Nov 19 / Hanging on the bit and dropping his head

Friday, November 19, 2010

I got the video of my ride on Willie at Morven before his last competition which was at Rubicon. As I watched it, it occurred to me that I over reacted to the fact that I couldn’t keep hold of the left rein. This made Willie pull harder. I could clearly see that what I should have done is just dropped him. If I hadn’t given him something to pull on, he couldn’t have pulled. He would have been responsible for carrying the both of us and I wouldn’t have had to imitate Gumby. My mistake, but I think the fact that I didn’t have much use of the left rein made this pulling situation very clear to me.

So, fast forward to Rubicon. I was tired and looking forward to the end of competitions for the year. I had backed off of Willie considerably because I felt he needed a break. He had done a lot this year. The day before the event, I didn’t gallop him as usual. I was still on the take it easy thing. Oh, boy, that was a mistake.

I arrived at Morven with a completely fit, feeling good, ex racehorse. He was sharp. That’s how we describe a horse that’s in need of a race. He was.

It was blustery and cold and that made Willie feel all the better. One good thing I can note is that he was very happy to be there. So happy that when I got on him, he was a bear! He was ready. Ready for anything but dressage. “Are you kidding, Human? You want to do circle, circle now? I came here to run and jump!!”

Needless to say, warm up for dressage was exciting, but not fun. I dreaded the test. I knew it was going to be a stinker. Willie basically dragged me around the dressage arena with me hanging on his face to keep him in the dressage arena. I tried to soften when I could, but it was a horrible test that was horribly ridden. So much for all my dressage work. The score reflected that and I owned it. I haven’t learned how to ride a horse that “high” in the dressage. I know I’m missing something and plan to work on it this winter.

So show jumping. Willie was less than cooperative at first, but in his defense, I was not riding him assertively. He needs that. He took the first rail and I started riding him assertively and he started jumping great. No worries in show jumping. The answer is ride him assertively throughout the entire round. Relatively easy to fix.

I went to cross country nursing a grudge against Willie for the lack of cooperation in dressage. I had also made up my mind there would be no hanging on me today. I’m not here for you buddy. It’s your turn to be here for me!

I left the start box sending him. It wasn’t working out that well because he came up to fence 1 slowing with each stride and then bounded over it. I hate it when he does that. The second fence was the same. Then we went into a strip of woods where a galloping brush fence awaited. “You’ve got to get going, fella.” I did my Ned the Coachman imitation and he started picking it up. As we came out of the woods he searched for me to hang on and I dropped him. There was nothing there to hang on. The more he reached for me, the more I dropped him and I kicked.

I kicked him along and he was going. My goal was to come as close to minimum time as possible without going under. My other goal, NO Hanging on the reins. We never did a bank so easy. Up, u-turn, down. Willie started listening to me because I wasn’t there to hang on. When he’s hanging on me he’s not that responsive, I suppose because he has me where he wants me.

I was mad. I don’t lose my temper when I’m mad at my horses, but I was mad. As we galloped through the woods to make another u-turn, the footing was greasy. Again, Willie searched for me and he found me. I kicked him and told him to stand up. He grappled through the woods with no help from me, although I think it helped him more that he didn’t have me to hang on.

As we galloped along his head was about a foot from the ground. I told him I bet he was one of those racehorses that galloped with their head on the ground, which is fine at the track – there are no jumps to look out for. I told him he was going to be sorry because I knew there was a left turn coming to a good size log and then the dreaded water. He should be looking for these things, but he kept his head down.

As we turned left, Willie said Oh sh**, but he jumped the log. At that point I said, go ahead stop at the water. Then I can beat you for the horrible dressage test you gave me today. Willie wasted no time galloping through the water. I never even lifted the stick. Funny, sometimes I think they do understand our language.

We finished up four seconds over the minimum time. I left there a better rider than when I came. My most important thought was, how can I drop his head and ride him like that going cross country, but I hang all over his face in dressage? The one thing I do really well while galloping is relax. I mean totally relax. When the horse is being a jerk in dressage, I tense up. This is the thing I need to master over the winter. Ride show jumping and dressage with the same suppleness in my body I have in galloping.

Oh, the other lesson – I already knew – I dropped his head and he didn’t run off. To the contrary, he was much more receptive and easier to ride.