Warm and sunny, the weather was absolutely glorious yesterday. I did not even need to wear my jacket! I tacked Harley up and set out to walk around the arena and past the paddocks. He looked longingly out into the woods, so I opted to warm up through the short trail-loop behind the farm. He marched along with a pep in his step and I took in the colors. Most of the scrub oak have lost their leaves so the trail was padded with a carpet of bright orange, yellow, and red. It was so beautiful that I almost didn't recognize parts of the trail, which we have walked hundreds of times.
Once we returned to the farm, we entered the arena and continued our warm up around barrels, cones, and poles, which are ever-present in our ring for lessons. Sometimes all the "stuff" in the ring annoys me, especially when poles and things are placed inconveniently (like along the track), but on this day nothing was going to dampen my mood. Harley smoothly changed bend as I guided him through figure eights and changes of direction around the arena "junk". Before long, I asked him to trot and was delighted that his first transition was crisp and fluid. Sometimes that first trot is a little choppy.
After trotting some large figures and diagonals on a longer rein, I picked up a little more contact. As long as my legs ask for more energy as I pick up the reins, Harley changes his balance and assumes "dressage-horse-mode". I remember my original dressage trainer teaching me to always use a little leg with the hand to keep everything in balance. A decade later, I still think that this was sound advice.
We tackled the barrels and cones again, this time riding figure-eights in trot. I lifted the inside rein with each change of direction and watched Harley's crest flip from one bend to the other. I pushed my elbows forward a little and kept my balance back, practicing the exercise from our last lesson, then I brought my elbows closer to my body again. This exercise makes me and my horse more responsible in carrying ourselves, which makes it much easier to move together.
After a break, we tackled the trot poles. I had moved them farther apart, becuase they are almost always set too close together for my horse. At 15.1 hands, Harley is not a huge mover by any stretch of the imagination, but he seems to need the poles set farther than any of the lesson horses. Even the draft horses require a shorter pole distance. I have always found this surprising.
Harley enjoys pole work, which he expresses by speeding up. I love the improved impulsion, but I have to remind him the first three times or so that his job will be easier if he slows down and just lengthens his stride. Once he organized himself and put his enthusiasm to more effective use, he powered over the poles with a lovely flow of energy over his back. I could see and feel his withers come up and his strides even had some hang-time. We practiced a few circles in each direction, and then rode some figure-eights with the three trot poles at the center of the eight. Wow, that got his tempo squared away! Harley was floating and he was having fun.
Finally, it was time to canter and this made Harley even happier. Since we had not ridden all week, he was full of spring. He cantered from the trot. He cantered from the walk. He transitioned down to a balanced trot and stretched into my hand. I rested back, pushed my elbows forward and whispered for him to canter again. Off he went, and if felt like heaven. I felt my legs hanging down his sides and my torso tall above his back all at the same time. His neck stretched forward in front of me and I could see his inside shoulder coming up and then reaching forward. It all felt incredible easy. That is what I want in my riding horse. I want it to feel easy. Trust me, I know that it doesn't start that way; Harley's back used to be so tight that I couldn't even sit on him in the canter, but that was almost six years ago. For that hour in the saddle, easy is my goal. I work hard the rest of the week and we have worked hard together for six years to get here.
How did we finish our perfect ride? We revisited the short trail, this time leading the way for two grandchildren riding their respective Grandmother's horses. The Grandmas led each horse and Harley led the group. We stopped often, so the kids could do various activities on the trail, but Harley did not mind. He likes going out with other horses and would frequently snake his long neck around to peek at his gang in tow. We scouted out some deer and walked in parallel with them as the kids whistled to tell the deer that we were not trying to sneak up on them. Prey animals seem to appreciate this. The deer trotted away, halfheartedly showing their white tails, and then turning back to watch the parade as we made our way back to the barn.
|A summer picture: Now the trail is covered with the colors of fall.|