Today’s lesson was with Martini. This horse has an actual fan club. Everyone that rides him falls in love with him, and for good reason. He’s a school master.
For many years riding Alfie, I would throw away the contact. The contact is one of the ways you communicate with your horse. The reins are attached to the bit which is the piece that is in the horses mouth which is attached to the bridle which is what is on the head of the horse. You communicate with your seat as well as with your hands.
Throwing away the contact – picture a person sitting on a horse holding the reins in their hands. Then picture them moving their hands and arms forward towards the horses head, so the reins get loopy and loose. This is throwing away contact. By doing this, you’ve just broken your direct phone line to your horse. This is what I’ve been doing. Not all the time but it’s one of the hardest things for me to retrain myself not to do.
When you ride you need contact with your horse, but at the same time, you need to be able to give some of that contact up, not throw it away completely. By giving up some of the contact it allows the horse to move their head and get into a more proper form. When you give up the contact totally , they are no longer getting any signal from you so they stop moving, whether it’s a walk or a trot or a canter they stop. Today while we were trotting I was able to give up a little of that contact and guess what…Martini kept trotting!! It was a true lightbulb moment! All the little pieces finally came together for me.
Looking back at how much I didn’t know or understand, I remember thinking to myself, I’m never gonna get this riding thing. I’m not fit enough, skinny enough, rich enough to afford the top of the line tack and clothes. So many negatives. So many “excuses” that were floating in my head all the time. But to see myself now, a person who started riding at the age of 40, I’ve overcome so many fears. I’ve taken the time to learn at my own pace. And even though my lightbulb moments might seem small and insignificant to others, to me, these are huge accomplishments that need to be celebrated. If you find your audience, family and friends don’t care for your little accomplishments, it’s time to clean out your closet and surround yourself with people who will cheer you on always and who will care about EVERYTHING you accomplish, even if it’s small. ❤️🐴
Another super hot and humid day in NY. I’m not a fan of winter at all but this heat and humidity can really just break for a bit. The humans would love it and the horses would love it.
I get Alfie from his field and he’s super happy because the heat was bad by 10:15AM and he couldn’t wait to come in to be in front of his fan.
He dives into his hydro hay with such gusto and I swear he was smiling. While he’s eating I start to brush him. I get all his itchy spots and I tell him he’s gonna get a nice bubble bath when we are done with our lesson.
He finishes his brunch and into the grooming stall we go. I get him dressed in his saddle – no bareback today – and we approach the dreaded mounting block.
Alfie wouldn’t stand today. I attempted twice on my own and then asked for help from my trainer Kari. She gets him lined up and I get on.
Our lesson is divided into 3 parts, warmup, work, cool down. Part of our warmup includes working on our circles. For those that think riding a horse in a circle is easy, you are very mistaken lol. It’s hard. It’s also hard when the horse is stiff and has discomfort from being stiff and just can’t bend well. That was Alfie’s issue. When we made the switch from western to dressage, I discovered that he was unbalanced in the turns and had a lot of discomfort bending his head to the right.
To help fix his discomfort Alfie gets treated about every 6 weeks by a sports massage therapist – an amazing woman who works out the kinks for him. Since he’s been under her care his muscle issues have gotten better.
We’ve been taking dressage lessons for 1 year and 4 months. When we first started trying to get Alfie to bend into a circle was extremely difficult. Today, his circles were damn near perfect in both directions.
When you are learning to ride a horse, your balance as a rider isn’t good. You are nervous, your legs don’t know what to do and you suddenly become aware of muscles you didn’t know existed. Because it’s not easy to ride a horse…let me rephrase that…it’s not easy to ride a horse that isn’t “push button” or an “auto pilot” horse. Those horses are the ones at dude ranches and in the Caribbean Islands, they just go regardless of the riding ability of their rider. Alfie isn’t push button. Alfie has made me work for every ride we’ve ever taken. There is no leisure ride with Alfie. And learning an entirely new discipline for both of us has been a struggle. But today, after the amazing circles, it was time to trot. And that’s where I was left speechless, and full of joy.
When a horse trots, the power must come from their back end…you know, their booty, their butt. Getting Alfie to understand that, getting him to understand contact of the bit and the reins hasn’t come easy. It wasn’t just him learning it was also me learning how to communicate all of this to him. We’ve worked and worked and worked on getting him to put the pieces together, when we trot, the power needs to come from behind, not just the front legs pulling the back end.
