Something I often have my classroom students do is a quarterly activity called Reflect & Reach. Simply put, it allows them to reflect on their learning and progress while also pushing them to reach for new goals. Ngugi and I have been with trainer Laura at Shadowood Farm for about 7 weeks now and I thought it would be advantageous for me to assess our progress and goals in a similar fashion.

As I reflect on my learning and progress, I want to revisit the way Ngugi and I looked back in a video from “Peaks and Valleys.” I just studied this video from back in the spring in comparison to these more recent videos:

The first thing I notice is Ngugi’s willingness to partner with me more under saddle. Back in the spring, she was quick to toss her head and brace herself against contact. Often, her body felt inverted. Instead of rounding up, she moved in a hollow frame. I could barely get around a full circle without her resisting something. In the recent videos, I am proud to see her much more accepting of my contact. As Laura says, “She’s looking to you to hold her.” Maybe it’s the change of bit–we did switch her from a 3-piece eggbut to the pelham. I don’t know. She just looks happier in the mouth and less annoyed with me.

With better roundness, she is moving with her head down more and actually using her back. She feels different to me now. It’s hard to describe, but I can really feel her pushing off her hindquarters, stretching up through her back, and then reaching out through her front. I can feel it most on the diagonals when I ask her for a bigger trot through a more assertive post. Whereas six weeks ago the big trot scared me, now I can’t get enough! In fact, I’ve learned that the pokey “western pleasure trot” we were doing so much of may have been what caused the stiffness in her legs early this summer. Thoroughbreds simply aren’t built for that type of work.

Since Ngugi feels different, it’s also worth discussing how she looks different. To me, she looks more like an athlete–a little slender in the body, but muscular. Laura says her topline is developing nicely and her hind end is strengthening. Soon, we’ll even see definition in her abs. Could this transformation happen to my body too please?

Reflecting on my own progress, I recognize my confident demeanor the most. Back in the spring I really looked stiff in the neck and back. I almost look like I’m preparing myself for something horrible to happen. Now, I seem to be sitting taller and finally sitting back to send Ngugi the message that I am the lead mare up there! My elbows are starting to come in more at my sides and I’m learning to sit centered without a death grip around Ngugi’s sides. There are moments in the recent videos where I do look off balanced, but I’m really working on correcting this, especially since I’m back at riding the canter! Yes, that’s right. Last week I felt ready enough to ask her to canter. We were actually outside in the dressage ring trotting over cavaletti when the moment seemed right. I practiced the signal of right leg back to pick up the left lead from a round trot, and off we went. I sat the canter and marveled at how balanced she felt. No longer does the canter mean racing around and leaning in around turns. Her canter feels leveled and light, rhythmic and calm. I don’t have my recent canters recorded yet, but I will this month.

So, on to REACH:
This month, I’d like to write out 5 goals–in and out of the saddle.
1) Keep practicing the trip out to the field to being Ngugi in. Not only is it a good workout up the hills, but it’s so relaxing to visit the herd and see her interact with other horses. Plus, every time I do it, I get less nervous about catching her or her spooking at cows. She seems to like being with me and doesn’t run away anymore.
2) Get those elbows in.
3) Relax those legs–seems easier now with new boots.
4) Work on straightness and centered riding.

And get closer to being able to do this… (this is Laura riding in the field with Ngugi for the 1st time PLUS Ngugi’s first course EVER!)