Sunday, September 2, 2012

Lazy Labor Day Weekend

Got back from the barn at 2 pm today, took a shower, noodled around online, and now it's past 6. Still haven't changed out of my robe, much less cleaned the bathroom, folded my clothes, or done any of the other Responsible Adult things I told myself I would.

Not a bad way to spend a Sunday.

Lessons have been going very well. I have a couple new lessoners who are re-riders and it's very exciting to teach them. I'm looking forward to being able to see their progress from Day 1 onward. My more advanced students are also changing in more subtle ways--a good release here, a flexed heel there...things are coming together slowly but surely. Not to mention, it's been great for me to get more involved at the barn and actually meet people in the area, considering that many of my college friends have fled the coop to do things like going to grad school or moving to Rome to become a nun (seriously!).

Anyway, as far as lessons go, I'm finding that teaching the horses is actually more of a challenge than the riders (which is saying something, since I'm still figuring out my teaching tactics). As you might expect, most of the lesson horses at Gentle Giants are rescues, and the barn is almost entirely volunteer-staffed. That means that the priority is just keeping all 50+ horses fed, watered, shod, and vetted, as well as taking care of the daily catastrophes that come with keeping horses. So most of the lesson horses actually are only ridden once or twice a week in lessons...and that means that they're not exactly the push-button type that I grew up with. It's much more of a challenge for the lessoners to learn to post the trot on an opinionated Clydesdale careening toward the center of the ring than it was for me when I learned on a dead-broke QH who would trot along the rail whether I steered or not!

I've been going out to the rescue an extra day when I don't teach lessons just to school the horses I use. Well, at least some of them--I'm not superwoman and I can't ride all of them in one day! Here's the rundown:

Levi: I've mentioned him before. He's a TB/Percheron, and is our best horse for teaching jumping and cantering. I haven't ridden him for about 2 weeks because he's at the point where he's not running away with people two strides out and launching himself over like a rocket.

Remington: Another Percheron cross (I think it's with a QH). I've taken him out of lessons for now, at least until I can buy a cavesson and some side reins with a rubber ring for longeing. I've ridden him several times in the past, and he's always had a big trot, but after two weekends of panicked running away (without any physical issue), I think it's time for some ground work and getting used to light contact. My theory is that he panics and runs away when he feels contact because people have hung on his mouth to get him to slow down. He is perfectly quiet and relaxed on the longe with no side reins, so I'll take it slow and easy from there. First some quiet longeing, then loose side reins, and then a gradual buildup over a few weeks to light contact. That's all he really needs to accept for lessons.

Rurik: A full Percheron. I've been using him for some of the students just beginning to canter. He's picked up the unattractive habit of bulging his shoulder to the inside and running through your outside leg and outside rein aids (see a pattern here? Drafts are cute but not when they realize their strength.). Working on straightness and lots of circles with him, as well as just putting some canter miles on so he can carry himself better.

Dobbin: A Belgian/QH cross, though you wouldn't know it since he's been out with all of this summer grass! He used to be one of the best lesson horses, going quietly and easily at all 3 gaits, which not all of our drafts do. Hey, getting 2,000 lbs of horse to go any faster than "the fat boy shuffle" is not as easy as you think. Trying to get him back to his former self so I can use him in lessons. Again, straightness, circles, and cantering practice--no matter how many "but I don't wanna!" bucks he throws in before the canter, it still just feels like someone lifting up one end of a couch and dropping it. Not terribly hard to sit those kinds of bucks.

Jon: A giant black-bay Shire. Very slow and beginner friendly. He's happy to just do laps at the walk and trot. I've gotten a few steps of canter out of him, and since he's so quiet I'd like to develop that gait...but we'll see. It might take some riding outside for him to really have enough space.

Patty: A roan Clydesdale mare, and the recent first place Clyde and Champion Clyde showing in hand at the MD State Fair! Just goes to show that rescues can do anything an ordinary horse can, and sometimes more! She is adopted and about to go to her new home, but her owners are new riders so they take lessons on her. They're just looking to walk and trot her for now, so that's no issue, but she does like to drift and get wiggly if you give her half a chance.

That's about it right now. With several riders just learning to canter and jump, the issue is keeping poor Levi's schedule manageable, with no more than 2 lessons per day. Hence the focus on developing the canter in these big guys. I definitely didn't anticipate that I'd find myself puzzling over who  to use in lessons just as much as what to do in lessons. No fatalities yet though so at least there's that.


  1. Next week...we will need that mounting block. You kneeing me up wasn't the prettiest sight! was a very good first lesson for me and I look forward to many more.

  2. Ah many things would be easier with the drafts if I was a foot taller! But you did fine and I think you'll progress quickly :)