A Courtney Angel on my Shoulder

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As a rider, it’s incredibly important to have a trainer and mentor who you truly respect. In speeches directed to young riders, Courtney often stresses the point that when choosing a trainer, you must prioritize that the potential trainer is a good person and not just a good rider. Pick a person who you would like to become more like as a professional and human being and not just by their show scores. Because… well, it’s going to happen. And I couldn’t agree more. Don’t settle! Courtney is the epitome of a good mentor, and I don’t know how to express how thankful I am to learn from her. She’s someone who inspires me to try-try-try by her example as a professional, a friend, her amazing training ability, her ambition, and where her caring heart is every day.

Gumption is one of my favorite words that Courtney has been using lately. When you look it up in the dictionary it’s described with the words: boldness, initiative, courage, guts, spunk… There’s excitement in the feeling of a ride that’s going for something! It makes me think, to have courage I have to challenge myself with something bigger than the typical feelings and exercises I’ve come to know so well; I have to take some risks, be creative, and give myself the opportunity to be courageous. What would Courtney’s goal for the ride be?

When her voice isn’t booming over the microphone and I’m riding on my own, I realize that I find myself asking, What would this horse feel like to Courtney if she was sitting on him right now? I bet it would feel like butter. It would feel like power. It would have purpose! Now what is it that I need to do in order to create that feeling? Often just that decision to ride with purpose and precision is enough to dramatically change the feel of the horse’s body. It’s also very helpful to ride imagining the picture of Courtney’s position and the lovely way that her horses go.

Something I’m still trying to fully get into my own head is that riding with gumption does not mean charging around the arena. Having big fancy movement requires a lot of energy and activity, but it doesn’t mean speed racing. Sometimes I find myself flying around the ring as I aim to accomplish something fantastic, but the horse isn’t really with me. It’s not collection of power if the power is hurling itself out the front door!

“Don’t be crazy!”

That’s something that Courtney likes to half shout, half laugh at me. Well, maybe it’s mostly shout the second or third time she has to say it… Trying hard doesn’t just mean amping up the power and going 99 mph – even though it’s how fast that I like to go! (You were supposed to sing those last words to yourself… Fitz and the Tantrums yo!) Anyway, I may feel like I’m trying hard and going somewhere, but true collection and power takes even more effort. It means I have to settle my mind, trust my horse to keep the power without my chasing, as well as challenge my core to stay strong to support the horse’s collection underneath of me. That’s the real effort!

In a recent lesson on Shanghai Courtney had me think to “Ride him like an accordion.” As we started by cantering around on a large circle with his neck down in a somewhat stretchy frame Courtney would say, “Don’t let his hind legs get any further from his nose.” Meaning, as I shortened and lengthened his strides, I should only let the strides get longer. He should not become sprawled out with his hind end pushing further behind him and his nose should not go any further in front. The back should stretch and round like the smooth arch of an accordion

How do we do that? How do I make his butt go down more and his hind legs stretch under his body – especially when his neck is down? It’s not as if I am sitting behind his tail and can literally push is butt forward. The connection with the seat and leg is all we have! I can only sit myself down in the saddle and decide that the horse’s hind end will do the same. I can feel my core engaging – it’s a firm but supple feeling of support to the horse. My body says, hind legs stay here! while the rest of me says whether to shorten or lengthen the strides.

There’s a distinct difference between sitting on the horse’s saddle, passively following along as a passenger and the feeling of sitting in the horse’s back. Sitting in the horse feels like one powerful connection between your core, the horse’s hind end, your leg, and their front end. Just be careful not to get crazy and lean too far back, down, and hard – I HAVE managed to give myself a bruise to the tailbone in my efforts during one lesson. Oops… Ha. But it’s so worth frequently checking in on your passenger status. One of Courtney’s most used reminders is simply, “Butt down!” It’s easy to lose sight of having that connection even if you know the difference in the feeling!

An exercise that has been very helpful to me applies both in trot and canter, but I want to explain it in the canter. Courtney has me ride a shortened canter all the way through a corner – almost a “pirouette canter” which would be cantering on the spot, and then I push the canter bigger as I half pass across the arena. Channeling the power before the sideways movement exaggerates a half halt. It puts the horse way back on his hind end underneath of me and allows me to support his collection as I push for the beautiful jump in the half pass rather than having it be fast and flat. (aka crazy!) It allows me to direct the collection that I already have rather than struggle to create it after I’ve started the movement. Woohoo!

