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New Horse, Who Dis?

If you happen to follow my Instagram, you may have seen a new photo yesterday of a horse that looks an awful lot like Ellie, but it isn't Ellie!

It's her momma!
Yes, it is true.  I now am the proud owner of Kennebec Rejoice, Ellie's dam.  To make a long story short, as Miss Gardiner, who owns Kennebec Morgan Farm, is now approaching 98 years old (!!!!), the managers have been placing the broodmares and selling the younger stock.  At this point, there are only three stallions left: Ellie's sire, who at age 25 will live out his days at the farm, a ten-year-old named Triple S Midnight, and a five-year-old named Kennebec Commander.  (So if you know anyone who wants a LOVELY breeding stallion, I can put you in touch!)
Most of the broodmares had been spoken for years ago by former employees and others who already own a Kennebec.  I had made it known that I would take in a broodmare if one needed a soft place to land.  One of the current farmworkers bought Rejoice this past spri…

Improving Communication

As with any relationship, good communication is key.  With Ellie being so green under saddle when I first bought her last fall, it took time to install the basics of communication.  She mostly understood leg meant go and reins meant turn or stop, but it was super basic and the human equivalent of baby babble haha.

Obviously, the longer she has been under saddle, the more she has learned about communicating under saddle.  We have come a long way, but there is still much to learn.  At times, she still doesn't want to believe that leg can mean sideways and not just forward.  She doesn't always believe me that when I open my inside rein, I really mean for her to bend forward and down rather than throw her head up.  She's starting to understand how the outside rein controls her shoulder.

such a cookie monster
All of this is good and she is progressing as one would expect.  However, being an adult amateur who rides alone, I have developed habits that don't always allow the best communication.  ;-)  I know this, which is why I have enlisted Beth's help in (just about) weekly lessons.  I know that in order to train this mare well and to not have any holes in her training because of my own weaknesses, I need eyes on the ground.

Beth is a really great instructor and I am finding we are making progress much more easily with her guidance.  This is not to say it is easy or simple, but having someone help improve our communication is important.  The problems we have had are mostly my own fault, though at times Ellie likes to see what she can get away with too haha.  She is a redheaded mare after all!  ;-)  I have to remember not to communicate things incorrectly to her, because I inadvertently have given her mixed signals at times.  And as Beth has said, we are still writing in crayon at this point, as we are in solidly in kindergarten.

For example, as much as Beth has praised my steady outside rein, I have a BAD habit of hanging on the left rein when it is my outside rein.  Tracking right is our weaker side anyway, and by hanging too much on the left rein, Ellie cannot properly bend right.  Now, she doesn't bend as well to the right anyway, being stiffer through the left side, but I am exacerbating the issue.  Letting go of that left rein has been a challenge for me, because apparently I use it as an emergency brake too often.  Whoops, sorry Ellie (though I know I also did this with Snappy and Dreamy, so sorry all my lovely mares.)  This is not the first time I have been told this about myself, but it became more of a problem with Ellie because she was so much greener than my Standardbreds who already had experience in harness.  At this point, we have worked through much of the issue as long as I remember not to hang on that left rein.  It is 90% improved at this point.  Muscle memory is hard, man!
being super cute in her new drop noseband - more on that later
Also, related to this bending issue is that I like to keep my right leg on.  Like I have decided it is just a crutch there to keep Ellie bent right, which is a problem I totally created and Ellie allowed it because it meant less work for her.  Because our walk and trot work as this point is mostly:

Ellie: throws head up to evade contact and bending
Me: opening rein and inside leg for a few strides
the heavens open and we have a lovely walk (or trot) with appropriate connection for a stride (maybe two)
Ellie: throws head up to evade contact and bending
Me: opening rein and inside leg for a few strides
lather rinse repeat ad infinitum

So the problem is that I forget to relax my inside leg during that "the heavens open" moment.  As Beth reminds me, it is never OK to just sit there and do nothing, I still have to be present and ride every stride. But there is a difference between being present with my leg and actively using it.  Beth had me halt at our lesson this past Saturday and pushed on Ellie's right shoulder and my right boot at the same time.  She didn't put much pressure at all, but she held it for several seconds.  The minute she released, Ellie fell out to the right so much she probably moved two inches!  Ellie was simply pushing back against the pressure as she does with my leg.  Suddenly, it became incredibly obvious how much I am overusing my inside leg.  She needs to learn to move and bend properly and hold it on her own without my constant leg aid.  Because the constant leg meant she just pushes back against me, and when I try to just be "present", she falls in which starts the cycle all over again.

Ellie, probably
I would not have believed my incessant leg aid really made that much of a difference.  It was a light bulb moment for me.  I HAVE to ride her correctly and I cannot mix signals with my aids.  Huh, imagine that haha.  Gotta ride properly for the horse to move properly.  Could I fudge along and do well enough at the low levels?  Yep.  But I want to do this right and train her correctly, not just enough to squeak through tests.

There is certainly an amount of humility one must have in the saddle.  It can be hard to admit mistakes, but I fully take ownership that for all my horses I have trained, their good is all mine and their bad is all mine too haha.  I am thankful to be at a place in life where I have a horse I can build from the ground up, and I have help fixing my own rider mistakes to train her correctly.  It is exciting and overwhelming and not a place I have been before, since I have never had a horse with such a clean slate!

One of my favorite quotes is from John Lyons, "There are only two emotions that belong in the saddle: one is a sense of humor and the other is patience."  That could not be more true to my current journey!


Comments

  1. dude, horse training is HARD. i totally know how you feel about having small mistakes that slip into our riding that somehow manage to make a huge difference on the horse. like how the combination of aids i was using for a half halt actually had the opposite effect of making my horse tense and speed up. uh.... whoops? it's cool tho that Ellie is already so sensitive that it's easy to see what works vs what doesn't for her!

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    1. Sometimes I think to myself, HOW am I still making these stupid mistakes all these years later? hahaha It is nice that Ellie is sensitive to the aids for sure, which is even more of a reason I have to apply them correctly! :-p

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  2. isnt it funny how long habits stay with us?? I too have a tendency to grip with my outside rein to the left (Remus's worse way) and of course that gives him the opp to brace against me and it is totally a cluster LOL. Often times I dont even realize i am doing it until Emily says just hold don't brace, dont pull let it be fluid. and i am like shoot I was doing it again. UGH. And Remus is kind of trained (HA kinda). SO i have such kudos for you on training a baby horse again. I dont think I could do it with all my bad habits (Leaning forward, holding outside rein, legs back too far, curling wrists...you name it :)

    Glad you and Ellie are progressing along. She is the cutest. More cookies please.....

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    1. Old habits die hard, that's for sure! The answer to everything is always MOAR COOKIES in Ellie's world haha.

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  3. Riding is so hard! Having eyes on the ground is a game changer at least for me. I can ride around thinking I’m doing all this and that and then Trainer shows up and calls me out.

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    1. Exactly! I could seriously lesson 3 times a week if I could afford it (and had time to truck out that much) haha!

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