Starting self carriage

Last Thursday was lesson day again. We did a warmup as usual – luckily it was quite a warm day, so Bitou got warmed up quite quickly and then we could work.

Bitou, who is a South African Boerperd, is a naturally gaited horse, which means that he is 5-gaited and not 3-gaited (as most horses are). But, because of this, his default is to move his legs, but keep his back very still. This is very nicely illustrated in the rack (one of the additional gaits). It’s a very fast gait (as fast or sometimes even faster than canter!) and is recognized by it’s 4-beat rhythm and extravagant leg movement. However, doing the type of riding that we are doing (which is classical dressage orientated), we want him to move his back, not just his legs. So all the work that we are doing, is to encourage him to round, with his hindquarters pushing (rather than his shoulders pulling).

Jenny wanted us to start with a very active trot, so that Bitou is literally punching through with each step. usually, in a trot, he would put his head down for a moment to reach for the contact, and then immediately bring it back up. So the first part of the session we spent trotting, but then the moment he reaches, I give a forward cue (squeeze) with my legs and then give with the inside rein, keeping the outside rein very stable as to not ‘drop’ him.
My default reaction, when Bitou reaches for the contact, is to release. I ride out a lot, and I mostly ride with loopy reins/on the buckle. Now I have to teach my hands (and my brain!) that I cannot drop the contact like that! I have to keep the outside rein when we are doing flatwork, otherwise I drop and hence, unbalance him!
Either way, we worked on this for a while and I managed to keep my grip and feel on the outside rein but giving with the inside which resulted in Bitou reaching and taking the contact and keeping that contact (and hence the entire frame) stable! I literally squealed and had to stop immediately to tell Bitou how amazing he is. (Even though he was, once again, waiting for me to finally get it right so I don’t interfere with his job! 😉 )
Next, Jenny wanted to see that it was Bitou doing the work (keeping the bend, the rhythm, the speed, the frame), rather than me.  We started working on a circle, having that nice, active, punching trot. When we were in a nice rhythm with everything perfect (i.e. the bend, rhythm, speed and consistent frame), Jenny asked me to go completely passive. Initially I went into sitting trot, so that we could be sure my legs were completely passive. This meant that I am not allowed to influence Bitou at all. During that time, I am only allowed to keep my seat at the same angle (for riding the circle), but I am not allowed to use and weight, leg or hand cues. The aim being to see whether he changes any of the variables.
The first time we did this, Bitou kept the bend and rhythm beautifully, but he lost some of the activity. He stopped using his back and started using his legs only, again. But, I wasn’t able to feel this because I was concentrating on the sitting trot too much! So I asked Jenny whether I could rather stay posting, but just ensure that I don’t use my legs during the passive phase. When I stayed posting, I could feel the change immediately. It was as though the trot lost it’s bounce.
The next step was then to try and encourage him to keep that activity as well. So that he literally carries himself without me influencing him at all. We did exactly the same, but the moment I feel the bounce in the trot disappear, I would click (voice cue) and then touch the whip to his shoulder (literally just lay it on). Bitou is electrically responsive to my legs, and he absolutely hates the whip behind my leg (in fact, even if we’re standing still, the moment I touch him with the whip behind my leg, he starts swishing his tail and pinning his ears. If I do it to his shoulder, he doesn’t mind in the least), so we thought we’d try it to the shoulder. It worked fantastically well! So much that a click was later enough to get the activity back and he would keep everything constant with absolutely no input from me!
We did the same on the right (previously weaker) rein, but Bt got quite tense and started rushing. Jenny then had me change the whip to my left hand and immediately he slowed down, concentrated and carried himself even better than on the left!
We then proceeded to canter. The left rein was absolutely amazing, he carried himself with no input right from the beginning. The right rein was a bit more tricky, but the only reason being, that my left (then outside) hand is very dumb with the whip holding it! So I couldn’t change the angle of the whip to use it as a cue, without dropping the outside rein completely!
So my homework is now to ride with the whip in my left hand so I can actually hold the outside rein effectively! And to do exactly what we did, when we ride out. Bitou must carry himself, I can’t carry him.
All these things feel so amazingly advanced for this farm rider! That my horse can carry himself so perfectly, with no influence from his rider. Bitou is such an amazingly willing, but also so patient, horse. He is really the best partner to learn with!

