So you may have figured out by now, I was raised in the west (in fact, to me anything east of the Mississippi is the East, and Kansas is the midwest. Drives J batshit). I have traveled east of the Mississippi four times in my life, one of those times to go to Disney World. My life has been filled with wide open spaces and western riding where horses were concerned.
So, why didn't I choose to go western with Ashke? Honestly, first I wanted to be "The Man From Snowy River". I have the hat (purchased before the thought of helmets entered my mind), the duster (also purchased years ago) and I started with an Aussie saddle. The vision of me, long bull whip in hand (yeah, that would never have happened with Ashke - can you say rodeo horse?) chasing wild horses down a vertically challenging drop, whip cracking above our heads was fun while it lasted. Alas. . . .
Something happened. My Aussie hat was replaced with a helmet, my jeans were swapped for a pair of riding breeches, I got half-chaps, Arait work/riding boots and a PRESTIGE English Trekking saddle. Add to that, my primary riding companion rides English/Dressage and has been a wonderful/horrible influence, depending on your opinion of Western riding. Am I unhappy about my conversion to English/Dressage riding style? No, because honestly I hate western saddles. They are heavy, bulky, rub massive bruises into my knees and thighs, plus the fenders and stirrups but undue pressure on my knees. Of course, on the other hand, I don't think I would have felt secure in the little postcard saddles English riders dub endurance. The Trekkerland seems perfect for me, giving a great combination of light weight and deep seat. I have ridden several sudden sideways movements without coming close to losing my seat. And Ashke seems to love it. We are no longer having issues with his back.
So, back to the western riding thing. The last time I had a horse, most of my time riding was spent holding on, trail riding long distances and trying to figure out how to deal with the psychoticness of my horse, all in an Aussie saddle. (Nice word, huh?) Before that, very few people rode English in 4-H. And I didn't have a saddle, except the one we borrowed to show in. All of my other riding - posse work, patterns, roping, and chasing cows was done in a western saddle. I had never attempted to ride English.
Enter Ashke and N. And the blog world. Most of the blogs I follow are English Hunter/Jumper or English Dressage blogs and use terms I'm not really familiar with. One of the things N said to me months ago was to anchor the outside rein and bump him into it with my inside leg. I interpreted that to mean, tie the outside rein really tight to the edge of the saddle and don't let go, right? I mean an anchor point is something unmoveable and set. I left the inside rein relatively loose and then expected him to bend and flex to the inside. However, the way I have been riding has had the effect of forcing his head to the outside when we trot and try to canter, counterflexing and taking away any bend.
Poor Ashke. No wonder he has been so frustrated with me and not understanding what I want from him. Since I put the martingale back on, I have been riding a lot with one hand. You can't anchor the outside rein when you are holding the reins in one hand. I discovered last night, when trotting, that I should keep the inside rein a little snugger, so his neck flexes to the inside (Cassandra had mentioned that he counterflexes. Now we know why. Stupid rider.) My outside rein kept light but constant contact with his mouth, and when I applied a little bit of calf pressure to Ashke's barrel, he flexed around my leg and bent to the inside.
Light bulb moment.
His trot was awesome and he could shift away from leg pressure in either direction just by my shifting my weight. Then we tried the canter. So much more balanced and collected, moving nicely with me, still bending to the inside of our circle. I felt so stupid. I know now that I've been pulling him off balance and making things so much harder on him, just because I had no idea what N really meant when she told me to do things. After our first serious canter, I told her what I had discovered and then she demonstrated what she meant. Going forward, if I hear something new, I'm asking her to show me, rather than me interpret what I think she means.
Our canter to the right was solid and much better than last night. It was still harder than to the left, but much better now that I am allowing Ashke to bend to the inside. He stumbled at one point (I knew he was getting tired - he struggles to find energy in the indoor arena) and instead of letting him stop, I immediately asked him to pick up a right lead canter. We've always stopped at that point, but this time I didn't let him. Don't want to encourage him avoiding work that way. He didn't stumble again.We ended the night with 7 - 8 circuits in both directions at a canter, part of which I rode while still hanging on. I told N afterwards, feeling ashamed and stupid, but she reminded me that we do what we had to until we don't need to do it again. We are getting closer though, and I can see in the progress that N and Cali are making, the value of working Ashke in the arena.
We finished up with some turns on the forehand and then turns on his haunches. He did great. Just such an awesome boy and he's going to be so much happier now that I have hauled my head out of my ass.