Lessons on Candy
Some time shortly before the new year, I was texting with a foxhunting friend. (Longtime readers will know her from the Q & A about foxhunting she did on this blog!) Our conversation centered around getting ourselves and our horses fit for a combined test in the spring; she mentioned she was going to take a dressage lesson twice a month from my neighbor, and I invited myself along.
Months of near-exclusive longe work served Candy well. She knows verbal cues for walk, trot, canter, and halt. Her gaits have improved in rhythm, regularity, and elevation. She seems more confident than she used to be on the longe, which is great. I have not ridden her much in the last few months, and instead chose to focus on finishing the dressage season on Moe and get Gina legged up for hunting. When I did ride her, she was mostly okay- nothing spectacular one way or the other.
My neighbor, a dressage trainer (and friend), is very familiar with Candy. She’s ridden her several times and has seen me ride her often, both at home and on trail rides. She understands that Candy is anxious and I am frustrated. You might wonder why I’ve never utilized my neighbor before. She has a thriving teaching and training business, and the two of us get along well on a personal level. I’ve been hesitant to take lessons from her because I didn’t want to cause tension in our friendship if we disagreed on something.
That hasn’t been the case so far, and I like to think that if we did disagree, we could discuss it in a rational way. Taking a semi-private lesson with my foxhunting friend has been fun and helpful!
In our first lesson, my neighbor immediately identified that Candy’s nervous energy needs a place to go. I usually like to let Candy piddle around on a loose or soft rein and don’t ask her to do much. Neighbor suggested I focus on keeping Candy positioned to the inside and moving forward, always. This was harder than it sounds- while Candy’s a hot and sensitive horse, she doesn’t always go forward. She gets jammed up and moves up and down like a carousel horse. When I really focused on riding her inside leg-to-outside-rein, she was much rounder. It was easier to ask for a more forward walk or trot once she was in the rounder frame; instead of zooming forward and impersonating a llama, she sought the contact and increased her impulsion.
I had a couple of great rides on Candy in between our first and second lessons. She was focused and pleasant, and I felt like we were making progress.
Our second lesson was kind of a disaster from the get-go. I got on, and my neighbor immediately prompted me to get moving because Candy was vibrating with energy or anxiety. (It’s hard to tell the difference.) Candy had some very nice moments of lightness and harmony, but they were interrupted by moments of pure insanity. She crow-hopped, stopped, spooked- you name it. Fortunately, I’m used to her antics by now and tried to carry on unconcerned.
Despite our unproductive second lesson, I think riding with my neighbor is overall a positive. It’s always helpful to have eyes on the ground and someone reminding me to control my rouge right hand or sit on my seat bones. I’ve enjoyed having my friend in lessons, too- we joke and laugh and I feel like I’m not totally alone in my struggles!
Sorting out Candy’s various problems is another issue altogether. I continue to be baffled by what causes her so much anxiety. I am generally kind to her, Moe and Gina appear to be pleasant to her, she receives a quality forage-based diet, and is turned out 24/7. Until I can figure out what’s bothering her (or can alleviate it through the power of legal supplementation), we’ll keep plugging along with lessons and work and trying to sort out what works and what doesn’t.