Snakes and seats

Very recently, I’ve started riding on outrides trying to ride on the neckstrap rather than the reins. The reins are there, but I don’t touch them – they hang on Bitou’s neck while I hold the neckstrap with one hand and then the other hand is loose. (Edit: Don’t tell my coach, I’m supposed to be working on my hand position!)

Yesterday, we went on our usual Wednesday outride. We were happily trotting along the bridlepath and went up a little incline. I was riding on the neckstrap only, and neither Bitou nor I was really paying attention as we were still warming up.
The next moment I saw a massive mole snake on the other side of the little incline we just trotted up. I didn’t have my reins, I had only one hand on the neckstrap and was trotting along on a horse who was looking in the distance at a pretty grey mare that was grazing nearby (he is quite the ladies man). I didn’t know what to do to avoid treading on the sunbathing snake, so I launched my body to the left hand side. Bitou instantly moved in underneath me to ‘catch’ me and we managed to pass the snake, missing by about 20cm. What an amazing reaction!
I’ve noticed before, that we he spooks, Bitou will always ‘take me with him’ when he shies. He doesn’t normally shy, but when he does, he does it almost in a controlled fashion (for lack of a better word). We’ve always known that he is an extremely sensitive horse (as in, he will immediately say if his saddle is a smidgeon too tight, if you put too much rein pressure on his nose, he will pull back and you will lose etc) but this was such a good illustration in how sensitive he is to weight changes.
Why do we need reins again? 😉

Lesson updates: Sublimations & Shoulder-in (1)

As I was getting ready to leave work for my lesson last week, I told Ant that I don’t feel like having a lesson (because it’s always hard work and I was feeling lazy). Her response was that the lessons you least feel like having, usually ends up being the most amazing ones. And was she right…

It was rather chilly and we know Bitou takes long to warm up when it’s cold. So we had a long trot and canter warm-up, taking care to ride the corners of the arena properly and focusing on getting my hand and seat position correct for the rest of the session.

Since the plan was to start working on shoulder-fore, as preparation for shoulder-in, Jenny wanted Bitou to bring his hind leg in further underneath him. To aid in this, we worked on trot-halt-trot transitions. Importantly, Bt must not stop on his shoulder, but stop from behind – this we get from ‘riding into the halt’. It’s difficult to explain but entails keeping the forward movement while asking for the halt. For this I found that it’s really important to prepare properly. If I didn’t, then I caught Bitou off-guard and the down-transition would be sloppy. If I did, he would literally feel like a wound-up ball of energy, waiting for my next cue and then respond the moment he feels it.

I’ve always done halts through the walk and we’ve only worked on trot-halt-trot once before, so initially I was a bit slow and we got a few steps of walk in between each time. Jenny then helped me with specifically the ‘halt’ aid. I was making the mistake of pulling back whilst asking for a halt with my seat and legs, but pulling on him is a cue for Bitou to pull against me. (He is extremely sensitive to rein pressure, if you pull, you WILL lose. No exception). Yet ‘pulling’ is such a default reaction!! So Jenny’s tip was to close the connection but not pull. So he effectively pulls against himself if he doesn’t respond immediately. So now we are basically doing a double downward transition (a sublimation, if you will!), all the while asking him to move forward into the halt. After that, Bitou got it immediately! If I prepared him sufficiently, the transition would be lovely, crisp and clear. Very cool!

Next we did turn on the forehand and turn on the haunches. Interestingly, Bitou seems to anticipate the turn on the fore, and then rushes through it, rather than waiting for me to cue him. So we worked on that. The turn on the haunches is much easier (even though it’s supposed to be more difficult!). We speculated that might be that it’s a more difficult maneuver and therefore he waits for me and concentrates rather than rushing it? (I will read up a bit!)

