Friday, January 10, 2014

Q the Teacher

After a full day of skiing on New Year's day 2014, I decided I had to get out to the barn to get some riding in on the first day of the year, too. Jess came with me for another lesson on Q.

It was dark, dark, dark when we arrived. The moon, nearly new, affording us no extra light in attempts to find the horses in the field in the dark. Fortunately though, they both met me at the fenceline and walked to the gate making life easy for all.

I set Jess up on Q again as I'd done the previous day, this time leaving Griffin to some flakes of alfalfa while I gave Jess about 20 minutes of instruction on Q in the inside round pen.

Jess had never ridden horses much before, but has such a huge love of them. She asked an endless number of questions that evening. All of the usual ones, "Can you tell the breeds apart? Do horses like this? Do horses like that? How old are your horses? What is ___?" But beyond those, she asked a multitude of other questions that weren't so typical. "What makes your horses different looking to you? What is good about a long back? A steeper sloping shoulder? What is a gait? How do you trim your own horses and what benefits does it give?" And on and on. I had SO much fun answering ALL of her questions! Its always SO nice to have someone that genuinely interested in something you love.

After 20 minutes of instruction on how to properly execute reversing directions, backing up, walk-halt transitions, and circling, Jess decided she was ready to try the trot again. She'd gotten Q to trot the previous day, but as with most newbies, bumped around in the saddle feeling a little off balance from the bouncing two-beat gait. The goal on this night was to figure out posting.

I explained the movement to her and then started her on the lunge line so that she could really focus on herself and not on keeping Q moving forward. I called "up" to her each time she should be rising to help her find the rhythm. Jess would get it for a few strides then lose it. Again and again. She noted how hard it was and how much it worked her muscles to do this.

We kept at it for a bit more, then I decided to be a little mean and remove her stirrups completely! (Hey, the girl climbs harder than most guys I know (she's climbing 5.12c/d pretty consistently) and is obviously in shape. She also had a beautifully natural and balanced seat, so I wasn't too concerned.) My thought was that with her natural seat and natural balance, removing the stirrups would really help her engage her already-strong core muscles and find the balance better. It would also guarantee that she didn't shoot up out of the saddle in a too-high, incorrect manner from using her legs and not her core.

It worked.

She didn't post perfectly, but she found the rhythm and kept it a helluva lot better! I dubbed it a success and turned her loose on her own for a bit while I went to give Griffin some lovin'.

Jess kept right on along playing with Q. I think Q ended up being ridden for nearly an hour and a half this night! The two of them were really getting along well by the end of it!

After a time being left to her own devices, Jess called to me, "Am I getting better with posting? I think I have it." I asked her to trot around again while I paid full attention.

She fucking had it. NAILED it. The whole time. There is something to be said from the muscles developed from rock climbing as they relate to riding!

I smiled and laughed and congratulated her heartily. Quite an achievement for her first REAL time on a horse doing things other than sitting there while the animal moved about more or less of its own accord! Q was even licking and chewing her approval, eyes soft, posture relaxed. Jess even noted the difference in Q's trot this time vs. when I had her on the lunge line (slow and relaxed vs. moving out more). I told Jess Q is capable of trotting anywhere from 4 mph to 9.5 mph.

I set out some trot poles for Jess to walk and trot over for awhile longer after her posting success. I even brought Griffin in and sent him over them at liberty so she could SEE how a horse moved over them. We all (and I swear Q must have been, too) laughed at him his first attempt. He did it well in the front end, but he skipped his back end in the most comical stutter-stepping way. SUCH a goof. He did finally figure it out, but it took a couple goes.

When Jess was finally exhausted, I set a small vertical up on the outside of the round pen and jumped it a few times for Jess...and let's face it, for Q and I, too. I miss jumping since the weather turned!

Q was such a phenomenal teacher this night. I'm so proud of how calm she's become in the past month or two and how patient she can be in the proper environment. I wouldn't put a beginner on her for a trail ride, but in a confined arena-like area, she's great. Such a wonderful little teacher mare.

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