Wednesday, January 8, 2014


When I rode on Monday night, one of the things we kind of struggled with was riding off the rail. On the rail, Ashke is a beast.  He moves with rhythm and purpose, is more willing to try a frame, and is in his groove (literally). Moving off the rail becomes an issue and we struggle. In part, we struggle because the footing is deep and wet and plain sand, all of which make moving difficult, partly because he understands what he's supposed to do when moving on the rail. He knows his job and he is predicting what will be asked of him. He has a routine and a plan.

Cassandra recognized that tonight in our lesson and told me to ride Chaos. Organized chaos.

Chaos is where you ride without a plan, doing small circle, serpentines, teardrops, straight aways, diagonals and weaving like a drunk sailor. It is designed to shake up the horse and encourage him to listen to me instead of predicting what I am going to ask him to do next. It also takes the rail away as a crutch for the rider. As the rider, the rail becomes part of the half-halt: inside leg to outside rail. When we move away from the rail and begin to work outside of a pattern, it forces both the horse to listen and react to the rider, as well as forces the rider to direct the horse. Chaos or undefined pattern, as it actually is, is much more difficult than riding an oval.

We did not do it well.

I do, however, see the benefits of the process. By the time we had been riding that way for fifteen minutes or so, I could feel when Ashke was feeling more confident, since he would really swing into the trot, usually when we were moving toward the rail. It was like he would see the rail and go "oh, look, I know what to do there. I know where to step and I can use the rail to help me balance." And he would become more balanced as we moved toward it. Then ragged again when we moved away.

It will be our homework for the next two weeks.

That and canter transitions. Yes, we cantered. Yes, I did a bit better. Ashke was much better. There was less struggle, but I still had to remember to breathe. He came right down to the trot when I asked. I think if we can do four trot-canter-trot transitions in each direction every time we ride for the next two weeks, we will be much better in our next lesson. My body is beginning to figure it out.

Although, I do look like a complete fruit loop, arms flapping and legs flailing. Cassandra wants me to lift him up with my heel at the canter, rather than jab my heel repeatedly into his flank. We want lift not speed. I don't know how the hell I'm supposed to do all of the miniscule muscle movements she's talking about and still stay on the horse.

I'm not so good at multitasking on horseback. She was telling me to do something and rather than assume I knew what the hell she was talking about, I stopped and asked her to show me what she meant. She did and I came away with good understanding, but it's still a struggle.

Western riding is not this damn complicated.


  1. Ah, the joys of riding off of the rail. Lily was a NIGHTMARE with this. I didn't really start being happy with stuff away from the rail until this past year. So it took a full year of dressage work to get her circles circular, her lines straight. It's hard, both for them and for us. So don't get frustrated; this is another of those things that just takes time to develop.

    With some of the smaller muscle movements, you can practice at home. If you have access to an exercise ball (the large ones that are often used for sitting on/ab work at gyms) you can straddle the thing between your knees, bending your knees slightly as if you were on a horse (this should absolutely not strain your back in any way) and practice some of the movements. Like cueing with your heel by sliding the heel up instead of kicking. Holding the ball between your calves and knees actually means you can't kick. The only way to cue is by standing on your two feet with the ball between your knees (Don't sit on it) and sliding one heel up. In this way you can create that muscle memory for later without having to worry about Ashke's movement underneath you. There are different things you can practice in this way as well, like how to place your body for more advanced lateral movements, etc. I used to be given homework to practice on the exercise ball. :)

    If you don't have one of these balls, they are fairly inexpensive. They are also called stability balls or balance balls. In your case with your back, I'd use the smaller size (55 cm) because it's easier to maneuver.

    Just an idea that worked for me that I think might work for you without stressing your back.

    Don't get frustrated; it WILL get better!

    1. Thanks for the tip on the exercise ball. We are going to the sporting goods store tonight to find a silk underlayer for the boy, so I will look at them there.

      I think that one of the things that will help me with my focus, is developing patterns for us to work on that aren't on the rail. One, the teardrop, will help us with working on our leg yields, and I think diagonals to a small circle would be effective too. Part of the frustrating thing last night was not knowing what I wanted him to do. That is key to this relationship. It was like when I rode across the arena toward the rail and didn't know which way I wanted to turn, we almost crashed the rail. Not because he wasn't willing, but because I couldn't make up my mind.

      Telling someone to do random things, doesn't really work, because we really aren't random creatures. So, if I have a series of smaller patterns I can pick and choose from, (which is what a dressage test is, right?) and we work on them in different sequences, I can produce for Ashke patterned Chaos, without me being unfocused. That was the hardest part of the riding.


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