We then proceeded to shoulder-fore. This is a preparation for shoulder-in. Basically, the horse’s shoulder is off the wall (to the inside) but he is moving forward in a straight line. In a proper shoulder-in, the horse will be moving on three tracks rather than four. Also Note that it is the shoulder that must be off the wall, not just the neck! We first did it at a walk so I could get familiar with the aids. Well – the aids aided in confusing this rider sufficiently! So Jenny had us rather do it at the trot. Although it’s faster, the trot is a two beat-rhythm (compared to the walk, which is a four-beat rhythm), so it’s much easier. We did it on the left rein and Bitou aced it! So much so that we went into full shoulder-in! He is incredibly supple, so once he understands what you are asking, he does it almost perfectly.

I was completely blown-away when we turned around, though. On the right rein (his difficult rein!), at trot, first time, and he did the most amazing, proper shoulder-in!! (We repeated it another 2 times to ensure it wasn’t a fluke!) This boykie is so athletic, he constantly amazes me! Obviously we have to practice and refine it, and “ride” it less obviously (me!), but wow!

We then finished off with some nice big, stretchy trot and canter circles. cropped 1

The absolute highlight of the lesson was however when I asked Bitou for a nice fast canter down the long side of the arena. As we turned the corner, I dropped the reins completely down onto his neck and … he kept his frame and continued cantering as though I was still holding the reins!

Notice the grin (and the position of that hind leg!) (Please excuse the odd angles of my forearms – I’m still getting used to the new hand position!)

cropped 2

What a horse!



Modern Dressage vs thinking for yourself

Everyone knows that there is a problem with modern dressage, but no one is changing their approach to dressage, because we all erroneously believe that we ourselves are doing it correctly, the classical way.

Therefore we are feeding this incorrect system. So what we are seeing is horses being produced and ridden incorrectly and people believing that what they are doing is correct. No one intends to do the wrong thing, after all! So if people think what they are doing is correct, but it’s actually incorrect, it’s no wonder that we see so many horses on the forehand, behind the vertical, trailing behind and not engaged at all (the exact opposite of classical dressage – in a nutshell). In every level of riding, from the basics to the top. Yet if you ask the trainer of that particular horse (or the rider for that matter) they will certainly defend themselves, stating why their approach is correct.

Of course, this is a multi-faceted problem which can be discussed in a number of ways (one of which is the drive to get results in an accelerated time-frame: I mean if someone paid a fortune for a horse, they want to see the results! Especially with our modern horses looking mature at the age of 3 already!). But I think the main problem is that people believe what they are told. People do not think for themselves.
This is not an equestrian problem only. As a scientist, I see it in my work and life every day. People haven’t been trained to think critically and to question everything. To quote something I saw on Facebook recently, “the problem is not people being uneducated, the problem is that they are educated just enough to believe what they have been taught. And not educated enough to question what they have been taught“. Therefore, I question my coach. I’m lucky in having a coach that welcomes my ‘need-to-know’ and who doesn’t get offended by me questioning every word she says.
I’m by no means saying that I am the only one riding/training/working correctly – I certainly try my best, just like everyone else does. I am merely sharing my approach here: which is, asking questions and not accepting only one answer.  I think that a massive problem is that people do not question their coaches. And the coaches do not question themselves.
I said a while ago that I believe, if someone cannot explain the exact and precise action of a bit, that they shouldn’t be using it. The key being ‘understanding what you are doing’ rather than just doing it for the sake of doing.
Another example (I got permission from the rider to post this image, which I  turned into a silhouette to protect their identity, perhaps badly, but you get the idea!) to illustrate.example of forehand 2
The rider asked their coach whether the horse was on the forehand in this moment (yes, the picture is level, for in case you are wondering!). The coach said no, that is just the position in the canter, the horse is ‘definitely not on the forehand’. Therefore – was the coach correct in saying that the horse is not on the forehand? Should the rider just accept that the horse is not on the forehand because the coach said so? Is it not possible that the coach could have it wrong?
Let’s face it: horse people are opinionated. If you ask 10 people, you will get 12 opinions. So it’s difficult to establish what a correctly working horse looks like compared to one working incorrectly. So to avoid this, I like to compare everything I learn to what I’ve read, written by the classical masters, in some form or the other. If the aim is to ride classically, then surely those are the people who should guide the process of riding classically. In addition, I like to compare that to current high level riders who I respect (ie, i wouldn’t mind if they rode/schooled my horse).
Finally, as a scientist, I like everything to make scientific sense. If I apply an aid, or a sequence of aids, I want to be able to explain it from a physics perspective. If I am unable to, then I need to go read up until I am able to. If I still can’t explain something, both scientifically AND get confirmation from the classical masters, that this is the correct way to go, I throw that out the window and look at the next possible approach.
Yes, I get that everything is not so clear cut. Yes, I understand that it’s ‘easier said than done’. No one ever said riding is easy. Both in and out of the saddle!
I want to understand why I am doing something. I feel that I owe it to my horse to know what I’m doing, to ensure that I’m doing it to the best of my ability. That is MY approach. It might not be the correct one. And in 2 years time I might feel differently. But for now, I feel that we should question everyone: our coaches, our judges, and ourselves, 100% of the time, for the sake of our horses.

