This clinic/lesson day was exactly what I needed. I feel like my confidence has been pretty low over the past year or so. We left Jane’s having issues with Katai’s behavior because of, I believe, the saddle fit and ulcer issue. They had been resolved at that point but Katai was still reactive and worried about being uncomfortable. Then we worked with S2 and I lost more confidence about our path because she had a very different way of working with horses and caused more tension than I’d like. K has been very complimentary but after all of the past issues it’s been tough for me to not worry or doubt. Having another person who was saying really positive things about Katai and myself really helped, plus K’s trainer just has that much more history of bringing people up the levels so that was especially cool to hear.
The day on Saturday was forecast to be colder than what we’ve had (mid 30s instead of mid 40s-50s) so that added to my normal anxiousness because I was riding with someone new. I managed to hang out at home most of the morning and didn’t get myself too tied into knots. I left around 11:45 so that I could catch most of the first rider’s ride but not sit around too long and get nervous or too cold. I also was meeting up with one of K’s other students who was riding to pick up the bags and tags to get my blankets over to a blanket washing service. This is something I’m doing for the first time this year since living with bf means that having horse blankets hanging around drying in the apartment isn’t very fair :)
I got there and it was sunny but breezy and chilly. I got my bags and tags picked up and then went to the arena and watched the first couple of riders. The person who was riding, and about half way done, was the person who organized the day. She was working on canter transitions but I missed most of it because I was chatting with other riders about K moving, what they were nervous about and what I was, etc. The next rider to go was one of K’s long time students and someone who’s riding at 1st level very successfully and I was able to watch a bit more. She’s just getting back into it because she was out for most of the winter due to knee surgery. K’s trainer had a lot positive to say about her improvement despite that since they had worked together in the past. I was able to watch most of this ride and then I headed down to the barn to get Katai ready so that we could have lots of time to walk around in the arena and let go of some nervous energy.
While I warmed up I was able to catch bits and pieces of the person before me who also has taken lessons with K’s trainer before. She’s the one I went to the tack sale with along with K and I’m going to call her Jo since she’ll be making more of an appearance here in the near future.
Then it was my turn and I introduced myself and Katai. Since I’d only ever had one lesson with her, many years ago, on one of her lessons horses we took some time to debrief and talk about what I’ve been working on. The items I brought up were that I had gotten busy with my hands before working with K so she’d been working on getting them more still and giving forward vs. pulling back. We talked about how Katai blows through half halts especially through my seat (which was why I had gotten busy with my hands) and was hot and could get fizzy and worried if we worked on small things for too long (partially because the previous horse was struggling with this). I also mentioned that we’ve been working on getting her to reach forward and down but that my assessment was that now she’s swung far enough in that direction that it’s time to start to include a bit more work to bring her up. Finally I mentioned that she’s been throwing her head into the canter transition and we’ve been working on letting her “roll into it” more but that my timing wasn’t as good as K’s so sometimes she really started to run.
I had noticed through the other riders that K’s trainer was working a lot on position things and I was excited about it. Jane worked a TON on my position but since then I haven’t been getting any advice. I’ve been thinking that it was because it just wasn’t something that either instructor focused on much since I’ve ridden with people who seem to either work a ton on position or really not at all. It turns out though that one of K’s trainer’s first assessments was that I had a really solid position. I’m still a little in disbelief about that actually because I was such a mess when I started riding with Jane and would have guessed that it would have been falling apart again in the interim. It’s not that I don’t have things to do, like closing the back of my armpits a bit and being more relaxed through transitions (more on that later) but otherwise K’s trainer didn’t have much to say. That felt amazing.
She had me get started and just do sort of a warm up with her watching. I did some walk and then went to trot and did 20 meter circles, went large, did some 10 meter circles and some leg yield in both directions at the trot and then we did some canter in each direction. Then K’s trainer had me come back to walk and we got into the meat of the lesson. To start she had us do trot/walk/trot transitions with just a couple steps of walk. This is very consistent with what K and Jane have both had us work on. Basically Katai likes to ignore half halts and needs to learn to step under a bit more. We did fine but during that work K’s trainer also identified that we were both trying too hard. I was too demanding with my seat, although she complimented me on my hands.
She called out several times that Katai is her favorite sort of horse. Super obedient, a little hot, and trying so hard to do what I asked. She said that we were similar in that I was trying super hard and by doing that I was sometimes too demanding with my seat and asking for something immediate vs. letting it happen slower. She acknowledged that one of the toughest things we do as riders is to deal with the pendulum of obedience vs. relaxation and that right now we needed more relaxation. She asked me to relax my seat more into transitions vs. making the transition happen. It was tough for both of us and for a while it meant I was walking Katai into walls to teach her what I was looking for. She picked it up really quickly, more so than me, though so that was encouraging. Now I just need to work on it.
Finally we worked on some SI at the sitting trot and here K’s trainer again wanted a bit more relaxation especially through Katai’s pole and jaw. She did say that we were getting a medium trot through it though which made me celebrate since the biggest issue when I was working with Jane was that I was shutting her down with my seat and getting a tiny little trot through it. Cue minor internal celebration. Obviously we’ll need to get it more collected but the bigger looser trot is so much better than the tiny prancy steps we were getting. To help with the relaxation K’s trainer just wanted me to slightly counter flex her and then return to inside flexion to help her relax her pole, jaw, and body a bit. It was hugely helpful when I did this so some homework for us! She also said through the work that she agrees with me that Katai is stretching forward and down really well. We want to keep as much of that as possible, and return there if we lose it obviously, but that it is time to start to ask her to come up during rides.
Overall I felt sort of showered with compliments. K’s trainer was impressed by us and by the work we’d done. She said she wouldn’t have guessed that I was getting busy with my hands because they looked good in this lesson. She also complimented my position a few times which, again, felt really unreal. She also had so many nice things to say about Katai including that I could get a lot of money for her if I ever decided to sell her, especially with her size and that she was “worth her weight in gold”. That felt almost nicer than the compliments about my riding because Katai has certainly not always been a horse that people have said those things about.
I’m normally really uncomfortable about compliments and if they swing too far to just that during lessons I always wonder what I paid for. In this lesson though I got a lot of stuff to work on and I know we’ll build on this when I ride with her in April. In addition, I’ve just had so little motivation, so many doubts, and so little faith in our path this past year that hearing such nice and affirming things about us was just what I needed right now.
After I finished my ride Katai got stuffed with treats as we cooled out and while she was groomed and put away. She was happy to be back outside with her favorite mare bear friend. Then I went back to watch the next couple of lessons.
It turned out that Jo’s niece was getting a lesson with K’s trainer as well so we had a chance to talk while that was going on and we made some plans! Jo used to trailer over to get lessons from K’s trainer every week but it just got to be too much so she stopped. So, with that in mind, we made a plan to trailer over to K’s trainer’s farm (which is about 10 minutes away) monthly for lessons through the summer when K’s trainer isn’t able to make it out to our barn. I’m super pumped because it will not only be great to have regular access to lesson but it will also mean that we can get some good, low key trailering experience with way less pressure! K’s trainer’s farm is also lovely and she has a large heated arena with lovely footing. We’re going to talk with her when she’s here in April and make a plan. Fingers crossed it all works out the way we want it to!
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