At Last – HORSES!!!
Wordy, horsey, unillustrated post. Apologies to non-horsey readers but to my horsey readers – I’M BACK!!
Horses, horses… I remember when this blog had a lot to say about those two handsome guys at the top of this page! But, at last, I am finally getting back into something like a routine. I’ve done something with either one or the other of the boys most days last week (except the weekend was a write-off BOO).
A couple of weeks ago, I asked Alexandrine about doing regular lessons (if I was speaking English, I would have told her I need a kick up the ass, but in my flakey French I just told her I need a push). My respect for this young lady has grown in leaps and bounds. When the horses arrived last year, I was up checking them every single day. Now, I no longer feel the need to make sure they are ok – I have the utmost confidence that Alexandrine will notice if there’s anything amiss. It’s great not to have to worry about them if I can’t get there!
Not only are her horse-keeping skills top-notch (if you’re into a natural lifestyle, that is) but she is turning into an extraordinary all-round horsewoman. I’m not sure just how many people there are who have qualified for the French national championships in both Natural Horsemanship (Equitation Ethologique) and Dressage. She placed 6th in her section with her old-timer Max at the Natural Horsemanship championships and, with her baby horse Valentine (just four years old), she narrowly missed out on qualifying for the ride-offs in the young horse class at the Dressage championships. She also does Horse Agility with Max and placed at the regional championships doing that. But she also jumps and treks and just generally has fun with her horses. Time and time again, I count my blessings that I ended up on her little farm in the middle of the woods (and thank you AGAIN, Carol!!)
So it was lesson-time this morning. I had told her I didn’t mind what we did; in-hand Natural Horsemanship stuff or a ridden lesson. I had a lovely little hack on Flurry yesterday and really wanted to ride again, despite my continuing niggling back pain. If I rode, it would have to be Flurry because his gaits jar my back much less than Aero’s. If I did in-hand work, I would do it with Aero.
I was leaning towards Aero, mostly because it was his turn, and I brought him in to clean him up a bit, but he was still very bothered by the flies. Ok, I thought, it’s a sign! I’ll ride Flurry instead. Aero was marched back down to the field, Flurry was marched into the yard, tied up and quickly tacked up.
Alexandrine wanted to know what I’ve done with him. It’s hard to explain in French. Sheesh, it’s hard to explain in English! We’ve competed at Preliminary level, which I’m sure is lower than the lowest level in France. There’s no lateral movements and no extended trot or canter and all the circles are pretty big. But at the same time, Flurry can make a decent effort at shoulder-in, we’ve attempted walk pirouettes and his leg-yielding and turn on the forehand are established.
Nope, I couldn’t get all of that across! So I said we just do normal work, walk trot and canter and that recently he’s been falling in through the shoulder.
AHA! That gave her something to work on! I need to get control of the shoulders and teach Flurry to respect the leg, she said. The exercise went something like this :
Ask for rein-back, but as soon as I feel the weight has been transferred to the quarters, ask the horse to move the forehand to the right, by using open rein (right hand) and pushing with the left leg. Keep the right hand forward, because if I bring it back towards my knee, he’ll end up turning with his hindlegs, not his front legs. Use the left rein to prevent him from moving forward.
We did it loads of times, to the right initially. Initially, I wasn’t feeling it when he did it correctly, but at last the penny dropped. Hooray. Time to change direction; moving his shoulders to the left. Do you think I could switch around the aids from right to left? GAH!! Open rein with left hand – ask him to move away from right leg – why is my left leg clamped on his side? Relax left leg – ask him to move away from right leg – DAMMIT RELAX LEFT LEG – why is my right hand asking him to move the wrong way – relax right hand – no he’s moving forward, check with right hand – NO, RIGHT HAND, not left hand… etc etc.
I never was any good at that thing where you pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time. Anyway, I finally figured it out and Flurry made several praiseworthy attempts, so off we went on a circle, ready to use my new-found tool to stop him falling in through his shoulder. And it worked pretty well.
I’m going to digress for a moment and just say that, yes, I have ridden Flurry in the arena relatively recently. And he’s grand. He trundles along in a nice outline, usually bends to the inside ok and walks, trots or canters as requested. But we’re both in a happy, lazy rut. He doesn’t kill himself but he works quite sweetly and I couldn’t be bothered working up a sweat by making HIM work up a sweat.
So as soon as we went into trot, Alexandrine said something along the lines of well, it’s ok, but he’s not pushing from behind at all. (Sound familiar, Naomi, Frank, anyone who’s ever given me a lesson before?) So first of all she had us do turn on the forehand a couple of times to make sure that I can actually influence his back end with my legs, then she had us trot with our heads pointing in at her, on a smaller and smaller circle, until he really starting pumping those hind legs (she helped a bit with her stick, too).
And then he started to go pretty well for a while and I think (well I hope) she was pleasantly surprised at just how nice my chunky little boy can be.
We finished up with canter, which got quite interesting. I blame the idiot who was hunting in the woods beside the arena complete with pack of jingling, baying dogs.
We cantered a right-handed circle beside Alexandrine first, then she told me to go all the way around the arena. We broke to trot halfway down the long side, picked up canter again (correct lead, phew), cantered past A, and BAM, Flurry picked up speed, cut the corner and dropped through his inside shoulder – think Wall of Death and you’ve got the idea. Then, having successfully eluded my “don’t drop your inside shoulder” aids, he tried to bolt towards the gate. I regained control and made him negotiate the corner a couple more times, slightly less Wall of Death-ish each time, and we ended up cantering down the long side, successfully if a bit wobbly. I have to confess, I was laughing at him rather than angry with him. Silly boy – I reckon the dogs were at that end of the arena at the time. It’s a good excuse, anyway.
We still had to do left canter. Look, he can do walk to canter, I said. And he did – walk, walk, canter aids, lovely round canter. Wait a minute – that’s a bit TOO round! Three big round bucks later, he settled and behaved perfectly after that! I’m still blaming that stupid hunter.
All in all, a very good lesson and another one to follow next week. Yup, I’m back in the groove all right.