A step in the right direction

I got a lesson on Fling with Marie on Sunday. She’s been on vacation the past two weeks, and with the holidays and generally yucky weather, the last three months I’ve been lucky to get a lesson once a month. Now that our bitterly cold weather is behind us, the holidays are long gone and spring is just around the corner, I hope I can get back to a regular lesson schedule. Once a month is definitely NOT enough.

So, I explained to Marie my concerns about Fling from what I saw on the tape of my last clinic with Debbie. Told Marie what I’ve been doing with Fling to correct what I think the main problem(s) are. I then demonstrated by riding Fling and asking her to stretch down deeper into the bridle. Marie had me refine this by keeping her neck lower, but by getting her to open up her throatlatch a bit and ta-da! I could really feel the difference in her back. As I told Marie, it felt more “trampoline-ish.” Fling has more challenging conformation than Faxx and Faeryn. She has a very short back, and a short neck, and while we’ve gotten her pretty darn laterally supple, the longitudinal suppleness is still a challenge. I may have found the secret to success in that area!  Or at least a really good tool. The best thing is, once I got her low, with her throatlatch out – I could give the reins and she would stay there a few strides. Marie cautioned me not to lose the bend when I used the outside rein to half halt – Fling needs to keep the bend so she keeps using that inside hind. If she’s not bent, it makes it much easier for her to avoid using that inside hind.She got pretty good at the trot, and she felt like she had much more mobility in her poll and throatlatch. She tends to brace right at the throatlatch. But now she felt soft, with much better mobility in her jaw/throatlatch, and would respond to a tiny half halt without stiffening. Marie said the goal is to be able to maintain this frame, with this soft connection, in the lateral work. We tested it it out with some shoulder in and half pass – and when she would lose the bend or the roundness, Marie had me put her back on the circle to reestablish it. And while on the circle, Marie had me move her in and out of haunches in.

Next we moved to canter. It was more difficult to maintain the rounder, with lower neck carriage in canter – my half halts were not going through and it was much easier to lose the bend. When I finally sat up straight and looked UP, it was easier to use my core to stablize myself through the half halt so I could make it effective. And here it was even more important to maintainthe bend while half halting – but also more difficult to doso. And I will add, what a great tool to have mirrors. It’s instant feedback on your position AND your horse’s position and I really, really want mirrors!

The canter improved, and then we worked on some pirouettes. I had been working on them on my own, but always just schooling pirouettes -no less than about 4 meters in diameter. Marie pushed me to make them smaller and Fling felt like she was falling out and Marie reminded me to “lift your ribcage” and “sit on your inside seatbone” and all the sudden it felt like a real pirouette. With the walk and the canter pirouettes, it is a certain feeling – you have to sit on the inside seatbone, maintain your shoulder back position AND think about leading the horse around with your inside rein and inside seatbone rather than pushing with the outside leg. “Leading’ the horse isn’t exactly the right word because you aren’t really pulling with the inside rein at all – it’s really almost like your weight alone is drawing the horse’s shoulders around the inside hind, and you just have to maintain the bend with inside leg/rein. That feeling is amazingly similar in the walk and the canter pirouette – not the feeling of the movement itself because obviously you are walking in one and cantering in the other – but the feeling of your position on the horse, and the aids are almost identical. For me, it’s like you set up the movement, and then you let your inside seatbone ‘weight’, and the horse’s own momentum carry itself through the movement, and you just have to concentrate on sitting correctly so you do not disturbe the flow of the energy.

And just like that, we’d done a ‘real’ canter pirouette. Show quality? Probably not. But definitely small enough to qualify as a real pirouette instead of a ‘working’ pirouette.

And how weird that, to me anyway, that is way easier than a flying change. But I suspect it’s because I already had learned the ‘muscle memory’ from doing them ad nauseum at the walk AND that I have a horse who has a talent for canter pirouettes.

It felt really, really good to get a lesson again!

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