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She's Not a Baby Anymore!

Early spring saw some immediate changes in how Ellie carried herself and our dressage work started to truly improve.  There had been times last year where flat work felt like a fight and I wondered to myself if she was ever going to just relax and listen to me haha.

Thankfully, as the title suggests, Ellie has suddenly grown up in front of my eyes.  We have had some really stellar lessons lately, where I feel like I am suddenly able to make things click.  We also had an incredibly frustrating dressage lesson a few weeks ago where Ellie was in rip-roaring peeing heat (not normal for her) and we worked through 45 minutes of her refusing to bend right.  So, ya know, as much as she is improving, she is still an opinionated redheaded mare!  ;-)

But, I have to give her credit because she is really working her little butt off for me!  Sadly, I had not been able to schedule in a jump lesson before our first three-phase, which led to me riding her ridiculously backward at a slow trot the entire …

Ellie's First Riding Lesson (and we all survived)

After a winter spent talking and thinking about taking lessons this spring, I finally was able to go to our first one today!!  As I readied the trailer and loaded my tack, I felt slightly nervous, hoping Ellie would get on the trailer since we haven't practiced since December (she did, first try!) and would ride well for her fifth trailer ride of her life (she was great even though the back roads of Maine are bumpy and full of potholes at the moment!).  I have known Beth for years (the farm owner and my new instructor) through the local dressage scene and not only has she brought horses along to Grand Prix, both of her daughters have as well (and a few of those horses were born right on their farm!).  So while this was the first time I rode with Beth, I knew her personality and experience would work well for me.  They put on several schooling shows each year, and I competed there with Dreamy in 2008 and 2009 at the beginning of her show career.
The sn*w was nearly gone until we got 3" overnight on Friday. 
By Saturday afternoon, not much was left. 
But I was not impressed LOL!
Knowing this was Ellie's first real trip to a new place, besides when I brought her home to my farm six months ago, I arrived a bit early for a 10:45 lesson.  Plus, I haven't been to this farm for several years and I wasn't sure exactly how long it would take.  I had 50 minutes in my head and that is exactly how long it took.  It was perfect though, because she was LIT when she unloaded.  Like tail over her back and prancy in a circle around me lol.  The farm is tucked off a back road and is a super laid back place, but of course it was all new to her and there are a lot of horses in pastures everywhere.  I started leading her around carefully, since she can be dramatic, and let her stop and look as needed.  It was a fine balance between letting her stop and keeping her moving and staying just out of her way enough so she didn't run me over.  She listens well and tries so hard to behave, but I am fully aware she needs time, patience, and exposure.  She screamed a few times but held herself together well.  We walk around the barn yard and then I took her into the indoor arena, figuring it would be good to get a look around beforehand. 

Within twenty minutes, Ellie was considerably calmer. The only thing that she was NOT loving was the tarp tacked up on the side of their hay barn near the indoor.  Tarp on the ground or on her back?  No problem.  Tarp on the side of the barn gently blowing in the breeze?  CERTAIN DEATH.  She did walk by it nervously several times with me, but that was the only thing that she could NOT relax about.

I felt confident enough at this point to tie her to my trailer and tack her up.  Beth had offered to let me use a stall and/or the crossties, but I told her I wanted to first try the trailer.  Obviously, if Ellie really needed the mental support of being in the barn, I would have done that.  But this was the perfect opportunity and setting to pretend it was like a horse show.  She was still on high alert, but she stood calmly and I attached the lunge line to her bridle.  I am not a huge fan of lunging and will phase it out like I did last fall, but if she was going to buck and dolphin, I'd rather not be on her back thankyouverymuch!
Looking around but being so good
There was a boarder doing fancy canter halfpass and such and an adult taking a lesson on a lesson pony by the time we entered the arena.  I had told Beth that I wanted to make this as normal as possible and not baby Ellie.  We can ride alone every day at home, but I wanted her to get used to horses coming and going.  If she was going to be upset, this was the time to address it instead of in the warm up of a horse show!  

We went down to the far end to lunge and she took off in a fast trot.  I let her move out like that for about thirty seconds to get whatever sillies out, and I was pleased when she came back to the walk when I asked.  I just did a few transitions from walk to trot to walk, then we practiced walk to halt to walk.  Beth was giving a lesson but remarked that Ellie looked much calmer than when she first arrived haha.  After going in both directions and only one dolphin leap later, I felt ready to get on.  Ellie stood nicely at the mounting block, though I did ask Beth to stand at her head, since the open door was right there and I am all about good experiences.  Ellie had nothing to prove, and even though I ride her all the time at home without anyone with me, I am all about creating good experiences to gain her confidence away from home.

Beth had offered to have me do a few weeks of 30 minute lessons just to get Ellie into shape and since I would be working her before the lesson as well.  This ended up being exactly what Ellie needed.  We spent some time talking about my goals and she watched Ellie walk around for a bit.  She was still up and not ready to relax, so I put her to work bending on circles at each end and doing changes of rein.  The lesson pony left and she didn't notice.

