Thursday, January 28, 2016
Back last fall, when I ran out of daylight in the evenings for trail riding, I was very reluctant to ride in the indoor arena. Instead, I rode laps on the quarter mile loop in the back of our stable’s property. Round and round we went—some trotting when we were going away from the barn—and a lot of walking—all in the dark.
A few times, it was rainy, and I had to ride in the arena. Cole was excited and difficult—and he made me very nervous. We have a history of bolting when we are in the far end of the arena. Though we have worked through the problem long ago, each year we have to review it. The first few weeks of riding can be tough on my nerves, and this year, I just tried to avoid it as much as I could. I would have one day in the arena, and then as soon as the weather got better, I would be back out on the loop, around and around.
By December, I realized I had to tackle the problem. The weather was still unseasonably warm. I would ride 10-15 minutes inside, and then I would dash outside to ride around the loop.
To keep from getting bored—particularly on the walking sections of the loop, I would practice shoulder-in and leg yielding. We have always had trouble with leg yielding because Cole morphed it into side-passing. He preferred to go directly sideways to going sideways and forward at an angle. The loop was helpful because I would ask him to do it when we were heading in the direction of the barn. He had motivation to go forward instead of directly sideways. Of course, he got clicked for it.
Shoulder-in on the loop worked well, too, because he has a tendency to drift instead of go in a straight line with a nice curve in his body. Parts of the track have trees on one side and a ditch on the other. I would position him in such a way that the trees or the ditch would stop him from drifting. Of course, he got clicked for good shoulder-in’s, too.
By January, the weather got rather cold, and it wasn’t so pleasant on the loop, anymore. I had to buckle down and really start working in the arena on a regular basis. Sometimes, I couldn’t even get Cole outside on the weekends because of the weather, too. I had to get serious about training.
It only took a few rides to get totally acclimated to the arena since we had integrated some short sessions in the previous month. After a week or so, we were able to calmly travel all about the arena without Cole misbehaving (bolting) or me feeling nervous because I thought he might misbehave.
And then the amazing thing happened. I asked for a shoulder-in at a trot—and he did it better than he did last winter when we quite arena riding—both directions! Even his leg yielding was leg yielding instead of side-passing. It is far from perfect, but it is a great starting point. This includes walking and trotting. Out on the loop, I only practiced at a walk.
So, maybe I wasn’t wasting time, after all.