Sometimes you have to think ‘out of the box’ and do something completely counter-intuitive. Such was today. I REALLY did not want to repeat the same “extreme lunging” scenario I had with Fling yesterday. It was SO Not Fun. I also worried she would hurt herself and I also did not want her worn out’ — I really wanted her energy for the LESSON. So, I got on her without lunging her at all. It took some ‘discussion’ to get her away from the barn (Faxx) , but in short order I had her out in the field next to the dressage ring and we did 15 minutes of nice relaxed walk as a warm up. At home I never lunge Fling, and I don’t have to lunge her at shows, either. And, in general, Fling is always much more obedient and easier to deal with under saddle than on the ground. I also felt much more in control. Fling is 10, I’ve been riding her since she was 2.5 and she’s never dumped me. So, a much calmer start to today’s activities!
She worked super. Marta commented on how strong she is. Fling is short backed and has really good hind end construction – the best of my three horses. She can ‘sit’ and she is very powerful for a 15.1H horse. I’ve been having trouble with half pass at trot and canter – especially to the right. I discovered the problem quickly – I do not have NEARLY enough bend – and it was really easy to fix. I would go into the HP with not enough bend and then try and ‘create’ more bend during the half pass – that does not work. I always read that you should be able to just see the horse’s eyelashes/eye to determine correct amount of bend. Not with Fling. I need to be able to see the cheekpiece of her bridle. Once I got enough bend, the half pass was super good, and the quality of her trot also improved greatly. We worked on it at canter, too, with equal success. With enough bend, the half passes felt MUCH more powerful.
We also worked more on riding her ‘up’ and breaking my habit of getting her too ‘deep’ in the bridle. I need to keep my reins much shorter, and my hands more forward up her neck. That allows me to half halt easier, and give the reins without moving my hands so much. I tend to ‘nag’ her with many small half halts – and don’t really give her enough time to balance before I do another one. Today I concentrated on doing a strong half halt, then giving my hands forward to give her a chance to rebalance herself. She has very good self carriage if I let her! I can now give one rein forward periodically – alternating between inside and outside – as both a small reward for her, and as a test to make sure she’s in self-carriage AND that she maintains bend with just my inside leg. That’s the thing – I was ‘afraid’ to actually USE the inside rein to create bend. It’s OK to use it to create the bend – the horse has to learn somehow – then you get to the point that you create the bend with the rein, but then you can completely maintain it with the inside leg.
We worked on flying changes too, with some success. We’re not there yet, but I can ‘see’ “there” from here! Of course it’s all my problem. Generally, I am not giving her a big enough aid, or enough ‘notice’ before asking for the change,and I often let her shoulder drift too much before asking for the change.
We finished by working on extended canter. Marta had me put her in slight shoulder fore, and keep thinking about riding her UP into my hands – like thinking of ‘riding her neck up’ – then really sitting on her and sitting back a little, moving my legs back a little and just squeezing her forward but NOT throwing her away in front. She aced those and we quit on that. We worked almost an hour and a half!
Faxx was up next and I was really hoping he would not be wired. They both are used to being out 12 hours a day, and Faxx has only been in a small pen that opens out from the stall, and Fling has no turnout at all since Marta has so many stallions – there’s nowhere to put her that she would not be adjacent to a stallion.
Faxx is just a much more laid back horse than Fling. Faxx is like the good natured but not too bright football player. He doesn’t pay too much attention to things going around him unless there’s food involved. And he really does not ‘think’ about anything. Fling sees everything, notices everything and the gears in her head are constantly in motion. I’ve had more than 20 horses in my life and she’s by far the smartest horse I’ve ever had. As an example – she has already figured out how to open the door on her stall here. It is a rolling door, like at home, but there’s a chain on a pin and you drop the pin into the frame. The problem is Fling has discovered she can open the door as far as the chain on the pin will allow – and she is so strong, it is only a matter of time until she is able to shove the door so hard she breaks the very lightweight chain. So now I have to tie the door to the frame behind it so she can’t move it. She sometimes wears me out she’s so smart and so ‘busy’ – she never uses her smarts for true ‘evildoing,’ but she gets bored very easily and NEEDS A JOB. I love her to death – she is definitely my favorite horse to ride because she just never has a bad or cranky day. She loves her job and is a real overachiever. BUT, sometimes having a horse with no original thoughts is MUCH LESS WORK. 😉
So, I tacked up Faxx and walked him out to the field to lunge. And Faxx just headed out in a nice, relaxed walk. No whinnying, no gawking. Just a nice, relaxed walk with his neck stretched out and a huge overstride. Whew. What a good boy! I sent him a few rounds in canter to warm his back muscles up (he can be cold backed – that’s how I got bucked off in October!) and then I got on him.
I did the warmup Marta suggested yesterday – walking him on a bit longer rein and encouraging him forward until HE decided to take contact. Then we moved to trot and when he started out sort of ‘bouncing’ on and off contact with the bit, Marta said I need to push him more forward when he does that. He needs to be really in front of my leg. That solved the contact issue. We worked on some more of the first level movements. When I cantered Faxx across the diagonal he would feel ‘wobbly’ to me – like he was not sure how to really go straight without the ‘security blanket’ of the rail. Marta said, instead of trying to keep using leg to keep him straight, to push him forward to make him straighter. Then we did 10m serpentines and he did those really well. Again, as with Fling, Faxx needed to have more bend – but at his level, not as much bend as Fling. We worked on trot lengthenings again and Faxx had a LIGHTBULB moment and I could feel him ‘change gears’ in the trot. they all have to figure out that they have another ‘gear.’ We helped him find his by cantering him very forward, then asking for downward to trot on the long side and then using that forward energy and encouraging it. We stopped on that. I did not think Faxx was ready to show First level, but I was wrong. He is so well balanced, nothing is really difficult about it. I have to say, that is something all my horses have – even as youngsters, they have all been exceptionally well balanced.
So, we finished up around noon and then headed over to the Andalusian farm so I could ride an Andalusian stallion! Marta rode him first. He has a LOT of movement and I wondered how I would be able to sit it! This horse helped me feel what really, truly, upper level collection feels like! He was very fun! The canter was SO collected it was almost ‘on the spot.’ The flying changes were not perfect with him, even, but I got some good ones. The topper was doing passage! Wow! It was incredible! He had SO much LOFT and “upward energy.” It takes a lot of leg strength on the rider’s part, because you have to keep cueing in rhythm to maintain the passage, and with this horse, the stronger the aid, the ‘bigger’ the passage. It was work! He was a very kind, well trained horse. I can see now how much faster you’d progress if you could ride a horse like this from the get-go. . but then you also need a good trainer to help you every step of the way. Most schoolmasters ‘revert’ to the level of the rider without constant help!
I worked hard today! I didn’t even get lunch until almost 4 p.m. (But worth waiting for – Cheesecake Factory! YUM!)
A very good day. One good thing about takiing lessons five days in a row is I get a chance to ‘instill’ some of the things Marta wants me to change/improve, before I go home to work on my own again. Usually, I just one one lesson to get the feel of something or try and change my position, etc. This way I think I will be much more likely to maintain it. I also have decided I have to have some mirrors. Even if just one small corner. It will help me maintain my position better, and I will be able to see any crookedness in the horses.