Movin’ on up…

I know its been a while since I posted.  That’s partly because I was just really busy with life (finding a new job is exhausting and soul-killing work), but also because there hasn’t really been a whole lot to say.  For one thing, I was overly busy tending to Healey, who decided to be a young horse and cut his leg in a dumb pasture accident.  In the end, it will be just fine, but he took some dedicated care and will take some more time to fully heal.  Let me just say that young horses have no sense of self-preservation, especially young warmbloods.

When I wasn’t caring for an angry, young, injured warmblood, I’ve been picking away at the pieces of the Prix St. Georges, and getting ready to show Fourth level this summer.  In practice, what this means, is that I’ve been doing an awful lot of transitions between medium canter, collected canter, and very collected canter.  Straight, round and adjustable have been the words of the day pretty much every day since I brought Cardoon home at the end of March.

It hasn’t been a straight line of progress, and Cardoon definitely had a week or so where he vehemently objected to the idea of moving forward in a very small canter.  And god forbid that we asked him to canter small AND turn…there was some spitting out of the bit and plenty of angry Cardoon faces.  For those who have met Cardoon in person, you can just imagine the groaning that went on.

Fortunately, he didn’t last long in that phase, and went back to being the practically perfect pony I’ve come to know and love.  He’s buckled down, and it occurred to me just a week or two ago that without hardly noticing it, we’ve made real progress.  It snuck up on us for sure, but suddenly I found that I could reliably ask for straightens, collection, and all the movements from Fourth level and know that they would happen.  We’ve also developed a nice half pass zig zag, which is pretty cool.

There are plenty of things we need to make better – half passes at both the trot and canter still need more bend, changes (especially the tempis) can be straighter, and our overall gaits can always be more uphill – but I now know when I get on that when I ask all of these movements, they will happen more or less  when and where I want them to.  Even the changes, which Cardoon has demonstrated his savant-like genius for, are no longer stolen from me every ride.  In short – he’s letting me in more and more and he’s trusting me to drive.

Our first show is next weekend, so I finally decided to start schShad and pointsooling the whole test (Fourth Level, Test 1) about a week ago.  Although I had been picking away
at bits and pieces of it, especially that medium-collected-medium trot on the diagonal, I hadn’t ridden all the way through it form start to finish yet.  Usually when I set out to try this, the first several attempts are unmitigated disasters so you can imagine my shock when we got all the way through the test, and it went well.  I even thought there were parts of it that were
pretty damn good!

My goals for this year’s show season are modest – to get my Silver medal scores at 4th level and make my first credible attempt at the PSG before the end of the year.  After all, I have to wear my amazing new shadbelly sometime this year!

 

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Meet Austin Healey

“What on earth have I done?”

This is what I was thinking as I lay awake in the wee dark hours, about two weeks ago.  Just that evening, I’d taken delivery of my new Austin Healey.  No, not the little British car type of Austin Healey, but the coming five year old, Hanoverian variety of Austin Healey.

Yes, I’d taken the plunge and brought home a new young horse.

My trainer often says that having multiple horses is a good idea.  Chances are, with multiple horses, they won’t all be lame or naughty on the same day, and as someone who gets a little obsessive about each and every ride, I can attest that the mental health benefits of having two in the barn are real.  Until last fall, I had two riding horses at home.  Cardoon, obviously, was my priority, but I also had Bodie – a nice little Half Arabian who I’d put a bunch of dressage training on.  He turned 13 last year, and it was time for him to go to a new home where he’d have a meaningful job.  I was lucky to find a great Pony Club family, and by all accounts, they’re all quite happy together.

After Bodie left in October, I wasn’t in any hurry to jump back into another horse.  My job situation has been really up in the air for a while, and who wants to get a new horse in the winter when riding is a special form of torture?

However, as the winter wore on, I was spending an inordinate amount of time looking at sale ads for horses, and finally talked to Lauren about helping me find out if anyone we knew had something that might be good for me.  We agreed that I wanted something that was probably 6-9 years old, and either had a slow start in life, or needed polishing after a stint in another discipline.  Bodie had been 8 when I got him, and had mostly been a trail/all-around horse for his old owner.  I thought this sounded like a good plan – nothing too young, and something with a little life experience but not necessarily lots of training. I felt capable of putting more dressage basics on a new horse, but didn’t want to deal with lots of silliness, especially young silliness.  Lauren put out the word from where she was in Florida, and the hunt was on.

