Monday, July 22, 2013

Twenty Minutes in the Saddle

I am learning to make the most of twenty minutes these days.  In fact, twenty minutes is a very large chunk of "free time" when you have a hungry Little One on your hands.  Can twenty minutes be worthwhile in the saddle?  I think so, and I am doing my best to relish those precious twenty when they are spent on Harley's back.  I am sure that I am not the only one who is keeping her rides short these days, as the heat of July affects us all (in the northern hemisphere), especially if we are not fortunate enough to have a covered arena!

My last ride on Harley consisted of twenty minutes of walking and five minutes of trotting with a few more minutes walking in the shady yard before hopping off.  I know that adds up to more than twenty, but only twenty of it really consisted of "work", the rest was mounting, dismounting, and getting ourselves situated.  My horse has not been ridden since April and I have had very little physical activity since then, so we are taking it slow for reasons other than the hot, humid climate.  How did I make twenty minutes of walking productive (and fun) you ask?  We focused on the mental rather than the physical game.

As always the first ingredient was "forward".  I asked Harley to march along with some pep in his step, not hurried, but with a clear feeling that he was going to continue marching.  To me this is what forward means in dressage.  I kept the reins long in the beginning and only really shortened them to the fourth-stop.  I wanted him to stretch his frame and move freely to the contact with a long neck.  We alternated between the buckle and the fourth-stop between exercises.

happy, happy, happy

Our exercises were simple.  From the walk I asked him to halt with a little aiding from me as possible.  I always picked a shady spot to halt and I was not fussy about his head and neck position.  I was more interested in if he was listening to my seat.  Before long, he was stopping in response to me drawing up tall, stilling my seat, and pressing into each stirrup as I felt him taking his final steps in walk before the halt.  These light presses in the stirrup really seem to make a difference for us.  With repetition he also started keeping "at attention" ready for the next transition and with his neck straight.

Then I added "rein-backs".  My goal was the same.  Get the backward steps with as little aiding as possible.  These were not quite as good as the halts, as I did have to resist with my hands several times to send the energy back, but they were pretty straight and obedient otherwise.  I cue the rein-back by lightening the back of my seat to "open the door" and cuing him with my legs farther behind the girth than I ask for forward steps.  Usually he moves into my hand and feels the resistance from my position before stepping back.  I like this because he is thinking forward even as we move backward.

Next, we rode some deliberate corner-turns, not at the corners of the riding ring.  I focused on turning from my outside leg and my weight to the inside over my inside stirrup, which I carry at the girth.  I wanted to feel Harley initiating the turn from his outside hind.  This starts to get him carrying his frontend more and usually leads to him bending naturally into the turn.  A little squeeze with my inside ring finger was all that was necessary to encourage inside flexion if he wasn't already there.

After several nice, honest corners in each direction, we went to shoulder-in in walk.  I wanted to see Harley's neck straight even as he carried his inside shoulder on the inside track.  I felt for his inside hind stepping under his weight.  I encouraged gently since he is limbering up after a long vacation.  He is easier to (over)bend left and straighten to the right, so I rode each direction accordingly.  This is still challenging work even if it does not leave my horse sweating buckets.  He felt like butter by the time I asked for trot.

Our trot work was very, very simple.  Move forward, straight, and in a regular tempo.  I let him chose the length of neck that was comfortable for him and he chose to stretch (Good Boy!).  He was very eager to trot, so forward was not a problem and his tempo erred on the side of too fast, but that is typical Harley, so I just enjoyed it.  He powered down the long side a couple times with some big, beautiful strides.  It felt amazing and those five minutes were up way to soon!

Now if I could just learn to squeeze a hoof trim into twenty minutes...

How do you make the most of twenty minutes?

18 comments:

  1. Yay for the glorious 20 min!!! :) BTW you look great for just having a baby!!!

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  2. I love the 20 minute power ride. I go to this when it's over 100 degrees or I'm really not "feeling it" but still need to ride. I just pick a single goal, and do our best to accomplish it. I think Simon likes these quick rides too, because it gives him an opportunity to have a lot of 'good boy' moments and then go back up without a long workout session where his brain may get tired.

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  3. Sometimes twenty minutes is enough time to do what you need to. You seem to have made the most of the time you had with Harley. When we walk I do a lot of the same exercises you did. You'll both be back in shape before you know it.

    Don't know if you've ever used one but a breast pump would give you more time out while someone else feeds from a bottle?

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    1. I have a pump and used it frequently when she was very new bc she needed help getting enough food. Now she nurses so frequently that I have a hard time squeezing in any pumping. I am trying, though!

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  4. When I've only got twenty minutes to ride I make sure to do lots of transitions making sure there listening and also like you were doing making sure they were listening to my seat, I also like to do lots of serpentines, figures of 8's and circles that kind of thing. Hope it helps!

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  5. I BETYA Mr. Harley man is loving having =YOU =for those 20 minutes in the saddle!!! He has an amazing brain.

    The same pretty much, is the answer...quality actions with ease and focus, verses controlled effects. My mare usually gives me the best action with me thinking it instead of aiding heavily. She anticipates the next ,so I must not complicate things by being repetitive.

    I am so happy for you, as a new mother, really enjoying every detail of life! Hope you and your man are having a great summer!

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    1. Harley anticipates too, so I know exactly what you mean. Quality and small victories are definitely the priorities.

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  6. A good description of your work at walk I should do more of this myself as I'm always to keen to get into trot.
    My horse has only one speed in walk which is slow, I find it hard to get him to move his walk on as he then breaks into trot. Have you any tips for making him more forward going in walk his other paces are fine.

    Cheryl

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    1. Harley can be a slow walker, too. His trot and canter have way more pep. I use the whip to remind him to keep his energy up. I tap his shoulder and then his hindend back and forth in the tempo that I want for his walk. I keep my seat still and following and my legs at the girth. When I use my legs I give airy bumps rather than hard squeezes. The canter is my first choice of gait. :-)

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  7. So happy you're back in the saddle and loving it :-)

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  8. Glad you are back in the saddle

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  9. yay for twenty minutes....make the most of those twenty minutes here and there, but never feel bad that your horse is missing out. Those times with your baby being a baby will pass so quickly and before you know it she will be begging for rides too. Harley will enjoy your time now and the future. It is awesome to read of your positive riding moments ....Harley what a star

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    1. Thanks. I keep trying to remind myself of that. She is so cute and sweet. :-)

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  10. Very profitable 20 minutes! The exercises sound perfect for starting back to work, and the variety would make is interesting for Harley. He is such a good boy.
    I never get bored working at the walk - there is so much to do and it has such a positive influence in everything else.

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    1. Very true! And the walk is a deceptively challenging gait.

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  11. It's nice to see you back in the saddle and great to hear about the work you're doing. I'm thinking I might start short sessions like this myself, now! We're doing plenty of trekking but no schooling at the mo, it's too damn hot!

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