I’ve experienced an overwhelming amount of change in my life the past couple of months (hence the reason my posts have gone MIA for a while), and with those changes I’ve lost a lot of my connections: close friendships just around the corner, intense support and friendship with coworkers, knowing where I am and how to get to where I want to be, and, most important to this Blog, with my riding partner Aragorn. Because of the changes in my location (moving from North Carolina to Florida) and the many responsibilities tied to these changes, my riding times have been inconsistent. However, we are finally getting back into a regular routine of riding and working to redevelop our connection.
When we first arrived at our new home in Florida, everything seemed to exist in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. Our rides seemed to lack the focus and purpose they had had prior to moving. I’m not sure what the reason was for this lack of focus, but it was becoming quite frustrating… until this past weekend.
I will say that the weather here has been much better for summertime riding than it was in Coastal North Carolina. Yes, there are high temperatures and humidity, but the rain showers are more frequent and with them generally comes lower temperatures and less humidity. I don’t feel like I’m constantly trying to catch my breath as if I were breathing through a tiny straw when I ride here! So, we are able to put more effort into our rides and spend more time on what challenges us. With that being said, however, we have been having heavy thunderstorms for more than a week straight intermixed with sunshine and partly cloudy skies. There has been little time for puddles to evaporate and riding arenas to gain back their quality footing.
But, if there is one thing I am good at, it is being creative in my riding and finding ways to work towards our goals in nontraditional settings. So, our focus: redeveloping connection.
As you know, suppleness is an eternal challenge for us, particularly to the left. But, suppleness has been almost completely missing in our few rides since our relocation to Florida. We would get to the point where we would be finally focused on one another and developing an understanding, but it would be after a good 30-40 minutes of discussion and argument.
This past Saturday morning, I arrived at the boarding stable only to find the arena under a flood of water. I have to admit that I was excited about this: I could go ride down the dirt road and work on some suppling exercises and get a bit creative! Here’s a view for you to get an idea of what we had to work with:
Pretty beautiful, right?!
Here are the exercises we rode:
- Figure eights making our circles around the trees as equal in size as possible.
- Circling down the road around each tree on the left, tracking left for each circle, until we got to the end. Then, came back down the trees on the opposite side of the road, this time tracking to the right for each circle.
- Leg yielding in zig-zags across the road from one tree to the next on the opposite side of the road (a great challenge that really aided us in working on adjusting our scope!).
- Serpentines around the trees as we moved up and down the road.
We worked these exercises at the walk until our connection was strong and secure, then we proceeded to the trot.
Useful techniques for us in these exercises:
Here are some of the things I focused on that helped us at first develop and then maintain our connection:
- A connection is not true unless is it from the inside leg to the outside rein. I want to feel secure on the outside rein and, when I do not feel that secure connection, an inside leg aid at the girth is a reminder to Aragorn that I need him to connect to my outside rein.
- The inside rein is Aragorn’s reminder to soften through his jaw and poll. When I feel his neck “fill up” my outside rein, I like to give him a soft rub or scratch on the neck with my inside hand- this is his reminder that he is connecting to me correctly, carrying himself, and giving me lightness!
- My inside seat bone is my best friend in securing connection. This is the hardest thing for me to remember, but when I focus on it, everything comes easier! For example, when tracking on a circle to the left (our tougher direction) I focus on taking my left seat bone to the right (almost like I am taking it to behind my right knee) and Aragorn immediately responds by stretching through his ribcage and stepping more under himself with his inside hind leg (that’s the best feeling: when he truly steps more deeply under myself with his inside hind!).
- Inside leg at the girth outside leg behind is only a general rule. Depending on where Aragorn’s hindquarters are (falling in, falling out), I might need to adjust my leg aid to prevent or correct an incorrect positioning.
- It is important to keep Aragorn moving in front of my leg, nicely forward and active. Ideally, I should feel a swing in his back at the walk and, at the trot, it should feel like I’m riding on a bouncy-ball (thanks to Fie Andersen for that analogy!). Without this swing or bounce, Aragorn cannot possibly be active enough in the hind and will not be in front of my leg.
- Ask, receive, give. To keep Aragorn sensitive to my aids, I must be sure to “give” the instant I get a response. Too many riders “hang” on their horses by never giving when they get a response. All that is going to do is create a dull horse and a fatigued rider. Back to the seat bone example from above: once I shift my left seat bone to the right and I feel Aragorn supple on his right side and step under with his left hind, I relax that aid and sit equally on both seat bones in the center of my saddle.
For the first ten minutes or so of our ride, Aragorn was more focused on his surroundings than he was on me, but this changed after a warmup consisting of the serpentine and figure eight exercises. What helped him focus on me the most was me sharing my inner dialog with him aloud; instead of just talking myself through the things I needed to do to create a true inside leg to outside rein connection, I said things like: “OK, we’re getting ready to circle right and I need you to be connected to my left rein… Focus on finding that connection to the left rein. Remember to shift the inside seat bone out!” and other helpful dialog. Aragorn has always actively seeked verbal praise and he has learned things quite quickly from verbal direction, so this dialog with him keeps his attention, helps him relax, and helps him know when he is doing the right thing (and the benefits for me are huge as it helps me better organize myself!).
Within the first few minutes of the warmup serpentines and circles, I was easily finding true connection on both reins, working towards finding equal and straight connection on straight lines before changing direction, and Aragorn was attentive, forward, and truly having fun! If there is one thing I can say about Aragorn, it is that he has an exceptional work ethic and he puts 100% (most of the time!) into trying to please me. I think Aragorn knows just how handsome he looks when he is connected, forward, and light! I was even pleasantly surprised when the weanlings next to where we were working decided to gallop and buck around their pasture at full speed and Aragorn only gave them a side glance in passing- not even once did he disconnect from me or get prancy and excited- what a good boy! Truly a fun ride for us both!