Posted by: shannonc | January 24, 2011

Last lesson of the year

I should probably call it “Blast from the Past” instead :P

Our final lesson of 2010 was memorable, actually.  We were first in the ring after it’d been dragged.  I have learned that when jumping, this results in a special phenomenon known as “hoofprints don’t lie.” 

It was a cold and very, very windy morning.  While we were warming up, one of the horses turned out on the hill was absolutely going nuts – galloping and bucking for about 5 minutes straight.  The horse was just off the track and his owner was observing this display of, um, exuberance, somewhat skeptically.  Joking, she called out to someone else, “guess who you get to ride today?” and aside, to me, “Ummm…I didn’t know he could buck like that.” 

When it became clear he was going to keep it up, Energizer bunny style, someone went to rescue him and found that his blanket straps had gotten stuck under his butt, so in the end, he had a good excuse.

The pony started out well while this was going on and then got squirrelly.  I could see the hamster running on the wheel in his little pony brain.  He was thinking, “okay, I *thought* that horse was just having a little fun, but it’s gone on so long, there must be something I don’t know…”  Pony HAS to be in the know.  You’d think he was a mare, but maybe it’s an Arab thing.

So to distract him, I put him to work.  Unfortunately, my clothing conspired to thwart me.  My outer layer was a lightweight jacket with a hood, and as we got going and the wind continued to blow, it started to make a racket flapping against my helmet.  The pony is generally suspicious of All Things I Can’t See That Make Noise, and I could tell that his tolerance level was about to go bust, so I pulled up, got off, and removed the evil thing.

Maybe that’s something we’ll work on this year.  That would be a real luxury project, after the events of 2010.

Lesson takeaway number 1:  I am not, after all…in this particular instance anyway…crazy.  I’d been riding only very lightly for the previous two-plus weeks, and felt that the up transitions to canter had shockingly improved.  Shockingly, as in, the best I’ve ever gotten.  Ever.  Pony didn’t make a lesson liar out of me, and demonstrated.  Denise agreed, and her eyes got kind of big too.

Huh.

We brainstormed on this for awhile and came up with nothing much conclusive.  Maybe he had some low level soreness going on that never had the chance to entirely resolve while he was in harder work.  Maybe the Legend had reached a critical concentration.  Maybe it was a coincidental breakthrough.  It will be very interesting to see where this stands when his winter vacation is over.

So back to the telltale hoofprints.  I set off on my usual straightness exercise.  Turn onto line from the rail, straight straight straight to fence, straight straight straight alllll the way to the rail on the other side. 

Here is what it’s supposed to look like.  If you know anyone who needs a graphic artist, just send them my way.

Make no mistake, that rider is definitely wearing a helmet.  Just squint a little.

In a big ring, one line seems to go on for about an hour and a half, and it’s usually on landing, not approach, that I lap up some failsauce. 

We refer to these failsauce lines as “drunken.”  Here is what they look like:

Unsurprisingly, we are perfectly capable of turning in the exact same failsauce lines in dressage.  The pony and I are equal opportunity that way.

On this day, our very first lines passed muster.  Strangely, it appears that if I ride him straight on landing, that’s where he goes.  Oh.

But now we have a new problem.  See what the hoofprints exposed (note, drawings are to scale)…

The little stinker was jumping to the right in the air.  What am I supposed to do about that??

So off we went with a precision takeoff assignment.  Do not jump the center of the fence.  Aim left to compensate.  There are lots of jumps in the ring with specific markers – allowing the assignment to read, “I want you to leave the ground at the yellow part of the panel,” etc – and I find this kind of exercise really fun.  It works…not the ideal solution, but it works, and he is jumping extremely well.  Denise tells me he is jumping the best she’s ever seen him.  She calls it “snapping his knees to his eyeballs,” and that makes me so proud of him!

AND, the canter between the fences…it feels amazing.  In his french link eggbutt.  He is balanced and light and powering from behind and I might be riding a flying chaise lounge. 

Two courses of this and I ask to quit 15 minutes early.  I’m more than pleased – and more than a little scared that if we keep going, I’ll somehow undo the accomplishment!  Denise tells me that if I were someone else, she wouldn’t allow it.  Apparently, when some people want to stop, they need to go three more times.  But I know this is my last lesson, and probably the last time I will jump him, this season, and I think this is exactly how I should put him to bed for the winter.

Since I have a little extra time, I ask her my big question.  I’ve been thinking a lot about the shoes.  I loved riding my barefoot pony in the rain-heavy ’09 summer, but this year the ground was so hard that his feet began to hurt, he stopped wanting to leave the ground, and lost confidence – which broke my heart, since building his confidence has really been all I’ve tried to accomplish from day one.  With help, I eventually figured out what was wrong…and barely had enough time to fix it before winter.  Soo, the million dollar question:  to shoe him in front at the outset next year, or to wait and see how the ground is?

She gave an unequivocal answer, which surprised me.  “Absolutely shoes,” she said.  “Don’t even risk it.”

I find myself agreeing.

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Responses

  1. Yay for a great season-ender! You know I support shoes and barefoot as each horse tells me. Have you considered trying sneakers? You might know someone who has a pair you can borrow… :)

  2. You know…I have given it some thought. And I think that for Kisses, giving him a different feel of the ground some times versus others is not a good thing. This pony values consistency very highly… cute thing that he is …it took him some time to get used to having something on his feet and feel good about it. The most important thing is for him to feel surefooted, and I don’t want to risk that by changing things up on him from day to day, or week to week.

  3. Great write-up! I’m so glad you had a good end to the season and Kisses is feeling better! I also practice the same exercise over fences. Choosing a very particular spot to jump is great fun and practice. I’ve done that with Fitty over his naughty fences – good for both of us!


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