As I was riding Sparky sometime last week, a comment made by Honorary Big Sister Jen came to mind. On the day a few months ago when we rode together and flatted each other's horses, she had commented something to the nature of if we were to combine our horses, we would have a really good horse. So the other day, I had what can only be described as a Brilliant Idea.
So I call up Honorary Big Sister Jen, and tell her I have a Brilliant Idea. And she says, "Oh, boy..." Huh? Turns out that the phrase "teetering on the brink of brilliance or disaster" must apply to my so-thought Brilliant Ideas, and Honorary Big Sister Jen wasn't sure which one this would be. But this one was a good one. For real. This was my idea:
Once a week for the next month, Honorary Big Sister Jen and I should ride each other's horses. This is to be dubbed "Project Pony Swap." (Though in all honesty, I didn't come up with that name right away).
Obviously, Jen and I have different strengths and weaknesses in our riding abilities. Not only is this reflected in our horses, but our horses also have different strengths and weaknesses, which is reflected back in us... because we are the primary riders and trainers of our own horses. Therefore, by riding each other's horses, potentially both riders and both horses could benefit. So it actually was a brilliant idea, and Honorary Big Sister Jen agreed.
Commence Project Pony Swap
SOP: Flat only, any and equipment preferred by rider
Project Pony Swap commenced on Sunday, with me riding Tiki. I put him in his dressage tack, because I wanted to use his Myler dee, which is on his dressage bridle. The dressage saddle then became a necessity, because, well, we can't have mismatched tack. Tiki's reaction to the entire pre-ride and starting-ride process was pretty funny - from "You're getting me out of my stall?" to "Oh, hey, yeah, I know you," to "Oh, you're tacking me up? Okay," to "Wait, where are we going? to "Huh? You're riding me?"
Once I was aboard and after much fiddling with stirrups, we started off at a walk on a loose rein. Tiki, quite predictably, seemed to think, "You're not my mom, so... this slow, pokey walk is what you get." Umm, no. He quickly got the idea that we were still going to have a nice, forward walk. As we moved up to the trot, still on a loose rein, Tiki reverted to his best impression of You're-Not-My-Mom-So-I'm-A-Sewing-Machine. Sorry, Charlie. Again, once he figured out that I knew better and that he really is capable of a decent trot and insisted he use it, we had a nice, forward trot. We then moved up into the canter; by this time Tiki had figured out he wasn't going to get away with bare minimum effort, and the canter was also quite nice.
We came back down to a trot, and from there we proceeded to do lots of circles, figure-eights serpentines, and other various changes of direction. When I saw that Tiki thought that tilting his head was the same as bending, we dropped back to some much smaller circles at the walk to really encourage actual bend. Ah, what an overachiever! As we moved back out to a bigger circle, Tiki offered up a lovely rubberneck, complete with a shoulder lost (popped) to the outside and a "Ohp - shoulder's going this way, so am I!" D'oh! So I didn't try to pick at him on the circle; instead, we moved back to an outside track and started playing with some shoulder-in and haunches-in. I also threw in some leg-yielding and spirals in and out for good measure.
The transitions to the canter were not as neat and clean as I would have liked, but I do think this goes back to the idea of "different people doing things different ways." I am 100% sure I don't ask for the canter the same way Jen does. However, he did get the idea, and moved up into a very decent canter, despite the not-beautiful transition. We didn't do too much at the canter, because I was really only looking for an agreeable canter on contact, rather than it just being an agreeable canter because he could do whatever he wanted with his head.
We came back to the trot and did some more circles, spirals, and various changes of direction. By this time, Tiki was feeling really good - nicely balanced and even between the reins, no head tilting, shoulder-popping, or haunches drifting. The spirals to the left were definitely not as good as the spirals to the right - much stiffer - but overall, there was much improvement through the course of the ride. As we finished up, we trotted down the quarter line and came to a lovely, square halt without the slightest head toss. Tiki's nose was definitely not vertical as we came to the halt, but he was very accepting of the contact.
Overall, it was a very good ride, and I really had fun. While Tiki is not a complicated ride, per se (something with which Honorary Big Sister Jen has done a really good job), he does sometimes have some tricks that have to be carefully managed, like the head-tilting thing. I had to be very careful with my aids to correct the head tilt without losing bend. And the occasional sewing machine impression rearing its ugly head. If I didn't ask just right for a bigger step, I was given faster instead. I was particularly pleased with our halt at the end. When I've ridden Tiki in the past, he has sometimes seemed almost resentful of contact. I think that his very nice halt demonstrated a much better acceptance of contact not only from what I have experienced from him previously, but even from what was offered up at the beginning of the ride.
I think Project Pony Swap is going to be fun!