So last week sucked.
Nautica and I got maybe two rides in total over a seven day period, three days down from our new five-a-week average. Both of our twice-weekly lessons had been canceled due to weather concerns and I was becoming frustrated. Anyone who lives in the southeastern United States will attest to the fact that the entire region is now entirely submerged under water as it has been raining steadily and relentlessly for an entire month. Despite our barn having a covered arena, the storms and lightning were the major factor this past week and they have gone on almost every day.
Out of our two rides one was walk-only, which only added to my disappointed state. This week it felt as if we had accomplished nothing.
Looking back, I didn’t really need to be that dramatic.
During our two “didn’t accomplish anything” rides, we did actually end up working on a few regular-horse things that were well overdue for addressing. For starters, we worked a good bit on mounting at the block.
Mounting isn’t something I typically focus a lot of attention on. In reality, how a horse behaves during mounting can really can set the tone of the entire ride. Having been a saddleseat show horse, Nautica’s mounting skills were… acceptable for what he was at the time. Nautica would often require a circle or two around the mounting block to settle in and get still, and most times I would end up accommodating his behavior, dragging the block over to him. That’s when I would hurriedly hike on up there just in time to swing a leg over, gather my reins and find a single stirrup before being jig-walked off with down the arena rail. Obviously, that is no longer acceptable. “You’re 12 years old, dude. Time to grow up.”
So we worked on mounting.
A recurring theme I’ve encountered in my lessons is that I need to start expecting more out of Nautica. My expectations should be realistic but still challenging. I honestly believe Nautica can handle standing at the mounting block like a normal, civilized animal, even if he acts like that is the worst thing I have ever asked him to do in his life.
It took 10 minutes to convince this horse that he could line himself up to the mounting block and stand there relatively quietly while I waited for him on the steps. What a poor baby! He wasn’t exactly being rude about the whole process, but he wasn’t being patient either. Typical clueless, happy-go-lucky gelding brain. Obviously, the rest of the process went about as one would expect. This is something we will be working on every day for a while.
Moving on. During our walk-only ride, we worked on walking, obviously.
Oh my gosh this horse has a nice walk! It’s probably his best gait. There’s a popular phrase in dressage that goes something along the lines of “you can’t fix a bad walk or a bad canter; you can only improve them.” Unlike in the trot, rhythm issues found in the walk and canter are often very difficult to correct. Nautica, thankfully, has a beautiful walk. It is naturally swinging, effortless and not at all lateral (a huge issue found among ex-show horses and some gaited breeds.) Note, I say all of this with the disclaimer that we are months away from attempting any kind of collection in any of the gaits, so we will see about that when we get there…
Anyway, Nautica’s walk is currently the highlight of our rides, and, believe it or not, his canter isn’t that bad either. Despite my griping about Nautica’s long-lost canter, his issues are due to hind leg weakness and not at all related to lack of suspension. In between all of the rough, rushed strides and falling in on a circle, he does have a very clear, three-beat canter with plenty of “jump,” which is yet another relief for me as we continue on in his training.
So despite my crappy week and my initial gloomy feelings towards riding in general, Nautica and I were able to work on some basic tasks and skills that will only help build on to our dressage training program. I was able to reflect on some of Nautica’s natural talents and also appreciate how lucky I am that we will not have to spend too much time focusing on any major gait quality issues. It was a rough few days but some good came out of it. Here’s to hoping this week goes better!