I already spilled the beans that I had some amazing rides with Elise this past weekend. I’ve taken my time writing down notes and things I want to be sure to remember because there was so much goodness. That’s not to say that I didn’t struggle. I struggled a lot but I didn’t get frustrated and I didn’t give up – my hip did but more on that later.
Although I want to be an interesting blogger, my primary goal is to be able to reference posts like this in the future when I want to look back. Feel free to breeze past the boring stuff for the meat from the lesson!
I arrived late Friday night to Elise’s house and we stayed up talking horses, dressage and flipping through some books together. Nerdery supreme – and it was awesome! In particular, I was devouring The Elements of Dressage as well as Dressage for the Not-so-perfect horse. The latter book Elise sent home with me because she recently read it cover to cover and marked it up with all kinds of good notes. Yay homework! I definitely want to get a copy of both books for my own collection. They are excellent!
We woke up Saturday morning and didn’t rush straight to the barn. After a stop for donuts (omg German chocolate donut wut), we ran a couple of errands. I picked up a tube of Ulcergard for Nibbles for the move (1 dose/day for 4 days). I also scored a bag of feed as I will be keeping Nibbles on the feed she’s been on when she moves – Tribute Essential K (2/3# twice daily). For anyone unfamiliar, it is akin to Buckeye’s Gro N Win. It’s a ration balancer with a very low NSC (starch content) which I really like because it doesn’t light her little tail on fire. She’s a fairly easy keeper, too, and when she moves she’ll be back on 24/7 turnout with tons of hay.
After a few errands, we made it to the barn where Nibbles is at. Elise had another lesson before me so I plucked Nibbles from her pasture and decided to groom her. She was by herself in the cross ties and was very wiggly. Cue me panicking – I joked with Elise that I have cross tie PTSD after Joker’s cross tie shenanigans. Of course, Nibbles didn’t do anything dramatic, she was just super wiggly and looking around when she was alone and couldn’t see any other horses. She pawed once or twice, I told her no, and that was that. Nibbles rarely argues which is one thing I love about her.
We tacked up and I borrowed Elise’s stirrups because mine are with Joker (whoops!). We agreed that I should do the warm up and be the first to get on. There’s no time like the present to take the reins!
Guys, my horse is a boss. I put her on the lunge first so Elise could coach me through what they have been working on. I’m not good at play by play so how about a list…
- Starting out very briefly without side reins then attached them firmly but no where near cranked (third D-ring on the side reins we we using).
- Flick her shoulder/ribcage to create the correct bend or correct counter flexion.
- Half halt with the lunge line just like when you are riding.
- After she’s had a few minutes on a 20m circle, spiral in and out at the trot and canter between 10m, 15m and 20m circles. Carefully keep the bend and do not let her fall in at the shoulder. She has a tendency to do this to the right.
- Play with transitions within the gait as well. She can really sit if you half halt and send her forward into the contact.
- The goal is to get her warm and swinging through her back.
- I didn’t lunge her first on Sunday and could tell a big different in her readiness to get to work and accept contact. Elise agreed it may be wise to lunge her first to warm up her back and get her accepting the contact before I get on for a while.
I was really impressed with Nibbles’ ability to not only canter on a 10m circle, but to do it really freaking well. It’s absolutely clear that Elise has carefully worked on her fitness and balance.
I want to note that lunging like this is not mindless circles and it is not about blowing off steam. It is thoughtful in-hand work to prepare Nibbles mentally and physically for the demands of the rider. She really tuned into me and wanted to work. Her expression was, “What’s next? Wheeee!” She’s such a happy horse.
After I felt like I understood a typical lunging session, it was time to mount up. Long time readers may recall that Nibbles’ was bad about the mounting block. No more! I mounted up and off we went. Although she wasn’t “up” or spicy, Elise had me do an exercise she uses when she is:
From wall to centerline, walk in tight serpentine loops down the longside. You should be able to fit in 6 or more in a dressage arena. Work towards seeing how little rein you can use and really get her moving off your leg and, eventually seat.
When she’s in a working frame of mind, leg yield at the walk in both directions from just off the wall to centerline – straighten – then leg yield back again. Did I mention my horse leg yields like a boss in both walk and trot now? Yeah, that’s a thing.
Move on to shoulder-fore in both directions. This is still relatively new to Nibbles so don’t over school it. Get a few solid steps then straighten and praise her (scratch her withers and tell her good girl). Praise her before she feels like she can’t hold it anymore and she will get stronger with time. The outside rein is extremely important – do not throw it away or she will trail her hind end. Don’t try to over correct the hind end: correct your outside rein and, like magic, the hind end gets into gear.
If she gets above the bit and/or tense through her back, use an opening rein just off the wall to ask for one step off the track in either direction. It’s amazing how quickly she gets back with the program. Elise rode Nibbles in a clinic with a grand prix trainer and picked up this exercise. Reins should be opening – out but not down. You can do this multiple times down the longside and once, maybe twice, on the short side. We did this in both the walk and trot.