Since Courtney has had her sweet second baby, Bailey (Congratulations beautiful mommy!!!) there were a couple of weeks of alone time for me and our horseys in the 20×60. It makes me so aware of how extra million bazillion thankful I am to have such a precise, consistent, correct coach in my head that I can hear her voice loud and clear even when she’s 20 miles of country roads away. You’re a gem, Court!

Till We Have Faces

 

shanghai snow

Her jaw dropped when I answered her question that I’ve been working for Courtney just over five years now. I know, it’s starting to sound like a big number – at least in comparison to the years I’ve been trotting around this world. I mean, that’s like being well into grad school. All she said was, “Wow, I’m really surprised. It’s just that you’re both still so excited!”

I had to smile. I love that our excitedness abounds and surprises! It makes sense expecting things to dry up, but maybe we’re just like wine baby, getting better with time. Ooph. Yea, it hurts to leave that cliché written. Ha. It’s true that we’ve spent a whole lot of time together. We’ve been around long enough to learn a lot of weird little details about each other. But to me that’s when things start to get really good. I don’t like just scratching the surface. I like to stay. I want to know all about you so that I can love you more fully. I want to stick around long enough that my walls start to let down and I’m fully me. Deeper is richer. I’m guessing it’s fairly rare to have such a gem of a person as a trainer and mentor… I feel really lucky to have someone who really cares, who’s really invested both professionally and personally. That in and of itself should be enough to stay excited!

Courtney is great at keeping the communication lines open as a trainer, as a friend, and as a public figure. I think that’s one of her super powers. Me on the other hand… I’m hungry for openness, honesty is royalty in the land of my priorities, but I’m more afraid to be seen. Keeping a lot of thoughts to myself hinders a lot of things including learning… both in and out of the saddle. I’m discovering that I simply need to say exactly what I’m thinking out loud in order to open the door for growth. Complete authenticity brings clarity to thoughts that are muddled when kept inside. It reminds me of a quote that I love from one of my favorite books Till We Have Faces.

 “‘Child, to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that’s the whole art and joy of words.’ … I saw well why the gods do not speak openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”

I climb the unnecessarily tall mounting block and swing my leg over to settle into Shanghai’s saddle. The coffee hasn’t quite kicked in. My back is a little stiff and sore from the combination of the cold and my last string of lessons, but my first thought is, This seat feels like home. Shanghai, you feel like home. I start to think about our last conversation about his training in a lesson with Courtney.

For far too long Shanghai has had an unreliable right lead canter transition. I can’t guarantee that he’s going to stay round in either the transition from walk or from trot. It’s not even subtle enough that I would be able to hold him together in a test if I needed to. He either decides to be good or he decides to fight it. Basically, he’s the boss.

It’s not for lack of trying to fix it. Trust me, it’s an embarrassing little hole that I’ve spent a lot of time trying to fill in, but all I’ve done is make the ratio of good transitions to bad transitions a bit more in my favor. I kept coming up with new theories of where he needs to be more supple, where he needs to be straighter, how I need to set him up so that it’s completely natural and easy for him to make the right choice to stay round. With all that babble I made more good transitions, but I still couldn’t count on it. I couldn’t count on conditions being perfect enough every time.

I was determined to solve the problem by the time Courtney got back from New Zealand. But alas, in our first lesson back I hung my head saying I still haven’t fixed that transition and it’s driving me crazy! Why is this still an issue? We’re bigger than this. He’ll be showing Second Level this year. We’re grown up enough not to have this problem!

I finally poured out all of my thinking… I explained my suppleness and straightness theories that have helped adjust the ratio… but that it just isn’t reliable. She told me that I just need to tell him NO. He has to understand that it is a mistake. I’ll have to be a little tough telling him to stay round and that he’s simply not allowed to come above the bit. I understand the concept, but for some reason this little turkey with the hold on my heart has me convinced that I’m not allowed to push the issue in that way.

I’m realizing I might be loving him to a fault. I think sometimes the big red hearts in my eyes (I know you know the emoji!) keep me from seeing straight when I’m on him. I question whether I would have the same thought process on any other horse? It’s perfectly natural to make him sensitive to my leg to go forward or sideways, but when I tell him to respect the bit in that transition he gets really offended and sort of says, You yelled at my mouth, so I don’t like you and I’m not going to try anymore – not this time OR the next time! Courtney listens to my reason for hesitation but looked at me a little funny as if that’s really not something she can picture being a reality with this horse.

