The Right Track

I live on a farm in central Florida, an hour to an hour-and-a-half from Ocala, which means I haul to a lesson or competition, then immediately come home. I don’t rub elbows with a lot of other trainers, and I consider myself a minnow when referring to small fish. I ride primarily alone, lesson infrequently and I don’t even have an arena. This doesn’t exactly help in competitions, which I force myself to enter, knowing I need exposure, all while paying my “find your competition rhythm” dues. But these past few weeks, I’ve ventured from my reclusive habitat, and had it affirmed that I AM riding my horses classically and correctly, from hind to front, and let myself realie I AM pretty damn good at it! Even if not that many other people even know I exist as a rider or trainer.

Two Sundays ago, I took #worldsgreatesthorse aka Monte to a clinic with Robert Zandvoort, a Dutch dressage trainer I ride with on occasion (aka over a year ago). I trotted by his designated seat at C, and he exclaimed, “If you painted this horse black, I would have never thought it was the same horse!” Monte and I basically ran through a summary of what we work on, all the 4th level stuff, minus the working pirouettes, and I made the majority of corrections before Robert could tell me I needed to make them, hearing, “Yea, you did the right thing there,” instead. Most of his comments were more stylistic: “More bend.” “Come through the turn preparing to half-pass. If Totilas can do it, so can you.” “Hands down.” The part I care about most, the way my horse goes, I was already on top of.
Monte’s canter has the tendency to go lateral, but thanks to injections over a year ago and him allowing me to ride him correctly after and occasional bodywork, it has gotten better and better, along with his topline and his entire musculature. His canter now has jump! And he is almost (almost!) completely through in it. At least, not at a show.
We also worked on our changes, and Robert advised that I do them everywhere… and occasionally across the diagonal, and he also stressed maintaining the inside turned new outside rein, which will help our straightness and balance after we change.
Finally, he had me work on pirouettes: “Keep your outside hand down, and keep him bent with the inside. Collect, collect, collect, turn… keep going for the half!” While I felt all over the place, my random work on squares and half-hearted attempts at quarter turns had paid off. Riding with Robert let me know I was on the right track, gave me insight on where I needed to go next and was a little way of saying, “Hey, I’m still out here, still schlepping away and slowly becoming a more fine-tuned rider.”

Last Saturday, I went to Ocala to try a “hot, difficult” thoroughbred. “She’s very difficult,” the owner warned me, “just because she’s so sensitive. You just have to think something, and she does it.” I stood in the aisleway with my friend Darci, who wanted to sponsor the mare for me, in awe. “Isn’t that what you want?” I asked.
We all followed the mare’s rider down to the riding area with the golf cart. Other than flipping her head quite a bit, the mare didn’t put a foot wrong. She wasn’t relaxed and swinging in her back, but she was obedient.
The girl dismounted and gave me a leg up, and when the owner saw I had spurs, she advised me to take them off. “She’s only had spurs once before, and that didn’t go to well.” Off came my spurs, I shortened my stirrups and away we went. The mare was stiff, but after I walked her on a loose rein and got her going out to the bit, rather than coming back off it, she started to get more supple, then when I asked her to bend around my leg and KEEP GOING, she did. Then she started accepting the outside rein.  We started trotting and in minutes, her rhythm had started to slow and her back started to swing. I could feel her developing loft.  She goosed into the canter the first time, but not even that, would I consider naughty. In my mind, I started getting excited about how much I could do for this mare, and in what little time it would take me.
I go through spells where I get really down on myself for not doing better, accomplishing more in this business, and while my horses humble me on a very regular basis, it’s nice to be reminded every once in a while that I’m spending my life doing exactly what I should be.

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