Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Catch and Release

Sunday's lesson was, as lessons hopefully should be, a very useful and productive time with my horse.  After a Saturday that was just off and off the rails from the start, it was very nice to have a,, subdued... not quite, sort of farm environment.  Sunday was a gorgeous day, with the sun shining and the flurries from last week melting away, naturally that meant that what felt like all the boarders at my usually ghostly deserted boarding stable were there at once... when I already felt way behind and was concerned about being ready in time for my lesson, but I should backtrack a little bit.  This previous weekend there was a Vaulting show hosted at my local fancy, pristine, I-couldn't-afford-to-board-there-if-my-horse-started-pooping-out-gold-bars, dressage barn.  A group I am involved with was running a concession as a fundraiser.  It was unexpected, to say the least.  The first day we ran out of lunch with some of the competitors yet to eat, so there was a mad scramble to pick up something, anything to feed them and the rest of the spectators.  There were a few other minor hiccups, but most of it can be chalked up to simply having had no idea what to expect.  So, when we agreed to drop off a lunch course en route to my lesson, we wound up sticking around to help just a titch too long for our comfort buffer of time to get Jazz ready for my lesson.  By the time I got to the barn I was getting paranoid about missing half my lesson just getting Jazz brushed out and tacked up, and it wasn't overly helpful that everyone and their dog (in some cases, their literal dogs) had their horses tied in the not-overly-large barn aisle and to the hitching rail outside.  Add all that together and I was trying very hard to keep my stress in check and not let it effect my horsemanship.  Oh, did I mention the owner was driving back and forth in the quad (a sound that to the horses means food), and Jazz's herdmates were running around like ninnies, and the arena was closed for harrowing until exactly when my lesson was supposed to begin, so I had no real space to get either of our feet moving effectively?  Just recounting it all is stressing me out.  So needless to say, I was not off to the best of starts.

Finally my lesson time rolled around, and my instructor entered in the man door at exactly the same time I brought Jazz through the horse door.  Luckily, my instructor seemed to pick up on the difficulties of the day, and my reference to our off day Saturday, and we started off slow and easy in a way that helped bring me right back into myself.  We lunged to start and get her focus as we usually do, and I bridled her very soon after.  I opted not to use the halter under the bridle this time because I didn't really think it was necessary.  She was responding great from the ground and I mounted up.  We worked on what my trainer calls "follow your nose" circles, which are basically starting from standing in the center of the circle and moving into as small of a circle around the center as possible while staying at a good bend and contact.  Once Jazz was on a good consistent circle with no bubbling out or cutting in, I spiraled her down into the center until she was doing a hind end yield, and she did awesome.  She used to always move her hind end like she couldn't get it out of the way and resting again fast enough, but we've been working on the ground on slow, even, calm, steps, and she was much better than she ever has been historically.  We did that both ways and then worked on backing, halting, and walking in a perfectly straight line away from the wall.  I've been really trying to concentrate on my own position, especially my seat, a lot more, and was very, very pleased with how responsive she was.

Then came my favorite part.  As I've mentioned many-a-time, Jazz has been consistently gaining ground on her shoulders. Just a few weeks ago I was thrilled she was even doing two or three steps crossing over from her shoulders, and now she can do full circles both directions from the ground.  Under saddle, we've been working on rollbacks against the wall, with the idea being creating a physical barrier to encourage her to shift more onto her hindquarters, but her rollbacks against the wall had been relatively consistent for a while in the sense that she had gotten better than when she started, but had kind of stagnated at a sort of half-try.  On one of my rollback attempts, she ended up drifting away from the wall and the outside track before I halted her, and she did a real rollback when I asked.  I could feel her really engage and using herself in a way that felt way better.  I did a few more against the wall and then commented to my trainer that she seemed to do better when I had a little more distance from the wall, and she suggested that I try in the center.  It took a couple of tries for me to figure out how to hold my outside rein, but very soon Jazz was doing it! I could feel her using her shoulders instead of her haunches, and could feel and see in some of the shadows that she was actually getting really close to exactly what I was asking for.

I finally had a free weeknight, so I went yesterday to work her again before my Wednesday lesson (my lesson schedule is pretty weird right now because of my schedule in my second non-horsey life), only to find that the weather (a relatively pleasant air temperature and the lightest of drizzles) had prompted Jazz to firmly believe that coming in with me would be far too disruptive to her day.  Long story short, I spent a good chunk of time trying to catch Jazz to no avail, and then spent a lot of time petting the other horses in Jazz's pasture because Jazz certainly wasn't going to be in petting range, but I was not leaving that pasture without my horse.  Finally, with much effort (and a little bribery in the form of handfuls of hay), I managed to catch her.  I had the rope looped over her neck and lead her by that without putting the halter on.  Poor horse had to walk with me all the way across the pasture and to the gate, where she got sent right back out.  With a workload like that, no wonder she didn't want to be caught.  What a brat!

I finally got around to trying Jazz's new halter on her the other day.  I've been using her rope halter for groundwork, but her blue nylon halter just wasn't fitting her anymore.  Doesn't she look cute in pastels?

I do like the pastels.  Maybe you'd like to be the fabled Easter pony for a while, Jazz?
Okay maybe not. 

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