One of the first responses we had was from a family we both know, who had a young horse, just coming 5, who they’d started under saddle and were now looking to sell.  I was a little worried because I really wasn’t sure I wanted a really young horse, but I knew that these were good people who were good with the young horse stuff, and I called them to set up a time to try the horse, who they called Rabbit (and now called Healey!).  After a few aborted attempts to get together (largely due to 2+ feet of snow and trailers that were plowed in for the duration), Rachel was finally able to get Rabbit up to Lauren’s farm, where her assistant trainer, Natasha Sprengers-Levine, was willing to serve as my crash test dummy.  Her job was to try to provoke a response in this horse and see what he did.  Basically, could you put your leg on, take a hold of some contact, and still go or did he pitch  fit?

Rachel had warned me that Rabbit hadn’t been ridden in about a month, and hadn’t been off the farm for quite a while before that.  I was impressed that he marched off the trailer and into the huge indoor with multiple mirrors, and essentially shrugged his shoulders and then went to work.  Natasha got on him and while he didn’t know a whole lot about what she was asking, he was a good sport about all of it.  I imagine his internal thought process was something like, “You’re pulling on my face?  OK.  I’ll fling my nose around a bit and then put my head down.  Oh, is that your leg and a spur!?  I’d better go forward!”

My reaction to riding him was smiling, which is usually a good sign.  I don’t smile when I ride.  Like, ever.  I can probably count on two hands how many times I remember cracking a smile while actually on horseback.  I’m the “intense concentration” type.  But this guy made me giggle a little.  His reactions were so honestly trying, yet confused, that I couldn’t help it.

After thinking it over for a few days, I made an offer, set up a vetting (which went swimmingly as he submitted to poking, trotting, riding in a new setting, and all with great aplomb), and eventually got him in my barn…

…Exactly 15 minutes before a rare winter, apocalyptic thunderstorm arrived.  Here is a horse in a new setting, who’s always lived out 24/7 but is now in a stall, in a strange barn, and it sounds like a freight train because the metal roof is thundering from the heavy rain (and actual thunder).  Fortunately, none of this bothered him and he set about chowing down on his hay and we tucked him in for the night.

Healey first night

Healey wasn’t so interested in standing still, but he is very personable and will hopefully fit well into this little barn of mine.

Despite his good sense in settling in well, I laid awake that night wondering what I was thinking.  Was now really a good time to buy a new horse?  My job is STILL up in the air, and who knows how much time I’ll have once things are settled.  I’m also forty years old, and it hurts when I fall off now, so why did I get a green warmblood?  And then the really insidious doubts – What do I know about training horses?  Will I screw this up?  I don’t want to screw this up!

The next day, after about three hours of sleep, I got up and put Healey back on the trailer  to visit saddle fitter Colleen Meyer of Advanced Saddle Fit, a trip he took totally in stride. And he didn’t mind when Lindsay Williamson of Tribute Feeds came the day after that to give me some feeding advice, as I’m used to feeding the air ferns of the equine world, and not the slightly weedy and still growing warmbloods.

I finally got on Healey at home a few days later for our first day of real work, and I’ll admit I was nervous.  That little voice in my head is insidious.  “Don’t screw this up!” it says.  “You know you’re not good enough,” it says. “Be careful!” it says. Ignoring the voice as best I could, I climbed aboard, put my leg on, my chin up, stayed calm and rode forward.

I’m sure we’ll have our trials and tribulations, but I’m determined to prove to myself that I can do this, just like I started my last two young horses on my own, retrained Bodie into a solid little dressage horse, and am now bringing Cardoon to the FEI levels.  I haven’t done any of it alone – and I won’t do this alone either – but I know I can do this, and I intend to have a good bit of fun along the way.  Healey has a good sense of humor, a steady disposition, and he knows (at least for now) that leg on means GO FORWARD.  We’ll be OK.

Nothing is happening!

Nothing. Is. Happening.  These words just may have played a role in a recent series of text messages to Lauren after a few perfectly OK, but decidedly uninspired rides.

For the uninitiated, dressage training looks something this: like long periods of not much, punctuated by three strides of brilliance, followed by another period of Very Boring Things.  I know this.  This is not a new concept to me.  Yet a few weeks ago, I had a few moments of panic after one of those rides where nothing went terribly wrong, but nothing went particularly right either.

