I have never written a lesson recap, mostly because my riding lessons have been few and far between with my hiatus from riding while I tried to my best financial ability to care for Dante, and then furthered that hiatus by adopting Gallon. Gallon and I have begun taking lessons together, but we are limited in what we can do because of his knocked hip/kissing spine combination.
Finally feeling financially ready for a few lessons, I took my first lesson at SunFire Equestrian back in October, and fell in love with a red OTTB gelding named "Quinn". Unfortunately for me, Quinn was for sale! I did get to ride him in his sale video, and I hacked him for fun multiple times. I was hoping to continue lessons on him, but he sold in early January. He went to a 16-year-old girl who adores him - So I was very pleased about that!
I finally got back out to SunFire for a lesson on Wednesday, January 30th, and was matched with a 12-year-old bay Holsteiner mare named "Zegna". She is feminine and a more modern type of warmblood - very refined, but about 16h or so.
She was wonderful in the cross-ties, really mellow and happy to deal with my 35-minute grooming session before getting on - I believe it's important to get to know them before the ride, and grooming is a perfect way to do that.
When I mounted, I could immediately feel how uphill she was. She is a perfect example of form serves function - Her neck is tied into her shoulder in a way that makes her naturally so up, and due to that, she also moves that way. It was not what I expected, but looking at her from the ground, it did make sense. She is potentially the most uphill horse I have ever ridden. But, take that with a grain of salt, because I have ridden predominantly thoroughbreds, and even my warmblood Dante had quite a bit of thoroughbred influence.
You know how when you watch Olympic stadium jumping, a few strides before each fence, you see the horses raise their heads up, rush forward, and the rider usually sits until the base of the fence, where they then thrust themselves forward with the horse? As soon as we started walking I felt that feeling from her, a feeling I have only ever seen prior to sitting on Zegna's back. I felt like I could feel her scope from a walk. I don't know how else to describe it.
We walked a bit to warm up, and when we started her trot her head came even further up, her ears were pricked, and it felt like she was almost doing a dressage movement, but incorrectly - piaffe maybe? She felt extremely hollow-backed, and although I love her uphill build and movement, my goal for the lesson quickly became getting used to one another, in addition to getting her to open up her stride, engage her core, and relax down into the contact. I found out Zegna has had 2 premium foals, and so getting that mom-body back into shape is a bit of a harder chore!
We worked on a large circle (don't laugh at me for not knowing how many meters, if you are a dressage rider!) for most of our lesson, at the walk, trot, and canter. What I really enjoyed about Zegna's movement was that she was forward, but sensible and responsive to the aids. If I gave her too much or too little of any of them - Leg, hand, seat, etc. - She let me know. Our trot eventually worked into a lovely, engaged, soft, comfortable trot. I could feel her opening up her stride and making my job of posting easier. Instead of going straight up and down with her head in my face, she was at the vertical, I was able to post quietly and rhythmically, all while maintaining soft contact with her mouth.
The canter needs a bit more work, but I think a lot of that is because she needs to regain her strength. She goes up into the contact with minimal encouragement from me, but feels strung-out. I was focused on trying to keep her between my leg and hand, but she did not want to relax down, and kept swapping leads behind whenever we got to a corner. I worked on keeping her engaged, and on a slight bend to the inside so she wouldn't swap her leads behind.
I came down to the trot, got a lovely trot going, and then asked her to go back into the canter all while keeping the feeling I had during the trot. That seems to help me quite a bit with any horse I am riding when I think of it that way, and it helped her, too! We finally got a couple rounds of canter that seemed more relaxed, supple, and had no lead changing in the hind.
After a walk break for both of us, we hopped over a couple of crossbars. She feels brave when she jumps. It becomes increasingly challenging to keep her balanced and under herself while jumping, because she is an eventer, and she wants to take the fences boldly. I am fine with the boldness, but don't want her to take the fences upside-down!
We only jumped 3 fences, since I am out of shape and we were getting to know each other mostly on the flat. Our first fence was awful, mostly because Zegna likes to be ridden with a lot of support and not thrown away at the fences, even though she is bold. I learned that quickly. It was completely my fault, but she drifted hard left and then broke down to the walk and stepped over it. I didn't give her the support she needed with me eyes, seat, hands, and leg, so she essentially just shut down and asked "What are you doing up there, human?". The second fence I still didn't ride perfectly, and she broke from the canter to the trot a couple of strides before the fence, just making it a little awkward. Third time is a charm. I realized, "Ok, this mare will jump anything for me if I give her the confidence and support she needs", and we nailed our final fence. I saw a forward spot about 8 strides away, asked her to move up to it, and she leapt over it without batting an eye.
Thank you for keeping me honest, Zegna! I cannot wait to ride this mare again. Oh, and she's for sale just like Quinn was - So I will try my best not to get attached.