The Learning Curve

I’m back from my quick little 24 hour jaunt up to DFW to ride Presto! The good news is that I had two very enlightening and helpful lessons. The bad news is that the media I have is all from the Pivo, which is over an hour of video, which hahahahaha is not compatible with my slow AF country broadband internet. I’ve pulled some screenshots and a short video clip but I’m gonna have to find real Wi-Fi before I can upload and actually sort through all that video.

At what point do I have to stop calling him Nugget? This is at least a Strip, if not a full on Patty.

When I got there on Tuesday it was overcast and kind of cool and misty raining, so Presto was feeling a bit alive. Nothing bad at all, just quite forward and more reactive to aids. Which would be great if my aids were as correct as what he’s used to with his pro rides, but alas they are not. We spent pretty much the whole ride trying to get me to post smaller (why tf do I want to post so big on this horse, I don’t know) and relax my seat/let my leg just drape around him. With, um… varied success.

Which wasn’t a surprise to me at all. I KNEW and have known for, like… years, that this horse was going to be very different from what I’ve had in the past and what I’m used to with Henry. He’s big (please don’t ask me how big, I haven’t sticked him since before he left and I’m in deep denial about the fact that he’s noticeably larger than the 16.3 1/2 he was in February), he’s rangy, he’s got suspension and power in his gaits…. I’ve certainly never tried to do dressage on a horse like this one. It’s why I’ve spent the whole time he’s been gone working on my own strength and fitness. And that’s helped a lot for sure, but being more fit doesn’t mean you just automagically get all the finesse and knowledge and feeling that riding actually requires. I’m set up for it better now, but I still have to actually, like… learn the things.

Day 1

The first thing right out the gate is that Presto’s rhythm has to feel way slower than Henry’s. Presto has a lot more suspension and ground cover in his gaits and if I try to move his feet too quickly he just plain doesn’t have enough time to get his legs under him and push the way he needs to. I had to slow myself down and be very mindful not to push him past his point of balance. Too much speed just tips him onto the forehand and makes him brace against the hand. That one was pretty obvious to feel and I could tell right away when I tipped past that point, so I just had to recalibrate my own rhythm.

The main problem though was how I’m sitting in the canter, which… isn’t well. Presto REALLY wants me to have a lighter seat with my leg mostly off and quietly draped down, like um, an actual good dressage seat. My leg could not compute how to make that happen for more than a few strides at a time and still stay with his giant uphill step. Presto is built so much different from Henry (tall slim narrow vs short stocky wide) and they move so completely different that everything just felt awkward and foreign, and my brain and my body parts were struggling to communicate. It was better/easier when I dropped my stirrups, but it was a real “this is gonna need a lot of work to do it correctly” type of thing. Duly noted.

Hi mom, learn to ride

I know that a lot of my struggle comes from the fact that my back/hips/hamstrings are chronically jacked up. They have been for… ever, basically. When I was deep into triathlon I went to a sports medicine guy weekly for chiro, stretching, etc to help because it got so bad that was the only way I could even stay “sound” enough to do it. I kind of failed to consider with my increased physical activity that I might have issues like that surfacing again, and ya know, maybe I would need to address it and get some help at some point. Literally didn’t even occur to me until I was strugglebussing to get my leg to do what I wanted and then I was like “Oh. Right.”. Good to know. Duly noted again.

I went to the hotel that night and watched some videos, read some articles, and did some stretches and exercises to try to loosen up my body. I watched my Pivo footage a couple times to help cement everything that Megan had said in the lesson and help set it into my brain. I think with Presto it’s going to be especially important to be mindful of my own body, because he tends to want to get stiff and resistant in his lower lumbar too, so as soon as I get stiff there myself, it immediately transfers to him and then we end up compounding each other’s issues.

The next morning I showed up a little looser and ready to try to build on day 1. Presto was definitely feeling a bit lazier, which honestly kind of worked a little better for me since he was a little slower to react if I got something wrong. But I felt like I was able to come back and apply a lot of what I’d figured out on day 1 and improve on it. My body was a bit more cooperative, and we worked a lot on the timing of my aids. What I really liked about Megan’s instruction is that she knows the horse so well by now that she could be like “he’s gonna try to do this, before that happens you’ll start to feel this, when you feel that you need to do this to prevent it… but if you’re too late with your timing and this happens then here’s what you do to fix it”. Extremely useful. Like massively.

If I could feel it coming and be quick and correct with my aids, awesome. Sometimes I was a little too slow. Sometimes I just wasn’t effective enough. But by the end I could feel EXACTLY what she was talking about, I was able to get his hind end truly connected to the front, and it felt glorious. I could feel what we will at some point eventually be able to do consistently, and it was really exciting.

