Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Constructive Mindset

Trotting at Karen O'Neal clinic, 4/19/09

I've been thinking a little bit about what you can do when you ride with a constructive mindset.

Tuesday evening, it was raining hard. In the arena, it sounds loud, no matter how lightly the rain is falling. Pandora had some extra 'go.'

Normally my warmup is pretty relaxed. Walk a little, trot a little, bend a little. This time I decided I needed something to focus on. We started walking serpentines. On the straightaway, I insisted on, well, straightness. Even weight in both reins, even feel between the legs: straight.

It was harder than it sounds.

It felt like she was a pinball going back and forth, almost bouncing between the reins. After a few loops, she understood, and settled in nicely straight. I requested a forward, marching walk -- come on, girl, let's act like we have somewhere to be!

When we picked up the trot, she was feeling the Thoroughbred half of her breeding. That is, she was Forward. More so than she usually is, and more so than I'm usually comfortable riding. I tend to be a little bit of a control freak, because I had so little in the way of half-halts and speed control on my first horse. With Pandora, simply because I can control her momentum with half-halts, I do it too much.

But this time I decided to work with what she gave me. I took that energy and said, "Okay -- let's go." I asked for a big, powerful trot, then asked her to come back to me and compress her stride. I insisted on correct bend. I would push her forward through the corner, accelerate, then come back. We did some leg yields. When we picked up the canter to the good direction, she powered right into it. To the left was still a bit unbalanced, but I'll take what I can get.

The most important part of this was that I came into the ride with a constructive mindset. Sure, she was a little hot, and maybe she wasn't too focused when I mounted up. But I took what I had and I decided I would do something with it -- so we had a really nice ride.

It's important to me to take some benefit out of every ride, no matter how many things didn't go as planned.

I applied the same concept to a clinic I rode in this weekend.

We ended up spending two and a half hours in the saddle - probably an hour and a half in the arena, then another hour on cross country. The arena is beach sand. Lovely and soft, sure. But have you ever gone running on sand? It's hard work.

So I was already stressed about the demands on Pandora's fitness. I know, I worry too much, she's half TB anyway. But that made me a little tense to start with.

Then we rode forever and ever and ever. The clinician was great and had some really good advice, but sometimes it was unclear when we could give our horses a break and when we should keep going.

THEN we went outside. Between struggling to keep a tired Pandora up off her forehand, fighting with her about adequate brakes, and a little confusion about what exercise we were doing, I got pretty frustrated. I did keep my mouth shut and do what I was told, because the way I see it, you go to a clinic to learn, not to argue. ESPECIALLY not to complain that you're tired and so is your horse.

So I kept at it. And you know what? I got some really valuable lessons out of it. Towards the middle of the XC session, I finally understood what she was trying to get me to do with my hands and seat at the base of the fence (I was dropping Pandora, again, sigh). When I started riding right, Pandora started going very very well, as usual.

I found that, even after 2 hours of hard riding in the heat, when I was exhausted and my horse was pretty tired, I could still get around a course of obstacles without Pandora falling on her forehand -- provided I rode correctly.

That is GOOD knowledge to have. That means that when we've been riding for an hour, I know better than to think 'Oh, she's so tired, it'll be impossible to jump without falling on the forehand!'

Nuh uh. I need to start asking more of her. This is a big weakness of mine. I just don't push hard enough.

Anyway, I just wanted to get that out there. There's always a valuable lesson out there, even if you're hot and sweaty and grumpy and tired ;)


Leah Fry said...

A valuable lesson in not tossing the baby with the bath water if things don't go as planned.

I covet the fabulous covered arena!

Andrea said...

Man I wish my rides on Gogo worked the same way! I always go in with a constructive mindset, but I have to work with what she's giving me and develop it quietly from there on our. Insisting she do X or Y never, ever works with her. You have to convince her to do X or Y, and then she'll do X or Y on her own with fluidity and grace.

There's always a valuable lesson in everything we do. But man, that sounds like hell riding and riding and riding like that!

manymisadventures said...

Ha. Andrea, you're right- I guess I should have added a caveat about vigorously opinionated horses ;)

I was miserable by the end. But, after I had a shower and a good night's sleep, I was a lot more cheerful about the whole ordeal!

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