It is easy to get cocky when learning a new trick or movement if said trick has always gone well and been easy. However, life has a way of kicking you in the pants just when you start to get overly comfortable!
We had worked on the flying changes twice prior to last weekend, and both times were very easy. Allison had me focus on what the hind end was doing and think of kicking his haunches over to the new lead so he got clean changes. We used a pole to give me more air time, and Echo got clean changes each time we practiced.
So of course, I got cocky and proceeded to ride like utter garbage during my lesson! Echo was tired, so I suggested since the pole was already in the ring from another horse, that we have a repeat of a lesson we had had earlier in the week which was: warm up, walk break, one clean change each way and call it a day.
Allison thought that was a good plan and so we decided to go with that. Echo warmed up well and was soft in his body but tired from a long, hard week. We start to work on the changes and approached them the way we had the previous times we worked on it which is: on a figure 8 with the pole in the middle, pick up the right lead canter, as soon as I straighten for the pole, trot, then ask for the left canter lead over the pole. Continue on the figure 8 and repeat. After he gets the idea that we are changing directions and leads, ask for the flying change over the pole.
It is simple and logical, and I managed to screw it up.
Instead of riding the hind end and really thinking of kicking his haunches over to the new lead, I apparently (and inadvertently!) tried to ride like Echo knows the change cue and just switch my legs.
After a couple of failed attempts, Allison had me go back to the original approach of trotting right before the pole and asking for the new lead over the pole, then we attempted the flying change again. Once she had me emphasize haunches one way prior to the pole, then haunches the other way over the pole, the changes came. I realized what I had done wrong and felt terrible for poor Echo who ended up having to work a LOT harder than we had planned!
Before I could mentally rake myself over the coals for my bad riding, Allison made a good point. She expressed that now I have the tools for when you are teaching the changes and get stuck. She’s right—the next time I find myself in that position, I won’t jump right to frustration and will instead rely on the sensible, methodical training method that Allison uses.
While lessons and shows that go extremely well leave me elated and on Cloud 9, it is the lessons and shows in which I struggle that keep me humble, honest and hungry. This has been a lesson that has really hit home for me over the past year after having a year of very high highs and very low lows.
Another thing I have become increasingly aware of is how incredibly honest my horse is. Allison and I were discussing this the other day—he tries harder than his body should probably allow.
Let me clarify—Echo’s life has not been an easy one. Like all OTTBs, he was probably started at 2 years of age and ran both flat and steeplechase races until he was 6. He then evented and did the hunters/jumpers with me, has had significant suspensory injuries in both hind legs, SI troubles, and back pain. He might only be 14 years old, but his body is significantly older than that due to the workload he has had his entire life.
The work that we are doing is not easy for any horse, but it is doubly hard for a horse that has had a life like Echo’s. And yet, he still manages to come out every day and try his heart out for me with a smile on his face. It is awe-inspiring and frankly slightly overwhelming to fully realize how much he tries for me.
People have told me that he is lucky that I stuck with him throughout all of the trials we have faced (suspensory issues, rearing issues, trailer issues….), but in truth, I am the lucky one. He is definitely the superstar of this team and deserves 110 percent of the credit for our success. Yes, I have worked hard as well, and dressage is not easy for me, but I don’t have the physical limitations that Echo does.
It would be so easy for him to quit on me and yet he just keeps going. I thank my lucky stars every day for Echo being in my life and am eternally grateful for the opportunity to own such an amazing horse.
He showed me yet again how special he is when my friend who half-leases him in Richmond came for a lesson a couple of weeks ago. I have gotten Echo fairly jazzed up and hot off the leg in order to do the work we are doing, and somehow Echo knew he had to tone it down for Lindsey has she has been unable to ride since basically October when he re-injured his left hind suspensory.
She rode a handful of times in December through January but only at the walk and trot, so coming up to take a lesson was a brave move on her part! Echo seemed to sense that he needed to be his normal, rock solid self for Lindsey and she had a fantastic lesson. I couldn’t be prouder of them both!
Looking forward—our goals for this season include qualifying for the Great American Insurance Group regional finals at both second and third levels, so to practice we are doing second level, test 3 at the schooling show at Morven Park (Va.) this weekend.
I’m also very sad to say my time here is almost up—I go home to Richmond on April 1, and while I am very much looking forward to seeing my boyfriend, dog, family, and Richmond friends, I am dreading leaving the life and friends I have up here. It will definitely be a major adjustment and I will write another blog after I get home with an update on the schooling show and my last two weeks here.
Until then—have fun and enjoy the longer daylight hours!
When amateur rider Samantha Silver got the chance to spend two months as a working student for dressage trainer Allison Spivey, she grabbed it. Silver uprooted her life in Richmond, Va., arranged to telecommute for her job and shipped her off-the-track Thoroughbred Jimmie Echo two hours away to Middleburg, Va., for an adventure in learning, work and life.