This horse is for sure way different. I’m for sure in a league that I’ve never before found myself in. It’s a little intimidating, sure, but mostly it’s just exciting. I do this because I want to learn and be better, not because I just want to go horse show and win ribbons. This horse will be a new challenge for me, and a huuuge learning opportunity. The curve is steep and it is long, but I’ve come home feeling really invigorated and determined to figure it out. I think for the past couple years I’ve felt a little bit stuck in a rut, a little bored, a little burned out, a little uninspired maybe. Two rides on Presto and I’ve come away feeling like I’m really ready to dive in head first again and give it everything I’ve got. He’s 100% the horse I wanted, and now he’s got a fabulous training foundation, so it’s up to me to rise to the occasion and see what we can accomplish.

I came home with plenty of homework and gave myself some action items, all of which have already been initiated. First and foremost, I gotta work on my seat/position and a more correct dressage seat. I contacted the local dressage guy that I like and asked about lunge line lessons on their school horses, and I have my first one next Tuesday.

Second, I have to address my own physical issues. Several people recommended Airrosti to me, so I have my first appointment set up for next Wednesday (what a week of torture I’ve got coming).

Third, I have to do a way better job of stretching and keeping myself loose, I can’t just go hard on the spin bike in the morning, sit at my computer for 8 hours, and then expect to not literally turn into a block of stone. So this morning I started yoga. What I’ve learned so far is that I suck at breathing and my hamstrings are worse than I thought. Good times.

We’ll see how these few things work out and then go from there. It’s a start anyway.

It was a quick trip, barely more than a day, but I got exactly what I wanted out of it. I knew I’d have holes that I needed to address, I just didn’t know exactly what they’d be. Now I’ve got a better idea, and I can start working on all these things while Presto finishes out his time with Megan. She’s also coming down to Austin next weekend for a clinic and bringing Presto with her so I’ll get to ride him a couple more times before he leaves for his Tour de California in October.

I also remembered just how much I love this horse. Have no fear, Presto’s personality remains unchanged, and sitting on him still feels like home. Megan commented multiple times how well we suit each other and that we look like we fit well together, which means a lot. I’ve always really liked his type, his personality, his brain, and how he feels to ride, and now that he’s had 6 months of good pro training it’s only cemented all of those things even more. He’s still Presto, just a way more educated version. Sending him off to her longer-term was without a doubt the right decision. Sitting on him it feels like THIS is my horse, for sure, the one a I’ve been waiting for. I just, ya know… have to learn how to ride him. Working on it!

15 thoughts on “The Learning Curve

  1. I’m so freaking proud of you and this horse. Breeding and training and riding a baby horse is so daunting, and I have plenty of IRL friends whose young horse or breeding journeys just didn’t go according to plan or had sad results. Seeing you ride the horse you bred for yourself and start a whole new stage in your journey together and have everything come together (with a ton of hard work) makes me so, so happy.

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  2. It is wild to have followed you since before Presto’s birth, and see where he’s at now!! He looks incredibly grown up (and omg so big). It’s a fun and humbling learning curve to ride multiple, very different horses, as well as riding them right after some pro training!! I’m so excited to see how things continue to unfold for you both.

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  3. “The first thing right out the gate is that Presto’s rhythm has to feel way slower than Henry’s. Presto has a lot more suspension and ground cover in his gaits and if I try to move his feet too quickly he just plain doesn’t have enough time to get his legs under him and push the way he needs to. I had to slow myself down and be very mindful not to push him past his point of balance. Too much speed just tips him onto the forehand and makes him brace against the hand.”

    I read this in my trainer’s voice. This is EXACTLY what I had to figure out about my young mare after basically all other horses I’ve ridden needed more “go” than “it’s cool, just find yourself.” I had to really be patient and remind myself to build her big gaits up from slow-and-steady. It’s not something I ever had to contend with before.

    You and Presto look like such a good fit together – very exciting!!!

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  4. This is all so exciting! You look fantastic on him (albeit kinda itty bitty) and it’s for sure evident that you guys are going to be a force!
    Also, I commiserate on trying to figure out where my parts go on a narrow horse. I felt it with Pammon the last time he came back from being hurt and all I had ridden was Shiny and Eros (couple of wine barrels really). But riding Bellino is like sitting on a 2×4 and my body just doesn’t have a clue how to wrap around that. I walk like an old woman every time I get off him.

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  5. What is Airrosti? I tried googling but they don’t really say what it is, only that it “fixes pain fast”. Great, I can think of a lot of ways to do that, some better (and less illegal) than others…

    Do you have a yoga program you follow, like a Youtube channel or something? I need to get back in to yoga but I struggle focusing on it without some direction. There’s just soooooo many out there I was wondering if you’ve found one you like.

    I’m so excited to see what the next chapter holds for you and Presto. It looks like you’ll have a really, really productive winter!

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    1. It’s a combination of massage, stretching, and strengthening exercises. They eval you and then make up a plan to help address your specific problem areas. Sports PT basically.

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  6. Re “posting too high”—this may or may not help you, but hey, it’s free! My dressage trainer always said not to lift yourself out of the saddle (the hunt seat technique) but rather let the horse toss (lift) you up. The down phase is of course totally under your control until the next toss. In short, relax and disconnect your quads on the upwards.

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