I feel as if Cricket and I are on an upward spiral. For the first time in a very long time. I think a lot of things have contributed to our recent success: the support of good friends, the change in my awareness and balance through Pilates and the consistency of time spent with my horse.
I was a little nervous going out last night. Just what if Wednesday was a bit of a fluke? What if my nerves and ego get in the way and I try to force it and ruin everything I've gained? It is very hard for me to tame the "what ifs."
When I arrived at the arena, there were two other people riding. I pulled out my gear and went to get Cricket. She was happy to see me which made me feel better.
We started with our circle and it wasn't very good. She was lackadaisical in her transitions and unwilling to maintain gait. I think she felt my lack of commitment. I really wanted to get to riding and prove that Wednesday wasn't an accident.
After a short warm-up I put Cricket on the question box pattern. I started with the walk and then the trot, making sure she understood what I wanted and allowing her to dwell and lick and chew in the question box. The first time or two I asked for the canter, she wasn't with me. I think that was the best thing that could have happened. It helped me refocus on us and just go with her. Once she picked up the canter she was fantastic. I think we did two trot to canter and stop laps and then about six laps alternating between trot and canter. I actually let go with both hands and just rode my horse in a freestyle canter!
Things got a little rocky when I turned her around to work on the left lead. Historically we have more emotional brace to the left. As I reflect on it, I can see how I set her up for failure by anticipating it to be worse. I need to let those thoughts go and just ride whatever happens.
We started to the left the same way we've been doing the pattern to the right: at the walk and trot, checking her attentiveness and allowing dwell time in the box. When I moved to the canter, she picked it up the second or third time I asked. Oh, I felt all over the map. I wasn't relaxed and it felt slightly out of control. We stopped in the box and dwelled. The next time I asked for the canter the upward transition was better but I just wasn't with her and I brought her back down before we got back to the box.
I decided that was enough. I set out to trot some relaxed circles. She broke into the left lead canter and it actually became very soft and I decided to just relax into it and allow her to finish at the canter. We stopped and she licked and chewed. How could I possibly be upset with that?!
We dwelled inside one of the circles while someone else rode the pattern. Finally we dismounted and I untacked her, put her away and fed all the boarder horses.
I stayed to watch the other rider. On the surface it was good stuff. The horse was cantering around bridle-less with only a carrot stick and a neck string. He was hitting his leads about 95% of the time, cantering circles and doing some simple changes. I wondered if my little program of canter transitions was really the best approach. And then I realized how the rider was not pleased and the horse never licked and chewed. I thought about how on one of my canter circles Cricket actually shook her neck and blew out some adrenaline. And right then I knew that what I was doing was right, at least for me. Cricket is offering a relaxed canter and she's fully involved in the process. It is the transition work that will improve her canter, not the cantering itself.
Onward and upward!