As an amateur who’s never ridden at this level, much less trained a horse new to this level, it can be so incredibly difficult to know if the work you’re slogging away at, day in and day out, is actually making any kind of difference.  Quite often, it feels like there is absolutely no change from day to day, week to week.  You question your sanity in spending exorbitant amounts of money on this sport, especially when you’re braving freezing temperatures to ride in circles for what seems like hours.

Cardoon Winter 2016

Cardoon wishes that I’d let him have the winter off.  This FEI stuff is hard.

Its been terrific to be boarding at Lauren’s for a few months because aside from the nice indoor and great care, I have eyes on the ground for more rides than not, and that makes a difference.  If nothing else, it keeps me from spiraling too far into my own put of despair.

Lauren and her assistant trainers Natasha and Lisa have both assured me that Cardoon looks and feels great and that we just are where we are.  One day, if I keep picking away at the little things, collected pirouette canter will just happen and I’ll wonder why I was so worried.

I did have a small realization today when I rode and we practiced some canter half pass, a movement which seemed so incredibly hard at exactly this time last year.  It felt at the time like we did so many bad half passes, replete with bad riding and bad horse behavior.  It felt like we’d never, in a million years, be able to do one of these in a respectable manner.

Yet tonight, we made lovely canter half pass in both directions and worked on making it just a little crisper, a little more upright and slightly better positioned.  But the basic movement was no longer the struggle it was last year.  I don’t know when that happened, but it gives me hope that I’m not destined to flounder in this no man’s land of bad pirouettes and crooked collected canter forever.

In the meantime, I’ll try to embrace the grind and punctuate it with fun things like hill work, cavaletti and trail rides.

 

The Check-in

I had my weekly lesson with Lauren on Christmas eve, as she’s now off to Welly-world for the winter season.  While she comes home three times between now and April 1, and while Cardoon and I will have regular eyes on the ground for at least the next two months (I’m lucky enough to be boarding at her farm for the winter again!), I wanted to have one last check-in with her on our progress before we were abandoned…ahem…left to our own devices for a while.

There are some things in the dressage world that have to be taught “just so” in order to avoid problems down the road.  For example, I’ve seen that the flying changes can be kinda, permanently challenging if a horse’s propensity to be late behind isn’t nipped in the bud early on.  While late changes were never a problem for Cardoon (he liked to demonstrate his savant-like capacity for changes as early as First Level), we’ve seen  several horses go through this issue lately, it made me worry that there might be other complex sounding movements that could be equally screwed permanently.

Like the pirouette.

The pirouette feels right now like something I will never master.  I feel as though I’ve been stuck for a month doing transitions between collected canter and very collected canter, and living in an exercise involving a 20 meter circle with a canter volte at 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock.  We’re doing it, and the pirouette canter might be getting ever-so-slightly better, but it feels like I’m standing still and lack any skills to make the canter as small as it will need to be.

A few lessons ago, while observing our struggle to sit and collect, even for a few strides, Lauren suggested that the next step (for us) towards the pirouettes was to get Cardoon VERY round, while still in a collected canter.   Think rollkur, but without the permanently cranked over neck, open mouth, and torture.  Lets be honest here, with his big shoulders and driving horse front end, Cardoon is physically incapable of a rollkur position. That said, getting him to be truly over his back, giving at the base of his neck, while still cantering uphill and forward is a challenge.  And it was getting in the way of our work towards the pirouette because his tendency is to brace at his withers, and bring his neck and head up.  This isn’t conducive to the balanced, round, uphill movement we’re after.

In pursuit of this increased roundness, we spent about two weeks working on nothing but a very round, uphill canter.  It was an awful lot of thinking about putting his nose between his knees, without actually ever getting his nose close to that place.  We did a lot of suppling on the outside rein, giving, and then suppling some more.  My left shoulder now hurts a lot, and its possible I now have a rotator cuff injury.  But I think all of that suppling paid off.

In my last lesson, I asked Lauren to hop on Cardoon and give me her assessment of how she thought he felt.  Basically, a check-in on whether she thinks he’s progressing and whether my training feels “right”.  I don’t want to be working towards the pirouette only to find out that I’ve somehow permanently prevented us from ever getting there through incorrect work.

Much to my relief and delight, she actually giggled a little when she got on him and the words “He’s getting So. Fun.” may have passed her lips.  She also assured me that pirouettes are not, in fact, like flying changes.  One is not likely to completely FUBAR them by riding badly.

