I admit that I've totally sucked at keeping to my riding plan so far this month. Part of it has been the cold, part of it has been the fact that it's December and there are all the Christmassy things that need to be done, and part of it has been a severe lack of motivation on my part. The cold part is now taken care of, the Christmassy things are done, and Jane Savoie's Choose Your Own Riding Adventure program (see my last blog post for details) has fixed my motivational problem. Also I have another lesson tomorrow, and it's possible that I need to practice...ahem...
Last night, I finally made it out to the barn for some actual riding. Not dropping off feed, not doing a mash to keep the pony hydrated, and not just a quick drive by to make sure all four legs are still functional. And it was great. It was mostly great because it was still 60 degrees at 5 pm, but it was also great because I rode. I did not wander aimlessly around while lecturing myself about being more disciplined, which happens more than I care to think about.
Because there was still a little light left, I decided to do my warm-up by walking along the road that runs through the farm. It was pretty muddy from all the rain, sleet, hail, snow, and other God-forsaken frozen and wet crap that has been falling on us all month, but I figured that would just inspire my horse to pay attention to where his feet were. This strategy actually worked pretty well...sort of.
Nimo started off just sort of plodding along on a loose rein and my mind was wandering a bit while I started the mental decompression that is necessary for me to be able to focus on riding. And then...the spin-and-bolt. Except it really was not Nimo's best work. I think he caught sight of a small white sign on a fence that has always been there, but I know things look different at dusk, so obviously it had gone from an innocent white sign just hanging out to an evil, alien, horse-eating sign that could spring into action at any moment. Anyway, he didn't even manage a full 180 degree turn and the bolt only lasted for 2 strides. If I were rating it, it would have gotten a 3 out of 10. I think the mud slowed him down and he decided it just wasn't worth the effort. His walk was definitely more forward after that, though, so mission accomplished with the warm-up:)
If possible, I try to do both my walking warm-up and cool-down for arena work outside the arena. I feel like I get a more active walk out of the arena and then a good chunk of the ride is out of the arena too, so it kind of breaks things up. I'm not yet brave enough to do the cool-down in the dark, but I think we can handle warm-ups at dusk.
Anyway, once in the arena, I did end up contending with a couple of hunter riders getting a lesson. The arena is huge, so there is plenty of space, but there were quite a few jumps to work around, too, so I ended up having to improvise a little more than I wanted to with my ride. I had intended to revisit the things we'd done at my last lesson: spiral-in/spiral-out on a circle at the trot, 3-loop serpentines in counter-bend, and drifting toward the rail from the quarter line at the canter. But, I had a little trouble staying out of the way of the lesson and working in the areas of the arena that had the most space for the work I wanted to do. So, I settled on doing halt/sitting trot/halt transitions, trot lengthenings, leg yields, shoulder-in, haunches-in, and a little counter-flexion work at the trot. I also threw in some canter transitions and even got a halfway decent walk to canter transition on the right lead (Nimo's easiest lead right now), but I felt like I never quite got to the balance that I'd had during the lesson.
At the end of a ride, particularly one involving a lot of lateral work and sitting trot, I like to do at least a few minutes of working trot on a loose rein. I think it helps loosen up any muscles that have tightened because of the focused work, and it helps me assess the success of my ride. A swinging, consistent, forward, and balanced trot tells me we did the work correctly. Last night, I got a very forward and energetic trot that lacked a little consistency (there were some minor changes in rhythm and speed) that was a little too on-the-forehand. That tells me why my canter didn't feel like it should have. We got the forward part of the equation down, but we needed to get more weight on the hindquarters and work on balance a little more. I think a little more counter-flexion work would have helped and doing some spiral-in/spiral-out circles would have been good too. But it just wasn't in the cards last night. What was important is that we did work and had a few really nice movements or transitions.