(Though we can't forget that Ringo is still the star of the show!!)
(Ringo go to eat grass that reached all the way up to his belly on our walk yesterday - he was pretty pleased, to say the least)
I've been doing pretty well: in the past few weeks, I've ridden 10 horses for the first time, which is the same number of new horses that I had previously encountered in the past four months combined. I wouldn't say that my frequency of riding as increased that much (though the days I go down to Dayna and Shannon's are certainly a bit busier than normal!), but my range certainly has.
So what goes into that first impression? Well, as usual I've been tracking these new adventures, and I thought it might be interesting to flesh out some of my notes a little further, horse by horse, to show what I think about and tend to focus on with an unfamiliar mount to try to get them going as well as possible as quickly as possible (trying to keep in mind, always, that at Nationals I will only have 10 minutes of warmup!!).
Here it goes:
Basic Stats: 16.3hh chestnut gelding fancypants warmblood owned by Stanford, fresh off a career as a big-time Eq horse on the east coast. I was the first person to ride him dressage, presumably since he was a wee lad in Germany or wherever he came from.
First Impression: ooh lawdy this is a nice horse. Great (!!) gaits, beautifully uphill without trying, generally accepting of the bridle. HOWEVER, spooky spooky spooky. And lazy. And spooky. And pretty unclear on the concept of actually going on the bit and using himself properly. And lazy. And spooky.
Plan of Attack: Lots of transitions between walk and trot to get the engine revving, combined with slight counter flexion, especially through the turns, to correct his tendency to overbend his neck without following through with his body. Once neck and body bend are more linked up, then add in a sculpting inside leg to outside hand to get him bending the right way. Then, lots of forward and back at trot and canter to forge a bridge between his now energized hind end and his now-straightened front end. Wonders! He was awesome! I practiced sitting a ton on this horse, as he was strong and had lots of movement.
Basic Stats: 17.3hh chestnut TB-type warmblood gelding owned by Stanford, just donated to be a lower level jumping and hunt seat horse.
First Impression: Sketchy. He has been struggling with back pain issues since we got him, and it showed the day I rode him. He seemed generally unwilling to go forward very guarded throughout his body, but especially in his back and hind end. The first time I kicked him to go forward, he humped his back and spit the bit. Lovely.
Plan of Attack: Tons of transitions with the reins basically thrown away to get him thinking forward again. This was actually pretty successful, and I was able to sneak the reins back and get a very decent and swinging working trot out of him. I never felt very comfortable asking for much more, though, and quit pretty early. This was probably my least successful feeling ride of them all.
Basic Stats: 16.2 hh chestnut stocky-type warmblood gelding owned by a client of Rachel's who Rachel is planning on competing at 3rd and 4th level this year.
First Impression: Somewhat heavy and low-set neck, but very well trained to the seat. KILLER trot. Nice and responsive to the leg.
Plan of Attack: I had Rachel's help figuring Welti out, which was a huge coup. She got me to really push him forward and up into the bridle from behind, which wouldn't have been my first instinct as he felt like I needed to keep half-halting and half-halting to infinity. With more engine from behind, however, he immediately became more rateable and uphill in the bridle. A good lesson to remember! I practiced sitting a lot on him too, and enjoyed the most AMAZING extended trot. Awesome.
Basic Stats: 16hh dark bay Australian TB leased by Stanford from a local eventer; an ex-three star event horse now doing low level hunt seat and jumping.
First Impression: Dually 2.0! Not the most impressive gaits at first crack, a little tense, and a little weird in the contact, but extremely willing and forward.
Plan of Attack: Steady, following, but firm hand to encourage him to soften his jaw and release his back, coupled with some spiral ins and spiral outs to loosen him up even more. Then, some forward/backs and shoulder in to get his gaits opened up a bit, while maintaining a really steady and positive contact with his mouth. Again, like Freddy, I imagine myself forging a bridge between his hind end and the bridle, with my body as the stable support that holds it together. Awesome results. What a cool horse.
