Return Lesson Follow Up: Feathers

There were so many on the ground after watching my trainer clamber up on Tiny to “see what I was dealing with” that it looked like a pillow fight had broken out in the arena.  The footing was littered with them.  All from knocking me over.

She makes one circuit of the arena at the trot, stops in front of me and says: “I see.”  Hands me the reins, goes to her car and roots around in the backseat.  When she returns,  one silver fist is bristling with spurs, including a cowboy-type rowel, and her opposite elbow is jammed with every  riding crop imaginable.  She’s as prickly as a tack store shoplifter.  “Pick what you feel comfortable with, and we’ll go from there.”  While I start perusing the mobile equipment library (looking hopefully for a cattle prod and wondering what the heck else she has in the back seat), she gets back on Tiny, puts him on the buckle, flaps the reins in his face, wallops his sides with the flat of her calves and yells sternly at him to Trot ON.  When he doesn’t, she over/unders one arm and kicks him in the ribs.

In other words, she totally cowboys him into using his butt and moving forward.

Clearly, my yelling ‘Mountain Lions, Tiny, Mountain Lions!!” the previous day, has fallen into some sort of perspective.  I’m stunned.  I thought she’d get her professional riding self up there, put him in a beautiful relaxed frame and they’d look perfect.

I expected personal misery at my lack of ability.

She looks somewhat like I imagined I looked on him: no collection, no contact, no nada.  Except she looks world class doing it.  (How does she DO that?) And she isn’t sweating.

Riding Tiny has always left me as exhausted (and depressed about my riding) as if I’ve spent the past 40 minutes shoving a sofa around the arena.  Comfy.  But rough going in the sand.

She pulls him up (is he actually panting?!) in front of my armload of supplies and says “give me that stick, and that jumping bat”.  Wordlessly, I fork over the crops.  What follows is eye-opening.  She clearly knows tapping Tiny with a crop (at this point) will do nothing but make him stop dead and fling his head up in defiance.  He’s been badly burned by uneducated riders bearing crops.

Our covered arena has ‘rain’ curtains to keep the footing usable.   As she rounds to the long side, she cues him to put more of himself into the trot.  When he ignores this, she takes the jumping bat and lets it drag along the curtain, making horrific noises.  Suddenly, Tiny is completely using himself.  When he starts to back off on the other long side, ignoring her cue again, she takes the flick whip, and drags the tip along the top pole of the arena: new horrible noises.  He throws himself into the trot.

I’d been using canter departs and downward transitions to improve his trot.  They helped.  Sort of.  But, as she pointed out, he’s learned he can get out of trotting (hard) by slugging until pushed into a canter (easy).

New concept: everything has the potential to be a riding aid. Most shocking: I was on the right track (but without the finesse, creativity, or excellent seat).

Homework: No backing off in any gait for any reason (i.e. very nice way to say “STAY AWAKE up there Jane.”) and trot on full tilt for five minutes in each direction with no transitions.  (“He doesn’t understand what trotting on really means.  You need to do it for a long period and see if you can get him to relax into the forward and find a rhythm.  It needs to get in his brain as a habit.”)  Forget collection, bend, anything but GO.  “Forward has to come first or you have nothing to build on.  Once you get that, get him off the rail, work on the inside track so he starts associating GO with “I mean everywhere, and when I say NOW.”

Tried it on my own yesterday, fairly certain I couldn’t replicate that outside her direct gaze.  WOW.  He bombed around the arena with an unafraid willingness.  I only had to whup the curtains twice!


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