You’ll notice all of these notes are about exercises in the walk and trot. That’s because we were about 45 minutes in when we went to canter for the first time and my body gave a big fat NOPE. As soon as Nibbles went to pick up the canter like a good girl, my right hip started spasming like someone had stuck a hot knife in it. I talked to a PT friend and, without seeing it in person, she hypothesized that perhaps I had been gripping with my lower leg more than I realized. This can create tension and ultimately pain the hips. I think it was a combination of this and me being very, very tight through my hips naturally. I think they were just pushed to their limit considering I hadn’t ridden in the past week and hadn’t done much more than walking in several weeks on Joker. I felt relief only by completely dropping my stirrups.
Nibbles is green but she is really so easy. My hip was really, really hurting so I kind of freaked out and tried to stretch it in any way possible. This meant one second I was asking her to canter, the next I was frog-legging, bicycling, throwing my leg to the other side like we were going sidesaddle… just trying to find relief. And the mare walked on the buckle like I got you mom. We tried to canter a couple more times. I decided not to drop my stirrups (I was pooped at this point) which in hindsight I wish I had given a shot. We got a 20m circle or two at the canter where I had to really force my hips open. There were a couple of strides where my hips finally relaxed but they would quickly spasm again so I waved the white flag.
We spent a little while thereafter working on the free walk. We didn’t have a correct free walk quite yet – it was more like she swallowed a telephone pole. To her credit, my seat was basically just flopping around trying to stay upright at that point so I don’t blame her.
Unfortunately, my hip pain continued into Sunday which means we made it about 15 minutes into the lesson before, even at the trot, my hips were screaming. It was again primarily my right hip (I think adductor muscle). We didn’t lunge first so Nibbles was colder through her back and not seeking the contact. It wasn’t super pretty but it also wasn’t hopeless – my body was betraying me and she just wasn’t quite ready to get to work. I considered getting off completely but Elise and I had thrown around the idea of going for a road hack and it was 30 degrees and sunny. So we opened up the big loud barn door (good mare don’t care) and headed out.
I’ve never ridden Nibbles outside of the arena. Until Sunday, she’s only ever hacked out alone. Elise says she LOVES trail riding and I was super excited to experience it. Homegirl went on autopilot. She was so happy – ears forward and neck swiveling to look around and take everything in. I say that but she wasn’t looking for something to spook at, I swear she was just enjoying her surroundings.
Elise was on her gelding, Atlas, and we headed up the road together. I dropped my stirrups as we walked because ahhhh relief and Nibbles was showing off her mad skills. Is there anything better than a horse you can hack out on the buckle? Atlas is pretty massive (16.3) and Nibbles is 15.2ish and she was taking her time sight seeing so we were getting left behind. I pushed her into a trot and she happily obliged. I’m pretty sure at this point I was laughing for joy. When I sent Nibbles to Elise, she had a small handful of rides and we had no steering. And now we were trotting up a road with our big girl panties on without a worry in the world. Well, there was one offensive boulder we gave a wide berth. And my hip gave me the bird after 30 seconds of posting. But my joy would not be deterred!
It was a quick hack, up the road, over a small bridge, and back. We had a couple of trucks pass us. I picked up my stirrups for the first one but didn’t bother for the others if that tells you how much she cared about them. When we got back to the barn, it was buzzing as there was a grand prix trainer coming in for a clinic in a little over an hour. So we snapped a quick picture (that I posted yesterday) and put ponies away.
Like I said, I struggled in places over the weekend but it was awesome – none of it was because Nibbles was saying no or being silly. In fact, except for being wiggly the one time in the cross ties, she was foot perfect. If I asked in the right way, she said “Yes, absolutely!” If I asked in the wrong way (ahem pulling on the reins too much), she was a big fat tattle tale and giraffed it out until I fixed myself/asked correctly. Some other takeaways about my position/riding…
- Really engage my traps and think about pulling my shoulder blades together (like in a low row at the gym) and softening them down. This is more correct and effective than just “shoulders back.” Desk job is killing my position.
- Hip to heel line is generally good in walk and trot… cantering I definitely close my hip angle but not sure beyond that from this trip because of my mutinous hip!
- Hands need to be UP (at least one fist above my saddle) – lower is not kinder.
- Do not nag her with your hands.
- Really make the outside rein your anchor, especially tracking right and in the lateral work.
- Send her forward – she will suck back a little if I let her. Forward is the answer. Always forward, even if you change gait, just keep her on the track.
We knew this from the massage therapist back before her show in September but she is out in her C5 vertebrae and needs a chiropractic adjustments. This shows up especially when tracking and bending right. Her mane is also flipping very closeby and I have a hunch it will go back to one side after a few adjustments. I also want to bump her grain up just a hair; she could stand to gain 30-50 pounds.