I have a couple of adages that I ride and live by. One is ‘the slower you go, the faster you get there.’ Another is ‘the more you do, the more you do.’ I’m not a bold and brash rider. It’s all too easy to stay in my comfort zone. Nothing should be wrong with that, why not do what makes you feel safe and satisfied? The problem is that I’ve found that the less I do with my horse, the less I can do with him. If you stay in that comfort zone, it shrinks.
If I stay in the indoor arena day after day (I have plenty of excuses to do that – heat, bugs, footing, rain, the time it takes to do anything else) then when I do want to go out for a trail ride, Tonka is more “looky” and I’m less confident. Recently, Tonka hadn’t wanted to venture out past the last paddock towards the woods. Even though he’s absolutely relaxed in his own turnout, when I rode him down that exact same lane to circumnavigate the farm, Tonka got anxious. There are other places to walk on the farm and it’d be easy to not go there, but the access to the trails is just beyond the paddocks. If I didn’t put in the effort to overcome the worry, the option to trail ride right off the farm would be closed to us. So, I’ve been riding along the lanes, and before his anxiety escalates, we loop around and go back to the barn, then walk around again. Have a sugar cube. Walk with purposeful strides even closer to the woods. Settle and go back to the barn. Yesterday he was engaged and yet relaxed all the way out and back. We even trotted on the path between the fence and the forest.
While it’s too buggy (those mosquitos!) to go for a hack in the woods, this riding around the farm will keep our minds and bodies in shape for the trails later in the season. The more you do, the more you will be able to do.
Meanwhile, Tonka’s view from the paddock and stall, although quite pretty, is rather limited.
We’ve both been itching for some new experiences. I’ve also been in need of a dressage lesson. I heard about a trainer a few towns over, Laura Mitchell, and we made a date for a lesson.
Last Thursday I hitched up the trailer. Tonka was delighted to see it. He walked right in. I was happy to see this. Despite my years of experience hauling my horse, I’m always nervous before trailering him. All sorts of things could go wrong! Also, it’s a lot of work to deal with the truck and trailer and gear. I make excuses not to go. Seeing my horse cheerfully walk right on reminds me that the effort is worth it. The more you do, the more you will want to do.
Laura is an upper level dressage rider and has a reputation for being an excellent instructor. I was looking forward to having her eyes on my riding. But there was something else at her barn that I was eager for Tonka to experience. Laura has a pet pig, Archie. I’d heard stories of some horses having a hard time settling down in Archie’s presence. I set Tonka up for success. I told him that there was something around the corner.
He got a sniff and a look.
Tonka clearly said Let’s say hello!
Archie clicked his teeth at this bold horse, so I led Tonka away before the interaction could change from cheerful to challenging. Does meeting a pig help your riding? Absolutely! Having positive experiences with novel things makes both you and your horse optimistic that the world is a good place and that you should go out and see it. The more you do, the more interesting your world is!
Now we were ready to get to work.
Laura zeroed in on my need to use my seat aids more than my hands which is something I’ve been trying to do. She gave me specific instructions on when and how to either open or close my thighs in order to encourage or contain the energy coming from Tonka’s hind end. I’d been having difficulty with abrupt trot to canter to trot transitions. Following her advice made all of the difference!
We also practiced pieces of the dressage test that we will ride next Sunday.
The more you do, the more prepared you are to do more.
Yes, I’ve entered a show. It’s just a schooling show. I’m not sure that Tonka is physically ready for a recognized show. Although his SI issues are better, he’s a tad weak and gimpy in his right stifle. I might trailer him to the show but scratch from the class. Which would be fine. We can ride around there. I doubt there will be any pigs, but there’s sure to be something to expand our horizons. The more you do, the more you do, and the better your lives are for it!
Tonka agrees. Where to next?