Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Riding a Good Horse

I have to admit, my horse is a saint.  Some way to start off a post, eh?  I should also probably clarify that, though saint-like, there's no denying she's far from perfect.  In fact, in the eyes of many riders she would probably be just about as far from saintly as you could get.  She's willful and opinionated, she's quite sensitive, and she loves to go.  However, her intelligence and athletic ability means she can take something foreign and new to her, and make it look easy.  For example, we rode our first leg-yield in a clinic.  While it started off dreadfully (seriously... she refused to move, in typical "you don't know what you're doing, so I'm going on strike" Cadence fashion) but within 15 minutes she was leg-yielding perfectly.  It was like point-and-shoot leg yielding; just head for the wall at the right angle, and as long as you occasionally check her tempo she'll just leg yield away... making me look pretty darn good!  That's not to say there's no tension, or  iffy moments, but she just picks up on things so quickly that even when I'm not 100% sure what's going on she's got my back.

This is on my mind because of the lesson we had Friday night.  Now that we're in the winter training season, we've been ramping up the flat work.  After some decent trot leg-yields (we have a bit more trouble with those, because I have a bit more trouble controlling her tempo w/o losing the lateral momentum.. but they're still fantastic seeing as we've worked on it less than 10 times...) my coach decided it was time for us to introduce shoulder fore and shoulder-ins to Cadence.  Now, this is an area I'm a bit greener in. I've worked on shoulder-in... less than 5 times before.  I know how to ask, and what it feels like, but trying to explain this to a horse who's got no clue wtf you're asking them for is a little more difficult, because while I know what is right and what is blatantly wrong, I struggle a bit more in the grey areas.  However, Cadence was brilliant and definitely saved me a bit.  She just gets things so quickly, and is flexible (not to be confused with supple) and co-ordinated enough to just simply do it without too much work.  So in short, I've been blessed with one heck of a good horse.

When we bought her, we paid for talent and brains... but I don't think I truly appreciated just how important that was at the time.  Most riders foray into the world of competitive riding on a safe, trained horse.  I competed at my first 'real' show on a pony most people were afraid to ride (he had no breaks... not even an emergency break.  Your emergency break was called dismounting) and that I'd decided to lease and train up a bit.  He was, and is, the most brilliant horse I've ever known, and taught me more than I could ever hope to learn.  However, he did not make it look easy. We rode around hunter courses at mach 10, warming up in our hackamore and switching into the bitted bridle at the in-gate. We circled endlessly to stop, and NEVER competed in flat classes.  Those required breaks. He was unathletic, and while he had a decent looking jump, isn't a stellar mover.
 The pony.  Isn't he cute? I miss him.
Oh, and ignore my saddle sliding back in the jumping photo...

While Cadence has had her fair share of 'face-palm' worthy moments, (such as getting eliminated from her first two real shows because of a shed and a barn... terrifying, apparently.) she DOES make things look easy.  Or at least easier.  She can jump out of just about any distance, and is bold as the day is long.  We consistently score well in dressage partially due to her training, which is slightly above what you'd expect to see at the level, but also because she's simply lovely to watch.  I can goof up: mess up the shape of our circles, not get her into a good relaxed trot, hit a dreadfully incorrect distance, jump her out of an awful turn, and she saves my ass every time because for the parts of the test we do properly, she's golden.
Cadence having a 'face palm' worthy moment...
It may be true that we may have a disadvantage, with both my horse and I being relatively new to the sport of eventing, in many ways she's taught me more than a school master ever could.  She'll still save me when I get a bad distance to a fence, and I'll stick her out when she has a 'Cadence moment' and flips out at a shed, or a miniature pony, or whatever it is next time.  In some ways, its a bit of a bizarre notion- after all, she's still a total green bean.  However, when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. We're a team.  When I drop the ball, she's there to catch it, and when we enter the wonderful world of learning new things, I (theoretically) am there to lead her through.

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