So, I've owned my mare for 2 weeks and 1 day and I have officially entered the period of frustration. Not with her, mind. Just with myself. Going from riding a good school horse to a really nice, well-trained, open-level reiner is like trying to taking leaps across a wide chasm with my eyes closed. On my last lesson I discovered that with certain things I've taken a few steps backwards -- my lead changes are crap. I can't elaborate more on that - they're simply crap. I always thought of myself as the lead change queen when I was practicing dressage, but these reiners are trained just so differently... What I've learned: essentially I just need to figure out how to do absolutely NOTHING. Which is difficult for an ex-dressage queen. I always half-halted, rocked my weight back, set up the new bend, held the inside leg to outside rein connection steady and timed my changes just so. Ha! Good luck trying to do any of that with a reiner. Basically my job is to stay out of her way and and let Gracie do the heavy lifting. This is so incredibly difficult to do and while I'm getting better, it's still a struggle.
However, while I can see my way to correct in terms of my lead changes, my sliding stops are really the bigger concern. The first few times I rode my mare -- before I purchased her -- the stops were easy. She knew what she was doing and I was content to let her show me the way. She's one of those gliders (this is a term I've just been recently taught) who slides so smooth and easy over the ground that you barely feel it. In fact, I still sometimes think that she didn't stop! It's just so smooth that you just don't feel the transition at all. But now that I semi-know what I'm doing, I'm struggling to get my timing right. Timing in the sliding stop is kinda tricky to explain. Every time you begin a rundown you have to get a picture in your mind's eye of what it is you plan on doing and where you plan to execute the stop. You don't necessarily think of the stop. In fact, it's better if you don't - you really want to act as if you're going to run straight into the wall in front of you, giving the horse no indication that you're about to ask for a stop. Then, you just have to feel the right moment of peak speed and in that split second you swing both legs forward, say "whoa!" and really anchor your seat in the saddle by lifting your shoulders and essentially performing a crunch. So, there's getting both the timing of the right moment to ask for the stop as well as the smooth execution of the request. And believe you me, it's not so easy. I've got the right feel for the right moment. That's the easy part. Yet somehow I cannot swing my legs forward and crunch into the saddle smoothly. I keep get jolted out of my seat. And I think I know why, at least partly: for one, I've been looking down at the horse, which is clearly not helping my position; secondly I'm just a bit weak in my core muscle group. That quintessential crunch/reining stop position takes far more strength that it looks, especially when you are riding a really talented horse who can slide 15-20 feet without even pulling on her mouth. I've been practicing pilates like crazy -- and it has helped enormously -- but nothing works like riding regularly.
But when I look out the window and see the 26"+ of snow that has fallen (and it's still going!) I just feel so frustrated. Haven't even gotten out of the driveway for two days now. Ugh....winter just started and I can't wait to see it end.