Friday, March 13, 2009

A bumpy road

The road to the show has been bumpy so far—both literally and figuratively!

On Monday I decided to try the first Green as Grass dressage test. Armed with a print-out of the test, I groomed Lim and tacked her up. She seemed to be fairly quiet and I (wrongly) assumed she would behave herself once I was in the saddle.

She was okay at the walk, pretty normal. But as soon as I asked for a trot, she shook her head hard from side to side and did a goofy little jump, then promptly stumbled on the horrible footing in the indoor arena. Right away, I halted her sharply. I was not going to tolerate any clownish behavior from her!

I walked her over to the short arena wall, dismounted, twisted her reins and wove the bridle throatlatch through them, then left her standing like that while I retrieved the lunge line. She watched me with a questioning gaze.

I lunged her for twenty minutes. She cantered hard, on and on and on. She truly had a lot of excessive energy to burn off. I generally don’t like lunging a horse at the canter for so long because I think it’s hard on the legs, but I wasn’t comfortable free-lunging her with her tack on. At a free lunge, she can let loose with spectacular, spine-twisting, hair-raising moves that would make a bucking bronco weep with shame and I wasn’t sure what my tack would do in that situation!

Finally, I stopped her. She took a deep breath and that was it. No hard breathing, no sweat. But I knew she was finally calm enough to ride without being silly.

We performed the dressage test a couple times at a posting trot and a couple times at a sitting trot. Both felt pretty good; I’m not sure yet which option I will go with.

On Wednesday I rode with Steph, the fellow boarder I’m going to the show with. She rode a third boarder’s horse and we both practiced the same dressage test. As a precaution, I lunged Limerick for about ten minutes before getting on her. She shook her head in a silly way once but was otherwise good.

Other than dodging the big craters that have been opening up lately in the arena floor (I guess riding arenas are not exempt from pothole season!), the tests went well. I need to work on picking up my reins from the free walk on a long rein; it is kind of a clumsy maneuver for me and Limerick gets excited when I do so because she knows I will ask her to do something at any second.

She was a very good girl!

Yesterday I had a casual ride—no dressage intended. Note that I used the word “intended”. Limerick was not spooky or silly but she was a little rebel! She let loose with a good solid buck (I clearly felt both hind legs leave the ground) and I was shocked that she didn’t kick the arena wall. It almost made me laugh because when Lim was young and I would ask her to canter, she often nail the arena wall with a strong buck. The crash of her hooves hitting that wooden wall became a familiar sound to me!

(And as a plus, I became very good at riding a strong buck!)

She bucked a couple other times during the canter, and threw in a baby buck whenever the other horse in the arena went near us.

My typical solution to this kind of behavior is to let the reins go loose and encourage Lim to canter at a good, strong pace on her own around the entire arena a few times. This usually eliminates any “vertical” movement (AKA bucking) and allows her to settle into a nice forward pace once I ask her to work again. But unfortunately, for some reason the other rider in the arena always seemed to be right in front of me, or approaching us right from the side, or right behind us. People, please, if you’re riding near a horse that is bucking and pinning his/her ears, keep away!

In the end I gave up, brought Lim down to a trot, and (since she kept throwing her nose in the air), gently worked her into a collected frame and asked her to move forward. This did an alright job of settling her down, but really nothing would have been better than a good strong canter.

I’ll take it over a spooky attitude, however! At least I know that, no matter how badly Limerick bucks, I can stay with her and ride her through it. With her anxious nature, it’s not quite so easy to do that when she is frightened or on edge.

On a side note, I emailed the barn owner about the arena potholes. Hopefully they will be covered and the arena dragged before someone gets seriously hurt.

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