If you’ve ever been stuck in the mud, you know that the ruts that start when the tires no longer have forward traction can get deep, and astoundingly fast.
Sunday, on Neuf, he was pretty forward, but also starting to pull and lean. Now, while I’m learning to like contact from all these years of dressage lessons, this was pulling, not soft, conversational contact.
Tonight, I went out in the same field, and in the same place, a gradual downhill he started to feel like he wasn’t listening, gravity was pulling us faster and faster and he didn’t mind leaning really heavily on my right hand. I probably spent 10 minutes riding around, trotting and cantering straight to circle to straight, when he pretty much was just blowing me off and not listening.
Now Neuf is pretty damned big. He is more than 10x my weight, so there is no out-pulling him. In this 10 minutes, the stream of thoughts went something like…
– Martin is in France, I need to just deal with this
– Maybe he shouldn’t stay in my standard loose ring snaffle, does he need a stronger bit?
– Maybe more circles, more outside rein connection when he gets heavier
– He was pulling yesterday at first, but finished well
– I noticed a bit of flaky, dry skin on the right side of his mouth and put vaseline on it while tacking up
– …he is heavier in the right rein…wait, maybe it started to chap his lips…I don’t want him to get cuts in the corners of his mouth..I want a soft mouth
– It takes two to pull
– Use your brain, Mel…think about this.
I halted. He blew through my aids and halted because the fence was about to hit his chest. We were starting to dig a rut with these spinning wheels. I decided to go ahead and toss some gravel under those spinning tires for some traction and I got a bit heavier for a moment, a couple of quick, upward rein actions, that have a fancy French term…demi arette…or something like that… then insisted he listen to lighter, we did a rein back, walked, rein back, he objected and considered lifting his front end, there were a few more halt, rein back, walk, then I really focused on maintaining lightness. I abandoned circles and went back to lots of direction changes for transitions, instead of pace change. I did my best to not pull…adding leg on the side I was tempted to pull on.
All of a sudden, I had this lovely, elastic and soft contact in my hands, even in both reins, we walked, we trotted, we cantered, both ways, and he stayed soft.
It is so easy to get stuck pushing on the accelerator, when you need to stop and assess the situation to get unstuck. Pulling harder is nothing more than shouting the same instruction, that wasn’t fully understood in a quieter tone.
I don’t know what started this heaviness, but I’ll make sure to notice it sooner and change my ride plans accordingly this week on Neuf.