The other small joy in my lesson is that when he does misbehave while we’re working on collected canter (which usually looks something like canter-canter smaller 1 stride-flying change-one tempi-slam both front feet on the ground in anger-then leap away 2 feet-then continue cantering), its not me.  Because he pulled the same exact thing with Lauren.  Its not that I want to see my trainer fail – I pay her to succeed -but it is a little gratifying to know that this is just where we are, because it’s where we are, and not because I suck.

All in all, the check-in went well.  Lauren assures me that we’re where we should be and that I shouldn’t panic.  The pirouettes will come.  Eventually.  And in the meantime, we just need to keep chipping away at that very, very collected canter – with our head down and nose to the grindstone.

Cardoon December bath

Cardoon got a mid-December bath and a THIRD body clipping in preparation for two months at Camp Prix-St-Georges-in-2016 or bust.  

 

With Gratitude

A few weeks ago, a friend posted a news article on Facebook about the barn where we had all ridden as teenagers.  After a long period decline and then of being closed, it is now under new ownership and management, and will soon be the home to new horses and new trainers.  The article brought back memories of summers in the sun, winters spent freezing in the indoor, and how lucky I was to find a life with horses when I was a kid, while growing up in suburban New Jersey.

Like a lot of adult amateurs, I didn’t grow up in a horsey family.  My mom (a teacher) and my dad (an architect) probably had no idea what they were getting into when they gave me riding lessons for my 10th birthday.  I remember opening that gift of my first riding helmet (safety first!) and being just so excited that I was going to be able to get on a horse and really learn what to do while I was up there.  Their willingness to cart me to and from the barn for years, and pay for this ridiculously expensive hobby is something I’m thankful for to this day.  My parents let me find my passion, and indulged me in pursuing it to the very best of their ability.

God only knows where my love of horses came from.  I just remember always having a  decided preference for stuffed animals over dolls as a young child, and that obviously carried over to the real thing.  I’ve never had any use for babies, while I now, at 40, have two horses, three dogs, a cat and six chickens.  If I had unlimited money and time, there would be more of all of them, but still no plans for babies in our life!

From my first school pony (Barney Rubble) to my Big Eq horse (Murphy’s Journey), horses were a major part of growing up for me.  After my parents took the leap and bought me my first (and only) horse as a kid, we eventually landed at Snowbird Acres Farm.

Mom and Willie

My mom was a good sport about holding one horse for me while I hopped on another horse for a different division.  She looks pretty relaxed here, so I’m guessing I wasn’t riding off on Double A, who she blames for an awful lot of her gray hair.  I think this was also about the time she started asking why I couldn’t take up dressage.

At the time, Snowbird was something of a local legend, at least it was to me!  Run by the Siegel family, the place was huge by New Jersey standards.  It had an indoor arena, four barns, an outside course for hunters, and four other outdoor rings.  They also had a big lesson program with a ton of school horses, and ran three A-rated shows in the winter and at least two 5-ring C-rated shows a month from May through October.

Riding at Snowbird was an experience.  I was fortunate to be of an age with a few other girls there at the time – Cathy, Erika, Marni, Jen, Tammy and Kelly – and we formed the core of a group that helped run shows, coach the younger kids, and fill classes so the points would count for year-end awards and regional qualifications.  I was fortunate to often be working at the barn on Sundays, when things were a little quieter, and my trainer would sometimes throw me up on the newest horses in the barn to see if they might make good school horses.

Snowbird gave me opportunities.  Opportunities to meet people I wouldn’t have known otherwise because they went to different schools.  Opportunities to spend long days outside, being silly (Like the summer when half my friends, after finishing clipping horses went to town on the Siegel’s collies.  And then their own hair). Opportunities to ride different horses in different divisions.  Opportunities to work hard with a horse for months, and see success with that horse in the show ring.

Some of those trial horses became my competition horses.  I remember the first time Torri asked me to hop on Corona, and then she jacked the fence up to 4′ to “see what he’d do”.  Happily, he cracked his back clearing that fence, and I stayed on, and he became my 3′ equitation horse for a while.  Then there was Almost Always – a little mare we called Double A – who would almost always jump anything you pointed her at.  The only time she wouldn’t was when you didn’t trust her to get you to the fence.  Corona taught me to stay on, and A taught me to trust a good horse.