The outside rein

Today’s lesson was one of those amazing ones. I started a blog lnto which I post these updates, but there is still overlap. So here goes:

This lesson was very much a follow up of last week’s which was focused on my hand/thumbs and wrist position (post on the blog).

We started with a warmup as usual. Then we worked on corners – riding the corners effectively by preparing properly, asking for bend and flexion as we enter the corner and then riding the outside through. First at trot and then proceeding to canter. It was magnificent. Bitou used to motorbike around the short sides on the right rein canter, but by preparing properly and riding the outside through rather than dropping the connection, he took the corners like a pro!

We then did some turn on the haunches and turn on the forehand. Jenny had us do this because it is very effective in getting Bitou to step and reach underneath himself. Bitou finds it much easier than I do. I have to think (left, right, leg, hand, open, close! Turn around and it’s all the other way around! Confusing!) but he does it brilliantly when I get my act together and ask properly!

Now, we’ve been working a lot on bend and flexion. But today we worked on getting Bt to step in further underneath himself. So we want the connection but also the energy. We worked on a circle for this. We started with a nice forward and connected walk with nice bend and flexion. Then proceeded to trot. In the trot I then had to close my legs (more forward), hold the outside rein and give with the inside rein. (To give Bt the room to move into). But he became very stiff, hollow and uneven in the trot. He didn’t understand what I was asking and Jenny pointed out that instead of holding the outside rein, I dropped it when I gave with the inside rein. So I was effectively dropping Bitou mid-cue: he didn’t understand what I was asking. So to make it easier for me, I would use the same cue but instead of holding the outside rein, I would move my elbow back 2-3 cm (ie my arms would work in opposite directions rather than one being dormant but stable and the other active). The result was amazing! Bitou took the gap created in the inside rein and carried his neck, taking the connection up and ‘holding my hands’! All while this is happening, Bitou is keeping a perfect 20m circle by himself, just by my seat angle (remember the lesson a while ago when we worked on seat!). So much so that if I forgot to adjust the circle, the would go straight into a branch that smacks me in the face every time! (It must look hilarious from the ground!). A good way to remember, was Jenny’s tip ‘the outside rein should hold 2/3 vs the inside rein’s 1/3 of the total weight of the reins’ – of which the total should always be a light and consistent contact in order not to drop him.

We then did the same on the right rein. Main focus being to do exactly the same, but also by concentrating on keeping the weight of my seat bones equal. Instead of riding an oval and fighting to get around the top corner, which often happens on the right, Bitou kept perfectly straight on a perfect circle with no inside rein (literally hanging in a loop – i tested it!), and just a soft but stable outside rein, enough forward and equal weight. Riding the outside effectively (remember the beginning of the session!) and he was stepping in underneath himself and reaching for the contact! 😄

I so love how Jenny structure our lessons. Everything has a purpose and fits into the bigger picture towards the end goal!

