William Butler Yeats wrote that “[h]appiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.” After my lesson tonight I could not have said it any better myself. I am one proud momma!
I had an unusual Thursday lesson this week since ‘The Boss’ is doing a clinic this weekend and will not be around. I had to get a ride in with him this week so we went over today instead of Saturday or Sunday. How I manage to pick a trainer that is never around is beyond me – must be because he is so good right? Monday and Tuesday were gymnastics this week. Yesterday we went down to the dressage arena and pulled on our big boy shoes to work ‘real’ dressage in the snaffle. And today was the official first lesson in the double bridle!
I really don’t even know where to begin with everything. Val, who is bound and determined to bring the pasture back into his stall with him, was a mess and difficult to get appropriate looking for a lesson today. My mother and I managed with more than a little elbow grease. He has had a little swelling above his fetlocks on his hind legs lately and it has worried me. I have been standing-wrapping him at night which seems to help but I wanted the Bosses opinion on it. He really didn’t seem too concerned. I got the ear piece and the head set today which means it was really time to work. I love having the one way com on because I am sure not to miss anything at all – less gets lost in translation when I am not yelling, “Whaaaat?” down the arena. Then I got a good scare as I begin a trot warm-up he calls out to me that Val looks a little off. It was nothing but that didn’t stop me from having a mini breakdown that my show season was over before it started. Val has never been truly lame a day in his life.
Feeling a little under the weather, the Boss wasted no time and it was straight into the work today and beyond….
“Your sitting in chair seat, sit up straight! Bend him in the frame, outside rein is the framing rein. Trot. Halt at A through the outside rein – really sit up. Good! (surprised sounding since we managed to get that one right the first time!) Do it again, trot off. Quick, quick behind. Now Half at C. Braaav, very good. Get the trot expressive, slow him down a bit, a little more hind leg action, give him a little kick with the inside leg, I said LITTLE kick (not leaping into the air!), shoulder-in, not quite so much bend. Extended trot, collected trot, extended trot, collected trot, alright now ride around the corner and do it again on the next long side. You must bend in the corners, judges are going to notice that and say he is falling off the aids! Transitions. Zig-zag half-pass. More bend, less sideways, more forward, medium in the half-pass. Now bring him back – I said back. Now Stephanie, don’t let him go around, Get. Him. Back. Think piaffe! Good, gooooood. That’s right and out. (To my mother) Wow, look at his hind legs! Do it again, back, baaaack. Click to him. *click click click* And out.”
And that was only the first set of the trot work for the day! I was thrilled though even when I couldn’t get it right the very first time. I am never happier than when I am going from one exercise to another, constantly thinking and being challenged. The Boss is always fair and positive, two of the qualities I admire most, but he never lets me have even an inch. Today when I did one of the half-passes rather crummy out of the shoulder-in, 10 meter circle to half-pass he is saying how it didn’t have enough bend and quality to it. I mutter, “I’m sorry, I know my fault, sorry” and before I can even make it around the short side to try once more I hear, “Don’t be sorry for me, be sorry for the horse!” Always thinking of the horse – another quality I just love – and never letting me give anything less than my best. We come do a walk set to give Val a moment to process and breathe and I know that the Boss is really happy with the way my guy is going. I like to make him proud, and it is the best feeling when I know that I have given it everything and that is enough. He tells me that Val looks fun; it is one of the best compliments he could have given me. And then as soon as it begins the walk is over and it is on to work the canter….
“Get him together and nice transition upwards. Stay on the circle – forward, medium canter on the circle, now you can take him back. Good canter, nice activity. Down the long side. Bend, ride shoulder-fore so the haunches stay. Good in the corners. At E 10 meter half circle, back to the track at H, flying change. *silence* Good Job! Perfect Change! Do it again 10 meter half circle C back to the track at B and … change. Perfect. Down centerline, at L – that’s the second letter – half pass left. Nice, Nice, Nice. Between S and H flying change. Extended down the long side. Stephanie, keep his head and bend IN. Back before the corner. Centerline, half pass right. Bend, good. Between R and M change. Perfect. H to B short diagonal between centerline and B change. Now B to K short diagonal between centerline and K change. Ah ah, that’s okay, that’s okay *Val does two one’s in a row in anticipation of the change which ends up being a little scattered*. Long side medium. Bend, bend. Good let him have a walk, good boy.”
By this time I know my horse is a rock star, and so does everyone else who is watching. How can you miss it? Here we are, first training session in the double and he is putting on all the FEI Junior moves like he has done them for years. Jason is pleased, Mom is pleased, I am pleased, even Val is proud of himself (you can tell just by the way he is moving!). There has been no kicking out, no expressions of attitude or opinion, nothing. How can it get any better? And somehow it does!
We ended up running through a test that the Boss made up on the spot. It had everything in it, jammed together… “Enter A working canter, X halt. Collected trot, track right, extended .. ah ah easy that’s enough – steady. centerline shoulder in left. 8 meter volte at E, half pass left. C walk. Ah no come back and do it again *at this point he has tricked us since this is where we have done halts and this what Val does, quite willingly*. Good C collected walk. M to R collected. R to E extended – nose out a little more, he has to stretch his neck out more. Collected before V. Near V collected canter. Down centerline, L to S half-pass left. Between S and H flying change. Extended down the long side. Back, back. Centerline L to R half pass right, between R and M flying change. Medium down the long side. At A trot….. that’s it. I just made that up!” Could have fooled me! The Boss is already plotting freestyles and has studied the Junior tests, I can tell!
My feedback tonight was just as positive as my whole ride was. The half passes are still the weakest point, better in the canter than in the trot. Somehow my horse managed to get his hind end leading tonight – a feat since he always drags me across with his shoulders! Somehow I have to merge the half pass into the trifecta – impulsion and forward, bend, and crossing over. I was pleased with them though, and so was Jason. The flying changes are superb, even when he sometimes gets ahead of me in eagerness. The Bosses verdict: Do Not Change A Thing! I can live with that! The trot needs more expression to score where we both know he can – poles, cavaletti’s, transitions, and giving him that extra kick when he needs it. The walk pirouettes are too small – how can they be too small when I could barely do them a couple months ago? Horses! Keep him active and marching through them instead of pivoting. My idea is haunches in on small circles to help with that.
It was a great lesson, a real evaluation on where we stand turning the corner into spring. All of us laughed tonight thinking about the mess that we were only a few months ago – from barely being able to do a renvers and leg yields to a solid Junior horse. Our growth is amazing when I look back on it all – when you creep by everyday it doesn’t seem like a lot and then you look back and Bam! You were dreaming of flying changes and now they are a reality!
The Boss is happy, the Kid is happy, the horse is happy! As for NAJYRC – “I don’t want you to compete, I want you to win”
New Goals: That 70% and those 9’s – I can taste it, I want them so bad!