DoubleA

Double A in the jumper ring, circa 1990.  One of the times I didn’t trust her was at exactly this fence.  She had a spot all picked out, and it was different than mine.  All I really remember is parting ways with her, and ending up on the far side of the triple bar, sitting on the ground, holding the whole bridle in my hands.  I tried to let her pick the spots after that.

Trusting Double A like I did let us jump some fences that you never would have thought a little 14.3h, part-Arabian hony could clear.   One show, we finished our go at the Pre-preliminary jumpers (about 2’6″) and got the call to head up to the Equitation ring because they needed one more person to get around the 3’9″ Medal course so the qualifications would count.  As I went into the ring, I felt the weight of the real Big Eq riders on my shoulders, as their placings wouldn’t count unless I could get my little hony around the course.  So we went in and rode for all we were worth.  I’m sure it wasn’t pretty (thank god there is no video or photographic evidence), but I do remember that we left all the fences up, except the back rail of the last over.  Maxine Best, mother of Olympian Greg Best – equestrian hero of the day, shouted, as I cleared that last fence, “Four faults!” and started a huge round of applause.  I was both inordinately proud, and mortified, but I trusted that little mare to get us around that day, and get us around she did.

After a few years, Snowbird brought me Murphy – a gigantic, chromey chestnut 17.3h Irish warmblood  with a huge jump.  Thanks to another client of the Siegel’s, I now had a quality Big Eq horse  and the opportunity to really compete in the Medal, Maclay and USET.  To this day, I still have my number from my first “real” Big Eq on Murphy.  We had our ups and downs.  Riding a one stride in-and-out as a bounce in the USET class was not rewarded, but there were other highlights as we figured out how to control his stride and stay with him over the fences.  Murphy and I had just one season of competition, but riding at the next level gave me a glimpse of what I might do in the future.

I took some time off from riding at the end of my senior year of high school and through college, but always knew I’d go back to riding at some point.  I’m still grateful for the opportunity to ride as a kid – thanks to both the sacrifice of my parents to make it happen financially and to the community at Snowbird that made horses a social and fun experience.

Kids today find themselves in such structured programs for so many of their activities.  I hope that some kids out there in the horse world have the kind of opportunities I did, and that the new management at Snowbird lets kids run a little wild and find the kind of life with horses that I’ve found.

 

Doing it wrong (in all the right ways)

I was fortunate again to scrape together the cash to ride with Michael Barisone the weekend before Thanksgiving.  The last clinic in August helped give me motivation and a little breakthrough that really helped improve my position.  The hope was that this weekend would do the same, which would be especially good heading into the long, dark, and hopefully not-as-cold-as-last-year winter.

I’m very happy to report that the clinic was once again worth the money, but not in the same way as last time.  Sure, I have some new things to work on, new focus, and I had another little “aha!” moment in the changes, but the best thing I learned is that I continue to do lots of things wrong, but I’m learned how to do them wrong in the right direction.

Michael knows that we’re aiming at the Prix St. Georges next show season.  It will be a stretch for sure, but I’m hoping that I’ll be able to put on a tailcoat sometime in the late summer or early fall.  Knowing that’s my goal, and after a little warmup to get Cardoon really working over his back, we dove straight into the PSG work.

This would be a good time to point out that we’ve only schooled tempi changes a handful of times, and Lauren has only had me approach the general idea of a pirouette.  We never really tried to execute one.

Michael didn’t know that, so when he asked me to show him my four-tempis, we careened wildly across the diagonal (actually, about 5 different diagonals), throwing in random changes.  I think we did three of them.

Once he made it clear that he wanted FIVE changes, FOUR strides apart, on ONE diagonal line, I finally got myself together, and really rode them.  That was the “aha!” moment for the clinic – feeling just how much effort I had to put into those changes.  It’s no longer about just asking Cardoon to move forward, and then asking for the change.  Now I need to train myself to keep him strongly centered between both legs and both hands and drive him STRAIGHT into each tempi change.  Only when I really SAT and DROVE in a way I’ve never done before, did that line of FIVE, 4-tempis appear.

The more important lesson came in working the pirouettes.  To be fair, I’ve never done them on any horse.  And since I’m pretty sure Combined Driving tests don’t call for a canter pirouette, that means Cardoon has never done one either.  Again, this didn’t daunt Michael.

