So I headed to the stables for my dressage lesson after work today, and got there early. Went out and took some pictures of one of my instructor's horses (I promised to try and get pictures of all of them for her, and have two left to get some good pictures of). Then I headed to the stables... and found Debutanté's name on the board next to mine.
Now, as most of you probably know from reading my horse posts, Debutanté is a young American Warmblood mare who I fell in love with last year. She's being trained as a dressage horse by my instructor. Debbie and I get along very well on the ground, and her owners are aware that the horse and I seem to have bonded, and so once she finishes training, if we prove to be a good match I have first crack at buying her if I want her.
So I got Debutanté out and groomed her, and then the instructor came and got Debbie's tack for me. (As she's not a school-program horse, her tack was not in the usual equipment spaces.) Then we headed out.
This is a horse who's just turning 5. She's still learning a lot; she doesn't understand everything I would try to communicate. She's not very good with, say, leg cues for bending or seat-cues for anything other than 'half-halt.' Communicating with her is a bit like trying to talk to someone who doesn't know much English yet; you have to choose simpler phrases and try to speak clearly and patiently. Still, she was very eager to figure out what I was asking of her... she was clearly paying a lot of attention and trying hard to figure out what I wanted of her.
Once we sorted out what I needed to concentrate on with her, and did some circles, serpentines and other patterns at a walk, we went to try some patterns at a trot.
Debbie has got a LOT of energy... and I discovered that the first time I tried to trot her. She took off with far more energy than I'm used to, and I felt almost out-of-control. My heart actually sank with an 'oh, no, we're not a good match' thought. But I brought her back down to a walk, and we tried it again; the second time I was ready for her enthusiasm, and we got into synch pretty quickly.
After that, we finished out our patterns pretty well; she still is a bit hard to keep on a proper circle because she doesn't understand bending yet. Not that she's unwilling to, but she just doesn't quite yet understand what you're asking of her when you ask for a bend. And still being a young horse, she's VERY curious about what everyone's doing outside the ring, so anyone walking past, horses in the other ring, trucks driving past... all make her want to look outside, and so she wants to actually bend the WRONG way about half the time when circling. But after I figured this out and talked to the instructor, she helped me to account for this. So by twisting my hips at the post more than I would normally, turning my shoulder a bit more, and opening the inside rein a bit more, I was able to keep her mostly on the correct bend.
By the end, we were racing around on a pattern fairly accurately, though I'm not quite happy with most of our 15-meter circles; we ended up with something that was 15 meters one way, and more like 19 in the other... but in fairness, I had just spent ten minutes trying to teach Debbie to stay a specific distance from the wall, and so she was quite obligingly trying to still pull outwards towards the wall at one side. Our final circle went well, and she literally changed gaits /exactly/ as we passed A, dropping to a walk smoothly the moment I asked her for it.
She still has a lot to work on, and I still have my own quirks (I have a tendency to hold my outside hand too high when circling tightly, and with Debbie that /very/ much confuses her), but the ride was very rewarding. And I'm very happy to see that she and I are a good match. This is doubly important to me since, with the closure of Evergreen, I am becoming a dressage rider full-time next month rather than splitting my time half-and-half between hunter/jumper and dressage. So to know that the dressage horse I love is actually not a bad match in the ring for me -- she was very eager to learn and to please -- was a very rewarding ride.
Now for dinner and some relaxation!