Except on the way out the door he asked if it wouldn't be better if he just rode so we wouldn't have to be at the barn so long. I told him of course, but he didn't have to. He said he didn't mind, even if it was just going to be an arena ride. (Both him and Gracie agree that arena sessions are dull as rocks. Which is why when I do arena sessions with G-Mare I now usually complicate it by either riding her saddleless and/or in the rope halter because it makes her really focus on me.)
The girls had their mashes and we tacked up, then walked off towards the arena, of which I took photos so you guys could get a feel for the lay of the land at the barn.
|See the arena? It's over by the barn with the grain silo. That's what they call "the old barn" and where BO keeps her personal horses.|
|Off to the left here are the round pen and the small jump/gymnastics field. You can see it better if you embiggen.|
And on the far, far left is one of the cross country jumps! :) Tiny yes. But still!
|Since this was just an arena ride, G-Mare did not get drugged for this outing. She was SUPER happy and relaxed. No fussing at the beginning of the ride.|
Spiral out. Diagram from here.
I told Charles to start with Gracie at the walk and then move up to the trot/gait if he felt like she was doing well.
Of course, I tend to assume that he can figure things out riding-wise better than he sometimes actually can. On the trail and just figuring out a horse he is turning out to be amazing because he has a fabulous ability for reading both animals and people. (He originally wanted to be a vet.) But this is also because he enjoys exploring the trails so much. Part of the problem here is that he saw no purpose to the exercise and I could tell he felt this way by reading his expression (him and I have been together almost 11 years now! I can read him pretty well after all this time. ;) ) Not his fault: I thoroughly enjoy the precision required by dressage because it caters to my perfectionism. Charles is literally the opposite in this respect. Not that he is wishy-washy at things, but things have to be fun for him to feel the need to excel at them. Plus we joke about it, but he really does have ADD. Which is why he is so fantastic at emergency work, and dealing with crazy people (literally), and riding outside the limits of an arena. All fast-paced stuff that keeps him on his toes and stimulates his mind in the best way possible.
I didn't want to drill him because it would frustrate him. I did point out that him and Gracie were doing figures that resembled something more like eyeballs than circles. "What do you mean?" he asked. And then I realized that he did not know how to "see" the track of the circle in the arena while performing it. Whoops - that was my bad. Again I assumed.
I demonstrated again and tried to explain the shape of the circle better, but he still struggled. In-between attempts at spiraling at a walk, Gracie was zooming around in a gait that was just a notch down from a canter speed and I wasn't sure if he was cueing that deliberately or unintentionally, or if it was all her, and it was making everything that much more difficult. They weren't out of control, but I could see that they were both getting more frustrated with one another and with the exercise, and G-Mare isn't supposed to be working quite that fast yet: she can work at trot or gait for 30 minutes but not quite at that speed.
So I finally asked him, "Can I get on her and try?"
Somewhat reluctantly, he said yes. "I just want to see if I can get her to do the exercise," I explained. I was fairly certain she could do it, as it was something that I had practiced with her before, but it had been a while.
Charles held Lily while I mounted up on Gracie. I didn't adjust Gracie's stirrups because it's a huge PITA to get them as short as I need them for me (think hand-punched holes through nylon-backed stirrup leathers: you have to shove the buckle through ill-defined holes every time) and I knew Charles would be on her again so I didn't even bother. The mare is comfortable to ride and I knew I wouldn't have an issue stirrupless.
|Spiraling. Listening mare is listening.|
|Really nice, soft bend here.|
|I worked her at the gait a bit to see what she was doing at her regular gait.|
This is what she gave me. This is her big rack.
I mean seriously...can you say HIND LEG REACH??!!!
Any questions about those hock injections? Because DAMN.
|But because we're not supposed to be doing that sort of engagement at the moment just yet, I asked her to come back down to her singlefoot (medium) gait.|
|Really nice slow gait here. Check out the bend in her hock. She couldn't do that before.|
After confirming with Charles that it was more Gracie and not so much him, and that Gracie needs a tune-up on correct arena work, I sat on Gracie for a second and just looked at Charles standing next to a sleepy Lily.
For a long time, I've played with the thought of having him hop on Lily but I had never felt he was ready for that quite yet.
Lily was terrified of men when I first got her. But never Charles. She has always liked him. She would nuzzle him right from the get-go. She will walk up to him in the field, stand quietly for him to halter her, and walk next to him willingly. She treats him as if he were an extension of myself, like all of my animals have always done with him.
