating up the ground with his big stride. The nice thing is that he had a fair amount of forward, but he never gets uncomfortable and I could sit it very easily (and that is NOT my strong point). I used a lot of circles, and didn’t really let him get going down any long sides by throwing those circles in as we went.
And miracle of miracles, as soon as I dropped my plan for the ride, we actually got some good things accomplished. At the canter, I am much better able to relax and find my center on him, for some reason (on other horses, I lean more at the canter. I’m not sure what’s going on here.). As I did that, and just focused on my balance, I found he was leaning less. Adding inside leg at the canter had a much greater efficacy than at the trot. And off the circle, I practiced an old college eq team exercise of “posting” to the canter, and then standing for two, three, or four strides and sitting for one.
This went much better than I would have thought. The exercise is to establish balance in the rider, but also help establish a rhythm for the horse, and it worked very well, and we actually got a much better quality canter without me having to mess with the reins or bug him too much.
Because the first half of the ride was rather out of sorts, I think it took me a while to see the whole thing more objectively. And really, in the end it worked out well- I cantered for a longer period of time than I have in months, and we were probably better off working that way. I’m not sure if the added forward motion makes everything easier, or if he was just happier getting some of his energy out which made everything simpler. Either way, I was able to get more while doing less. 🙂
Afterwards we went for a little mosey around the farm, and walked through the hay bale cross country jump (to be fair, the hay bales are sort of… diminished. There’s an easy path right through the middle of it, heh. But, it’s more proof he’ll step through or over whatever you ask him to!)
In the end, I’m glad I threw my plan to the wind. I tend to think that sometimes, things just aren’t meant to be, and if you fight it, everybody ends up frustrated and you don’t really get anywhere. Feel like I made the right call today.