Last week had a few LONG days at work, so that meant I could leave a bit early on Friday, to get a lesson on Neuf, in the uncharacteristically spring-like weather.
Friday’s lesson consisted of working on me being able to influence and control the striding. We used cavalletti for this exercise. 4 of them. 2 as a bounce at each end of the line, because it keeps you more honest if there are two poles to get over. We rode the line in 5 and 6 strides on Friday.
When Neuf gets stuck and doesn’t want to go forward, he swings his butt around, so my job is to figure out where, keep his shoulders in line with his butt and send him forward, staying out of his face, no hands, just legs. Neuf will always be a diesel engine. He is slow to warm up, but has definite power once he is warmed up.
In the canter, I’m focusing on keeping his shoulders and withers lifting up, while keeping the base of his neck low and stretching, which is a subtlety, given that the base of the neck and withers are next to each other. It is so easy to have both low (which can lead to heavy and on the forehand) or both high (leads to hollow and losing connection), but I’m finally starting to get the feel of the difference.
I did some cantering with haunches out, with some counter-bend, not shoulder-fore. This helped get him onto the right better. Once we had the good canter, it was time to start taking it through the line. I was able to get my 5 or 6 strides, as I chose, almost every time. There are always a couple of times it is a little long or a little short, but nothing that was a “yikes”.
Saturday, I went back over and we started out on the same line, after warming up, but this time, I was to ride 5 and 7 strides in the line. That went ok, but when we moved to a line with fences, it was just not smooth. There was nothing awful but I was either getting in too deep or too long, too many “superman” jumps from Neuf. Poor Martin was rubbing his head in frustration. I finally pulled out an “ok” 5 followed by an “ok” 6, and we had to quit, because there was no reason to punish Neuf for my inability to see a distance! And he was getting tired.
Sunday, I took Bali over with me, and had my first jumping lesson of the day on her. She is much more compact than Neuf, so I don’t think we ever bothered with trying to get a 5 stride in the cavalletti line on her, 6 & 7 strides worked and was smooth. Bali tends to drop her withers more in the canter, something I struggle with in her dressage as well, so it is good to work on this in a jumping lesson. I was getting into and through the line much better than Saturday, so that was nice. After we finished, Ashley asked if I ever do the 4 strides small canter, 4 strides big canter exercise, and I said that I do, every day…but with 5/5 as my count, but then I said, but I’m using it to develop my pirouette canter, not a forward pace jumping canter, so I might do some of the same exercise out in the big field, with a bigger canter – more medium to extended, less medium to collected and more open in the poll.
I stuck Bali in Neuf’s stall, got him tacked up and headed back into the ring, to see if I could redeem myself.
I could and did.
Neuf felt nice, did our usual slow warm up, and then shortly after we started the canter, he decided to object to my leg demanding more forward, he kicked out, 4 times. The best part of this…I’m solid. My leg stayed put, I didn’t get tossed about, I felt tight in the tack!!!! His shape has changed. So, around we went and pretty much nailed all the distances. At one point, I got a big jump in, didn’t adjust soon enough, so the 6 was tight, but I passed the quiz, and said what I did wrong, came back and fixed that. We ended on me calling out, 5 or 6 strides before I entered the line, and I got it every time!!!!
We finished up walking around the hay field with another boarder. She was on her younger horse, who can be a bit spooky out there, but I assured her Neuf is solid and wouldn’t even mind if her guy spooked into him. We were able to go around the top part 3 times, since we were chatting about life & my son, and so she was able to relax on him.
Excellent bunch of rides! Neuf has today off, Bali & I will hack out.
Oh and Neuf was 6th place for USHJA Horse of the Year in Zone 3 for “Young Jumpers, 6 years old”!!! Well done Martin Douzant & Neuf.