I find riding more and more rewarding (as if that’s even possible) every time I realise how technical it is. You literally have to think of 1 million things at the same time, and the timing must be spot on else you’ll lose it. In fact, to think about it means your response is already to late. And that’s why breaking it up into bitesizes and then establishing it before the next bite is so effective and so rewarding!

Best lesson! (Again…! Starting to sense a theme here!)

Adventures of a South African in Azerbaijan

ADVENTURES OF A CAPE TOWNIAN IN BAKU (this was posted on my Facebook account on 18 June 2015, but I love the story so much that I decided to post it here too):

So.. I went to the shop to buy washing powder. Only washing powder. I was a bit worried that I will end up buying some random other product because all the labels are in Russian. But I found some that is actually English!  Well, I walked out with 3 bags full of goodies to take home!

On my way to the shop, I ran into a little kitty who was dozing off next to a lamp post. I’ve posted about the Baku cats before. They don’t seem to belong to anyone and they are everywhere. They are mostly quite slim (not starving, but certainly not fat) and quite dirty. So I start petting the kitty, who wakes up and immediately starts soaking up the attention. He actually jumped onto my leg and grabbed my hand every time I stopped petting him or stopped rubbing his belly! Now, this was around 6pm. And it seems to be common that the men in the area come out around that time and sit on the pavement in little groups to chat.

So keep in mind, that I am already stared at wherever I go. Now, this white chick is sitting on the pavement, playing with a stray cat and talking to him in Afrikaans for about 15 minutes! A guy approached me and welcomes me to Azerbaijan, and then told me the cat’s name is Vaska (don’t know the spelling). Vaska absolutely loved the attention. And the men on the pavement probably wondered what the hell is wrong with me!

Anyway, so off I went to the shop. When I came back I stopped to quickly pet all the cats along the way, as I always do (which almost made me late for my bus once!) and when I looked for Vasko, he was gone! Then, a couple of steps further, I saw the little kitty, on his back with his little paws in the air. Happy as a cat in Egypt, belly being scratched and head being stroked by all the men who sat watching me earlier!!

Riding position gets a thumbs up (pun intended)

Lesson update.

I did not have a lesson last week due to the bad weather, hence no update. This week was focused mostly on i) using my hands in the correct position and ii) bend. But for now, let’s focus on the hands. Because we’ve always focused on legs/seat/position, I’ve gotten into a bad habit with my hands and now it’s time to correct that!
I do not generally ride with a whip, and most of my rides are outrides where I ride on the buckle or with very loopy reins. As a result, I rarely ride with my hands holding the reins ‘correctly’. Jenny and I had a re-evaluation of riding goals this week (since I’ve reached all my previous ones), and as a result, we are starting to focus on the finer details now. One of which is my hand position (which in turn affects my shoulders, back and hence, albeit independently, my seat!).
There are two things I do that I have to work on.
Firstly, I often ride with my hands open. As a result, it means that I can’t influence instantly because I first have to close my hands before I can give a rein cue. If it has to happen quickly, the result can easily be too strong (ie a jerk rather than a soft cue). So, I am learning to ride with my hand softly closed on the reins and very importantly – always following.
Secondly, I tend to extend my wrists (ie tension in the wrist with both wrists facing one another) rather than rounding/flexing them slightly (ie fingers facing each other with thumbs on top, each thumb pointing to Bitou’s opposite ear). As a result, my elbows are slightly tucked in. Therefore, when I carry a whip, it mostly lies on Bitou’s neck, rather than across my thigh. On an outride (when I’m not ‘riding properly’ or I’m ‘just chilling’) I will even turn my hand completely (esp when riding one handed) so that my fingers face downwards and my thumbs are parallel to one another. This then makes it more difficult to follow and although I have never had a problem with following, it was definitely much easier to do when I corrected my hand position (it was much more obvious when I played around between the two, to try and feel the difference). Using my hands in the correct position also allows for my forearms to be slightly further apart, even though your hands shouldn’t be further apart, the rounded wrist brings them back to the ‘correct’ width. So suddenly, it’s easier to ride with your back and elbows instead of your hand (which, of course makes for a way softer rein connection to the mouth, or nose, in Bitou’s case). Additionally, I can use the placement of the whip now as a very good indicator of when I lose the hand position! Practice, practice, practice now!
In my search for an article that explained this nicely, I came across this piece of gold.

