The weekend clinic

Saturday and Sunday I’d signed up to ride with Debbie Bowman. Saturday with Fling and Faeryn and Sunday with just Fling.

I was not looking forward to taking Fling and Faeryn together since they are ‘joined at the hip’ and can get hysterical (especially Faeryn) when separated. I had a stall for each of them, in separate barns, but one of the stalls overlooked the arena. I (wisely it turned out) decided to ride Fling first, since Faeryn was in the barn out of sight of the arena. In the stalls, they whinnied at each other occasionally, but were not unconsolable.

Under saddle, Fling whinnied for Faeryn a few times, and was a bit more distracted than usual, but she soon settled down and I had no trouble getting her to give me her full attention.

The following is a mash-up of what we worked on Sat/Sun.

I explained to Debbie the ‘slightly deep’ tactic we’d begun with Fling and Debbie agreed that is a good tool for her at this point. She cautioned me that I need to maintain the bend at the same time, and also maintain my position and not be tempted to lean forward in search of ‘deep.’

One of the biggest problems I have with Fling is getting her to respond correctly to a half halt at the canter. To create/maintain a truly collected canter, and create self carriage, the half halt needs to go through ‘all the way to her hind legs’ as Debbie put it. Also, when I would half halt on the outside rein, it would cause her to lose the bend, and when she lost the bend, it would allow her to avoid using her inside hind. Now, back in the dark ages when I first learned dressage, it was drilled into everyone that you rode the horse from inside leg to outside rein, and the outside rein was for halt halting. So I was always halt halting just on the outside rein. Another ongoing problem, in the canter, is that I have not completely broken my habit (acquired sometime in the past year or so) of ‘pumping’ at the canter. So I essentially was telling her to “slow down” with half halts, but telling her to “go”  with my seat. As I told Debbie, “I created this problem and I have to fix it.”  Fortunately Fling is super agreeable to anything I ask her to do as long as she understands it and is physically ABLE to do it. I was making it very hard for her to actually half halt.

First we worked on getting her trot more engaged, with more suspension and getting her hind end working and get her more supple. We quickly moved to canter. Another thing we’ve been working on is getting Fling to canter with her ‘back’ first -meaning, her back comes up in the canter depart instead of her head/neck. She’s been using her head and neck for balance during the canter depart and she needs to learn to use her back instead. When she does it correctly, it improves the quality of her canter immediately – whereas if she uses her head/neck I have to struggle to get a better canter AFTER the canter depart. She had already gotten better at this, but Debbie helped us refine it further. She pointed out that I need to half halt into BOTH reins prior to the canter depart so that I do not lose the bend during the depart. And then once IN the canter, half halt on both reins too, to maintain the bend. And, really sit down on her – sit up straight and let my legs just ‘hang’ and try to sit still – even feeling a ‘double bump’ if necessary. It worked! For the first time in forever – I was able to get a true half halt that, as Debbie said, ‘went all the way to her hind legs” and I did not lose the bend – and the collection and self-carriage improved! You always hope for an ‘ah ha’ moment in a clinic,but rarely really get one. But this was definitely one for me. I was tickled! Fling got much praise and a peppermint.

Then we worked on some trot again – using the same ‘halt halt with both reins’ technique. At one point she was really  hanging on my inside rein and Debbie had me push her into the outside rein and even leg yield if necessary to get her OFF the inside rein. Once we did that, her lateral work improved greatly. We did a neat exercise where, on the long side, I did shoulder-in to E/B, 8-10 m circle, then haunches in from E/B to last letters, then really bend through the corner,and then come down centerline and half pass from centerline to rail. We got really good half pass on the last try!  At this point we had a few minutes left so I asked to work on medium trot. When we were showing Second level, she consistently got really good scores on her medium trot/canter. Not so much at third level. I seem to have a hard time getting her to do a good medium instead of just getting quick (according to the judges) and I can’t tell the difference. Debbie explained that she probably hasn’t gotten ‘worse’ at the mediums – but that the expectations of third level are much higher than at second level.

Debbie had me do what I always do – build the energy through half halts on the short side and through the corner – and then she said let her go and just maintain the energy – don’t feel like I have to start _pushing_ her halfway through. Also to sit up straight and sit down on her and don’t give the reins so much that I end up leaning back – that drives her back DOWN. She reliably had good medium for the first few steps – but then tended to get quick. Possibly from me still ‘chasing’ her – or maybe just that she can’t yet maintain that degree of medium trot yet. It was a great two days and I definitely have my homework and a better understanding of how to keep developing more self-carriage and collection – and bend! – in both the trot and the canter.

Next up was Faeryn and as soon as Fling saw me leading her to the arena, all h#ll broke loose. Faeryn screaming and spinning and Fling CLIMBING THE WALLS OF THE STALL. I expected goofy behavior from Faeryn, but definitely NOT from Fling. I found a brave soul to hold Faeryn (who was spinning a lot less when positioned where she could see Fling) while I sprinted to the barn to move Fling to a stall where she and Faeryn could not see each other.  Fling was very agitated and MAD that she could no longer see Faeryn and drummed the walls in protest! So unlike her! She NEVER kicks the stall walls, or in the trailer! She did finally settle down after awhile.

Meanwhile, Faeryn was still agitated and it was a feat to get her to stand still long enough to get ON her. Once I did, I felt like I was on a lit rocket. Trying to get her to do a calm, flat-footed walk was counterproductive. So I just put her in canter, “set” my hands by holding my grab strap and put her on a circle. Around and around we went. Fortunately I had one ride between me and Fling, so I had gotten on her with plenty of time before our lesson time – I knew it would take awhile to get her listening, given the situation!

She was listening a bit better by the time Debbie appeared, but it was like riding a two-by-four! Debbie helped me do some exericses that got her ‘unstuck’ and within about 10 minutes she was almost her normal self.

One residual ‘stiffness’ was that Faeryn was just hanging on my inside rein. Even more so than Fling was earlier. So we did a lot of lateral work in a circle to get her OFF and carrying herself. Worked like a charm! And note to self: When horsie is pulling your arm out of the socket, do not just soldier on – FIX IT!! LOL!

Faeryn’s other huge issue is she has no real ‘half halt.’ I can halt halt her with my seat and core,but she never has properly responded to a half halt using the reins. she’s gotten away with it so far, but she really has to learn to respect and respond to a proper half halt. There is no ‘give’ in her neck/poll or rebalancing when I use the reins to halt halt – she just leans and braces against the reins. Debbie noted that Faeryn is opening her mouth when I ask for halt halt. No one has ever pointed that out to me (maybe it’s a recent thing) and of course I can’t see it when I am riding. When I started using the inside rein to half halt too, it helped. We also continued what we had worked on in our previous session last month – getting a better quality canter by insisting she use her inside hind and ‘stand up’ more at the canter. With Faeryn I was using too much inside rein and not enough inside leg. Sometimes it helped to slightly counterflex her in the canter. After our session the canter was much better.

The next day, I switched out her bridle for one with a noseband that can be properly tightened (the one she had was very loose and wouldn’t go smaller) and also I put a flash on her. It made a huge difference in my ability to get her to listen and respond to my half halts. I had to start with very big, ‘screaming” halt halts to get her to listen – but was able to ‘lower the volume’ quite a bit by the end of the ride! THAT will help a lot in getting her canter more collected for the second level work that’s just on the horizon!



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