Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Better Horse or a Better Rider?

I really appreciate everyone's kind remarks after last week's show. They helped me to stay focused on the positive and stay inspired.

Brego had most of the week off because of, what I like to call, my Other Life. Work, the farm search, various sundry nuances of everyday life crept in and by the time it came to ride, I had little emotional stamina left. Also, watching the videos 100s of times (you know, 'cause that's what I do), I started to agree with my Texas trainer: Brego was hind end tired.

So lots of time out for Brego, lots of time for me to reflect, in the few quiet moments, on my riding and my goals. A good friend is going through a personal crisis where she is considering selling her non-conventional eventer for a made pony. I see a lot of myself in her frustration and decision. It IS harder to bring Brego along than a Thoroughbred. I am as big a fan of drafts as anyone, but I will readily admit it is difficult. The big difference between Brego and my friend's mare, though, is that he is a good sport about the whole thing. He tries, and even when not spectacular, he's game and a good boy. My friend's mare doesn't want to play, she doesn't like the game, and she doesn't want to try anymore. I feel deeply for my friend who has stuck with her mare for seven years, but now it looks like they both need a change. It's hard.

All these ramblings and many others went through my head after our first show. I was surprised not only in how the judge received us, but how other competitors did as well. I think I just ran into a rough bunch, but I very much felt like maybe Brego and I weren't cut out for this. Maybe I needed to think about getting a more appropriate, made horse. Maybe I was working too hard to bring along a horse who would always score last in dressage, no matter how much we worked, who would always take rails because of fatigue.

Too much thinking, too little riding.

Today I went out and decided to work on just moving forward off my leg. I also wanted to focus on body awareness. A couple of very helpful readers suggested I think about what my body is doing and how I am reacting. So as I worked Brego out of his week-of-rest-induced stiffness, I thought "thumbs on top", "soft elbows", "toes in". I focused on my abs during transitions, I tried to grow 2 inches taller. I thought about opening my thigh and letting my leg grow long.

Suddenly, it wasn't so hard to get Brego moving forward. His bend came easier off my leg, he felt more elastic, more fluid. We had some mentally distracting moments with horses coming in and out of the arena, and I just stayed quiet and soft and asked for more bend, or more lateral, or more anything to get him back on me. No matter how much he wandered or tuned me out, he could not make me react by stiffening.

His canter to the right was elevated and balanced. His left was flat and stiff. It took a lot of transitions and work to get him to start reaching under with the inside hind and carry some weight. Then he got lovely. His left has always been his stickier, but it has largely equalized in the trot, not so in the canter.

Finally, I knew our downward transitions needed help. He broke from the canter to the trot so hard during our test at the show that he nearly bounced me out of the saddle. All stiff stifles and braced legs. So we worked on him coming forward into the downward transition and still powering through. I realized that his downward transitions to this point were exactly as I had trained them. When we were done cantering, we were done and I just dropped myself on his back and he dropped himself into the trot. But if I could stay tall and use my abs and my thighs down to the trot, he would stay up and come through his hind end. And then, just like that, in the huge trot inherited from a balanced canter, I asked him to come down and stretch and he did. I kept calf and an open hip to stay up with him and he floated along with the best nuchal ligament stretch he has ever done. So light in front, but there, in my hand and under me, like an ocean swell.

The hazy, far distance "stretchy trot" in Training Level Test 3 and 4 suddenly came into sharp focus.

So, you see, Brego is the most appropriate horse for me. He is my best friend and safe and a good sport. And he teaches me about myself, when I take the time to listen. He is sensitive enough to reward me when I get it "right", or closer to "right", or at least encourage me to try. At the same time, he is honest enough to not perform when I am not doing it right. It doesn't get much more appropriate than that.

(Talk is cheap. I will get video of us, closer to "right", soon :) )


Anonymous said...

I had a point in Klein's training where we were having a difficult time. I felt like she was kind of challenging me and I thought it was her just growing up and having baby moments. Wrong. It was me. One day I decided to concentrate 50% more on what I'M doing and just like that I had a better horse under me. Same thing applies when we're having a moment if I pay more attention to what I'M doing the problem gets fixed. It is like she "gets it" but when you slow down and explain it a little better she is like "ohhhhhhhhh...ok, got it." I think sometimes I accidentally take advantage of what a quick learner she is.

Beckz said...

Brego sounds like a lovely boy, I want to swap him with Fred. Please :), Brego seems a lot kinder. Brego is your boy you have to just get on and do it eh, he loves eventing, you love eventing, get it done, everyone else be damned.

Anonymous said...

Congrats, sounds like you had a great day with him, which you should. :) Any time the horse starts doing something 'stupid', or 'quirky', or 'stiff', I look at myself and ask why?
Great story; my TB Clyde would always throw his head up in the air when you asked him to trot. And it wasn't a little flick, he would actually /push/ himself off of the ground as he threw his head, neck, and chest cavity into the air with his little 'pop'! And it wasn't a new thing, he did it for 4 years! When I got him back into training, I was trying to figure out HOW to get him to stay on the bit, and to stop being retarded.
But, alas. It was me, hehe. If I leaned forwards, even a TINY bit, he would 'pop' to throw me back to get him off of his forehand so that he could push forward without so much effort! When I sat back, opened up and 'sat tall', it completely disappeared! He does it time to time now when I revert to my old hunter ways, but he is teaching me to sit straighter then I ever have, lol!
But I digress. I think you have plenty of talent and ability to get Brego exactly where you want him. If you wanted a made horse, you would have bought one instead of you percheron trail pony! As long as you are safe and your horse is happy, you are doing something right. And although hard to obtain, you can always get Brego more fit to be less tired, although he already looks fantastic.
Keep up the spectacular work! We want video~ooos!

Katie said...

I'd have to agree with Beckz. Brego sounds great, and it sounds like your doing a lot for each other. Just try to forget what other people are saying and keep working towards being the eventing machines you know are there!

Good Luck

fssunnysd said...

I just had a lightbulb moment reading the description of your canter-trot transitions. Lately I've been getting hollow-backed, nose-popped-up, braced downward transitions, instead of nice smooth balanced ones. Lack of powering through is an excellent way to put it. Too much focus on changing gait, and not enough on maintaining momentum and energy means he's just falling apart - he's doing exactly what I'm asking him to. Sigh. As usual, rider error!

Brego sounds lovely, and I'm enjoying reading about your adventures together. Your accounts have prompted more than one aha! moment. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

So many times I have wanted the "easy" path in life, but growth is the key to life itself, isn't it?

KUDOS TO YOU for wanting growth over easy.

Phoenix and I remain your steadfast fans and we believe in you!

Anonymous said...

After reading your blog for a little while now, I see the compassion, love and dedication through each post. You always have Brego as a whole at the top of your list, his mental/emotional state as well as physical. You and him make a pair, no matter if you don't place well at some points or if others don't feel what you feel. - He's your boy, you know him, he knows you and it's people like you that bring out the deep embedded heart that lies within horses. There will always be judging. Equestrian sports is just another element in which that is prone to happen. But even if someone feels that you have this or that to work on or that he isn't this or that, you and Brego ARE awesome together and those goals inside and outside of the ring will only increase what is already there. It's not just about riding, it lies within the trust, bond and respect you have for eachother. Your hard work, his hard work, you guys are awesome and this IS what it's all about. Sometimes it's not always the end result, but yet putting that effort in and traveling that road. Don't just see the end of the path, but yet enjoy the scenery on your way!

PlaysWithPercherons said...

Yea for you! Those kind of rides are the ones that make all the sweat and blood and tears and curses worthwhile. Just reading about it inspires me. Keep up the good work!