She said for us to just try the N-O word, and that we’ll see what happens. He has a more subtle evasion in the transitions within the canter going to the right, so we start there. When I push him forward, he braces a little instead of suppley pushing into the bit. So when I told him to go forward I was proactive with my hands instead of passive saying, you WILL be round enough and you will go INTO the bit NOT above it as we transition from normal to bigger canter. It’s the same rule he needs to know in the transitions between the gaits. Courtney and I regrouped after the canter work… “So that worked, right?” she asks.

Now is when I have to lay out all of my concerns. Just spit out whatever is clouding my instincts. It’s the only way I can clear up my brain to believe in the solution when I’m working on my own. I explained, “Yes, that worked well, but sometimes when I’ve tried making that correction on my own he will get mad and start to back up as an evasion. Flashes of screwing up his future take over and I back off and change my approach. I’m afraid of making this horse ever think backwards.” Even just saying things out loud make them clearer. Courtney pointed out that by avoiding the problem, giving in when he goes backwards is exactly what teaches him to use that as an evasion. Whereas if I just calmly hold my ground and insist that he needs to be round even if he’s backing up, he realizes that backing up doesn’t change anything. Obviously his rider doesn’t care about where he’s going, he just needs to be round in the process, so he scratches that evasion off the list. Duh. Big red hearts getting in the way much??

Since I’ve changed from too often saying, “It’s ok Honey Pie Sugar Cookie, I know you didn’t understand that, let’s try again and do better this time!” to saying, “Hey, that was a mistake. This is where you went wrong. Do it right this time.” He has complied with the rule and has stopped making the mistake. Simple.

I don’t need a life full of cheerleaders and neither does my horse. This is where it’s so valuable to trust someone to listen to my babble. Listen to exactly the thoughts that are swirling around in my brain, and then go ahead and slap my cheek if it needs it. Be direct. Be literal. Instruct. Show me where I’m wrong. Help me see my ridiculousness so that I can see past it and fix it. Encouragement is important, knowing when you’ve done it right is essential, but a storm of pom-poms doesn’t get us anywhere.

No more hiding. No sugar coating. No editing to sound like someone else. Just my thoughts or lack thereof. What do I have to lose? I can’t build on what I know unless I lay out the bricks that I already own… there for me to see and there on the ground for others to see and help me stack. No guessing games. No invisible bricks. We have never had to be alone in building our houses.

My Fly is Down

fall colors

For a while I’ve been rolling around in the deep. I’ve been dwelling on how there’s a huge lesson in the importance of humility to be a good student. One of those lessons that can’t just be learned once. I’ve been trying to figure out how to weave in how much pride gets in the way. I even came up with a list of C.S. Lewis quotes on the subject. Instead of getting too heavy on you guys this time, I just want to say, never be too “grown-up” to lay down your defenses and simply say, “Yes, ma’am” to the little things.

How can we learn if we don’t humble ourselves before we come into the arena? It’s the little things that can be embarrassing to be called out on. Nobody wants to hear that their fly is down or there’s a twig or something stuck in their teeth when they can’t even remember how long it’s been since their last meal. Ha. Just as it can be hard to be taught a basic lesson that your brain may have downloaded a month of Sundays ago.

We still need to fix it.

Listen up and zip your pants so you can move on to being a professional. I’m well versed at these lessons as I’m a fairly awkward human being. That’s probably an understatement. I’m the girl with coffee and/or breakfast stains on my shirt every single day because I’m too amused by my klutzy self to pay more attention. Maybe I’m fooling myself thinking that I could fix it if I wanted to… but that’s beside the point.

Coffee stains are one thing, basics in training are another. Basics are the foundation from which all impressive things are formed. Without them, there will always be a hole in the training. In my last lesson on Shanghai I finished warming up and then explained to Courtney how I’ve been focusing on getting him off my right leg and catching him with my left outside leg. As I demonstrated using my arm to show the job of my inside leg, she stopped me and even corrected my demonstration. “I know it seems like no big deal”, she said. But as I used my arm as my inside leg, it made my body incorrectly shift to the outside – just standing there at the halt. It doesn’t seem like a big deal; I was only talking, right? It wasn’t even the actual body part that I use when riding forward. But, “It’s even the way you think that needs to change.” she explained. Even when I demonstrate using my inside leg, my body should naturally think down on the inside… almost like it’s scooping with my inside aids instead of pressing what looked like flat and straight on their side. That way I’m sure to keep good balance. As I rode around thinking, It’s even the way you think… it was exactly the cure to fixing our balance. Wow. When I use my inside leg now, I imagine that rooted downward feeling that Courtney demonstrated from the ground. That’s where it starts.

