Tuesday, May 10, 2011
No, I don’t have a new bunny. And no, Mr. Prescott is not in urgent need of little blue pills! Semi-floppy is an expression I coined Sunday morning describing the way I need to be when I ride Qrac.
I can see your puzzled expression. Trust me; I’ve been puzzled, too. In fact, for the past two weeks I’ve been beyond puzzled; I’ve been positively flummoxed. Of course, I knew from day one that my new horse is very forward going, that he has a big engine, and that half-halts are my friend. Sessions with my trainer went well, and my daughter rode him without any problem. I felt as though we were on the right track.
So I wasn’t particularly concerned when my trainer told me she would be unavailable for close to two weeks, traipsing around Europe coaching a couple of her higher-level students at FEI competitions. Qrac and I were doing ok, and I figured we’d just work quietly on our own, trying to stabilize the tempo. Over the past month one of my main concerns has been - and still is - his back. Initially I’d thought my Childeric saddle fit him fine, but after a couple of sessions it became clear this wasn’t the case. Not only was it pinching his shoulders, it was also slipping backwards. My other Passier saddle wasn’t any better, and pretty soon Qrac started hollowing while I groomed him. His back was bothering him. So I called an osteopath, switched to lungeing and managed to speak to my trainer about having Qrac fitted for a new saddle. Since the saddler she recommended can only come to measure Qrac next week, and seeing as I’ll have to wait two months for him to make the new one, one of my friends whose horse is off work following surgery has lent me her saddle, and although it fits him a little better, it still slips backwards so isn’t ideal. A sheepskin pad doesn’t help, nor does a gel pad. Qrac has an extremely short, somewhat flat back, and very high withers. I’m guessing he has narrow shoulders too, at least compared to Warmbloods. Saddle-wise, I’m in a bit of a mess.
Seeing as I’m a compulsive worrier, in the two weeks my trainer has been away I’ve worked myself into a total state over this, and I suppose Qrac picked up on my stress, because a few days after the osteopath intervened and I could ride him again, he and I became out of sync. All of a sudden he seemed to be ignoring my half-halts, chucking his head about, leaning on my hands, falling onto the forehand, going faster and faster. I’d transition into trot, and within seconds have to transition back into walk to as he’d just tumbleweed into a horrible rushed and clickety trot (when he “runs”, he tends to click his hind feet against his front feet). I tried shoulder in, shoulder out, small circles, bigger circles, serpentines, shorter reins, longer reins, soothing talk, all kinds of things, but to no avail. It was more than disconcerting, it was horrible. The more he ran, the more freaked out I became, and the more freaked out I became, the more he ran.
Finally, Sunday morning, my trainer came back. She met me at the stables, I saddled up Qrac and, having explained that he and I were experiencing problems, up she hopped.
Did he “tumbleweed”? Did he “run”?
No. He was perfect. Well, maybe not initially, but within fifteen minutes, he was trotting around, all prancy, round and reaching, as light as a feather while maintaining an almost constant contact.
I almost cried. I suck. I’m hopeless. He doesn’t like me. I should stick to knitting. Drama-queen? Yeah, but it was that time of the month.
“Your turn,” said Marie-Valentine, vaulting off cheerily.
Heavy-hearted, heavy-limbed, I lumbered up. As soon as we transitioned into trot, we began to tumbleweed.
“Stop,” called my trainer. We jostled back to walk, and ambled towards her.
I sighed, crestfallen. “It’s me. I don’t understand. What am I doing wrong?”
Marie-Valentine thought about it for a second or two. “You’re too…floppy,” she said, finally. “He’s super supple, you’re super supple, your seat is super supple, and it’s freaking him out. You follow his movement too closely, offering no resistance with your seat at all, so he thinks you’re asking him to go faster and faster.”
“But I keep half-halting,” I moaned.
“You need to think beyond half-halts,” she replied. “You need to stabilize your core, ride him more…well…more stiffly. Not like you’re in a constant half-halt, of course, as the half-halt involves a split second rein action too. You need to ride him with more engaged stomach muscles.”
I circled around her, mulling it over, hauling up my pelvic floor, sucking my belly button to my spine, and generally feeling self-conscious, not to mention constipated. I transitioned into trot and tested various abdominal scenarios, feeling my way.
And Qrac stopped tumbleweeding. Amazing!
“Mais, ouais!!!” cried Marie-Valentine, beaming. I beamed right back at her.
Okay, so it wasn’t perfect. I didn’t get the same result from him as she did, but hey, she’s a pro. She’s a Grand Prix rider. I can aspire, I can admire, but I can’t emulate. For now!
I transitioned smoothly into walk, delighted by the absence of jostling, thrilled that she’d pinpointed the root of my problem.“Basically, I need to ride him…semi-floppy,” I said, screwing up my nose, trying to describe the sensation.
She smiled. “Semi-floppy,” she giggled in her lovely French accent. “J’adore!”
I rode Qrac semi-floppy for her again yesterday morning, with encouraging results. However, having to use my body in such a different way for such a long stretch of time called for massive amounts of concentration, and by the end of the session I was knackered. Because, of course, it’s not just about working my core semi-floppy, it’s about working my core semi-floppy while doing everything else at the same time. And it’s hard, especially when coming off a horse like Kwintus who, with all his wisdom, patience and experience, always adapted to his rider, forgiving all the little cheaty things I do and the bad habits I have. If Kwintus didn’t understand what I wanted, he interpreted to the best of his ability, and generally got it right. My floppiness didn’t bother him; on the contrary, it helped me follow his giant bouncy trot. But there’s a new man in my life, and if he likes me semi-floppy, then semi-floppy I’ll become.
How about you? Have you found yourself having to drastically alter aspects of your riding to suit a new horse? Did it take you long to adapt? Boost my spirits by telling me about your experiences!