Friday, November 4, 2011

Riding Stan

When someone asks me what kind of horse I want my first response is typically “a tall one”.  This is usually followed by the asker saying, “Why?” and me responding with, “I just like tall horses”. 

After finally gaining a ride on Stan the other day, I know why I want a tall horse.  I’ve spent all my time since February riding horses that might reach 15hh – if they’re lucky –  and time riding ponies.  Riding Stan, who is a solid 15.3hh, and may even be 16hh, the other day was uh-mazing.  (I scored a hack on a thoroughbred mare a couple weeks back and was astonished at how her strides just ate up the ground, but tossed it aside as a thoroughbred thing.  Silly, Liz, its just the nature of a typical taller, longer legged horse.)  Stan’s trot was huge and flowing and better than I remembered.  It absolutely gobbled up the ground in front of us.  I have no difficulty realizing why he was so talented in the LD race we did years ago.

After conditioning Orion this summer and attempting to get him to pick up the pace and trot faster to make better time, I realized this past Sunday that it wasn’t that he wasn’t putting out effort; he just didn’t have the stride that Stan does.  I wasn’t accustomed to a horse with a shorter stride after years on Stan.  Stan barely puts out, and he’s eating up the ground.  Its AMAZING.

I guess I’m just a little addicted to the thrill of speed. ;-)  But not like I used to be though.  In five years and time of owning my own horse, I have learned a LOT.  I have made a lot of mistakes, but I’ve learned from all of them.  I’ve become a better horse person for all of it.

I could tell Stan was a little baffled by my new altered riding style and behavior towards him while riding.  Our ground interactions are very similar to the way they’ve always been, but riding?  Big difference.

Difference #1: All my tack is different.  New saddle, new saddle pad, new breast plate, different bit.  The girth and headstall are the same. 

I’ve self-taught myself a LOT about bits over the past months.  I used to just ride horses in whatever bit their owners deemed necessary – or not necessary in the stead of a hackamore or bitless bridle.  Having a horse of my own meant I had to start making decisions and learning though.  Looking into what I’d ridden Stan in for all those years I’ve discovered it was an Uxeter Kimberwicke with a port.  The information I could dig up on this bit revealed it to be a very harsh one in the hands of someone inexperienced, though multiple sources stated how it is often a bit chosen for small riders on large horses they may need more control over.  I feel this last reason is probably why it was the chosen bit I rode Stan in most often all those years.  Now I have him in either a simple stainless steel broken snaffle or a sweet iron French d-link.  He’s not half as responsive to the light pressure I’m used to giving him with these bits.  By the end of our ride though he was responding a bit better – but I still had to ask more than I am accustomed.

The Wintec saddle and Toklat breastplate probably don’t make a huge difference for him, but the saddle in particular does for me.  My beautiful, wonderful, amazing Crosby is really in disarray – something else I’ve learned over the past few months via the internet.  The flocking is pretty much shot, not giving poor Stan much padding against my bony butt all those years.  He never had back soreness though – which I would like to attribute to my riding ability a little bit since people have noted how centered I am through the years (another concept I didn’t get until recent months).  Mostly it probably just helped that I’m a featherweight and he’s a big boy.  No matter my riding ability, I’m more comfortable in my Wintec now.  And the Toklat breastplate, with its fuzziness (and awesome bright redness) is probably a twinge more comfy than the simple leather one of past.

Difference #2: I’m much more aware of my seat, my hands, and my communication to Stan.

Riding such an unbalanced horse – Orion – for most of the summer really screwed with my seat.  A lot.  People had noted previously how centered I rode.  Then I took a centered riding lesson on Orion, learned more about centered riding in general, and realized how poorly I was now riding in comparison to former days.  I was still leaps and bounds above beginner riders, but I was over-compensating for my horse’s poor balance and killing my form in the process.

I’ve noted since riding balanced horses as of late, how much more comfortable and improved my seat is.  How easy and instinctual it is for me to keep that imaginary line shoulder-elbow-hip-heel no matter the gait.  How posting is suddenly not this awkward dance between horse and I, but this magical ease of movement.  How with my seat alone I can really adjust how the horse moves beneath me.

I’m more aware of my hands.  Of contact or lack thereof.  The bulk of my horse-related upbringing involved western-style riding, but the English side of it all is something I have looked into and practiced lately.  I’m incorporating it all into the way I ride dependent upon my situation and I think its really aiding my communication with the horse better. 

Both my improved awareness of seat and hands helped Stan the other night.  (I’m now riding with blunt spurs instead of a crop as well which helps as the tiniest of nudges with my heel brings a greater response from him than the crop ever did – and I feel SO much more attune with this aid than the crop.)  The ride began with him being very hesitant and very resistant to the less harsh bit.  By the end though, through my seat especially, I had him calming back down from a canter (which eats up the ground even more awesome than the trot, oh. my. goodness! *squeal*) with 60% less effort than I’d had to put out at the beginning of the ride!

I still have SO much more to learn though about myself and about the horses I will ride in the future.  I’m more horse-obsessed than ever before though.  All this new knowledge that was left unturned under a rock somewhere pre-horse-ownership has sparked my love of all things equine so much stronger than before!  Aaaaah, its not healthy!  lol

What kind of horse do I really, really want though?  A leggy desert horse.  (Yes, I'm more than aware these horses don't reach outrageous heights; they have so many other attributes I'm fond of.)  You know, the “hot-headed” type.  Except that stereotype of being feisty is something I admire.  I mean…I’m a redhead I share the same stereotype, haha!  But seriously, as an experience horse person, I understand how to adequately care for and understand an Arab, and I really, really, admire and love how finely-tuned they are to the world around them.  Flighty and feisty?  Maybe, but that’s fine with me.  It will make me so much more attune to myself and my actions and communication.  And the bond these horses have with their owners is something more that I think is amazing.  One day in the next couple years I’ll find my Arab.  We’ll start slow and work our way to the top as our bond builds.  Definitely something to look forward to.

Maybe a bond like this redhead has with RB Cavalier (more here)

1 comment:

  1. I rode Arabs for years and years. They just have lot's of personality. And yes - crazy fun to ride! And - they don't have to be small - my friend has a purebred (well bred show lines) that's pushing 15.3 hh. He's stunning.