Thanks to Clair and Lendon, I was lucky enough to collect a handful more of those little things riding with Lilo Fore at Bel Air last weekend. 🙂 “You need to be like this!” Lilo bellowed as she firmly planted her level fists on the countertop. “The horse needs something consistent to go to. Level hands make a level bit.” She stressed.

For a long moment I feel a little lost in my body. My normal programming as Koryn the trainer has been set aside and I feel like I should be on a lunge line so that I can just focus on how to think about what I want to feel, how to hold my hands, how to use my body. The next step feels like it might be learning to post the trot! That awkward paradigm shift passed before too long and I found the nice straight, steady channel from leg through seat to bit that Lilo was looking for. Everything feels simple and I can make small effective corrections without weebling and wobbling through so many bigger corrections to get there. Less is more!

“You never see the top riders unorganized – no matter the horse.”

That statement rings over and over in my mind. Keeping my right hand up was a large pat of balancing myself out. Lilo pointed out that it likes to live lower than my left. Since then, I’ve spent a good chunk of my mental capacity focusing on keeping my right hand up. I look in the mirror expecting to see that it’s TOO high. If I’ve learned anything from Courtney and Lendon, it’s that in order to fix something, it’s better to make the opposite mistake than to slowly move in the right direction. I want to hear, “That’s too high. I love it!” But what my reflection shows is simply level hands. Crap, I need to fix that!

As I cantered around on Fargo, just starting to collect him after a stretchy warm-up Lilo says to me, “You’re pushing too much with your seat.” I’m surprised, because that’s a new one to me and I’m not trying to push with my seat. I can feel that there’s power in my motion, but this amount of power has been my neutral. Perhaps a trying to encourage push from behind neutral. Can that be a thing? Apparently not, because when I repeated back to her to make sure I understood correctly, “This is pushing too much with my seat?” I hear,“ Yes.” Well, alright then. Surely Lilo knows! So I think about how I can find some notches to take it down. I imagine the looseness my hips feel when I’m plopped into a couch – still keeping good posture with my core, but hips doing no more than relaxedly following the canter motion. Immediately I feel Fargo’s collection improve dramatically. He has somewhere to bounce now that my seat isn’t driving him flatter! It felt like it couldn’t be. It felt like almost nothing changed. But to Fargo, everything changed. Ohhhh it’s the little things. The seriously not so little… little things!!!

Also, there’s so much more clarity now when he tries to escape the collection by pulling through his shoulders. It’s easy to have good timing for a quick, little, and simple half halt saying, Nope, stay right here under this seat with me dude… and he’s right back with me. With less push on my part, I become more of a pillar. I’m quietly following instead of that little bit of chasing – pushing ahead of him. How can he be underneath of my seat pushing and forward in front of my leg if I’m always moving a slither of a pace ahead of him??? Now my patient looseness gives him an invitation to relax his back and bounce up to me. Oh happy day!!!

So, yea. Can I go on a little bit about some of the other kind of little things that have been singing to me? It might just be 1989 getting to my head but… It’s the big smile from a baby who’s just so excited to see that you’re around. It’s the bright colors on the trees falling to the ground but promising to be back. It’s the candle in the birthday cake. It’s the song lyrics that you can feel all the way in your bones. It’s the horse that is so willing to learn from you and let you hug his strong neck as long as you need to. It’s the person sending a note just to remind you that you’re on their mind. It’s the tip of the fluorescent helmet from a construction worker as you wave a thank you. It’s sharing the same space as friends who speak your heart language… It’s the little things.

Believe It

Sometimes I think that you just have to decide that you can do it. You can be confident. You can be brave. You can grow. You can lead. You can believe that your words are diamonds, that you are talented, that you can be just as inspiring as the people who inspire you, that you mean something to someone in a way that no one else does. Sometimes it seems to start as simple as realizing that you can rock out red lipstick and fitted leather pants. You can own that tux or sequined dress, muddied up hiking boots or high strappy pumps, wide brimmed cowboy hat or a freaking top hat (off the horse that is, let’s keep our brains protected people) if any of that sounds like fun to you!

