It was the coldest day so far. Supposedly it was going to be in the low 40's, but the car thermostat never read above 37 degrees. It was overcast and windy, too. You'd think that being a former islander I'd be wearing 6 layers including a parka. I wasn't. I was wearing my awesome Patagonia Capilene 3 crewneck, an Avalanche Mogul half zip top (scored from TJ Maxx. You can get it at this link for only $4 more than the TJ Maxx price), and my ELT fleece jacket (I'd add a link to that but no one is selling it anymore; now I'm really glad I got two of them last year when Smartpak had them on sale!), plus my fleece-lined Power Stretch Kerrits (I need to get a second pair...I'm still surprised they lasted nearly 6 months of 4-day-a-week wear last winter...literally wash and wear every day) with silk-type long johns underneath. And Smartwool socks with sock liners. I wouldn't say I was toasty, but I was very comfortable as long as I was moving.
I love the cold. I just hate being cold, but I don't want to be sweating under my winter clothes while I'm moving either.
Lily came to me in the field (as has become her norm...I still grin from ear to ear like a 6-year-old when she turns away from food and buddies just to come to me) and I took her up to the barn to tack up. There was no one around, not even Kathy who lives in the little barn apartment. I had already known it would be an arena ride sort of day but the loneliness around the barn cemented that decision.
Lily dozed on the cross ties inside the main barn while I tacked her up, despite the wind whipping around outside (again: I just love the horse that my mare has turned into since I started to just let her be a horse). When riding in the arena I've been riding sans vest but I decided to put it on this time for 3 reasons:
1. It gives extra warmth.
2. It was lonely. Be as safe as possible.
3. It was super freaking windy and cold. You just never know, even with the most bombproof horse.
I took Lily into the arena and she was immediately on full alert: eyes open wide and ears forward, nostrils flaring. She remained next to me as I guided her past me so I could close the gate. I led her around once in each direction as a short warm-up, then let go of the reins. She looked at me expectantly, the wind tossing her mane and tail. I pointed to the left, and off she went in a circle to the left around me at liberty.
(Another thing: she never used to just circle around me at liberty - she'd run the full perimeter of whatever area we were in. I could get her to change direction from 60 meters away and obey commands, which was so, so cool anyway, but she'd never ever stay in that circle around me. She does now since we moved to this barn. No need for a longe line.)
She trotted around in both directions and I let her canter when she felt like it. She was looky at times but she surprised me by not even spooking/startling once. The whole world was giving her reasons to be an idiot. She assessed those reasons and decided, "Naahhh..."
|Relaxed mare, ear flicked towards me. And see? Working in a circle around me. :)|
|Hunter pony frame.|
|She was really moving out here.|
|The wind picked up and she worried for a sec.|
Note the heel-first landing on that left front!!...
|...and a heel-first landing with the right front!!|
|Almost with all 4 feet off the ground.|
|Preparing to change direction at my command.|
My dressage schools are notorious for being goal-less. I go in with a vague idea of what I'd like to do but really let Lily guide my ultimate choices in exercises. You hear of a lot of horses that hate dressage. I think part of the reason why Lily likes it is because she gets to participate. I really don't tell her what to do; I ask. If she can't do it, we move on to something else and try again later, be it on the same day or a later date. There's no rush.
My one goal for this dressage school was to work on her flexibility and on me being soft and harmonious with her.
In our 2 and a half years together, Lily has changed the way I ride. She is easily one of the most technical horses I've ever ridden. Despite having been so young when she became mine (4 years old), she already had very clear ideas of how she did NOT like to be ridden due to her previous history of abuse. It took me a good 9 months to figure out how she DID like to be ridden. It took so long because she didn't know what she liked, I didn't know what she liked, and we had a German-style dressage trainer, a style that Lily decidedly did NOT like. Our best moments tended to happen outside of lessons, when it was just me trying hard to find a common ground with her. Like this one:
She will tell me when it's ok to start posting. Her neck arches, ears go forward, her back lifts, and she will ask to extend. That's when I can start posting. She'll then do this wonderful uphill trot for a lap or two around the arena, then ask for the reins so she can stretch down. I allow it, then ask her to come back into collection. We repeat this process several times as part of our initial warm-up, then we move on into other things like the canter and more involved exercises.
We had a really nice conversation yesterday.
Me: "Lily, can we trot?"
Lily: "Sure." Collected trot.
Me: "Can you leg-yield down the quarter line?"
Lily: Tries but has a hard time really stepping under herself in the back. "Not yet, I need to trot more."
Me: "Ok, let's do some stretching."
We trot around alternating between a collected and medium trot, circling, spiraling in and out.
Lily: "Yes!" Square halt from a trot.
Me: "Back up?"
Lily: Ears flick back tensely."You're not sitting right."
Me: I shift my weight. "How about now?"
Lily: "Yes, now." Ears relax, backs up perfectly.
Lily: "I want to trot off from this backing up exercise."
Me: "Awesome! Go ahead!" Bounces forward from backing up into this big (for her) swinging trot.
Lily: "As you wish." Since I'm doing everything right, she lifts up into a very nice canter on the first cue.
Me: "Ok, trot."
Lily: "Yay! Let me stretch." Streeeetches down for a couple of strides, chewing on the bit. "There, better!"
Me: "Let's change direction."
Lily: "Are we going to canter?"
Me: "Yes." Nails the canter transition to the right.
Me: "Stay straight around this corner."
Lily: Leaning towards the inside of the circle as we approach the arena fence, "But the minnies are right there by the fence!" She flicks an ear at them and looks at them out of the corner of her eye. The minnies are, indeed, standing on the other side of the arena fence staring at her.
Me: "Here, ignore them." Ask for a canter shoulder-fore. It probably looked awful, but it served its purpose: Lily's shoulders straightened.
Me: "Thank you!"
Lily: "I don't like them staring at me." We do another stretchy trot.
Me: "Don't pay attention to them. Can we do shoulder-in down the long sides of the arena?"
Lily: "Yes. It makes it easier for me to ignore those little bastards." She looks at them in annoyance as we trot past.
Me: "But they're cute and harmless, and you used to like minnies!" (In Florida she used to get turned out with Willy, a 20+ mini that was bullied by the others. Lily did a great job of taking care of him, even sharing her food with him; he adored her!)
Lily: "Yes, but these aren't MY minnies."
We do some really good shoulder-ins.
Me: "How about those leg yields again?"
Lily: "Yes, now we can do them."
Gives me perfect zig-zag leg yields down the center line.
Lily leg yielding at the trot. Video taken last winter at the old barn, but just so you guys can see her in action. :)
Very happy zig-zag leg yields at the walk. Also taken last winter at the old barn. Yes, I'm grinning like an idiot. Lateral work had been nearly impossible for me prior to owning Lily. When I'm doing everything right and just staying out of her way, it's as easy for her to do as you can see in this video.
Lily has singlehandedly taught me more about dressage than any trainer I've ever paid for lessons.
I made her a warm mash mixing a scoop of her chopped forage with a small amount of her Gro N Win and plenty of hot water to make it soupy. I always worry about her not drinking enough water when it's cold out.
I put her in an empty stall so she could slurp down her dinner while I picked up all of our stuff.
It was supposed to be in the low 20's that night with a wind chill that would make it feel like 9 degrees. All of the horses, even the ones on stall board, got blanketed down with medium weight blankets. Lily got bundled up and set free in her field with her girl friends for the night.