The biggest thing I have to work on right now in the walk is not letting her get too forward.  Haha that's pretty much going to be the theme of her life.  She has a MARCHING walk and I have to be careful not to get too busy and overly following with my seat.  Beth had me slow my seat movement just slightly, ask for bend and engage the inside hind, and soon we had a much quieter walk.  Plus she was more balanced and able to relax into the contact.  This is exactly why I am taking lessons, because I need that person on the ground to help me.  I want to train this horse myself, yes, but I also know that in order to be sure I don't allow my bad habits to get in the way of training her correctly.  That is my biggest goal with Ellie, to train her correctly through the training scale.  We will be at "relaxation" on the scale for a while!  ;-)

We started to trot and Beth was able to hone in on how once I have Ellie's trot at the right tempo, she gets shorter strided.  There is going to be some learning for us to find the correct forward, because once I was able to get her in the right tempo AND reaching underneath herself, the trot was much improved.  Half halts all day every day LOL!  Thankfully, she showed she remembered what a half halt is from last fall, and we had moments of really lovely trot work.  Ellie still has to learn how to stay in the correct tempo and that will come with strength, but it was really great to feel her move correctly.  Beth explains herself really clearly and I love that.  She explains the WHY behind what she is asking you do to, which is important for me as a rider.  Don't just tell me how to ride, because I need to go home and replicate what I am learning in lessons in order to improve.  

At this point, we were pretty much done, and Ellie was finally asking to stretch down into the contact.  She is not yet ready to start a ride on a loose rein, but once she has worked a bit (and realized how much she is working lol), she loves to stretch down and out.  Beth asked if I wanted to canter, and I really did want to see what I would get, even though a small part of me was nervous.  We have not cantered since late last fall.  Beth was great, telling me not to worry, that she knew Ellie was just in kindergarten/first grade canter mode right now.  I like that while I know she will push us, she is also realistic and understands how to develop a young horse.  She wanted me to get the canter and bring her back to the trot before it fell apart, even if that was only three strides.  I should not have worried because Ellie picked up both leads without missing a beat and we cantered around a full circle and a half before I eased her into the trot.  She still isn't quite confirmed in the upward transition, but she will obviously start stepping into it as her balance and strength improves.  Just the fact that she did what I asked and did it WELL for her age and level made me so happy!  
At the end of our lesson!  I didn't quite dare take a mirror selfie haha.  I am hoping there will be young riders around at some points so I can befriend them and ask them to take media hahahaha
The coolest part of the lesson was Beth saying WOW about ten times about Ellie's canter haha.  She remarked that Ellie had the best canter on a Morgan she had ever seen.  Even for being a baby canter at the moment, that was really fun to hear!  I told her I heard it was from her sire, Triple S Dark Eagle, who passes on such great canters to his get.  

I couldn't stop grinning because she was just so darn good and had relaxed so well by the end.  Another rider showed up with her horse as I was changing directions to canter on the other lead.  She asked Beth what breed Ellie was (how could she not tell she is a Morgan? lol) and Beth was like, you've got to watch this horse canter!!  Needless to say, it was a great lesson and a really encouraging place to start the year.  As I was putting up my stirrups and loosening the girth and we were chatting, Beth said, "I am so excited about this horse's canter!  She is going to be so much fun!"  

YES!  That is exactly how I feel.  I know we will have our struggles and not everything is going to be perfect (heck, she came off the trailer like a fire breathing dragon kite!), but she is so fun!  Even when she is exhausting (and she is...!), she is FUN to train and ride.  I know she will always be dramatic, but a lot of this "electricity" will subdue with time.  Granted, she might be 20 before she mellows out haha, but just going out for this lesson was a huge step for her.  We go back again next Sunday, and I am hopeful she will be able to tame the squirrels in her chestnut mare brain a little bit better each time we go.

Winter is still hanging on here in Maine, but starting lessons like this makes it seem less shitty haha.  

Comments

  1. What a wonderful start to training this year. She's going to be awesome. Heck, she's already awesome. I often give my phone to Shanea while she's teaching and she takes photos as we go. It really helps.

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    1. That's a good idea, so I will have to ask Beth if she is willing to do some short filming for me. And I KNOW there will be young riders around (they have a huge lesson/show program) that I can talk into grabbing media haha.

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  2. Awww yay! What a productive lesson for you and your baby horse 🙂

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  3. What an awesome first real lesson!!! Beth sounds like an invaluable resource too. I love that Ellie is so fun to ride - she seems like such an honest genuine horse that even her antics are able to be taken in stride. And oh yea we need media of that canter! ;)

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    1. She is a wonderful instructor and I am so glad I took the chance to give her a try. I had a feeling after knowing her for years that she would be a good fit for us. Well worth the 50 minute one way drive! DEFINITELY need to figure out how to get media haha

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  4. What a great lesson!! I love Ellie's brain. Instructors who explain the HOW are also my favorite. It really helps solidify the idea in my head and then I can go home and play around with it myself.

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    1. I love thinking about and reflecting on riding theory, so I am loving that I have found an instructor who is the same!

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  5. Sounds like it couldn't have gone much better for a first lesson!

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    1. Definitely! Even though she started out like a lunatic, I am so pleased that she got herself together haha.

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  6. Ahh, so much greatness! Ellie is SUCH a cool horse!

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  7. It's always gratifying to hear from a professional that you have a lot of natural raw talent to work with. Sounds like an awesome lesson :D

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    1. It was super exciting! I don't think I've ever had a horse with this much potential!

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