As we make a surge towards debuting at Third Level (THIRD LEVEL!!!) in May, I’ve been getting a lot of help lately with Cardoon’s training. This is largely due to the fact that for the better part of two months, I was lucky enough to board him at my trainer’s barn.

As part of the deal, he got pro rides a few days a week and I usually got two lessons a week. I really only rode him on my own once or twice a week, which is pretty unusual for me, and even then, I had the benefit of mirrors and a really fancy indoor.  And lets be honest – a fancy indoor and big, shiny mirrors make everyone ride better.

I’ve been riding now for almost 30 years, and since I’ve been an adult, I almost always ride on my own. That’s not to say that I don’t seek out a good trainer or take regular lessons – I do – but the day to day training slog is all me.  I managed to train Cardoon from Training to Second mostly with my own riding and the occasional kick in the butt from Lauren.  And that’s been OK. To be honest, I never understood people who always boarded with a full service trainer, especially if they were clearly competent riders and horse people.  If you’re experienced, why do you need more than a check-up with a trainer more than once a week?

In short – I’m a big proponent of self-reliance.  Until, of course, it was time to bring Cardoon home on Sunday.

About a week before coming home, I had a lesson with Lauren who was home from Florida for her monthly weekend of training.  As I drove the 40 minutes to the barn, I started to fret about what would happen when we came home.  Would we revert to our old, bad habits? Would I be able to retain any of the amazing work that we’ve done in the past two months?  What, exactly, should I be working on with him on a daily basis anyway?

I think much of my consternation stems from the fact that I’ve never ridden this level before, and I’ve sure as hell never trained a horse to do any of these things!  Half pass was something that I only ever tried about 6 months ago, and its been in the past two weeks that I really understood it.  I’ve never trained a horse to do flying changes.  I apparently didn’t know what real straightness was, and boy was that an eye opener!

The more I thought about it, the more worried I became.  Even talking about my concerns with Lauren and Allison, who both assured me that everything would be OK, wasn’t quite enough.  They did however give me some good advice about exercises to work on, and how to pick away at the quality of the gaits and lateral work without just drilling it.  I left with exercises like:

At the quarter line, canter right lead and leg yield left to E, then half pass right.  Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Lots of renvers, travers, shoulder in – all in short spurts, then back to straight, then back to the lateral movement.

And above all, insist on Cardoon moving off my leg.  Immediately.

In the end, Cardoon came home, and we had our first solo ride back in the home arena tonight. I’ll admit to being a little, bizarrely, panicked as I threw my leg over and hopped on my ever-placid partner.  While Laura Graves and Steffen Peters are safe from competition from me and my washed-up cart horse, there was some pretty good work there by the end of my ride and I think we’re going to be OK.  In so many ways, I’m happy that I ride on my own.  I love having my horses just out my front door, and am incredibly lucky that we have a nice enough barn and arena that training is possible throughout most of the year.  The past two months has taught me though, that it really does take a village, and that there’s nothing wrong with relinquishing the self-reliance mantra for a while, and letting others really be your guide.


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