During the Thanksgiving break my thoughts turned to how I was going to make the most of the 5 months remaining in Cotton’s conditioning program. Lesley’s little 2 sentence lesson the day before about getting him connected is what started it…
I re-evaluated my goals:
1) Get Cotton in shape so he can carry himself correctly at the canter so we can make it through a stadium course.
2) Learn how to ride him in his dressage snaffle so we can make it through a dressage test.
And I thought about all that had gone right during our first month of conditioning. A pattern had emerged – it seems that I had discovered the magic formula to riding my OTTB! (I said “magic” not “secret”!) When these are in place, riding him is a breeze!
It is as follows, in this order:
1) Cotton must be forward on his own initiative – not fatigued or sluggish.
2) He must be relaxed and loose and supple – tension or anxiety is a killer.
3) I must be in the correct position and use the correct aids.
My goals were now simply defined and I had the recipe for my new magic formula – now what? Even though I could get him round and forward pretty well in his bubble bit, I could barely do it at all in his snaffle. Lesley could do it but Lesley wasn’t going to ride him in my dressage test! I was doing something wrong. The bubble bit had been camouflaging my bad riding and had to go – I was going cold turkey! When I can ride him well in his French Link snaffle, then I’ll know I can ride.
Also, I had been concentrating on my position but can say I am seeing the importance of the elbows to core connection. It makes all the difference in the world to Cotton. When I try to “help” him I tend to get tense and hold my elbows out like I’m riding a bicycle. My shoulders go forward, my core gets soft…it’s not good. But when I focus on keeping my elbows glued to my sides, my seat and leg move him into the bit and, presto, he softens, brings his back up and I enjoy that “sweet spot” for as many strides as he gives me! And it’s been lasting longer and longer with each ride!
Another element Lesley is helping me understand is Cotton’s fatigue level. I’m having to learn how to read his signs and give him an easy day when he’s tired. I get so much more out of him when he is rested and ready to work! I’m also learning how to tell when he is reaching his limit during our rides so I can stop just after that point – the trick is to stretch him, but just a little. Lesley told me that when he’s tired I should get him round for 5 minutes then let him have his head for 5 minutes – on and off like that – so he is still getting a little workout but it’s not stressful for him.
Even with all the
progress we’ve made, I know 5 months is going to go by in a flash! Can
we pull it off?! When I see where everyone else is with their horses, I
wonder if I’ll ever be able to jump a full course again or be brave
enough to go cross country or even get good enough to enter a dressage
test. But then I think about how easy some of these things have
become that used to perplex me and drive me crazy and I realize that, by
the grace of God, we just might get there!