Weekend Clinic – Day One

Why is it that riding two horses every day at home doesn’t faze me, but riding two horses in a clinic two days in a row absolutely wears me out? Possibly because I never work as hard at home as I do in a clinic? 😉  Perhaps the loading tack/haynets/hauling the horses back and forth is also a factor. Due to the way my rides were scheduled – I didn’t get anything done over the weekend other than ride!

On Saturday I rode Fling and Faxx. With Fling, the reoccurring theme is canter work. Getting her to carry more weight on her haunches, to stay on my seat and lately, to work on dispatching her newfound habit of trying to hang on my left rein when going right. The bigger goal is to get her flying changes better – and we’re working on that – without even working on the changes themselves – by getting her canter straighter, more collected with an emphasis on carrying more weight on her hind legs,  and getting her shoulders more elevated. Her trot work is looking pretty good. To help with her recent tendency to want to hang on the left rein when going left – which made me hang on the left rein more – Debbie said when she does that, just concentrate on riding the shoulders around – Don’t get in a ‘battle’ over the rein. The rein is not the real issue. To ride her right side more and ride the shoulders around to sort of ‘bypass’ the entire left rein issue. The worst thing is for me to get into the habit of hanging on her left rein.We worked on this to warm her up and made progress. Her back got looser and her trot got bigger. One exercise I like is, going down the long side, to do shoulder in to about E/B, then circle 10m, then haunches in to the corner letter, then turn down center line and half pass to the rail.

We then moved to canter work. The ongoing challenge for me is to sit still, sit vertically and resist my old habit of leaning back,which drives my seat into her back, essentially driving her onto her forehand. Debbie’s mantra for me was to ‘be a column’ and so ‘sit on her hocks” and also to sit as deep as I possibly could. And always the goal is to increase her jump and increase the bend in her hocks and the activity of her hind legs, and especially her right hind. She wanted me to get Fling ‘straighter’ to both reins, so she had me do some shallow loop counter canter. We then moved to schooling canter pirouettes, which is really fun, but also really hard for the horse, so you have to really be careful not to drill it. We started with turn on the haunches at the walk to the right, and in the turn, ask for canter. Harder than it sounds! Debbie’s goal here was to have the horse make the connection that we wanted the same movement in the canter as the walk – which was familiar to the horse. Sure enough, when Fling finally realized that, yes, her nutty human really did want her to do a canter depart in that ‘weird’ position, she was in the ‘pirouette canter’ from the first stride. Debbie admonished me to not try and make it smaller just yet – although I think Fling certainly could have done a smaller one. A very, very wonderful feeling!  Then we did it to the left, which was obviously her weaker side. It took more of an effor to get her to pick up the canter to the left, and the canter strides were a bit more labored. But still a good effort!

During the last 10 minutes of our lesson, the next rider came in the ring, and when she asked a bystander to tighten her girth, for some reason that made her horse freak – he started bucking in place, she came off, and her horse went CAREENING around the arena. The rider was not hurt – just a bit shaken. Fortunately I was on Fling, who has survived the pasture antics of Faxx and Faeryn while I was riding out there. This all happened when our back was to them, and Fling did spin around when she heard the galloping hooves – and at first the horse was heading straight toward us. But Fling gave him her best “MARE FACE” with ears pinned FLAT against her head, and he reversed direction. And he proceeded to careen around the arena for a good ten minutes! Everyone kept saying “are you sure you don’t want toget off?  NO was my answer – I knew Fling would be more antsy on the ground than with me on her and I had no concern whatsoever about her getting too excited about the escapee. He was finally captured with the help of a bucket of feed, and Fling got back to work and we finished with a very nice schooling canter pirouette.

I had a few hours between lessons, but considering it takes me 20 minutes each way travel, plus unloading/loading, etc., I ended up with about an hour and a half of ‘useable time’ in between and that needed to include lunch. I decided to take Faxx  for my second slot on Saturday. This would only be the second time Debbie had seen him. I had taken him to Marie’s for a lesson the previous weekend – his first since last fall – and he was very looky. We tried to work on shoulder in, but he would drop the connection every time, and got ‘balky.’  He was much better riding him in the field this week, so one of the things I really wanted to work on was shoulder in. The shoulder in itself should not be hard, but with Faxx, the ever-present challenge is to get him to do something new AND keep the connection to the bit. He drops it at the least provocation.

Faxx was very calm and relaxed from the minute I got on him. He took contact immediately and maintained good steady contact in our warm-up. Debbie watched and had much positive to say.  Last week he had been going out the right shoulder when going left, and leaning on my right leg when going right – but I worked on fixing that in my rides last week and it was not much of an issue. I told Debbie I wanted to start on some lateral work – specifically shoulder-in. He does a good leg yield – and in fact, I use thatin schooling sometimes as an aid to get him more connected. But whenever I try to do shoulder-in – he drops the bit and ‘bounces’ up and down on the contact. We started off leg yield, which he did well to the right. Going to the left, he was more likely to try and drop contact. Debbie suggested I add the ‘head to the wall’ steep leg yields that I do with Fling and Faeryn to his “workouts’ too. It’s not an easy maneuver, and sometimes they feel ‘trapped’ since they are facing the wall – and they want to go forward but can’t – and need to understand the only direction that is “right” is sideways. He actually did OK with it – he was not as ‘straight’ as he needs to be – but that will come. But he did not get frustrated by it. With Faxx, you have to be more diplomatic about introducing new things than with Fling and Faeryn. He gets frustrated easier than they do when he does not understand a new concept. The good thing though – was that when he got frustrated during my lesson at Marie’s last week – he would just STOP, and sometimes back up. This time when he got frustrated, he would canter forward – which is ALWAYS preferable – and perfectly OK. I do not get mad at them when they do this. Debbie was a bit surprised by my attitude. I guess some people get mad at their horses and think they are evading when they do this. I don’t think that at all. NOW – if they do it for weeks and weeks – yes, of course, it’s an evasion. But when you’re first introducing something? No, Not at all. And I am always happy for a horse to be thinking FORWARD.

Then we moved to shoulder-in. ACK!  The thing about Faxx is, he has to be really connected to be able to sit his huge trot. But the first thing he would do when asked to perform shoulder-in was drop contact and become UNconnected – which made me feel like I was just bouncing all over his back. Debbie kept saying I really wasn’t – but it felt like it to me and felt AWFUL!  So we’d do about two strides of shoulder in and then I would stop him because I felt like I was just pounding his back. and I couldn’t get him BACK in contact IN the shoulder in. I finally sort of solved the problem – for the time being – by POSTING the trot to do shoulder in. It’s not easy! But at least doing this, I could actually train the shoulder in better. Hopefully in a few weeks I can keep him connected during the shoulder-in and make more progress. But Debbie was very positive and said it really went much better than I thought it did. LOL! I usually AM my harshest critic! I was very happy with Faxx. Debbie said a week of this sort of work and I will probably see a  huge improvement. I have to say, since ‘bucking up’ and riding him in the field – I’ve gotten much more confident riding Faxx and am really enjoying him.



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