In my last posts, I introduced my terrifying new coach and recapped on my first lesson under her guidance. I had managed to jot my name down for 3 absolute ass-kickings over the span of the weekend, but given that Sierra was prospected to go to CA for training sometime this winter, she really wanted to sit on her. In addition, like most good coaches who are still able-bodied, they want to feel what you're feeling to be able to coach you better and CA was no exception.
Prior to travelling the 5.5 hours north we discussed the tack and things that I would send with Sierra when she went down for training. I was too scared to send my new precious baby (my Frank Baines) with her out of fear it would get wrecked, stolen or perish in a catastrophic tack room fire. She also had reservations because it's made for me and my teeny tiny little legs and she is quite tall, so she decided to bring up her saddle and we could see if it fit Sierra. She is sponsored by Voltaire and brought up her gorgeous, but absurdly expensive close contact and it actually fit her quite well.
Prior to tacking up, we had agreed that we would play the lesson slot by ear - CA was going to get on her first and if Sierra did everything right and perfect we would just call it a day and save her for Sunday. On the contrary, if they had to duke something out and Sierra became too tired, there was no sense in "beating a dead horse" as she put it. Truthfully I still felt like I was in a mental fog from all the information I received the day before, and I was a little leery about riding in such an expensive saddle. I was terrified I'd fall off and scratch it or just ride like a generalized piece of trash because I haven't ridden in a CC in a few weeks. To put things into prospective, her saddle cost more than double what mine did and let me tell you, I did not want to be responsible for even so much as a tiny rub mark!
I tacked up Sierra while CA wrapped up her lesson prior, then she got ready to ride and we led Sierra into the ring. Instinctively, I held onto the reins as she got herself organized to mount, and I was quickly told to let go. She mounted up and walked off at the buckle around the ring and I had a sneaking suspicion she would spend a fair bit of her time down at the 'scary end' so I wandered my way down there. I had come into the ring dressed to ride as a means of being prepared, but I was having flash-backs to the last time I lent her to a friend for a clinic and Sierra lost her noodle and piled the woman twice and tried several other times. I knew CA was a spectacular rider, especially after seeing her ride a very, very, very wound up OTTB the day before that the owner was crying on within 10 minutes because she was so scared of her own horse.. If nothing else, I should be in for a treat.
As she walked around at the buckle, Sierra made the odd giraffe "i might spook" face - you know the one, head up in your lap, dropped back, etc but CA didn't even flinch. As she changed directions and walked passed the scary end in the opposite direction, she had shortened her reins some but as Sierra shied and side-passed while threatening to take off, CA literally went to one hand on the reins and adjusted her helmet like nothing was happening. The day before she was telling me she has zero fear on a horse despite being severely hurt in the past and she truly is unflappable. #Goals.
As she picked up the trot, Sierra was very tense and short. She looked like how she does at shows and my heart was slowly sinking as I spiraled into the "great, we're never going to be able to get help if Sierra wont let anyone ride her". CA made a comment that's escaping me and I said that she looked tense and resembles how she does at a show, and she quickly shot me down for the 5 billionth time saying "she doesn't feel too tense, a little unfocused and not really willing to use herself quite yet but she's still cold". I shut up, bit my tongue and watched her continue to move Sierra throughout the arena and after about 5 minutes Sierra began to relax. Within 10 minutes, I couldn't believe she was the same horse. There are two moments burned into my brain from that ride, and both quickly crushed my doubt and I got EXCITED just watching my horse go around. The first that stuck with me was a medium trot across the diagonal. I had never seen so much articulation of the shoulder or hock from Sierra, a fairly straight-moving, typical Thoroughbred. Her rhythm had hardly changed yet her air-time was exceptional. I distinctly recall her coming out of the corner and seeing her haunches sink like an airplane taking off and it was SO cool to witness. The second movement that is burned into my brain literally made my jaw drop and ever since it has been on my radar to accomplish. After the incredible trot work, CA eased Sierra into a canter. We had talked previously about how I was told she had her changes but I suspect they were just 'track changes' as they wouldn't show them at the trial and I didn't try because i'm dumb and other than once by accident I had never been able to get them out of her. I had been schooling a lot of simple changes to A - Clean up her lead departures as she used to always pick up the wrong one, and B - Prepare her for changes, but that was the extent of it. CA made a mental note that she wanted to see that kind of buttons were there and where she was at with her changes so when she rode her, she schooled a few simple changes each between E & B, then took a risk and asked her for a flying change from left to right and it was the smoothest, cleanest change in the history of changes. Naturally, I didn't take any video of CA riding but she looked at me and laughed and said "mic drop, my work here is done" while I threw my hands up in the air with an embarrassingly loud "what the f#ck!". She didn't try the other way but ended it there and then instructed me to get on.. damn.
I got on and right away Sierra felt tense. I couldn't tell if it was from the previous rider, or because #I worked hard, let me eat snacks.. I took note of how much more sensitive she was off my lateral aids and I chalked it up to the dressage whip CA carried to move her around a little more at the halt and walk (note: do more of this, Alaina). We moved into the trot and she continued to feel tense/hot and I explained this to CA by saying "She feels like she's about to run off with me" where she shut me down by saying "she's over tracking and she's in front of your leg and I think you're mistaking forward for tense/hot, this is how she SHOULD feel" and while it took a little getting used to, I did begin to feel her back relax under me while maintaining this newfound impulsion and suddenly everything just felt 'easier'. When I asked for Canter, before I was even fully prepared Sierra had popped into a lovely, forward Canter that I naturally ruined by 'taking the energy away'.
As I cantered around trying to find my groove, CA pulled out two ground poles and instructed me to canter over them and GIVE - hands to ears if necessary - over the poles and then maintain the stride that Sierra stretches to after the poles (ie: don't let her go forward, then shut her down for doing the correct thing and take it all away). I then took a walk break to catch my breath as she reminded me of how detrimental it is to ride 'too safe' while she put the poles away and I had secretly hoped we were done... ha!
She advised me that I wasn't getting off that easy then instructed me to try a flying change from B-E. We started with some trot work and transitions to really get her straightened off my outside aids as she really likes to pop her shoulder on the right while I get annoyed but do nothing about it, lol. Once we schooled some of that, we moved into the canter and I asked CA to talk me through the aids and she said "I want you to try first, and then I will" and I did and nothing happened, so I did a simple change and rewarded her as CA said "it takes more inside leg and a heck of a lot less riding than you think" so I tried one more and was once again unsuccessful. By this point Sierra was getting quite tired (as was I), and my 45 minute slot was coming to an end so CA didn't want to open that can of worms any more so we schooled some simples and called it a day.
Overall, it was a really eye opening day spent in the sand box. I once again walked out with my head spinning but found myself slipping back to my old ways of feeling a little discouraged because people saw me miss a change and/or ride a giraffe. Truth be told, I had slept horribly the night before and I really didn't feel like I rode well and I wasn't sure if I liked this 'new way of going' because change is scary and my box is very comfortable. I liked the way Sierra looked under CA, but I felt defeated in that I wasn't able to accomplish even half of what she did and I didn't have the opportunity, due to time and energy, to hash it out and feel like I 'accomplished' something. Luckily, later that evening I went home, put my feet up and watched the video's and reminded myself to be kind to myself. Simultaneously, Carol Ann's ears must have been ringing because she sent me a picture about how if it took her 30 minutes to accomplish something, it's because she has spent the last 25+ years learning how to do it in 30 minutes, and that I will get there. It helped lift my spirits and remind me to revel in the possibilities of what we can accomplish. Like I said - a doozy of a weekend!