(I was told by a fellow shopper that she was “actually scared” when I decided to have some fun walking around the shoe store in these with a couple of friends the other night. I guess making myself 6’6” can be a little overbearing haha)

(I was told by a fellow shopper that she was “actually scared” when I decided to have some fun walking around the shoe store in these with a couple of friends the other night. I guess making myself 6’6” can be a little overbearing haha)

Just decide that you can ride. You can feel and understand. You can listen, share, and understand the worldview of another living being. Even if you’re not the most experienced, or learned rider out there, you can embrace that everyone has something to learn and even the big boys have been where you are now. Don’t hold back. Just try stuff. Just feel. Just believe in what you know how to do or in something you want to try until proven right or wrong. But you’ve gotta believe in it. If you don’t believe in your training, in your ability, in your worth, neither is your partner. We all get it wrong sometimes – or a lot of the time, but floating around wondering and hoping you’re on the right track doesn’t get you anywhere. You’re always just wondering.

Fargo and I have really felt like we are hitting our stride over the last few weeks. Courtney and I have spent so much time zoning in on the basics of basics, and I think that it’s starting to pay off in the obvious kind of way. In weeks prior it was a different picture. I felt like we were stuck in a valley for too long and was wondering why everything was getting more difficult when we’ve only been working on easy, happy basics.

I realized that I’ve created a long list of rules for the two of us. (Anyone noticing a pattern here?) “Make sure to do this, never do that, always do that this way…” I’d gotten into quite the routine of avoiding certain mistakes and planning exactly the right order of exercises to do or ways to think in order to make his body feel good. There was a day that I was riding Fargo on my own and I thought, “You are going to ride this horse like you would ride him if it was your first ride, like you don’t know any of his “special” needs, issues, lessons – just like getting on someone else’s horse at a clinic to make a difference, only knowing what you feel in that moment.” Boy what a difference it made. His body did not start out feeling any better that day than it had in the last few rides, but it got clearly more rideable. I could school things that I couldn’t have dreamed of touching on earlier that week or month.

The difference was that I started our ride deciding to forget everything. Forget the problems. Forget what we “can’t do right now.” Forget what we haven’t proven that we CAN do. Forget the quirks. Forget what might happen, and just feel. Then, as my body just sat into the saddle, rode like we should be able to show small tour tomorrow and decided that he was going to accept my aids like any other horse, everything came together. THEN I could start to incorporate our lessons and exercises. Forget the details for a while and just do it, kid.

Along the same lines of confidence and feel, our next lesson with Courtney really improved our half halts and quality of the gaits by just changing the way I think. Instead of just half halting, we actually rode halts. When I ride a halt, my body instinctually ensures that the butt is active and stepping underneath of my horse’s body in order to stop. I put my leg on and if I don’t immediately feel the energy from the hind end carrying more underneath my butt then my leg gives a few little kicks until it does. There’s nothing more dull than watching someone slooooowwwwwly eeking to a stop. No way are you getting a powerful trot transition after one of those. Courtney had me ride a few good halts and then in the middle of doing a half pass or medium trot she would instruct me to, “Think halt.” or she would tell me to halt and then change her mind to keep going before I was stopped. I started to have some really effective half halts. She asked me, “Did you feel the difference in your body?” I responded, yes, that it seemed to be giving the same aids as before, but thinking “halt” somehow just made them work better. Courtney explained that it was because I believed it. I believed that I was going to get the necessary activity, and so my horse did too.

Let’s ride real half halts. Let’s believe that we’re actually going to halt. Let’s explore what we can do and make room for new ideas. How else do we learn but to try and teach others to try? Let’s show doubt who’s da boss.

Stick With It

Bimi HugSpring is in the air and it kind of feels like the beginning of an age. I’ve gotten so used to the bitter cold that the other day when I was on a walk break, I felt like I was in a sauna. I was really cooking and I had no more appropriate layers to strip. I was wishing for some AC in the shady 52 degree indoor. Come on body, it’s time to wake up and enjoy the sunshine!

I recently had a couple of those great lessons when one idea makes five other things that have been a challenge fall into place for both Bimini and Fargo. In fact, it feels like many of our puzzle pieces are coming together. It seems like we’re starting to get past the get-to-know-each-other phase and moving on to being partners.