Basic Stats: 16.3hh dark bay Irish Sport Horse at Dayna and Shannon's, freshly imported from Ireland; has competed through CCI* level.
First Impression: FANCY. People gushed about this horse before I got on and I wasn't disappointed. Gaits to die for, naturally uphill, and an unbelievable sensation of power from behind. That being said, I also found him very strong to start and somewhat difficult to control, like I was on the edge of him getting away from me at any moment.
Plan of Attack: Half-halt back to a trot/canter that feels manageable, then add power from that tempo, dialing it back if he felt strong or out of control. Really strong core usage to keep him collected in trot and canter, as going to the hand was generally not a good choice. This was a hard ride for me but a rewarding one. When I got it right, he felt unbelievable, definitely one of the nicest horses I've ever sat on.
Basic Stats: 16hh black Irish Sport Horse mare at Dayna and Shannon's, imported a few years ago from Ireland and currently going Novice.
First Impression: What a pleasant horse to ride. Extremely well schooled and correct, if lacking in the presence of a horse like BB. Somewhat heavier on right rein than left.
Plan of Attack: Lots of counter bend and lateral work to get her more even on both reins. When she got straighter, she was unbelievably pleasant and easy to ride. And very smooth to sit, too!
Basic Stats: 16hhish bay Australian gelding at Dayna and Shannon's. I have no idea what his competition level is.
First Impression: Like Georgina, this horse was wonderfully well schooled and correct, but also lacked a bit in big-time gaits or movement. Also a little heavier in the right rein.
Plan of Attack: Basically the same approach at Georgina. He had a really impressive transformation when I actually got him straight - his gaits opened up significantly and he actually began to feel pretty darn fancy at the trot! I also tried out the counter canter on him and found that he could hold it, so used figure 8s of counter and true canter to get him more balanced and straight in the canter with equally good results. Really, really fun to ride.
Basic Stats: 17+hh bay draft cross at Dayna Shannon's who has competed through Training.
First Impression: So squishy! This horse literally felt like a couch! It was hilarious. Again, he was very well schooled and actually remarkably straight, but had a natural tendency to go quite downhill without any energy at all.
Plan of Attack: I played around with different lateral movements and quickly found the haunches in to be the most effective at gathering him up and capturing some energy - I used the haunches in just before most transitions and whenever I felt him getting dull and low. In the canter, it was a matter of using my body to encourage him to be taller while scooping him up and forward with my leg. A workout of a ride, but a really fun one.
Basic Stats: 16.3hh black Irish Sport Horse mare at Dayna and Shannon's, imported from Ireland and with competition experience through Preliminary.
First Impression: Quite fussy in the contact and a little barging naturally, but with the promise of great gaits within.
Plan of Attack: I spent an unusually long time at the walk on this horse, working out the correct rein and leg pressure combination to get her more settled in the contact. She has a huge natural walk, so I practiced shortening and lengthening it while having her maintain a friendly connection to the bridle. When she felt civil, I moved up to trot, keeping the same feel and maintaining the same exercises of forward and back to build the energy of her trot without having her start to brace and get away from me. When she relaxed, she felt awesome! I was able to sit her trot pretty extensively and use my seat to encourage her to collect more while still coming forward. She would occasionally attempt to come above the bridle, at which point I had to sit deep and be firm but following with the hand. She reminded me a lot of Kiki, and I had an unbelievably fun time riding her. I could have ridden her (well-behaved) trot forever!
So basically, every horse has required an examination of straightness, engine, and the connection between those two elements (with collection coming as an added bonus if all goes well). I've been so lucky to ride such nice horses; it's been a real confidence boost and a good reminder of how basic thinking can be applied a wide number of ways. I'm headed back to Dayna and Shannon's this week and am excited to see what new adventures lie ahead!
(I won these gems of breeches at our team post-season celebration lunch this morning. They are forest green, have an embossed paisley print, and are utterly heinous; I LOVE THEM.)