Bentley Update including (only slightly) sad news.

Ok I will get it over with right away.  Sad news is I couldn’t find anyone to trailer Bentley up to Myrddin next Sunday, so we won’t be doing the show.  I guess its not so bad, instead I can use the $ for more lessons and really rock it next year.  See, that news is only slightly sad!

The good news far outweighs the bad.  Bentley is looking pretty fine!  I took him out both Sunday and Monday, and even started canter work with him again (expecting we would need to practise this for the dressage show this weekend as it was still the plan at that time)

Sunday I just rode in the ring as it had recently rained and I was worried about slippery conditions in the grass.  He was a little pokey at the trot, ok lets say it was relaxed and quiet.  Nothing to be too worried about.  He worried me for a few moments with a bit of a bob, but I think it was stiffness and getting comfortable with the muddy sand footing.  I am not sure if Lily rode him or not while I was “gone” which would explain some stiffness.  I still slightly hold on to the theory that not exercising him makes him lame since that seems to be the common denominator.  So I was nervous that his lack of activity in the past week had caused it again.

No cause for concern however, he worked out of it and grudgingly splashed through the puddles (he hates mud!) Since it was going well and we needed to work on the canter, I went around the outside of the ring both ways.  He picked up both leads easily and didn’t try any funny business… until it was time to trot again.  Then he made it clear he wasn’t quite ready to be done cantering and we spent several laps “discussing” the choice to trot.  Eventually he calmed down, I gave him a walk, and it was time to work on cantering 20m circles.  The dressage test would require us to trot a 20m circle, pick up canter on the last quadrant, circle 20m at the canter, go straight and back to trot.  The first half was very easy, it is never hard to ask him to go up a gear.  Returning to trot wasn’t terrible either.  However, keeping that trot was another question.  Every time I circled or asked for bend it was a cue for canter in his head.  This led us to doing 20m circles endlessly trying to alternate between canter and trot.  Many of those trot circles became rhombus, trapezoids, and isosceles triangles.  Well, maybe all forms of triangles and other geometric shapes.  The pattern was starting to occur that whenever we would near a jump, the nose would go up, ignored the steering, and veer straight for the standard resulting in me panicking last minute, and a hard tug and weight shift to the inside.  Leg wasn’t working either because any leg was again; cue to canter.  Woo.  I was really sweating in fear we would both end up on top of those jumps!

In this case, I just had to tough it out and win the argument.  None of us ended up hurt and eventually Bentley realized it was more fun to work with me than argue.  Or maybe he was just tired? Or maybe he thought something else?  Either way, one loop it just seemed to click and we got the happy canter loop then the happy trot loop and I called it a day!

Monday I took a different approach.  We started in the plateau and had a nice long warmup.  Its starting to get cold and the last thing I want to do is neglect a warmup, even if it IS dark less than half an hour into my ride.  When I asked Bentley to trot… wow!  How do I even describe it?  He was so eager and felt so great!  My GPS didn’t track us as any faster than usual (about 8mph) but did he ever feel like he was going fast!  He was lifting his legs up high, stretching out beautifully, and very obviously enjoying himself!  It was THE BEST TROT that I have felt from him to date.  I gave him his head to see what he would do with all that energy, and he was brilliant, no trying to run or be silly, just continued on with a steady happy trot.  No witnesses (other than lee) to it, but I can imagine what it must be like to watch it, it would be one of those trots that would silence the crowd and make you forget to breathe.

After lots of that, it was time to canter in the plateau.  Its very different out there because if you let them, they can take advantage of the space and stretch out and really motor… which is exactly what Bentley likes to do.  Here is where my different approach came into play.  Instead of asking for calm canter right away, I let him have his fun.  We had zippy canter ranging from 14-19mph.  Usually that’s when his brain leaves his head (if we were in the ring) but we had fine steering and I was able to do some comfortable large circles.  However I cant keep up with that speed in my hips so I am sure he wasn’t too pleased about my bumping around on his back.  Once we had the zippy fun stuff out of the way, a plan of half halting every other stride was put into action and he developed a nice hunter canter of 12mph.  It became very sane, relaxed, and fun for me!

After that, it was almost completely dark.  We went back up but the outdoor with lights was PACKED full of kids, so I went into the indoor.  Bit of a mistake there, Bentley was spooking to the extreme at one corner of the ring.  How am I supposed to work on our dressage test when he isn’t paying any attention to me?  lee told me that I should be working on the indoor problems anyway, but I countered with “I have all winter to work on that!” Eventually Bentley would go to the one side of the arena, but we were still having issues with straightness.  Seriously, Bentley looked like an upside down L to the outside.  He was not letting the wall out of his sight, which meant no inside bend, and making it IMPOSSIBLE to get the correct canter lead.  Again, had to trooper through it with the tiniest of improvements each time.  Eventually I found the best solution to be was avoid the ends of the arena and just trot and canter a big 20m circle in the centre.  Not a 100% win, but enough to be happy with the result!

Also, I let “Crazy Sarah” out for a bit of the arena ride.  I removed my stirrups and practised sitting trot (which Bentley has very little experience or patience with) and some posting trot.  I learned a lot by doing this.  One is that I have allowed myself to get severely out of shape in my core and have difficulty in my balance as a result.  There were a few times I had to grab the pommel and hold myself down, other times I would just like to forget.  Not my finest moments!  I used to do a lot of work without stirrups, but I hadn’t been comfortable enough with Bentley to do it, and he takes so little encouragement to go or bend that I am not surprised that I have lost a lot of strength from my core down. (oh did I mention hes brilliant at leg yielding at both walk and trot now, barely even have to touch him!)

Another thing I learned, or at least was reminded of, was how terrible the position of my lower leg is while trotting.  I have a tendency to push my legs forward instead of keeping my ankles beneath my hip.  So when I lost the stirrups, and my leg was where it should be, Bentley got all worked up because he isn’t used to feeling my leg that far back against my side (well… unless we CANTER!!!!!) So it was a little extra motivation to work on that.  Motivation meaning I almost got dumped in one corner every single time we passed.

One other thing crazy Sarah tried before calling it a night was cantering stirrupless in the good canter direction (for the first time ever).  No problems there!  I think Bentley was relieved to have me stop bumping so much.  Hopefully we can find a way to cool him out while improving me too so I can keep doing stirrupless work.  I actually love it and think it is one of the most important skills to learn… especially after 25 miles on the trail when my knees start screaming!

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