Yesterday was an exercise in riding frustration for both Hudson and I. Hudson did exactly what I asked him to do. He picked up the wrong lead every time.
When I’m tired or don’t feel well, I revert to an ancient (and bad) riding skill set.
Hudson canters off an inside cue. All you do is relax your seat, and drop your inside hip. That’s it. No lower leg, no reins, no complicated set of cues in alphabetical order delivered by courier service.
Cantering off the inside explains a lot of sudden canter departs when I first started exercising him. I’d shift a hip to get more comfy, and off we’d go!
99% of all horses I’ve ridden have been trained to canter off the outside leg.
Apparently it’s hard for me to remember how an inside cue works. While dropping a single hip is not rocket science, I could not manage to do so.
Instead, I unconsciously popped out his inside shoulder (wrapped him around my outside leg) and did all the things which would prevent most green or difficult horses from picking up the wrong lead.
A trained and easy horse that requires a single dropped hip is far too difficult for me to grasp.
I’d set him up nicely wrapped around my inside leg, trotting beautifully.
Then I’d implode, and use every cue I ever learned. All at once.
Bella saw this.
Half the barn saw this. (I exist to make people feel better about their riding. It’s my public service.)
“Wrong lead!”, Bella calls out. (for which I am extremely grateful.) “Why are you doing that?” she asks, genuinely mystified. “Why are you setting him up for the wrong lead?”
“Because I’m dumb and don’t know I’m doing that?” I respond. “What am I doing?”
Bella relates what I’m doing. Says, “I’ve never seen you do that before.”
Hudson put the separate cues together and did what he’s trained to do: give me exactly what I asked for, instantly. The right lead going left.
When I started exercising him for Bella, I’d remember at the last second: DO NOT CUE HIM ON OUTSIDE. Unfortunately, (because he reads minds) this resulted in half-cues on both sides: he gave me a perfect cross canter. Left lead in front, right lead behind. Darned uncomfortable for him.
I kept trying and trying yesterday. Please. Just one good canter depart. Never mind the depart: just one correct lead.
Hudson was getting hugely frustrated, which translates into more and more amped. Why am I constantly stopping him? He’s doing exactly what I asked for! What is my problem?!?
Finally, I gave no cue at all. I got a good walk, soft, on the bit, and I tried not to move: I thought “canter”.
Instant canter depart on correct lead. I didn’t drop a hip, move a leg, shift at all. And we got some beautiful canter strides.
Hudson was still ticked and frustrated. I had him canter once the other way, which I had no trouble with. The depart was sloppy but lead was correct. DONE!
Hudson danced and jigged and threw his head in the air, fought the bit, fought requests to put his head down. He HAD it with me and my lousy riding.
I turned to Bella. “Would it be terrible of me to take him up to the big arena and just let him rip until he gets it out? Let him go any way at all, as a reward?”
“That’s what I’d do”, she said. “But first? I can see a foot of daylight in your girth. Let me tighten it in case you get motorcycle corners.”
Hudson is so relieved to be in his favorite arena, that when I ask him to canter, he gives me a gorgeous, round, on the bit, relaxed, lifting, ground eating canter.
I throw the reins at him. “Just go! Don’t be perfect!” We continue in the perfect canter, despite the flapping reins, he’s put himself on the bit. Message received: if you are going to torture me, please do it in the big arena, K?
I ask him to stop. Put him on the buckle, ready myself for blast off, and make a kiss noise. His ears swivel for half a second (really??), then we leave scorch marks in the footing. He balls up under me on the short sides, and I have to reiterate GO, on the long side. We hit 3rd gear, and my legs started to tremble.
His frustration began to evaporate…about the time I started lurching a bit in the corners. I was really tired. I had to quit before he was done: I was dangerously close to falling off.
This frustrated him again. He got huge and dancing, tossing his head and fighting me.
Why I heart Hudson?
Despite my incredibly sucky canter cues, and his intense frustration level with me yesterday…
…today he looked at me with open affection, enjoyed his grooming, and has no memory of yesterday being bad. None. He loves me. He wants to play. Do I have a cookie?
We had fun! Lazy ride. Bareback, walk/trot. We picked up Dinero and ponied, which they both love.
He didn’t forgive me.
He gave me something better: in his mind, there was nothing to forgive.
(Yes, it made me cry.)