We set up for our first trot on the long side of the arena (the straight side) and holy cow…he used his butt. It was only a few strides of trot, but I immediately felt the difference. I sat there and looked at my trainer. She’s smiling and I ask her, did he do what I think he did?? Holy cow!
We try again…and again for a few strides he picks up the trot using his butt, this time he rounds his frame a bit…he’s in an actual dressage position! We do this a few more times and change direction and again all the power is coming from his back end. As he gets more fit he will be able to trot for longer but today, he did it. It took 16 months of weekly lessons, but he did it, and I helped him do it.
We decided to end the lesson on that note because you always want to end on a positive. We go for our cool down ride and I get off. But I’m not done just yet…I walk him back to the mounting block to see if he will stand…and he doesn’t. I ask my trainer for help. At this point we’ve tried so many different things and nothing seems to stick with him. So she tells me to leave Alfie exactly in the weird position he’s standing. She has me pick up my dressage whip and tells me to tap him on his butt to get him to move over to the block. For those that know me, you all know my issues with tapping my horse. I know I’m not going to hurt him, logically my brain knows this but the emotional aspect of this is where my issue lays. But it’s been 4 years, and dang it Alfie you have to respect me enough to let me get on. So I tap him. He ignores it. I tap him again slightly harder, and look at that, he moved over. I slightly raise my arm and he moves over some more. Mind you, I only tapped him with it twice. This is good, he’s responding simply to my gesture, I’m not actually touching him. I climb up the stairs of the block and he just stands. Perfectly still. I get on. He doesn’t move until I ask him to walk into the arena. I pat him on the neck and tell him good boy and I get off. We have tried everything at the mounting block but 2 small taps got his attention.
Horses are like children. They have their days where they are perfect, respectful, attentive and listening. Other days they may be perfect in one area but challenging you in another area, because they can. For all these years, Alfie knows if his swings his butt away from the mounting block I can’t get on. He knows that I get off the block and walk him again to the block only to have him swing out his butt again. We’ve played this game before over and over. But today I made the decision to not play the game anymore.
We ended our day with that bubble bath I promised him and a nap in front of his fan. ❤️🐴
Riding bareback. It’s something I’ve done so little of throughout the 4 years Alfie and I have been together. For those that don’t know what bareback riding is, it’s where you ride the horse without a saddle. You can either ride with a bareback pad or without one, I prefer the pad.
Riding bareback has a lot of benefits. It forces you to use your seat for balance. There’s no stirrups so your body has to compensate for that. You can feel the actual movement of the horse which gives you a better understanding of how your horse moves.
The last time I rode bareback was about a year ago and it didn’t go very well. Alfie tends to get bored when we ride bareback so the last time we did he tried to lay down…like a camel lol. I remember how it felt the last time I was bareback, my seat wasn’t good, my leg strength wasn’t good, I was like a sack of potatoes, with very little core strength. My best riding buddy Heidi has always encouraged me to ride bareback more, but I never felt truly comfortable or secure until today.
I get Alfie out of his field, and as we are walking to the barn I tell him he’s in for a treat, no saddle today in this heat! He seems more excited about his lunch lol. He eats his hydro hay and I bring him into the grooming stall. I then drag out my barely used bareback pad. As I put it on him, the look he gives me is one of confusion. I know Alfie, it’s been a long time lol.
I get to the mounting block and because I’m going bareback I ask my trainer to just hold him for me. I get on him and we join my friend Heidi and her horse Cayman (Alfie’s buddy) in the arena.
If you didn’t know, horses are heard animals, meaning they like to hang out in groups. Cayman is Alfie’s field mate so he is naturally gravitating towards him, but that’s not the way we are going lol. The first thing that I notice is despite not having a saddle, I felt like I was sitting in one. I am perfectly balanced. I am holding myself up. I am secure. I am not scared. My trainer Kari tells me my seat is beautiful. Everything about my body position is perfect. Holy crap. Like really wow!!
We start our lesson and again because of the heat, everything is at a walk today. We work on our circles, our shoulder in, our haunches out, we even did our figure 8s and some leg yielding. And I did it all without having to use my dressage whip (stick of influence or SOI as I like to refer to it as. ) At one point Heidi and Cayman left the arena and Alfie wasn’t happy. He brought out his stop and back up move which not so long ago used to scare me, but not anymore. I was able to steer him and push him forward with my seat. We also had amazing haults today.