Riding updates (back dated)

This one from 24 April with a link from my coach at the bottom in response:

My lesson last Thursday was probably one of the most important ones, although it would be easy to think that it was an insignificant one compared to the lesson Bitou and I on Tuesday (i had two lessons this past week because I didn’t have one the week before).

It was raining in the morning and rather chilly, but only drizzly when we rode. The rain made for fantastic spongy going, which is always pleasant to ride on. Bitou took very long to warm up. Usually he’s ready to go within a few minutes, but this time took much longer. So we used that time to recap the seat exercises we did on Tuesday.

Bitou has always been stronger on the left rein than the right: it took a full year before he would pick up the correct canter lead on the right (something we never forced, but just kept working until it happened), his bend to the left would be great but to the right he’d be stiff and reluctant to bend. It’s gotten better over the past two years, but still a distinct difference between the two sides.

When we finally started working we did the same as Tuesday – trotting with one stirrup, then with both, but with loopy reins. (However, on Tuesday we worked only on my seat and position, I never asked for bend or flexion.) Immediately Bitou started reaching down towards the contact, taking a soft but steady contact. Although he’s been doing this for quite a while now, I always find it amazing that he reaches for, and takes up the contact. It’s never strong, but he seems to like the feel of my hands. The best description i can think of is that it feels as though he is holding my hands smile emoticon

Anyway, the bend on the right rein was significantly better than before. We worked on trot/walk walk/halt transitions but Jenny realised that Bt was cooling down too fast so we worked more on trot and canter. We started doing three loop serpentines and both of our mouths were hanging open. All of a sudden this boy that was reluctant to bend to the right, was bending on both reins, like an elastic band. The moment I changed my seat, he would change his bend with barely any cues. He was doing it all by himself, perfectly! It was incredible to ride! So supple and flexible. I then started riding 4 loops instead of 3, which is obviously more challenging, and it was still absolutely perfect. What a feeling!

We did some canter work and then ended off by starting on trot/halt/trot transitions.

Interestingly, the same evening i watched a video (which I will share, since it’s really a good one!) which explained why a horse won’t be laterally flexible until they are thoroughly supple in their back. And that this doesn’t happen overnight but it’s months and years of correct work. So, hence this being probably the most significant session to date, on a cold and gloomy Thursday afternoon in the drizzle!

(Take note of the timeframe – 4 years!)

Uphill in dressage

Riding updates (back dated)

This one from 20 April:

I posted last week about the issue I’ve been having with putting more weight on my right, when riding, than the left. So yesterday I had a lesson which focused solely on my seat. This will be a slightly longer post, but it’s important because I need to remember all these details!

We started the lesson by warming up at walk, but only with the left stirrup. We then proceeded to rising trot, still with only one stirrup. This was to create the feeling of more weight on the left than the right (the opposite of what I am used to now). The next step was to remove both stirrups and get equal weight on my seat bones. Jenny had us do this by taking the reins in one hand and holding onto the saddle with the other (so I don’t slide off!). Then bringing (first the inside, then the outside) my leg forward and my knee towards my chin, as high as possible, but without leaning back or slouching. From that position, I had to swing my leg back as far as possible and then slide it forward. Then continue in a 20m circle. First at the walk, then the trot.

This exercise put me right in the middle of the saddle. I would continue trotting and Jenny would call out when a correction was needed (ie when I dropped my weight onto one side instead of keeping it equal). I then had to tell her what type of correction was needed (ie I had to be extremely aware of my weight distribution the whole time), and do the correction. At first, I was doing this with one hand and kept having to do the leg lift exercise during the trot. Later, when I became used to the feeling of equal weight and how to glide over to the side that had the least weight, I got my stirrups back.

