Yesterday, I finally had my lesson with the trainer I had originally found. Her name is Erica Webster, and I am completely impressed. I think this is going to really work out :) By the end of our lesson, I felt humbled and exhausted. However, it wasn't because she was hard on me or anything - she was very kind but also very attentive to what I needed to correct. She added layer upon layer for what I needed to do to improve my riding and work with Snickers. I made myself type up a list of all the things I remembered late last night so that I wouldn't forget anything (though I'm sure I did miss a few things).
We started off by having her check the saddle I've been using for fit. She had me run my hand underneath and explained that the fit with this saddle shouldn't be anything to worry about. For comparison, I went and got the saddle that sored up his back last fall - the difference was clear. Especially when she put even a little bit of pressure on the saddle, and I couldn't even get my hand in between the saddle and the muscles just below his wither. I feel so bad for him having to have that saddle all year :( I wonder if some of that tightness comes from his shoulder developing, but I don't think it ever truly fit. Just looking at it, she pointed out how it "perched" on his back rather than fit in with it like the other saddle. In addition, she said the saddle was so tiny it might even be a child's saddle, so it never really fit me either!
We started out working on me. Most of the lesson was at a walk, which was great because I really needed that stability to figure out how I was moving. She observed a lot of things that I'm doing that aren't doing me or Snickers many favors. Here's the list just on my posture:
- don't lean forward
- roll shoulders back, straighten back, relax
- my tension translates to Snickers (and I'm riding pretty tense)
- lengthen leg and lower heel - I need to do some exercises on the stairs to help with this
- fighting my saddle - it isn't doing me any favors, either. I'm really excited to get my new saddle for our next lesson
- eyes up - I tend to watch his head
- tuck my belly in and don't hallow my back
- plumb line from ear, shoulder, him, heel
- sit balanced so I can't get pushed over
- I need a relaxed knee and thigh with my calf on his side like I'm reaching around his body - that's where my stability should come from.
- Stop twisting right side forward and dropping left side down - we ride how we drive. When se said that, I realized I was in big trouble haha. Speaking of which, I'm sitting like that now. Quit it!!
- putting more weight on the left
- Don't post forward
As for Snickers, she really helped with the bit issues and giving a fresh perspective:
- Snickers messing with bit and acting up from boredom. He's a very "busy" horse in her words (which I already knew), but he's doing various things like messing with the bit and "spooking" just because he's bored. For example, he spooked at a lot of cars going past, which he's done occasionally but usually settles down. She pointed out that during all of this, even chomping and grinding on the bit with his lips pulled back and when he "spooked", he still had a soft eye and didn't really give the expression of actually being in pain or scared. Interesting.... Smart horse. And busy horse. I told her I really don't know why I liked him so much and why I bought him, and he can frustrate the crap out of me sometime, but I keep coming back to him. Maybe it's because we really do have so much in common haha. This observation added to that even more.
- I need to give him something to do
- stretchy circles (asking him for a smaller and larger circle, which helps both of us focus on something to do, improving our communication, and keeps him busy).
- shoulder in (I struggled with this, but was improving and it'll come with time)
- any head tossing/acting up = leg. Enough is enough and he just needs to accept it
- When he starts wandering into the fence: plant inside leg and drop inside hip, then give leg with the outside. I really need to anchor myself with that inside foot.
- his head can meet me halfway
- She suggested using a flash noseband to teach him to accept the bit and keep his mouth closed. Since he's not in pain, it could be useful (and I wouldn't tighten it very much). I think I'll go ahead and make my own.
Snickers did start settling in and behaving much better, but I needed to adjust how I was using my hands:
- firm outside hand - I decided on a rein length and put my hand at the front of my pad, which both anchored me and him since he had consistency to work with and understand.
- half halt inside hand - he was really starting to soften up after a bit and get it, especially when I started getting the inside hand combined with the outside leg correctly
- don't cross hand over neck - when I want to cross over, pull my hand out instead of in.
- don't let reins slip through - my arms are elastic and I need to have a firm grip on the reins.
I was very satisfied with the lesson and she was an excellent instructor. I think this is going to be an excellent relationship - and I am going to do my best to tip her when possible. She definitely deserves it.
Oh, and did I mention she and I are almost the same age? I think I'm just a few weeks older than her, in fact. However, her age is definitely no limit on her knowledge and ability as an instructor. It is quite a plus, though, to finally have someone I enjoy working with that is a little closer to my own age. Anyway, I really like her, and thus far would highly recommend her to anyone interested in lessons of any style! Her resume is quite impressive... Here's what she had to say from the initial ad I found her on:
From her ad on NewHorse.com:
I am a 3-day Eventer with a soild Pony Club background, I have been through both the USPC and the CPC system. I believe that Dressage (flat work) is the foundation to all riding and training. And gives you a solid foundation to build on. I have ridden with trainers such as: George Morris, Nick Holm-Smith, Adrienne Lyle, Barb Soley and Brain Morton. I have spent more of my time training or re-training young horses, then I have competing. I hope to change that some day. I have trained and schooled horses to the CC* level. I have also spent time in Holland at Brinkman Sport Horses, working with KWPN stallions and talented sport horses alike. I ride both English and western. Even though my background is English I still enjoy cutting, reining and driving. Along with Pony Club, I was also in 4H for over ten years. Where I showed livestock and competed in western gaming. Cross training is a great way to exercise you and your horses mind. It gets you both doing something new and exciting. I am willing to work with both English and western riders alike . And help them achieve their goals. I believe that I can help give you and your horse good and solid fundamentals to build on. And also challenges the more experienced horse and rider. I know from years of trainers and lessons how important it is to find a instructor that fits you and your horse. You have to click with your instructor, like you do with your horse. Finding someone that works well with you and your horse is one of the most important things.. I believe that you can never stop learning. If you have any questions I would love to talk to you. Erica Cowgirloftheusa@yahoo.com