Today was a very full day.
First, I met up with Barb Thelan for lunch and we caught up on all sorts of sidesaddle gossip. Our goal for the year is to see how many sidesaddle demos we can arrange for some local 4-H and youth groups. While it was beautiful and sunny when we entered the Tavern, by the time we finished cold grey weather had started moving in. As I left I gave a brief thought of heading home instead of to the barn, but I told myself that lead changes don't fix themselves so I made myself turn north instead of south on the appropriate road.
When I reached the barn, Cressie was standing around in her loafing shed, so I pounced on her and dragged her to the crossties. She tried a little hissy stuff as I tacked up, and she was less than thrilled when I fiddled with her martingale. Cressie needs a martingale for safety's sake, since she has a terrible bucking habit. Wait a minute, you're thinking...why would you tie down a horse's head for bucking? Cressie is a conundrum, because just before she bucks she throws her head up and elevates her forehand, as if she were fixing to rear. So, what does a rider do but ease up on her head and lean forward a bit...at which point she leaps up and pulls a buck'n'spin, leaving the rider deposited on the ground. Fortunately, she has yet to throw me. So, I adjust the martingale loose enough so that even if she stargazes it won't affect her but if she starts to go up it kicks in. Once again, I used my beat up wintec to ride in, and she was tolerable. First I just did some circles in the paddock before heading out to the pasture; I still don't trust her enough to ride in the open yet. We did some basic work, as well as a little bit of canter on the right lead, which was very nice indeed. She still won't pick up her left lead except by turning her head to the outside, and since bending left is such a problem for her I don't want to ask for a counter bend for any purpose whatsoever lest I reinforce her behavior.
I was extremely sore when I dismounted...she is appallingly wide, which leaves me feeling as if I'd been trying to do splits.
It still wasn't dark and it was just beginning to snow when I got my hands on Owen. He managed to somehow get covered in dried clay since yesterday, and I discovered what could have been a potential problem. He kept pinning his ears, very unlike him, and after some gentle probing I found a cockle burr lodged inside his right ear. It was extremely difficult to remove, and for a frightening bit I was thinking I might have to sedate him to remove it lest I keep pushing it deeper into his ear canal, him trying to throw his head around the whole time. In the end I had a bit of an inspiration and donned a pair of knitted wool gloves and reached into his ear; the wool nicely snagged the burrs and I was able to gently extract it. He is an endless source of trouble.
I threw the manorgrove on him, and found that somehow during the previous 6 months I had managed to forget how to tack up a sidesaddle. It took me a little bit to remember about the appropriate girth and balance girth. I couldn't find my favorite girth to use, so I had to make due with a 50", which is a bit on the large side, but I made it work any how.
I did remember to to stretch before mounting, but I then performed what has to be the most inelegant mount up ever...first the saddle went lurching over to the right side, then I forgot what body part went where and in which sequence. I also discovered that my newly fused neck won't let me look down as well and I was unable to see my billets when I tightened the girth; this coupled with thick winter gloves made drawing up the girth a challenging and somewhat overlong affair.
Some of the ring had thawed, so I was able to use about 50% and when I strayed into the still white covered areas I could hear Owen's feet crunching through ice. His canter work was much better today, and while he still tried to avoid carrying his weight correctly he was much lighter in the bridle. I also remembered to use my crafty rubber stop reins to test them and found they made a tremendous difference in my holding the reins. Since I was able to hold the reins consistently, Owen was more consistent as well. We started out with the long and loose stuff and moved on to canter work and flying changes. I returned to my favorite schooling method of asking for tempi changes on a 15 meter circle. Owen never missed a change, but they weren't terribly impressive in that he was making them far too quickly and landed out of balance. I discovered that my hiatus, while miserable for me, has had some real benefits, and one of those is an increased sensitivity to Owen and what he is doing. It became obvious to me that if the change was too quick and he landed heavily it was because he was swapping front to back rather than vice versa. So, if at any point he became tense in the canter I halted him and did my little leg yield to the outside trick before moving on. Very quickly Owen began to associate my inside half halt with a cue to move his haunches out slightly and step under himself, thus lightening the forehand. Only when Owen was calm did I ask for a change.
I discovered a little trick with him today. Instead of increasing the intensity of my aids to change leads I prepared him with a few gentle whip taps before asking. At first these taps confused Owen and caused him to get too strong in the bridle, so I returned to the stop and sidepass exercise. Eventually he realized that I was alerting him to an upcoming change and he would gather himself on his hocks and spring from behind when I finally asked. We eventually were able to do changes every four strides on the circle, tho' when I tried to ride them in a straight line he returned to dropping his back and diving in front, so those will have to wait for another day.
I also discovered that all of those positional things we are taught about sidesaddle equitation do not work in every situation. If I hold my hands low when I ride aside, I end up breaking the essential straight line to the bit downward, which destroys contact. Owen just holds his head too high for that to work, and I suspect it's the same in other upheaded breeds. I found that raising them makes him much happier, and that in the piaffe, passage, and extended trot I almost needed to think about riding saddle seat to get him to use his back correctly. In fact, I discovered that during the passage I would get the most floating steps when I sat with my hands in my lap like some Sunday passenger in the park.
I was working on the piaffe/passage tour from the I-2 test (which oddly enough, is more difficult than the GP test; 90 degree turn in the passage followed by transition to extended walk....are you kidding me?!), when a small herd of deer came crashing out of the woods down the embankment at M, where they gracefully loped across the arena before hopping out at H. This was too much for Owen, who was headed toward them at X at the time, and he spun like a cat to the left, nearly unseating me and causing me to grab his mane with one hand to keep my position. But within a few steps I'd once again secured my position and immediately took up the contact and forced him back into the passage, despite the deer watching us from just outside the ring. I must say, the new passage had a lovely brilliance and expression to it that it had lacked heretofore.
I am cautiously optimistic that this may be the year we smash the glass ceiling that has existed between us and FEI.
I'm sore, but not in the manner you might think because when I returned home I drew a nice hot bath to soak in. But the second my bare behind hit the water I leaped up from the tub like a wet cat...it seems that years of riding had given me, well, a hard ass and riding today in full seat breeches and a saddle with a grippy suede seat had taken off a small layer of epidermis...and when I touched that hot water, OW!
We all hear about sidesaddles causing galls, but I just didn't expect them on me!