Collecting Homework

Clinics with Nancy at my barn are some of my favorite days. The group of us riding tend to gather around as the day goes on, and watch each others lessons. I'm sure we're a bit distracting, chatting and snacking on the bleachers, but none of us really seem to mind the audience. I find the extra auditing is helpful. Often other riders end up getting a lesson very similar to mine, and that helps me really absorb the lessons from my session.

Plus, I get to practice my photography skills.
Not me ... 
I started the morning off with a 10 a.m. lesson. By the time I rolled into the barn, I'd already been up for a long while - having driven out to BFE Amish Country to retrieve my saddle that morning (hooray newly stitched on billets!). Guinness was in the far, far, far corner of the property, and I set off with a halter to capture him.

Once he was safely captured (ha, he comes to me. No capture required), I decided that walking back to the barn through the wet grass wasn't something I really wanted to do. So, I hopped on him bareback and without a helmet. Like a responsible person. This went well until the other gelding in the pasture (who is crotchety and mean and really hates other geldings) pinned his ears and rushed Guinness as we strolled about 50 yards from him. Pig reacted like any animal not wanting to be bitten, and spun to move out of the way. Being bareback and helmetless (I know, I know ...), I decided that the valiant thing would be not to try to save the situation and instead to take the fall. 

A fall of five feet. 

Directly onto my butt. 

In almost white breeches.

Into wet grass.

After I chased off the offending gelding (he's really a problem), I laughed it off and headed back to the barn. Minus a huge muscle knot in the fattiest part of my butt (I aim well!), I've no injuries. Honestly for my first fall in almost three years, I feel like I got off really easy. Guinness was incredibly worried about me, too. He's always so apologetic after he hurts me

Nancy laughed when I told her I'd already gotten my fall out of the way for the day, and was ready to have a tough lesson. Which is good, because she certainly didn't pull any punches! A quick discussion about what I've been working on (not giving away my right rein so much, being top of the list), and we dove right to work. 

(I'm going to pause here and apologize if some of this is disjointed and awkward analysis. I haven't had a lot of time to process, and really wanted to get this out.)

Starting with leg yields, Nancy firmed up our work with these. While still not perfect, they are getting better and less dramatic with each ride. She pinpointed my weaknesses of keeping both legs on and my wishy-washy outside rein as the main culprits. Instead of focusing on those things, though, she gave us an exercise to establish straightness: Start on rail, leg yield three steps off the rail. Then, switch and yield back to the rail. When doing this, she had me emphasize straightness, almost to a counter bend. This was especially so to the right, where I tended to give my right rein. The "counterbend" forced me to keep that outside rein, kept us straight and allowed Pig's shoulders to be free and lead the movement strongly. (See video below for an excerpt of our work on this.)
After that, we moved on to the meat of the lesson- mini collection. She started me off riding 10 meter circles at S. Having me move Guinness strongly around my inside leg, and into both hands. I think the main focus here was to get Pig's inside hind leg really moving, and under him. I'm not sure about this, but it's what happened. I tend to ride circles with my weight to the inside, causing Pig to motorcycle around. Nancy reminded me to sit up and use my outside aids to straighten him on the circle and create true bend, not a lean. The circles ended up being really nice, and this is something I need to remember to work on.
Once Guinness was really working and very connected on the circles, we continued on the rail. Here, Nancy had me think even more about my position. She had me think "half halt" almost the whole way around, tightening and lifting my core while sitting very quietly in my seat. To ask for impulsion, she had me lightly flick Guinness with the whip. At first he wanted to trot faster, and bumpier. Nancy had me continue to sit up ("Up! Up! Up!) and quiet my seat even more. It almost felt like my seat was leaning back and my upper body was slightly leaning forward, though I was actually straight. With this, I could feel Guinness come under, just a little bit more. We praised, walked and repeated.

Whoa, boy. This was tough. My abs were actually sore on Sunday and Monday from holding myself UP. Hopefully they are stronger now, as Nancy reminded me that this is the position I need to be riding in all the time, not just when we are working on mini collection. We aren't really to collection, yet. But this is certainly a fun tool to work with, and will hopefully help me a lot on our lengthenings. 

One of  the biggest points that I took away from the entire lesson regarded holding the reins. Pointing out that I looked as though I was pulling backwards on the reins with my arms, Nancy reminded me to pull my shoulders down my back. I did so, then she hit me with a bombshell. "Hold the reins with your hands. You can't hold the reins with your arms. Your can only hold the reins in your hands, and feel the contact in your core" This is such a subtle change, but it was amazing how much it helped me to relax through my arms and hold my reins softly. Guinness picked up on the change quickly, too. I also noticed that I was less inclined to give away my right rein while holding the reins this way. It's not so much a position to think of, but a focus. If I think of the feeling of Guinness' mouth in my hands more like holding water, and sit up straight, I can feel the pressure of the contact in my midsection. It almost ties us together. This is the neatest feeling ... 

Still not me ... 
After all of that work, it was nice to just bathe Pig and sit the rest of the afternoon watching the other riders at the barn get variations on the same lesson, or lessons I've had before. Just another long and productive day at the barn.


  1. She sounds like an excellent teacher. :0)

    1. oops - forgot to add ... my trainer always points out that she's teaching a "feeling" which is much more difficult than teaching a position. It sounds like you got a new "feeling!"

    2. What a great way to put it! Yes, I'm always looking to translate what we are working on into a feeling. Once I "feel" how it is, I find it easier to replicate it.

      Interestingly, Nancy made the point that what we were working on is really, really hard. She's trying to teach a me to ask for something I've never asked for or felt before from a horse who has never been asked or done the action before. Both of us are exploring what collection feels like, and boy is it awkward sometimes!

  2. I wish I had had the opportunity to lesson with Nancy while I was in Indiana. I have heard nothing but good things! Love your post. Great exercises. May have to steal them. :)

    1. She is fantastic. Sometimes I wishfully think I'd like to ride with her more often than once a month, but she gives me so much to work on at every lesson that I feel like a month isn't even enough time to internalize it all!

      Steal away! One of my favorite things about blogging is the exchange of training ideas. I don't have time to read a ton of training books, but I do have time to take a peak at what everyone else is doing right now!


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