I wrote this on the plane coming home from a business trip. Seems 6 hours trapped in a plane was the only time I could find to write lately. Yikes!
Greetings from 36,000 feet. I'm flying home from a business trip to Palm Desert, CA, and given the temps in NJ (aka Siberia) I've never hoped so much for a canceled/delayed flight in my life. The fabulous weather and location were certainly a draw, but I was really hoping to have an extra day so I could play hooky and go down to HITS Thermal to visit a friend and check out the horse show there. Yep, the horse addict while traveling - always on the lookout for something that will provide that equine fix we need so badly.
Many of you were kind enough to reach out after I'd posted my frustrations with the interim training situation at my barn, and I hope you'll forgive me for taking so long to provide an update. Due to the arctic weather we have not been doing much riding and most of our lessons have been cancelled, but I have had two more since I wrote that last post and there's been some improvement.
I think I was finally able to communicate with her the health issue I'm having and how it impacts my riding. Basically, I'm having trouble with the nerves in my spine and legs which result in tingling, burning and weakness from my lower back downwards. You know when your foot falls asleep and you try to stand on it? Some days I feel that way all day. Usually when that happens I'll be riding along and POOF! My legs stop working, or my angle just collapses and feels like it's snapping off. So yeah, getting weight into my heels is a secondary concern at the point, you know what I'm saying? I'm working with a neurologist and we're trying to find the right meds and dosage and I am try to do some PT to keep up some semblance of strength, but yeah, it ain't making the riding thing any easier.
As a result T2 has been more understanding of what I actually can accomplish and what expectations we need to alter. She still feels like my position needs a complete overhaul but I'm feeling like she's more willing to concentrate on one or two issues at a time, not 20. The last 2 lessons were also better in that I felt she was more willing to point out when I was doing something correct or getting close to it. I don't mind a coach who has high expectations and demands a lot from me, as I expect a lot from myself. However, even a smidge of positive feedback goes a long way, don't you think?
I still feel uncomfortable when I'm in the position she wants me in, but I also understand that any new habit feels funky until you develop new muscle memory. My legs feel too far back, and she has me in such a forward seat that I feel like show jumper Rich Fellers. I love the man and his feisty little chestnut stallion Flexible, and he's a master at that kind of forward ride. I'm a bit busty and feel like I'm going to tip forward onto Sug's neck, complete with a boob hanging on each side of it. (Lovely mental picture, no?) Of course I realize this means that I have absolutely no base of support in my leg and that my core strength is non-existent. Sigh. Guess I'd better see when the local Y is offering their Pilates classes...
Rich Fellers and Flexible winning the 2012 Rolex World Cup Finals
So the position still feels wrong, but it sounds more like the classic, George-Morris- advocated forward seat. The way she has me bending Sug feels odd as well. She has me really using the inside rein to pull Sug's head around to get more of a bend, and I was always taught to turn more off the legs and less off the hands. She's asking me to do things this way because she feels Sug is stiff through the neck and she's asking me to exaggerate the bend, but that brings me to the thing that really concerns me: Sug seems as uncomfortable in the new situation as I do. Where before she'd round her back and move forward onto the bit in a relaxed way, now she goes with her back inverted and head in the air and just feels uncomfortable and tense
T2 has me riding with my hands much higher and in front of the withers, and I do see where it's correct and it does look like there's a straight line from hand to bit. I also think of all the George Morris videos and clinics I've watched where he stresses never lowering the hands, especially if the horse fights the contact. And I know that others have occasionally told me to get my hands "out of my lap" before, so I can accept that this is a valid criticism. The part that confuses me is that Sug never had a problem with taking contact before. I'd always thought it felt as though she had 3-5 pounds of contact in my hands. Now it feels like we have no contact. I know that GM advocates continuing to keep your hands high and pushing through from your legs waiting the horse out, but I'm riding like this as consistently as I can now and Sug has yet to drop her head and round up for me.
So while it seems like things are getting better in some respects, I'm still on-the-fence about others. I can absolutely accept that I'm not the world's best rider and have bad habits and that I need a ton of help, but again, trainers like Bernie Traurig, Eric Horgan, and Jeff Cook never made as many corrections when I rode with them. (In Bernie and Jeff's case that could be because they only had me for 3 days at a time and they decided there was only so much they could do in that short timeframe. Eric's seen me multiple times, and has no compunction about telling a rider if something's amiss, so hence my confusion).
I can see T2 is having a VERY positive effect on the kids, so I feel I have to believe she has a lot to offer me. I do also recognize that Sug could be feeling tense and unhappy because things are different and difficult for her, and not because the change is harming or hurting her in any way.
So I guess the upshot of this update is that there has been slight improvement, but still not enough experience to say, "Yeah, this is gonna be great!" or "Nope, this is not a fit for us and it's time to move on." So I guess we're gonna keep at it for the foreseeable future unless something changes drastically.
If you've managed to stay with me all the way through this, God love ya! You are a tremendously patient soul, and I thank you. If you have any insights to offer, please feel free to do so, even if it's to tell me to "Suck it up, Buttercup!"
Hope all is well in your world and thanks for sharing mine with me!