Actual excerpt from my lesson yesterday.
Hauled to Trainer J’s yesterday to work more on our dressage game (I have seriously gone 3 months with no jumping between P being gone and repairing damage. I should get an award or something). Trainer J said the homework/dressage boot camp has paid off, as he’s back to listening to my aids, so we went to work on the next couple of hurdles: connection and straightness.
We stayed at the walk and trot, mostly trot, for the lesson, but it was seriously the most educational lesson I’ve had in a LONG time. I’ll try to keep it coherent, but no promises.
For warmup I always just let P run around and do what he wants with his head as long as he’s listening to my seat and legs. All I ask is that he keeps moving forward, I don’t force a connection or try to get a frame- that totally backfires with him. I’ve tried all sorts of different warmups and this is just the one that works best for him. Once he lowers his head, lifts his back (even slightly), and lets out a deep breath or two, we’re ready for work.
All of our bending and suppling work has WORKED, and he was back to being very pliable to the slightest shift in my weight or close of my leg. So now it was time to take back control of the shoulders because P tends to get all overbent since he is so sensitive.
I’m a sucker for when P relaxes- I’ll give him all the rein he wants! Which isn’t actually doing anyone any favors, so she had me make sure I was holding my outside rein steady and if he overbent, putting more of my weight into my outside stirrup. I struggle with this going to right; last year I broke my left ankle and it’s still not as flexible as my right one. So I tend to sit heavier on my right side, which makes P fall in. So remembering that and correcting myself is key.
Once we got back to being straight, we worked on connection and softening. P’s an OTTB, and he’s a bracer. I’ve always just tried to push him into the bridle by riding him forward and keeping contact steady, which works to some degree in regards to his general shape, but he gapes his mouth quite often and isn’t actually soft or accepting.
She explained it like leaning on a shelf. When my inside rein is rigid, I’m giving him a shelf to brace on. So he does and the mouth gapes open because he’s just leaning on the rein. So she had me keep my outside rein steady, hand low, and then just give a little, miniscule vibration on my inside rein.
And whaddya know? It worked.
Yes, I wore my new Cambox Isi2 for the lesson JUST so I might be able to get a good shot of him in the mirror.
But this really did work well. And I got acceptance, softness and relaxation all in one for longer than a few strides at a time. So some serious progress was made.
I was kind of on a tight timeline so I had to choose which issue to work on: canter transitions/left lead or halt. She thinks that our canter issues are due to the tension he carries and will just take practice and lots of repetition, so I chose to work on those at home and focus on square halts in the lesson because it’s helpful to have a grounds person for this.
P and I have always thrown away points in the halt. We’ll come down centerline straight as can be and have this super balanced halt that I’ll be sure will earn us an 8. Instead I’ll see a video or picture of him practically all splayed out and the comment, “Straight centerline, sloppy halt.”
So I’m tired of giving those points up. It’s high time to work on it.
So I go to show her what I mean. I pick up the trot, go about 7 strides and halt. And she goes, “What’s wrong with that?” And sure enough, he’s perfectly square. So I said, “He’s just showing off for you, I’ll do it again.”
Side note: He always shows off for Trainer J. She doesn’t even believe that he’s spooky.
So I pick up the trot again, turn down the center of the arena and halt and….perfect square halt. What a dilemma.
So she thinks it’s due to lack of straightness in the past and since we just spent 40 minutes working on straightness, we’re dialed in and that’s why he’s halting perfectly now. So as long as I can keep that outside shoulder straight, we should be good to go for Saturday and beyond!