How I Embrace the Positive Elements of Each Ride

DT Adult Amateur rider and blogger Carolyn Healy shares her recent exercise to help her focus on the good in every ride.
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I did start one (hopefully positive) habit this New Year, in which after every ride I come home and record some thoughts on a Post-IT note. (3M thanks me for my business!) I write down three things that went well and three things that need some work. I am hoping that when I look back over these at some point, I’ll feel a sense of achievement.

carolyn healy and gem trot diagonal

The last day I rode ‘properly’ was in January (Due to various reasons. Read on for details.) and my note reads as follows:

Things I Liked:

1. Working on a large oval, with the center in the middle of the arena, we worked on walk to true canter, then back to walk, followed by counter canter, back to walk and then back to the true canter. We repeated the exercise between the true and counter canters. The walk and the canters were for about a quarter of the large oval each.

2. Next, we continued on from Exercise 1 and rather than have the walk transition between the canters, we replaced it with a flying change. So it was true canter for a quarter of the oval, flying change, counter canter for a quarter of the oval, flying change and repeat. These just felt incredibly awesome. This was not an exercise we had ever tried before, or that I had ever tried in my riding career.

3. I had a "lightbulb" moment, during the first exercise where my confidence kicked in and everything just seemed more possible, simpler and more relaxed. It was as though the inner rider in me had turned up. Finally!

4. We then worked large in the arena in counter canter and had a beautiful long side into the corner, short side, corner and then back along the long side.

Things To Work On: 

(Notice that the title of this list is positive and doesn’t say “Disliked,” “Didn’t like” or anything that I swing to more naturally with a negative connotation.)

1. Achieving that "simple" feeling more often.

2. Work on Exercises 1 and 2 in the “Liked” category more often.

Clearly, I had such a good ride that there was one extra point in the “Liked” section and one less point in the “To Work On” section.

I am still trying to hang on to the feeling that developed part way through that last magical-feeling ride, where I felt more present—less like a passenger and more like a rider. During the holiday season, I had managed to ride far more regularly than normal. 

This made me wonder, if I do get to ride more regularly, whether this feeling will be more accessible more often? I think this really is the key—the frequency. It was as though some kind of veil engulfed us and I suddenly grew confident in my riding skills, everything softened and we had the most wondrous feeling during the next set of exercises. 

My super coach advises that Exercise 2 in my ‘Things I Liked’ section helps with the preparation for half-passes and also eventually canter pirouettes. The pirouette is not a movement I have ever ridden as of yet in my rider education at the canter. Hopefully, they will come a little easier than the flying changes, of which it has been said that there should be a self-help group for people learning flying changes for the first time. I am in complete agreement with this suggestion as it was tough and painful and sometimes even now, I can’t figure out what has happened underneath me—but I know the key is to keep going regardless and then figure it out!

At this point in the year, I haven’t sat down with myself yet and spent some dedicated time thinking about 2020 riding goals. Maybe it’s the not-so-enticing chilly weather here in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and the large snowstorm currently occurring and the impending shovelling? Or perhaps the thought—given last year’s goals didn’t work out too well—I wonder if there is even any point to the exercise of developing goals? After writing about all things related to progress with horses being non-linear in the last blog, my horse decided to reinforce that for me by sustaining a minor injury, so we are in slow and steady rehab mode right now but I will plan for the year regardless! It just may be a few months before I can start on these plans in earnest and I probably should establish plan versions A through to Z, as I will most likely need them!

So far, here are my goals for the coming year:

• Ride a minimum of 5 minutes of sitting trot work at some point in each ride, after the horse is fully warmed up.

• I tend to need a lot of breaks and I plan to push the warm-up so that the taking of a break is at a minimum only after 5 minutes for a number of rides. If the 5 minutes is working, extend this to 6 minutes for several rides, 7 minutes and so on.

• Ride for 5 minutes each ride without stirrups, if it is safe to do so—not so much recommended on days when whizzy, whizzy snow is falling off the arena roof.

• Work on transitions and finding the gears within the gates in walk, then trot and followed by canter. This is the infamous rubber-band exercise. I’ve also ridden a similar version counting strides between letters/markers around the arena. You start with a working gait and count how many strides you fit between the markers. Then, you repeat the exercise and try and do it in more strides and then fewer strides.

• Try to achieve that "surge-forward" feeling in the trot and canter, working on the gears within the gaits. In trot I find this a little easier and in canter we tend to get a little stuck.

• Aim for one clean flying change in each direction at least every fourth ride. I’ve made it the fourth ride as we might not always be working on flying changes every ride. As I do this, I will try to ride with purpose in my body, legs out in front of me and keep going whatever happens.

• Work on the leg yields in walk, then trot, then canter, to the right, to try and make them more symmetrical. To the left, I find it much more natural. Aim to get the same level of parallelism to the left and to the right. Reach the targeted letter from the quarter line, and then from the centre line.

I’ll keep you posted with how all of this works out!

Click here to read more blogs from Canadian Adult Amateur Carolyn Healy! 

carolyn healy and gem

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