Monday, November 3, 2014

Lesson #143: Communicating Through My Hands

Oct 30, 2014

There isn't a doubt that winter is coming. It is cold and I've officially broken out the winter/cold weather riding gear. As a result, the warm-up took a little longer than it's been during the summer. Once we got going, I'm told to make my way to canter around to further loosen Ariel up. The left rein was fine but going on the right was really off. She was stiff and doing more prancing than cantering. I was pushing and pulsing her with the inside leg but my problem is (and she knows how to take advantage of it) that I have a tendency to lean in myself, with the right thigh/knee. In turn, she just leans right back and since she's a great deal heavier than me, ends up cutting the corners and leaning us in.

I find myself a little frustrated and am immediately reminded that riding takes work and that each ride is different where sometimes you're stiff one side or the horse is stiff. We riders have off days and good days just like our mounts. So, I pull myself together and anticipate the bad behaviour and correct Ariel so that I can regain some control. The other thing that is giving me trouble is that Ariel likes to lift her head up (even with a martingale) and avoid my hands. This is frustrating because there is no way for me to communicate and support Ariel through my hands. I also find that the transitions up to be messy and drawn out and I can't effectively nor precisely initiate the departs I'm looking for. I remember reading posts about contact and how it's an important way to communicate with our horses. Ariel is already sensitive to more significant contact so I try to keep things light but sometimes it's too light and I end up with absolutely no contact at all. But, I remember that I start to wonder if the contact is really as important as the other aids such as the leg aids and a proper seat; I decide to try by regaining some of the contact by shortening the reins and bringing my hands back. And like that, she takes off with all the other aids. To be sure it wasn't a complete fluke, I try the same thing  the next time around and the same thing happens and there is a significant shorter delay when I keep contact with her mouth. It's not perfect by any means, but I have confirmation that she needs the contact regardless of what I might think. The tricky part though, is giving enough contact where I can maintain it while she's moving as well as bring it back a bit, if I need to. That fine balance is actual execution of the theory and it is not easy.

We move to some low jumps where the ride out could be taken either right or left so the purpose of this exercise is to right out straight and make the appropriate turn. Lately, the ride out has been weebly and wobbly and not straight at all. Tonight, I learned that the reason is due in part to me not providing enough direction prior to the jump and so she lands on whatever lead comes to her and she just heads in the direction she thinks is best--with a cut corner, to boot. So, I try something we did in an exercise a while back: flex Ariel getting into the base of the jump while turning my head towards the direction I will be heading towards. At first, I thought it was just dumb luck that I was getting things right but a few more tries confirmed that I was getting the lead correctly and a straight ride out (with lots of inside leg too.. hahaha).

It's not like any of these details are new but having the actual eureka moment on my own acts as an amazing reinforcer. It's going to take plenty more time but I'm learning to use my hands appropriately when I ride with Ariel.

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