The air is crisp, the wind leaning towards gusty, but the sun rises over the barn as I ride Bali, always my first lesson.
I am working on establishing a good marching walk from the get go, focusing on bend and connection. It is getting easier. Inga and I talked about the leg yield exercises I’d been doing and making sure it is a really good leg yield, and then we did some shoulder in to haunches in and back, at the walk, on a circle, really focusing on connection and bend, particularly on keeping it in the transitions between positions and when changing directions. I still tend to lose one or two things at this point, I’ll throw away my outside rein and forget to use my leg, or I’ll forget to release the outside rein enough, etc. Walking and chewing gum is hard too!
We did the same positions in trot, but Bali had an attitude about being tapped to go forward and she cantered instead, so we made her go forward in the canter. After we had a good warm up, I did some straightening and counter flexion cantering down the quarter lines.
We had two nice changes near the end and I’ll continue the work on throughness and connection.
Next Suzy had a lesson on Harry and I got Neuf ready. Neuf really feels good and that overnight trip was good for him mentally. He is acting much more mature. I warmed up in a field while Suzy finished her lesson, working on getting him forward on long straight lines.
On Neuf, I worked on not falling back into my old, bad habits, which when I get tight in the shoulders, my hands go to shit…otherwise known as the appearance of sawing, although it is not so much a conscious action than a reflection that my getting tight makes me lock up all the joints on the way down to the hands, and boom….I’m no longer following the motion, so now I shimmy my shoulders to loosen things up, and voila, major improvement.
I did a fair amount of forward and back in the trot, I need to remember to do that more in homework. Then we did some canter work. Neuf is slow to canter, getting him started is the hard part, but once going, he has a nice canter. I’m feeling better about him having a proper reaction to a tap with the whip and I even carried a dressage whip, not a short little jumping bat.
There were a couple of turns on the forehand, which he does reasonably well, he is quite good about moving off the leg sideways. Inga asked if I had introduced rein back yet, and I had not, a step back in a halt in dressage is penalized fairly harshly, so I was playing with making sure this horse is forward first (I’ve done backing much earlier in all my other horse’s days). So, we did some work on that. It is always best to have a ground person initially, as the ground person can help the horse get the idea that he is to move backwards.
Since riding with Mark Rashid years ago, I’ve introduced rein back the way we worked on it, which is to break it down into the smallest steps, so we would spend a good chunk of time on it. Reward the smallest movement, then build upon that. Give to the bit, release, shift the weight back, release, shift the weight more, release, get one step, release, etc. you get to the point of several steps backwards quite quickly.
Yesterday, Inga wanted 3 steps backwards, without head wringing & flinging, softly, on the bit. So, I was fighting years of my own “release now” reactions, and mentally wondering if this was making the problem too difficult, knowing that 3 steps is not huge. Inga felt that Neuf definitely understood the request and this was an element of submission (in the dressage sense of the word), and I should use this type of resistance as a training opportunity, as this is a low impact, low risk place to establish a firm boundary with Neuf, sort of a you will do this, you can, it is not an unreasonable request I am making. Given that Neuf is rather powerful and I have to be smart enough to get what I want without direct confrontations, Inga has a very good point about using this sort of moment to set clear boundaries, even if we are pushing the limits of his current level. We ended with 3 nice steps back, he stayed soft and I immediately got off and we made a big fuss over him.
Good lessons and it is always good to think about the different approaches, not get stuck in one way, with the caveat that all the considered approaches are fair to the horse.