It was so extremely beneficial to ride bareback today. Not only was it more pleasant for Alfie in this crazy heat, but I proved to myself just how good of a rider I have become. We ended our day with a second lunch of hydro hay and a nap. I am no longer afraid of riding bareback. ❤️🐴
Ok…I know it’s summer…but 3PM and it’s STILL 87, crazy high humidity to the point that as soon as you leave your air conditioned car and step outside your riding breeches become one with your skin. I wouldn’t feel the need to complain except this kind of heat has been with us since the beginning of JUNE…ok, little soapbox rant over lol.
Today is my lesson day with Martini. To give all my new readers a little background on Martini. He’s over 17 hands – way bigger than Alfie who is about 15.1 hands tall. He’s a warm blood draft mix who is a gentle giant. I started taking lessons with him about a year ago.
Let me back up a bit…I’m a former western pleasure rider who switched disciplines to dressage. It was a decision that I have no regrets about at all. It’s benefiting Alfie in so many physical ways. Martini is a well trained dressage horse. So what I learn with him I am teaching my Alfie.
I groom Martini and spray him with fly spray, oh the flies are so bad this year because of the heat and humidity. I get him all tacked up and off we go. The issue I was having with him at the mounting block wasn’t an issue today. Once I got on, he stayed standing, he didn’t try to walk into the arena until I was ready. Woohoo!! We go through our warmup and my confidence is really good today. We work on trotting over poles which again I had some issues with. So here’s the thing, sometimes when I don’t think I’m nervous, it turns out I am. I kept losing my right stirrup. No my foot didn’t come out but it wasn’t in the position it needed to be. So my wonderful trainer Kari says, don’t worry about it, let’s work on the half seat position.
For those that don’t know what a half seat is, it’s basically where you come up out of the saddle and hold a squat. Yes it’s as challenging as it sounds lol. When I first learned to do it, I could only hold it for a matter of seconds. Now I can hold it for an entire revolution around the arena. The benefit of this exercise, well one of the benefits is it helps your body feel secure in the saddle because your weight shifts to your heels. After we did that, we went back to trotting over the poles and I didn’t lose my stirrup. My confidence that took a brief disappearing act had returned.
We work on our pole work some more and my trainer sets up this small jump. Now if this were Alfie, because of his short size, he would’ve had to jump it. But Martini is so tall he wouldn’t waste a jump on something so short, he was just gonna trot over it. I pick up my trot nicely, we head to the slightly elevated poles, and we walk over it. I try again, good depart with the trot, momentum, here comes the slightly elevated poles…and we walk over them. I tell my trainer it’s me, not him. I’m too nervous and a little afraid he might try to jump it. As always, my trainer listens to me and says, no problem, we will try it again when you are ready. Although my confidence disappeared briefly, I didn’t let it ruin the rest of my ride. There’s no rush in this sport. I will get there when I’m ready.
We end our lesson with some cantering in both directions which is really becoming a favorite gait for me. Now if I can only remember to steer when we get going lol.
After our lesson, I bring Martini into the wash stall to give him a quick rinse, I put him in his stall and it’s dinner time. A wonderful way to end my Tuesday. ❤️🐴
My equestrian career began as a child. I was around 8 or 9 when I started taking lessons. I loved it. I was only taking lessons for about a year when my parents encouraged me to try something else as a hobby. There had been an accident at a neighboring stable and the young rider took a nasty fall and was left paralyzed. My parents didn’t tell me this but they were scared I could suffer a similar fate, so bye bye horses, and hello clarinet.
Fast forward about 33 years. I stumbled upon a Groupon for a discounted trail ride. So I signed up myself and my husband…my extremely allergic husband (didn’t realize his allergy was going to be a severe one) for this trail ride. Despite my husband breaking out into hives and needing 2 doses of Benadryl, we both enjoyed it. And that was it, I was hooked. I started taking lessons at a stable that was much closer to me than where we had the trail ride and 4 months into lessons, I bought my Alfie.
My Alfie. We really didn’t know much about him except he came from a farm in Virginia. We weren’t even sure exactly how old he was. All we knew was he was a trained ranch horse that was very safe, and very cute.
What I would find out over these last 4 years based on vets and an equine dentist, Alfie is most likely in his mid 20’s. How does one figure out the age of a horse, by their teeth. And Alfie, well, he has old man teeth. They are all accounted for, but totally smooth which makes eating hay a challenge for him.
Because of his age and some physical issues with his legs and feet, our weekly lessons are just done at a walk and trot. I ride my trainer’s horse Martini who is younger and doesn’t have the physical challenges Alfie has to do the more advanced stuff. So this blog will feature entries about both Alfie and Martini.