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?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Heaven on Four Legs

Harley's vacation is officially over!

Sort of...

I finally got to ride him again, and it was twenty minutes of pure bliss at 9:30 am on a Sunday morning in temperatures quickly approaching unacceptably hot.  So I am finally able to ride my horse again and a heat wave hits the east coast.  I made the most of this short ride, but now I am as eager as ever to get back in the saddle and start conditioning Harley (and myself) back to the wonderful level of fitness and dressage oneness we were enjoying last fall.  The flying changes have been put away since I found out that I was expecting, so I am/Harley is excited to take those out again.  Unfortunately, the weather is not cooperating with my fun and getting away to the barn is very difficult.

Please allow me to rephrase that...VERY, VERY, VERY difficult.

I am breastfeeding our daughter who demands sustenance about every two hours, even as we approach the two-month mark.  Of course, feeding is only one element among the myriad of activities that surround our daily lives at the moment.  Exhaustion has become a permanent resident at our house, but that has not made me want to see my horse or ride him any less.  It is the logistics that are a problem.  He lives a mere eight minutes away, but trying to fit anything horse-related into a two-hour window (which has to include me cleaning up when I get home) is next to impossible for me.  It doesn't help that the July climate absolutely requires that Harley have a shower after we work, even if all we do is walk in the shade and trot for five minutes and this leaves almost no time for hand-grazing, about which Harley has already expressed his displeasure.  The summer months usually afford him thirty minutes of grazing after a workout, something that he counts on as part of his "Val-time".

I also have to try and fit other horse-care requirements into my "Harley-time" like replenishing fly spray, detangling his beautiful tail and now-partially-rubbed-out-mane (HARLEY!?!), washing tree-sap out of my horse's coat (a very messy two-step process), and the most-time consuming of all: trimming his feet.  For the first time ever, I wish that I wasn't trimming his feet myself.  It is extremely time-consuming and when all I can think about is a few minutes in the saddle, an upcoming trim becomes a figurative killjoy.  BUT I have made a commitment to my horse's feet.  Just add it to the long list of commitments that I am trying to balance right now and I am not even back at work yet.

Have you ever noticed that every horse chore or activity takes at least ten steps?  What is up with that?

Let's just say that Harley's bridle will remain moldy for the near future.  Thank goodness my saddle has a cover!

In the meantime, I will be banking as much Harley-time as possible, but the deposits have been slow-going so far.  Once or twice a week just ain't cutting it! 

Our first ride in 93 days exactly!