Monday, September 14, 2009

Speed control

In my last post (about Panama's cute behavior), I mentioned Friday's riding lesson, but then I forgot all about my promise to blog about it. Part of that was because I had a decidedly un-horsey weekend. It's interesting to me that I find it harder to ride on the weekends than during the week.

(Oh, fine, I'll admit it — it's because Michael is home, I want to spend time with him, and it's practically impossible to get him to come out to the barn with me.)

Anyway, my trainer had me work a lot on my two-point. She's also harassing me about keeping my feet back and my heels down — I thought I was pretty good about the former, but I guess I must suck at both, judging by how often she has to remind me!

Another exercise she had me try was posting up two beats and down one — to demonstrate that I wasn't using my leg muscles enough, and was letting my weight fall back into the saddle too much.

Toward the end, when she said my two-point was looking much better, she had me do something new: ask for a faster trot while in the two-point. She was unsurprised when I immediately tensed up and lost my nice form. "I was afraid he was going to canter," I said, to which she answered, "I know."

No, we still haven't cantered. In fact, I have a feeling that all this work on my two-point, pestering me about my leg position, building up my leg strength, etc. is her roundabout way of getting me ready to canter. I think she's trying to build my confidence (as well as my strength) by making me work on exercises that require a lot of leg control.

But I digress. She explained that I need to be able to anticipate his faster movement when I ask for it, so that I can stay with him and not get left behind. I tried it a few more times, and she said I was getting it.

She wanted me to work on the speeding up and slowing down before our next lesson, so that's what I started out with today. I was amazed at how much more quickly I tired out when my trainer wasn't there. I guess she's better at getting me to push my limits than I realized — when she's present, at least!

I practiced transitioning from a slower trot, to a faster trot, back down to a slower trot while in the two point. Then for fun, I did the same thing in a posting trot. Interestingly, this exercise seems to be benefitting both of us: I'm gaining confidence about going faster, for one thing. I stopped worrying about him cantering instead of trotting faster — well, okay, mostly because I knew he knew what I wanted. But I can also feel that I'm less worried about going faster. I feel more in control.

The other thing that has happened was completely unexpected: Panama has become more sensitive to my speed cues. It's like it suddenly clicked for him that I want to control his speed as well as his gait. Until recently, I was always having to ask him to slow down. Finally he figured out that I preferred a slow, even trot — particularly when I'm working on something. Once he realized that, he got really good at giving me the pace I prefer.

But intentionally speeding up and slowing down in the trot has led to something of a revelation for him. He suddenly gets it. And he is oh so responsive when I ask him to trot faster or slower. It's quite satisfying to feel him respond to my cues!

After we had practiced for about 15 minutes, I decided to ride in the field as a treat for both of us. For one thing, the pasture is a dirt lot, and since the barn owner has been harrowing it too often (grrr), it's pretty dusty — especially so today, since he'd just harrowed it yesterday. I wanted to give us a break from the dust. But it also had been a while since we'd ridden off the property, so it seemed like a nice luxury.

I started out by walking and trotting Panama in the flat corner of the field. I was really pleased to find that he remained responsive to my faster-trot/slower-trot cues out in the field, instead of doing his usual one-speed trail trot: the Excited Trot. He admittedly wasn't as responsive as he'd been in the pasture, but it was still an improvement.

We were clearly having a good day, so I decided to go ahead and walk Panama across the field to the trail. Today he was unusually interested in the soccer field and playground to our left, and kept trying to walk that way (which was a bit annoying, but manageable). We made it to the trail without incident, so I walked him a little ways down it. He shied away from the trash can on the first pass, so we circled back and passed it again, this time without a reaction. I think he honestly forgets it's there.

I had forgotten to wear my helmet off the property like I usually do, though, so we didn't go any further. I just didn't want to tempt fate any more than I already had. We turned around and worked on the concept of not rushing home for most of the way back. Then I rode him in the flat part of the field for about 10 more minutes before taking him back home.

One final note: Another thing I was working on a lot today was figuring out a comfortable rein length while off the property. Panama tends to hold his head higher when we're on the trail, so I have to ride with a shorter rein than I do when we ride in the pasture. But I also tend to ride with more contact on the trail — whether that's practical or paranoid, I don't know, but today I was trying to find a happy medium between a loose enough rein to be comfortable for him, and a tight enough rein that I wouldn't lose control if he spooked and threw his head up.

All in all, our ride lasted for nearly an hour: 20 minutes in the pasture, and 30 minutes in the field and on the trail. I hope to be able to do about the same tomorrow!



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