What is really important (more so than I ever realized), is to alter sagittal plane without dropping the transverse (horizontal) plane. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of changing the angle of your hips (for example to go onto a 20m or 10m circle, with the angle directly proportionate to the size of the circle) but then dropping the hip at the same time. This will mean that the horse has to move according to the weight as well as the angle that had changed i.e. mixed signals. So it’s so important to change the angle on the sagittal plane but keep the horizontal plane constant. (Eureka moment!).

My stirrups felt so short when I finally used them again – I felt like a jockey! So we lengthened them and proceeded with the same exercises at the trot (rising). I concentrated so much on my seat that I completely forgot about keeping contact with his mouth (see pictures), and yet Bitou kept a perfect 20m circle just by my seat cues! I’ve always had the problem on the right rein that he would keep coming in (obviously because I had more weight on the right than the left and he tried to ‘catch’ me) and for the first time ever, that didn’t happen! Once again, Jenny would call to me when a correction was needed and it was amazing to see how that correction influenced the geometry of the circle. He kept a textbook 20m circle with no rein contact whatsoever. We did this on both reins. And our right rein 20m circle was actually the most consistently stretchy circle that I’ve ever had.

This horse is just amazing. He rewards you so enthusiastically for getting something right. Neither Jenny nor I expected such a huge difference in his way of going, by just equalizing my weight. He literally blew us away by his response.

Then we went on to canter, doing exactly the same first, using the full arena. There are some trees with low hanging branches on the one side that hits me in the face if I ride right on the edge. So Jenny had me move Bitou in and out on the track around the branches only by shifting my weight. Absolutely incredible how horses can feel such a tiny change and respond to it so drastically! We finished by cantering in a 20m circle, again concentrating purely on weight placement. Barely any rein contact and once again he kept the circle by himself, using only my weight/seat angle as guidance for size of the circle.

How amazing is my horse!? And how amazing is my coach, for knowing all of this and conveying it so extremely effectively.

Best.Lesson.Ever. (Again).

Riding updates (back dated)

I’ve been sort of keeping a ‘blog’ on my riding progress on Facebook, but it’s really difficult to go back and find the posts again without having to scroll through many unrelated posts. So I’m copying it here for better record keeping 🙂

This one from 15 April.

I have a bad habit of sitting slightly to the right (my dominant side) when riding as a result of placing more weight in my right stirrup. Obviously this is not correct so now I have to work on keeping equal weight on my seat bones. A new technique we are using is to ride using only my left stirrup. This forces me to put more weight on the left which then creates the ‘correct’ feeling, which would hopefully even out the issue. At walk, trot and canter.

I tried it out on the trial for the first time yesterday – the weather was too gorgeous to waste it in the arena. It’s much more difficult than it sounds, but Bitou and I both managed really well! It was actually a lot of fun. We rode to the dam and stopped there to graze a bit. Then I hopped back on and rode back, doing the same thing.

When we got to our last canter stretch, a lady was walking her two dogs off the leash. I wanted the entire path to canter, so Bitou and I stopped and waited for them to pass. When they reached us, the dogs all of a sudden stormed up to us, one going towards Bitou’s legs! I dropped the reins and grabbed his mane (so he could use his neck to balance, should he want to swing around on the uneven ground), which is maybe stupid, but the only thing I could think of in a split second! Bitou totally surprised me by not moving. He was dead calm and just stood completely still. At the same time the lady shouted at the dogs and they ran back towards her. First negative encounter with dogs and Bitou handled it like such a pro!

We then headed home where Bitou had his supper. On the way to his night paddock, I hopped on sans saddle with nothing but his mane to hold on to. We had a little trot and canter (!) up to his paddock (a bit scary, i must admit!) but he stopped immediately when I asked as I was worried that my legs will bang onto the fence around the corner. We then had a quiet walk down the last stretch to his food 🙂

What a super, super golden horse he is!