Courtney really tuned in to my connection with the boys. I’ve been quite focused on half halts and playing with the bit to create life in the connection and suppleness, but she had me refine that by keeping the connection very steady, making my gives more like softens rather than disappearing all together for moments. She explained that when I keep disappearing and then showing back up to chat, the initial contact back from giving is abrupt, almost like a little jerk. Even though I’m not really thinking about taking back, that’s how it feels to them.

I’m not sure if someone taught it this way to me, but I’ve explained the feeling as being like holding someone’s hand… following each other’s motion while walking or skipping along. When you want to send a message you can squeeze or play your fingers, take more feel or soften, but you are always there, never totally dropping out of that understanding connection.

We improved the connection by doing a lot of transitions within the gaits, prioritizing a steady contact – all the while playing the bit and bend in the body both ways. I need to keep up the conversation and be clear with my aids, and the boys need to relax and stretch… accept the contact with both my legs and hands and wait until my body says to push forward or come back within the gaits.

I was afraid to make the horses too deep, and for now sometimes they are. When I’m waiting for them to relax down or when I say, “No, you can’t race forward.” the neck sometimes comes too deep, but soon after when the message is received and we are both relaxed, the connection is so much more through and honest than it was when I totally avoided deep.

“Stick with it.”

In the short trot and short canter, I ask them to clearly shorten – but while finding a steady connection is the priority, I only shorten to a point that they can keep it over the time it takes until everything softens in that shortened gait. I need to be able to sit comfortably and follow without changing how much ground we cover. I have to stay committed to the speed I decide to go while suppling and waiting for it to feel easy.

Spending time on this made such a big difference for my leg aid on Bimini. He tends to be quite hot to the leg so it’s hard to use it to activate or push when he would rather just race forward. My leg has to be on in the shortened canter or he will get too slow behind or break. So taking time to wait for the relaxation in the playful bridle also helped him to accept that my leg was not going away. It clearly doesn’t mean run faster when I’m making him stay in the shortened canter. Then I could push him forward and use my leg to mean active in the bigger gaits as well. I actually had some good weight in my leg contact! Yay!

With that connection being so much more comfortable and relaxed, he was also very sensitive to my seat’s aids. Sitting back and stopping the motion was my first aid to come back, and he became sensitive enough that I didn’t really need the reins as back up anymore. It’s always amazing to me when one priority makes other things fall so neatly into place.

“Left as well as right.”

It’s important to keep the conversation going with both sides of the body. Courtney helped me to think of my aids working together as a team. They have different jobs, but they don’t think and operate separately; they consider each other. For example, it’s the job of the inside leg to push the barrel toward the receiving outside leg. The inside leg thinks about a leg yield toward the outside leg, rather than one and then the other correcting. I need to ride the whole horse and use my whole body.

I have a tendency to overly focus on the side that feels like it needs the most fixing, but it doesn’t come through in that harder direction until I supple the body both ways and tune in to all of my aids. We use a lot of inside bend to renvers on the circle to straighten, supple, and make sure my aids are working especially for Fargo who likes to keep his haunches in a bit. I also have to make sure to think about riding the neck fairly straight in order to focus on making the bend in the body and connection to the outside rein rather than being stuck on the bending inside rein. When I get a little caught up in having too much neck bend, my seat and legs cannot ride the horse’s barrel effectively.

I think the focus on connection and my aids working together has really made Fargo start to feel like my partner. The other day I did a medium canter down the long side thinking about all of this work, and it felt SO much easier and fluid than usual. I could feel the power being right on my aids and it rolling over his back. We were dancing. Courtney always teaches to be really obnoxious about rewarding the horses. Make a big fuss over them and make them feel like a star! It was such a breakthrough feeling of a moment; so you can only imagine my loud, super flowery cooing as we lengthened. Midway down the track, Fargo just joyfully leapt in the air! There was nothing for him to react to besides my voice, and he didn’t feel upset, he was just so excited and proud! ❤

Wait For It…

Bimini is a smart little orange horse. He wants to be a very good boy; so he sometimes guesses what we want to happen next, especially when it comes to flying changes. He quickly picks up on trends and tries to take over and do things on his own.