“Come through the corner, onto the diagonal, and TURN before you get to X!” he says.  Sure, sounds easy…turning.  Just…turning.  Of course there’s the turn to the diagonal, straighten, bend, collect, keep cantering, stay round, KEEP CANTERING, and then turn the smallest figure you’ve ever ridden.

Fortunately, Cardoon is a saint, and while I’m sure he was confused by the push, pull, and groan of frustration coming from his back, we did eventually start to approach something that may have resembled a pirouette.  What I learned, and what will be invaluable as I go into a stretch of riding on my own, is how to do pirouettes wrong, but in the right direction.

Lauren likes to tell me that its not a problem when I keep making mistakes, as long as they’re not the same one, over and over.  I think the lesson from this clinic is also to keep making different mistakes, but make them in the right way.

In the pirouette, what I realized is that I was trying too hard to keep Cardoon’s head down, and keep him round.  This gave him no room to come up through his shoulder and turn.  My turns were round and on the bit, but way too big.  When I let go of keeping his head down, I felt like I could lift his shoulders right up and move them over with each stride.  While I’m sure the result was somewhat horrifying to watch, it gave me a better feel for where we’re headed, and those formerly 6m voltes started to be more like 2-3m pirouettes.

I’ll need to go back and fix the roundness once I can get the turning sorted out, but at least I have a map of which pieces can be wrong while we get the feel of the pirouette.

After all, Michael told me that I have to do 10,000 pirouettes to really understand them.  I think I have 9,950 to go.

 

Physical Demands

There was a discussion recently on COTH (Chronicle of the Horse) forums when someone asked “Now that I have this new, giant WB…should I expect every ride to be a sweat bath?”  At one point, the poster asked do I need “to really hit the gym?”  I laughed, because I could relate.  Last year, as we trained through Second Level I remember an awful lot of rides where I got off Cardoon absolutely drenched in sweat wondering why this was so bloody hard.

Let me be perfectly clear – dressage is hands down, the most physically demanding riding I’ve ever done.

Cardoon FallI’ve always been a reasonably active person.  I grew up riding jumpers and equitation. I do yoga, some strength training, and train pretty regularly for half marathons.  And for crying out loud, now we have a farm which comes with its own set of physical challenges.  In short, most people see me as a pretty physically fit person.

That’s what I thought too, until I started really riding Cardoon and aiming at Third Level.

There is a kind of strength and fitness that I’ve realized is needed to ride well at the higher levels.  Although we shouldn’t be holding our horses up with our arms and shoulders, or constantly squeezing with a vice-like grip to keep them going forward, there’s a rolling application of hands, leg, seat, and core that is hard to describe to a non-rider.  The combination of continually adjusting, tightening, and flexing each of those components to achieve greater collection, better bend, or that engaged flying change can be physically taxing, and that’s when its all going well.

Of course when you’re training, things rarely go well all the time.  As Cardoon and I began to learn collection, I found that our particular bugaboo was Cardoon’s willingness to move forward energetically into the contact – and stay there.  Many of those sweat drenched rides were because I was suckered into pushing, holding and gripping for all my legs were worth.  I forgot much of the time that my horse can feel a fly land on him.  He doesn’t need 50 pounds of pressure from my leg AT ALL TIMES.

We worked diligently on making him hot off my leg by asking nicely the first time, and using a sharp smack with the whip if he didn’t respond with alacrity.  Fortunately, it didn’t take much, and at our last show, he was even a little too hot off my leg – he actually jigged in the walk!  (Success!)

To test his response to my leg, Lauren often in lessons tells me to take my leg OFF, then put it back on.  Then take it off again.  He should keep going forward, and he should jump a little when I put my leg back on.  I need to always get a response.

With that lesson learned though, we’re still working hard.  Cardoon can move off my leg without a constant, nagging leg, but how to capture that energy and utilize it for the collection we’ll need for the pirouette?  It’s important to capture that energy through the horse’s back, and use it to bring the horse “up” and not let the energy escape out the front.  Creating and, more importantly, maintaining energy for collection requires a different kind of strength than almost anything I can think of.  My abs can tell you that capturing the energy you create with the leg cycles though the seat, core and hand.  After a great ride just the other day, where we worked on collected canter to very collected canter and back, I woke up with some aching abs the next day.

Must be time to hit the plank position a little more, and maybe resign myself to participating in No Stirrups November.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to train hard – both on and off the horse – and scowl at people who suggest that riding is easy because the horse is doing all the work.