Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Scoping and Coping with Loping

When I was with The Instructor, I actually got to canter 3 times. I didn't really do anything. GM did it all with The Instructor yelling encouragement to her. When Gem and I started our relationship last May, it was like I was starting from scratch. My goal for the end of the summer was to canter once and go on a trail ride. I shared these goals with LA and with STA. Both thought that they were attainable.

I worked hard last summer getting to know Gem and getting used to Gem's size. I worked hard at getting into the routine at the stables and making friends. I switched from my English saddle to a Western saddle and I worked hard at getting used to the difference. However, the end of summer was approaching and I didn't feel like I was getting ahead with my riding.

I felt frustrated that I couldn't communicate what I needed from Gem. I had seen someone ride him with finesse. He was graceful and his transitions were smooth; I knew what he was capable of. I just couldn't find the right "buttons" on Gem; my inexperience was getting the better of me. LA sensed my frustrations.

She made three comments over the summer that have stuck with me.

Patience. To succeed you need to be patient.

Even if you think you are not progressing, you are.

Gem has improved because of you.

It was the end of August. We were having our lesson outside in the front paddock this particular evening. Jean had been loping the last few sessions and was having a good run during our lesson. I was very happy for her. LA told me I was going to lope next. My heart started to pound. LA told me what to do, but Gem would not lope. His trot would get bigger and bigger, but he would not lope. I tried and tried. I broke out in a sweat. My legs were getting tired. The bouncing was rattling my teeth! LA's daughter had been warming up her horse up at the other end of the paddock. LA asked her to help me by showing Gem what was needed. Her daughter rode in front of me and started to lope. After some encouragement, Gem followed suit. I was flying! I had no idea how to steer, but I was loping!!! It was wonderful.

Later on in the lesson, LA opened the gate leading out to the front pasture. STA had joined our lesson and was first out of the gate. She led Jean and I out of the front paddock. My heart started racing again. Too much space! TOO MUCH SPACE!!! OMG!! I had 1,000 butterflies in my stomach. STA reminded me to breathe and the three of us walked around this small pasture twice. I had reached my goals. I had loped and gone on a short trail ride!!! I was elated. I actually hugged LA when I dismounted.

The last few months, LA and I have been focusing on my balance. My balance has improved, along with my confidence. It was now time to try to learn to lope. But, my loping cues continued to be misread and only got him into a very fast extended trot. It was exhausting.

After a few tiring lessons, LA had me ride a school horse. She wanted me to "feel" what loping was and how to cue. The school horse seemed minuscule compared to Gem. :-) After a couple of attempts, I was loping!!! It was wonderful. I am actually not too bad with sitting in the saddle, but my legs are not solid and I really need to work on steering!

I often think about the three comments that LA made to me. Learning to be patient has been a challenge, particularly when Gem is being an obstinate "teenager" or when I am disappointed in myself. But, I do make sure I finish each riding session with him on a positive note. Every time I think I am taking two steps back with my lessons, I remind myself that repetition and correction is actually progress. LA's comment about Gem improving because of me is way up on my list of some of the nicest things ever said to me. Her comment makes me feel good because that indicates to me that she has seen a connection between Gem and I.

Some of the other boarders make smiley comments and jokes about my inability to get my guy moving. I don't mind. I am older than most of the adults at the stables and have a lot fewer hours in the saddle. Yes, they are light years ahead of me as far as competence and skill goes. But they were, at one time, where I am now. I have come to realize that when you are involved with a horse there are no deadlines; there are goals to work towards, but no hard deadlines to reach them. One day it just clicks. Gem and I are on a journey. We are two beings that, right now, communicate differently. We are looking for a common language, because sometimes you need to ask for directions to be able to reach the destination. :-) I know he is trying and I think he knows I am, too. I am hoping to be able to lope confidently in the front paddock this summer. Yep, I want to be able to outrun the mosquitoes and flies. Giddy up!!

What was I thinking....?


  1. It sounds to me as if you two are learning a lot together and progressing very well. The hardest thing to deal with is patience, but without patience the whole journey is useless. By this I mean that if you don't take the time to learn things the right way from the beginning the relationship with the horse and his training will suffer down the road. I'm an impatient type too but with the horses(especially Dusty), I do take a very long time and repeat exercises and don't go on to the next step until we get it right most of the time. There are times when I take a step back just to refresh and to make them feel good about themselves that they are getting it right most of the time. It builds their confidence and mine.

    As for the others in the barn, ignore it, everyone started in the same spot and no one, I don't care who they are or what they think,are any better than you or Gem. Everyone goes at their own speed. It's better to get it done right even if it takes a while. Have fun, that's the most important thing right now.

  2. You have exactly the right mind set for getting where you want to be. I've heard that it's all in the journey and not the destination.

    I have a patience problem, not with the horses but with myself. I get very frustrated that sometimes I just can't get it right. So I try harder and harder and get worse and worse, while what I need to do is relax. Man, that's hard.

  3. Horsetime is so much longer than people time. It's a wonderful lesson in living in the moment and letting yourself learn naturally.

    Imagine how long it takes to learn to walk, to learn to do a gymnastics move, to do learn to dive.

    And those don't involve a partner. :)

    Learning about horsetime is my biggest lesson too. And one I keep learning!

  4. Hello GHM - I am looking forward to when the weather allows me to spend more time with Gem. Right now I am only riding about once a week and sometimes I feel like I am lagging. I like your comment about building the horse's confidence too! Most of the time, I don't take the other riders comments to heart. I am having fun, don't worry! :-)

    Hi S. - I can relate; I get impatient with myself, too. I get frustrated that I can't grasp what is expected of me, or I get it and can't translate it so Gem can understand. But I am looking forward to it "clicking" one day. That will be magic!

  5. Hi Breathe - You know, I was thinking the other day that it took me over a year to feel confident and comfortable driving a standard shift car and here I am sometimes getting frustrated at the rate I am learning with Gem! I love horse time and being in the moment. :-)

  6. The main thing is to enjoy what you're doing, otherwise there would be no point. As you say, you have no deadlines to meet, your only goal is to have fun riding and caring for Gem. Take it at your own speed and you and Gem will come to understand what you are saying to each other.

  7. Thanks, Jooles! Hope your back is feeling better!

  8. In my experience it takes a year to learn to know a new horse, and the transition from a riding school horse to a horse of one own's is huge.

    Being around horses makes one humble.
    The more you learn, the more you understand how little you know. It is very fascinating, but also a good training to stay patient.
    I am a very impatient person. So the horses do the world of good to me, lol!

    If someone enjoys to make stupid comments about other people, I believe that says more about the person commenting than about the person commented.
    As Jooles said, have fun, and enjoy the company of Gem - that is the main thing.
    I agree with GHM that to learn things right is much more important than how much time you use.
    Horses don't work with time frames.

  9. Hello HoC! "The more you learn, the more you understand how little you know." How true!!! I am learning patience, and so is Gem. He sometimes gets impatient with the repetition. :-) Your comments are appreciated. Looking forward to seeing some more of your beautiful pictures!