Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Learning How To Ride, Again

It is truly hurting me that I have zero pictures to prove my next few points. I really need that camera that follows you around because obviously pictures are imperative because pictures.

I have about 100 pics of him in the aisle looking like a complete moose, but I'm sure you all don't need to see more than one of those.

Obligatory aisle pic
Winter is also coming and indoor photos are notorious for being atrocious/blurry/dark so we might as well name this era "the Era of No Pics".

Moving on from the lack of photographical evidence that I have indeed, been riding my horse and he has indeed, has been a real angelface.

As I was riding last night, I was trying to figure out how to explain whats been happening without sounding too wordy or boring, but I'm having a hard time on where to even begin, so brace yourselves for a lengthy post.

I guess the best place to start is with a small recap on how last winter was for us.


There we have it.

And then Spring & Summer turned into "consistently inconsistent" due to mostly adulting.

We had great moments, but it was a lot more of "Oh we are hacking again, at the walk, this is fun" or "I'm trying to ride in this muddy field but B doesnt like it. Fuck"

To say we have been in a training rut is a massive understatement.

Making the decision to board was the most expensive (minus purchasing the damn animal), but the most practical, wonderful and glorious decision I think I've ever made.

In the few short weeks we've been there, I've managed to ride about 4-5 times a week, usually in a row, with weekends off (due to adulting). Its...awesome.

I'm learning so many things about this horse and my riding.

In a few short weeks, we've gone from floppy, sore and stiff to fluid, together and...not as sore.

I've learned that this horse is a whistleblower. The second you tense up, he does. Like the instant.

Now you're all thinking, well duh, horses are their riders mirrors.

Not always.

Yankee (& many other horses I know) are SO forgiving of our mistakes as riders. They lull us into a sense of security or feeling of greatness.

How tragic really.

With Bacardi, I've also (re) learned that not all horses can be ridden the same. And certainly not every method works for every horse.

Also, LE DUH.

But again, I had owned Yankee exclusively for so long and trained him MY way and just figured if it worked for him it must work on most OTTBs.

Please excuse my idiocracy.

The methodology remains the same, but with each horse you have to personalize it. (FUCKING duh what is wrong with me).

For example. Fresh off the track, OTTBs have no concept of correct contact, how to move forward in a balanced fashion or even how to change gaits without falling over.

We aim to teach them these things gradually. Learning that the contact is good, but can't be heavy. That its inside leg to outside hand. That transitions can be made without falling onto the forehand, etc.

I am making a point, I swear.

With Bacardi, I tried everything. Literally everything. Every method I've ever been taught ever about anything that involves riding ever.. I could go into them, but the most specific one I want to talk about is simple.

How to hold the reins.

Specifically, rein pressure.

With Yankee, I was always taught and rode with wider set hands, parallel to the bit and with more pressure on the outside rein because thats just how it should be done to teach them.

He was happy with that, and eventually learned how to horse and accept contact.

I tried it with B.

And we have fought constantly.

For a year.

I was so frustrated and upset that I couldn't get through to this horse.

And you know what I NEVER thought to do?

Bring my fucking hands closer together and even out the rein pressure.

I was riding about a week ago when I remembered something I read somewhere (maybe Carly's blog?) that said, "horses mouths are only 5 inches wide, why are your hand so far apart?"

And I was like, yeah, why are they?

Its obviously not jiiving with Bacardi...the contact is so inconsistent and just not THERE. So why do I keep doing it?

So I brought them closer together.

Novel fucking idea.

And you know what? For about 6 rides now, we start out fighting and then I relax and remember, ASK not TELL. Ask not tell. Ask not tell. And keep my hands very close, soft and near the withers...and he relaxes.

As long as I remember that, we are good.

Which *is* hard to do. Muscle memory sucks. Real memory sucks too.

I also have to remember that he is a FLIGHT horse. Like really, he bolts.

Whenever he is worried or feels scared or trapped he wants to RUN.

So, since I know this, its REALLY hard to NOT pull back when I feel him tense, knowing full well a bolt is coming.


In our training the last few days, if I feel him tense up, we come to a walk and practice free walk (which is his favorite). It brings him back down, I can regroup mentally, and then we try again. Because what is the actual point of staying in the same movement/gait that you're failing and flailing miserably at?

There is none. Thats why its called training.

And he has REALLY started to relax for out entire rides. If something is hard for him, like learning to turn off outside aids yet still remain round and not brace/fall in/ hollow out, instead of instinctively pulling back to stop him from running, I push through my hands, breathe and let my seat do the talking.

Like, I KNOW that you cannot force a horse into contact. Or even get happy contact from pulling. I literally know this. But It was SO hard to practice because my damn horse bolts. Constantly.

All it took though was a few times of me trusting my riding, my horse and relaxing and pushing INTO the contact and actually moving those feet forward. Sucking back does nothing but create tension, which I also knew, yet still was constantly creating. So I just stopped doing that.

The result has been incredible.

Instead of feeling like I'm riding a rubber band, I feel like I'm riding putty. Instead of feeling out of control, I feel a partnership. He is TRUSTING me to not let him down or pull on him or be afraid and therefore HE isn't afraid.

Also, I'm getting stronger and not flopping around like a sack of useless potatoes (thank you Crossfit). Unlike any horse I've ever ridden, he is truly an "off the seat" type of guy. He feels so much more relaxed when I sit the trot and envision pushing the saddle up his withers (cute little "tip" I learned a long time ago on how to ask for "more") than when I'm posting. I dont know what it is but I'm OK with it because I'm getting abs of steel.

What I'm trying to convey is how lovely its been lately.

I know most of you have felt "the moment" and ours was on Monday when I asked for the right lead canter and he just stepped into it, round and soft and quiet as could be.

I literally almost cried.

Unlocking his secret has been indescribable. I NEVER thought it would happen.

This doesn't mean he's perfect 100% now. Hes still an asshole sometimes. I will never understand his spooking and insanity in this weather, but as long as *I* remember to stay calm and not brace, he eventually calms a half hour later. BUT, we are getting there!

Long, slow warm-ups and a calm, collected rider makes for a happy B.

Hopefully now I can stay consistent and remember to not suck while riding.

Who knew pushing forward instead of pulling back would get you somewhere -_-


  1. Ahhhhh..... this sounds like my red mare! I'm going through the same thing (constantly, over and over) - why is it so damn hard to break that intuitive habit of reacting to tension with tension?

  2. Remembering to relax is Literally the hardest!

  3. Bringing your hands together, oy what a struggle right? Damn muscle memory, fighting the same issue here. So happy boarding is making such positive changes though. Congrats!

  4. so happy things are clicking for you two finally - you've certainly been working at it!! i read something somewhere (probably someone's blog) along the lines of 'correct riding often goes against our own natural instincts as riders'. i think the point was that humans like to fix things with our hands, and that's really not a great solution for horses. somehow reading that made me feel a lot better about why i'm still so handsy lol, just gotta keep trying!

  5. Ugh, that hands together part is SO HARD. Especially when your right elbow just wants to go off and ride the other horse in the ring, preferably alll the way across the ring. Is that just me?

  6. I know how you feel to an extent. Mochi has taught me a shit ton about riding. Mochi and Klein are such different rides, and not because of huge size difference. Mochi is a way more complicated ride that has taught me to refine my aids and ride from my core more than any other horse, ever. She also needs A LOT more outside rein support than Klein does too. Though she's been a big challenge it's been very rewarding to learn so much from training her.

  7. What an exciting post!!! I'm so happy you are figuring each other out. :-) Moving him to the boarding barn I think is the best decision you've ever made for him. I'm so glad it all worked out.