I’ve been working my fingers off on Heaven and Earth: Mass on the Celtic Journey, and the first (of two) performances is tomorrow. Rehearsal last night went better than I ever expected, and because I’m feeling ready for the show I decided that I would forego practice tonight in favour of de-stressing sans kids out at the barn.
Since my last ride I’ve been thinking about upping the ante and working on cantering. Chroi has been responsive and soft and I had a feeling she’d step out into a nice canter if I prepped well and gave a good, clear cue.
Boy was I ever living in a fantasy land.
Expecting too much
The sheer reality of it is that I’ve only put in 5 rides on her, and she’s spring green. So although she’s got solid basics (saddling, bridling, accepting a rider, moving off from a leg cue, turning off direct rein cue, trotting, halting, backing), I was expecting more of her than she was ready to give. I wanted a clean, light, willing canter transition and then to sustain the gait.
To top it all off she wasn’t ready or willing to respond to rein at the canter. She demonstrated it loudly and clearly by running me into the fence as I was pulling on her mouth in an attempt to ask her to turn.
So, yeah, I had all the warm fuzzies about cantering off into the sunset and instead we crashed and burned.
The lessons I learned
It’s okay to crash and burn sometimes- it lets us know where we need to focus our attention, where we can improve, where our limits are. Knowing that is a big part of growing and learning. So what did I learn? Where do I go from here?
Know when to quit.
After our first attempt to canter I tried again. I won’t give up after only one try, but I should have quit after the second. I tried a third and got run broadside into the fence. And I would have tried yet again, if I hadn’t finally listened to a voice inside of me that told me that this was not the way; that I’d only escalate the situation, potentially until someone got hurt; that I wasn’t going to end on a positive note at the canter, it just wasn’t going to happen because Chroi couldn’t do it.
Take it down a notch. Or several.
Oh my goodness did my ego ever fight me on it. “We can get this,” whispered my ego in a seductive voice, “just push a little harder, make that horse work for you, don’t let her get away with it!” Ah ego, thanks for the bravery you lend me, to stretch my limits and boundaries. But rationality and compassion prevailed. Chroi was sweating and tired and I couldn’t push her. In the state she was in I’d never teach her a damn thing, I’d never accomplish anything worthwhile.
We walked to cool down, and before I dismounted I asked her for even one small turn on the hindquarters. She obliged, just reinforcing to me that she’s a good and responsive horse when I’m asking clearly and when she understands what I’m asking.
Listen to the horse.
Horses are pretty darn clear communicators. They show us everything. Chroi clearly showed me that cantering was more than she was prepared to do. Everything about horses comes down to communication, and maybe “communication” most often means you listen to the horse more than you talk to her.
Maybe she knew what I wanted and she was just being a stubborn ass.
Or perhaps it was that she’s not been properly trained to transition to canter, and didn’t understand what I wanted.
Or perhaps I wasn’t clear in my request so she thought it would be totally cool to speed-trot me into the rail.
Whatever the reason, our canter failure was ultimately a failure of communication. It was a failure on my part to listen to her when she told me, loud and clear, Not Today!
For her part, Chroi shut down on me when I pushed her to canter. She stopped listening. She may have been frustrated, pushed beyond her limits. She may have been a stubborn ass. Regardless, the bottom line is that it just didn’t work.
When that happens, all progress ceases. How you choose to respond, then, is important.
After cooling down and re-establishing connection we went and untacked, and I sat at the table in the grooming area for a while letting my mind wander and chew on my feelings. I felt sad. Frustrated. Discouraged.
Back to Basics
It will be back to basics for us for a while. I’m terrified of ruining Chroi’s soft mouth by hanging off of it to keep her under control. I also will spend more time working on getting her hindquarters responsive and engaged, working on basic rhythm (getting an even and consistent tempo while moving), and of course communication.
How am I going to do that?
Riding circles at the walk and trot.
Halting and backing.
I hit a wall, but all that means is that I choose a different way.