For a while we schooled the changes after making two real corners on to the centerline. Pirouette canter consistently helps before changes. Anything less can be a dangerous grey area. Could I really get the butt down and shorten the canter if I wanted to? Am I making an “invisible” half halt or is it invisible because the reaction really isn’t there? Schooling the pirouette canter before the real corners helped to setup our canter, and he didn’t expect a change on the centerline, so he stayed on my aids. Though soon enough, he picked up on the exercise and the anticipation made for sloppy changes. So we started doing them after making a corner to cut across the ring instead of centerline – same idea, different place. This worked for a while, but soon he figured out that game plan too. In my attempt to make the change happen I ended up rushing my aids to sort of pretend that the change was my idea (making it “mine” before it was sure to be his). I would start asking just before he took over, but that’s just as bad. I might get in a change, but it’s not honest. It’s not the timing that I really want.

In one lesson I was cantering down the long side and Courtney called out to do a change. No big deal. Bimini didn’t expect it, his canter was already good, and it was right on my aids. So we had a nice big change. Yay! I called out, “He didn’t expect that!” Then Courtney had me go on the short diagonal and do pirouette canter saying, “If it’s good, we’re going to do a pirouette.” We haven’t been schooling actual pirouettes, just the pirouette canter, so I got myself in thinking mode. I tried to ride the canter the same as if we weren’t planning to pirouette, but simultaneously tried to be ready to turn and know what to think of in the turn etc. etc. etc. My brain was as caught up with thoughts as this wordy explanation. Wrapping itself around and around the plan. Ok, short diagonal. Pirouette canter. I think it’s pretty good – preparing for the turn but waiting for Courtney to say, “Pirouette.” Instead I hear, “Ok, change.” — Wait, what?! But, but, but, the plan! I’m not ready for that! Ha. I spastically tried and failed to switch gears and ride a change before we got to the wall. It was so messy and I was so thrown out of Koryn Overthinking Land that I just halted and busted out laughing. There was definitely a sizable snort that escaped somewhere in there too. Why do I crack up so easily?

Courtney’s plan was to see if I’m the one anticipating the changes… a fair enough theory, though I don’t think it’s usually the case with Bimini. I shouldn’t have been so thrown off guard. I’m sure that I’ve done the same sort of thing to students! It’s a good reminder that I should be ready and able to do anything, and I always appreciate a good laugh!

My favorite exercise for the two of us came next. Courtney had me ride around and around the arena pretending that I wanted a change without really asking for it. I stayed a little off the track or occasionally went across the diagonals – wherever. I would push him into what would be the new outside rein, collect the canter, slide my new outside leg back, push the canter forward, anything that would make him think that I was planning to do a change, but never actually pressing the new outside leg, never actually half halting with the new outside rein, never actually asking for a change. At first he would get tight every time, everything in his being wanted and started to change, but Psyche! I was just fooling around. You don’t get to guess little friend!

Whenever he would start to hop and try to do a flying change, I would do my best to clearly tell him to stay on the current lead. If he threw in a change before I could stop him, then I just walk and pick up the other lead again. Around and around… Maybe we’re going to do a change? Nahhh, I’m just going to slide my legs around and we might do one later. I can psyche him out anywhere, not just on a diagonal when he’s sure he should anticipate something, just on a centerline, just on a short line, or wherever we might “normally” do things. He gets bored of guessing because there’s no specific place. He has to just wait and pay attention everywhere.

When I was sure that he was not anticipating and that a flying change was completely my idea, I would do the same setup and then actually put my aids on to ask for the change. What was cute was when he was so sure that we weren’t doing changes that when I finally asked, he just wouldn’t change! He would hop around a little, as if to say, I really want to change, I want to do it, but NOPE that’s NOT what you want mommy. I will refrain! I can do that for you! After a couple of tries he realized that it might be an ok thing to do now, and then we had some great changes. It’s so nice when things are totally honest and not a guessing game.

I think pretending to do changes is something we’re going to have to go back and use often. We WILL have to school specific exercises – sequences, changing after half passes, changes on the short sides, etc. So he does have to be able to do things in specific places. I can’t always just ride around so that he won’t have a way to figure out a pattern. In his last lesson, Courtney had us practice canter half pass with a flying change at the end. The priority was having a good change, so we didn’t half pass very long in order to give lots of space and time to prepare the change. Sometimes I would pretend to do a change, not change, and then really do a change. Sometimes he anticipated the whole time and I didn’t do a change. Sometimes he felt patient and I could ask for a change without fooling around first. We need to practice them everywhere – just wait for it!