Yesterday, Cadence and I had our first lesson since her injury back at the start of December. Now, almost two months later, we're finally really getting back into the swing of things. Our ride started off with her trotting away from the mounting block, and me not being able to stop her for a full lap of the ring. Pathetic, I know. She had Sunday off, and it was showing.
The lesson was going to be more of a see where we're at and where we need to go kind of thing. Assess her muscling, fittness, and rehab schedule. The rigorous part of the rehab schedule is over, and for the past few days I've just been riding to her fitness level & cough. The cold appeared to be on its way out, but yesterday kicked that assumption to the curb; she was coughing and sneezing worse than ever before.
Anywho, so Cadence was energetic. After a quick attempt at a walk stretch, I gave up. A key part of the walk stretch is actually walking, and it didn't look like we were going to be able to handle that. Thus, I conceded to pick her up and soften her up in the walk. She was pretty good, but quite grabby, slightly unresponsive, and HEAVY in the halts. Not too impressive. She improved a wee bit though, and we moved into the trot. We were immediately faced with the rusheyness (rusheyness? rushiness... so hard to determine the correct spelling of imaginary words) I've been attempting to work through, and after some trotting around (my coach was quick to inform me that that behaviour needs to be nipped in the bud; my hyper mare should never be given the impression that speed is okay or an appropriate response to anything.) trying rather unsuccessfully to steady her rhythm, we entered into the actual learning portion of the lesson.
To help you visualize the behaviour Cadence was exhibiting, she likes to go fast. Big, long, open, powerful strides are her preference. While she's been coming back I've been encouraging her to find her own rhythm... which works alright sometimes. When she settled into her own rhythm it was lovely, but when she didn't(19 times out of 20), it was a nightmare. Most of the time, she needs her rider to show her the slower, more relaxed tempo they're looking for. The hot TB event horse blood in her just won't go there by herself. She can be content when she gets there, but while some horses are happy to trot along slowly... she's happiest and most relaxed while running. The issue we've been encountering is that when I half halt, she comes back... then goes back out stronger than before. Even if I half halt every stride, its like taking a car down a hill. To avoid riding your breaks, you apply the break, then start to release. As you release, the car starts to surge forward... so you apply the break... rinse, & repeat.
What my coach had me do was put her on a left circle and while keeping her slightly counter bent (actually, it's more NOT having a left bend and staying straight) leg yield in on the circle. Once on a small circle with her at the center, I had to make sure the circle was totally even and I didn't lose her shoulder for even a millisecond as we went around the circle. As we were doing this, I kept rating her tempo & wonder of all wonders, it improved. We walked, and leg yielded slowly out. We did this in the walk and trot, focusing very carefully on the shoulders. Then, we switched directions and did it to the right, walk and trot.
What I learned is that she wasn't running away by grabbing the bit and havin' a good ole time like she used to (subtlety level: low) but instead she was ever so subtly evading me by losing her outside (most of the time) shoulder. When we tried this in the canter, starting on her rushy left lead, the results were outstanding! Her canter improved dramatically. Its still pretty flat and down hill, but she needs to build more muscle before we can fix that. Plus, there are a few more training blocks we need to re-install as well.
Before we cantered to the right, my coach had me pick her up and ride her in a bit of a more advanced frame. Just focusing on a nice round right circle, I barely asked and she came through into a gorgeous trot. Light up in front, pushing a wee bit more from behind, but maintaining the relaxed rhythm. I've never ridden anything so glorious. The best part? She kept it without even the tiniest bit of hesitation. We did a few more circles that way, and were perscribed a few minutes of trot like that for the next few weeks to get her muscles working a bit more, & rebuild that hind end! At the end of the lesson we agreed to meet next Saturday for a little flat school, followed by a reintroduction to jumping. Assuming all goes well in the next two weeks, that is.
Nothing beats the feeling of a lesson that leaves you thinking 'wow, I really learned a lot today'. They're the ones that you live for; the ones that give you puzzle pieces with which to build the picture of the equestrian you are and hope to become. At least that's the way it is for me.