Sure, this had not been a stellar arena ride for him, but the arena has always been Lily's safe zone and he has done a truly fabulous job getting the hang of Gracie and even working through her shenanigans on his own with no issue while on the trails, which I consider to be much harder in a way. Yes, doing arena figures correctly can be tough but when it comes to actually sticking a horse and working her properly through her issues and insecurities on trail in a manner that inspires to her trust him...I think that is far more difficult. And he has succeeded at this with minimal guidance from me. I gave him the pieces of the puzzle and he put them together all on his own.
He has gotten the hang of posting all on his own and has no problems riding the canter on Gracie with a correct and balanced seat and soft hands. He makes it look easy.
All of this flashed through my mind in a second, pouring into this one singular thought: "It is time."
So I told him, "You should get on Lily."
It's hard to surprise him, but I think that was the last thing he expected me to say. He stuttered something about the hassle of adjusting stirrups. "Hers are easy, " I said. I have Wintec Webbers on her. So I dismounted, adjusted my dressage saddle's stirrups to the very lowest hole, and had him mount up.
Lily widened her eyes for a second. "It's just Charles," I told her. "He's not going to hurt you."
And she must have understood because she immediately relaxed. Like, "Oh, it's just him. I can take care of him."
And she did.
I would be lying if I said I had my heart in my throat. I didn't. I have never had less qualms about putting anyone else on her back. I don't let other people ride Lily. Only Liz, my friend Diana, and my FL trainer Judy have ever been on Lily in all of 4 years owning her. Liz has ridden her twice, and Diana and Judy only rode her one time each. Why? Because Lily is the other half of the centaur we are together. She is nowhere near as easy to ride as people tend to think she is. She is very technical, very sensitive, and quite the overachiever herself. She is incredibly tuned into me and it took a lot of work to get her to where we are now, and I don't want to overwhelm her by frequently putting other people on her. This was an exception though: this was a short ride, with a person she knows and trusts that I knew she would take care of, and while Charles doesn't have an advanced riding skill set, he knows how to control his body in the saddle enough to not upset her. Plus I was right there watching them and giving instructions. :)
I told Charles, "Ride her like she is a tiny baby bird that can break at the lightest touch."
And he did.
It was probably one of the most incredible things I've seen in a long time, and proof that all of the hard work I've put into Lily is paying off in dividends. It is proof that she has finally forgotten her awful past and is happy being with me and the life I've given her.
|She did have her moments of tension, of course: |
"He's giving way too many signals, Mom, and I know he doesn't know it!"
|Starting to really relax.|
Look at them!!!
|Cruising. Once he found his seat in the unfamiliar saddle, they were golden.|
She even offered to stretch down a few times. She was completely at ease with him up. He wanted to canter so I gave him directions (shorten the reins, outside heel behind the girth, sit up straight, and cluck or say "Up!" which is her voice command for canter) Lily has a more rocking horse kind of canter than Gracie's smooth glide but it is not hard to sit to, so I figured he should be fine. But Lily absolutely refused. She didn't even speed up her trot. She said, "He is not ready for cantering so I am not going to canter."
Good mare. Good, good mare!
I had mounted back up on Gracie and worked with keeping her in the center of the arena (even with me up she was still trying to head towards Lily when Lily went by) while snagging photos and giving directions.
This was just EPIC, guys. I don't know if you can comprehend. This mare used to not let anyone else ride her and she was not only okay with Charles up, she both tried to please him while taking care of him and made her own (sound) judgement calls.
I don't have any plans of permanently swapping or anything remotely of the sort, but I may put him on Lily every so often with the Alta simply because it is a good experience for him, especially given how Lily both tattles on him and takes care of him. :) It will make his riding on Gracie that much more precise and effective.
After about 10 minutes, I asked him if he wanted to ride Lily some more, get back on Gracie and be done, or take Gracie out of the arena for a spin. I wanted Lily worked a little longer.
He was surprised by how different the two mares are to ride, but decided without even having to think about it that he much prefers Gracie. She's less technical and she knows by now exactly what to tune out. I had to laugh at such an honest response.
We re-swapped horses and he took G-Mare for a ride outside of the arena while I worked on canter-walk-canter transitions in the arena for the next 10 minutes or so. Gracie and Charles zoomed up and down the driveway verge at a rack a couple of times. Lily would prick her ears when they were close by, but she stayed calm and attentive to me. G-Mare had no issue whatsoever about leaving her buddy in the arena. It's good for them to be left by the other periodically so we can make sure they don't lose their minds when that happens.
Today's ride was a HUGE WIN, from every angle you look at it!
And since this was both Charles's first time riding 4 days in a row AND riding Lily, he got a reward afterwards: