Freestyle

A saddle that fits

River’s new saddle arrived. I’ve ridden it in walk, trot, and canter, and it’s comfortable for both of us. I need to punch a couple more holes in the stirrup thingies — what do we call them when they aren’t leather? the stirrup Corduras? — because I feel myself reaching for the stirrup which rocks me forward off my balance point. BUT.

How snazzy is THIS?

river's new saddle

I also have been riding for a couple months in a Barefeet Physio Ride-On Bareback Pad, which not only has an underpad to lift the pad off the withers, it has the girth attachments lower down on the belly, where it’s not interfering with my leg. It also has really nice cushioning between my butt and her back. River is more willing and comfortable in it, and I’ve really improved my balance and stamina, becoming able to sit and post the trot for minutes at a time.

River in Barefeet pad

The past few months have been full of, well, life, and also death, and I’ve not kept my “ride every day that I’m in town” resolution 100%. I’m happy to report that I’ve kept it enough to continue gaining in confidence and skills even as my stamina goes up and down instead of just up.

The gains are coming from the hard parts (“Erin, how come I’m suddenly scared to ride outside the arena?”) and they are coming in small increments that every so often aggregate into a Visible Big Gain that makes me go “Huh! Look at that!” For example: After three or four sessions where River kept offering the canter and I kept saying “no thank you,” we finally had a day where River said “I wanna canter!” and I just went with it. And it was lovely and fun, and after a few moments to get myself settled, I was even able to steer and canter at the same time. Thank goodness I had the saddle by then…

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I’m better when I blog

One important purpose this blog serves to highlight for myself the progress that I do make. I don’t need to record for posterity all the things I’m not good at, as there are so many, many more of those. But when I reflect on the session while I still remember, I can pull out those pieces that I’m learning, improving, noticing, and practicing, and then that makes me happy both at the time of writing and later when I hop around randomly through older posts.

“The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” ~ Aristotle, in translation

Today I took River down the drive toward the front of the ranch and created a point-to-point with cookies at each point.

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I wanted her to walk freely but I tried not to oversqueeze, over-urge. Just … walk. And get a cookie. I wanted to see if she would of her own accord begin to relax and use her body. I thought about something my friend Barbara learned in a lesson earlier this year, about how many laps of “just walking around the arena” it took before she herself blew out and fully relaxed (“I thought I WAS relaxed!”) and how many more laps it took before her horse did the same. So I just kept going between the two points, with a couple of detours to refill the cookie pouch or to help someone with the driveway gate.

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And River did blow out, long after I’d forgotten that I was paying attention to it, and long after any observer would have assumed she was relaxed. Her slow, low-headed amble looks relaxed. She’s even mostly relaxed, and not looking for things to pretend to spook about, not exactly balking or obviously sticky. But I’m learning to feel how she’s not “free” and to wait for that freedom before changing our pattern.

A Thing I’ve been noticing in my past few sessions with River, including this past weekend’s lesson, is that after we got that really nice soft harmonious day, our rides have been progressively (regressively?) less soft each time since. That’s what led me to changing something up. (That and the presence of summer horse camp using the arena.) Also, I’ve developed some anxiety about certain squeezes on the ranch when I don’t have a saddle, so I thought about all the places I feel comfortable and set up the pattern there. We had enough distance between points to feel like we were going somewhere, and that helped too.

I am really trying to pay attention to the concept of relaxation in her poll and jaw, to the bend as we turn, and to the sticky vs. free quality of her gait. While I’ve become much quieter in my body (and Erin complimented me on this in our lesson!), I think I’m also confusing River now, lifting the rein, trying to put my leg on in a place that makes sense, clucking (why? WHY?), urging her forward while lifting the rein and then bumping her when she doesn’t bend her nose after several seconds (I wait a while because I need to not develop a habit of lift-BUMP-PULL).

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