I haven't been able to ride as much as I really wanted to this summer (I picked up a second job and am working 12+ hour days, sometimes 7 days a week). I have managed to get up early and catch a ride before heading in to work a few times, but again, not as often as I'd like. Which is sad, because it's been an amazing summer, weather-wise. Unseasonably cool and wonderful. The mornings are chilly, the evenings pleasant. Perfect riding weather and I'm missing it!
With my new schedule, my poor horse is fat. Yes, a fat Thoroughbred. I never thought I'd see the day, but, I don't think he really cares that much. He's fat and happy and I think enjoying his summer of leisure. He has developed a bizarre taste for sunflowers (weird horse) and completely decimated my sunflower garden. I busted him pulling them down one by one and eating the whole darn thing, flower, seeds, stem, leaves and all. Freak. But what can you say to a horse when he looks at you with that "What? What am I doing?" expression on his face and a sunflower dangling out of his mouth? Not much to say except laugh! My poor sunflowers. So much for watching the wrens, doves and finches enjoy sunflower seeds this fall.
But the thing that amazes most is when I do get to ride, he's fantastic. While I know deep down that horses really don't care if they "work" or not (I think if given a choice, they'd all be perfectly content as pampered pasture puffs forever and ever), I get the feeling that he truly does enjoy our time together. He is eager to please, ears up and flicking back at me to check in from time to time and trying his fat butt off to do what I've asked. He follows me around if I'm out and is eager to put on his halter. I couldn't be more proud of him and I think he kind of likes me.
I started our last ride (as I promised myself I would!) with 10 minutes of work sans stirrups. Three minutes in (posting trot, agony!) and I was questioning the sanity of this decision. My legs, they were burning and feeling like Jell-O. I'm pretty sure they are plotting ways to get back at me. But, it made me realize how much I've been depending on my feet and my stirrups to keep my balance, and not on my seat, body and legs as I should. I had to grab pommel/pad a few times on sharper turns and berated myself for letting bad habits develop simply through laziness. Even while I was in agony and feeling not as secure as I should, my seat must have been better and deeper without the stirrups because Gabe kept rounding up, stepping deep and reaching for the bridle, even on a loose rein (loose reins so I don't accidentally yank on his face if I lose my balance. He won't suffer because of my inadequacies!) Not once did he strike the giraffe pose or behave as if he thought I'd lost my ever-lovin' mind. I love that horse to pieces!
It was frustrating to realize I've let myself become so complacent about a secure seat. I grew up riding bareback, everywhere, at every gait over all kinds of terrain, often faster than I probably should have. Try telling a 10-year-old girl with a wild streak 10 miles wide NOT to ride her pony bareback, in a halter, hellbent for leather and I doubt you'd get very far! Knowing that right now I probably couldn't stick a good spook bareback is incredibly depressing. But I intend to remedy that.
Gabe is very much out of shape, and so am I, so I've kept the working part of our rides on the shorter side, no more than 30 minutes of true work. Then, we go out and enjoy the woods or take a leisurely hack down the road. I may not have met any of my riding goals with Gabe this summer (and I'm perfectly okay with that), but the rides we have had are heavenly, and with them as few and far between as they have been, each one has been a gift.