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Without a specific show goal for the year, my ride times have undergone a transformation. I have the time to experiment with equipment and routines. I’m finding that stripping things down to the basics allows Elf and I to do more with less.
Last weekend, I made the decision to body clip Elf. We’re starting to have sporadic very warm days and he was markedly uncomfortable when the temperature rose. Along with that, though, came a commitment to myself to ride more consistently than I have been. Since we moved to Kentucky in October, my riding has been hit or miss. With warmer weather coming, it’s time to step things up a bit.
Ride for Momentum
After clipping last Friday, I was determined to take advantage of some great weather we had. And I did. I rode Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Each day, I got out of the ring and hacked. We focused on relaxation and responsiveness on Elf’s part – which he did spectacularly.
Luckily, that offered me the opportunity to work on myself. After two+ years in a dressage saddle, it turns out that riding in a jump saddle is not exactly like riding a bike. I’ve had to make a conscious effort to work on my balance, leg position, heel flexion, and hands. We made so much progress through dressage in influencing Elf with my seat. That took the fight out of connection and the bridle. Now, I have to figure out how to preserve that conversation without the deeper dressage seat. It’s still a work in progress, but the momentum of riding multiple days in a row is undeniable. For the first time since I can remember, I was sore. That soreness made it clearly apparent what I doing wrong – mainly bracing with my back – which makes it impossible to give Elf a following ride.
Ride Goals: Cadence
After that run of consecutive rides, a busy week kept me away from the barn Tuesday through Saturday except for quick trips to bring out clean blankets. So Sunday was definitely happening!
Falling temperature and a brisk breeze meant plenty of potential for pony shenanigans. But, as I tacked up, I thought about the great rides we’d had already that week. Focusing on myself made a difference. All I needed from Elf was some relaxation and we would have a productive ride. Like I had before, I started the ride with a lap around the field. Riding in the open is a challenging situation for my reactive pony, but the act of marching forward just works. Getting moving, a loose rein and straight forward expectations ( just forward) seem to help focus him.
In the ring, we worked on haunches in and out and shoulder in and out at the walk. Before we did anything else, I wanted to know I could ask him to move parts of his body and he would do it. Once I could maintain the bed through a change of direction, we added in stretchy trot doing the same exercises.
One notable evolution in Elf over the last few months in Kentucky is that he now seems to be okay with other horses in the ring. He can get a little looky, but I’ve had rides recently with 2 and 3 other horses also working. Even last Fall, that would have been a recipe for disaster. I focused on keeping a soft back, following hand and using my seat & leg to keep a consistent cadence. I didn’t ride long – maybe 30 minutes – but it felt productive. The wind started to pick up so I opted to end on a positive note.
Looking back over the last month or so, our rides have been remarkably consistent considering I haven’t had any lessons. I haven’t ridden as much as I’d like, but when I have I walked away feeling good about what we’d accomplished. For now, I’m happy with that.
How has winter impacted your rides so far this year?