I had one of the best rides I've had in a while on Sunday. Although on the surface there appears to be no rhyme or reason as to whether I get to ride my brilliant, talented, eager-to-please horse or one of these giraffes on any given ride,
... I have been trying really hard to pinpoint what it is that makes him flail and throw his extremities around. In the hopes that we can stop doing that, because I'm getting a really painful knot in my neck from being lurched around.
So, first off I've really limited how much sitting trot I do in each ride, because I'm bad at it and I think it annoys him when I'm bouncing and gripping and flopping and shifting around like he's some aged and indifferent school master and I've just bought the Introduction To Riding summer lesson package. (Turns out he would make a terrible school horse.) The only way it will improve is to work on it, so this will be a balancing act (like the rest of my life).
Second, some of it was just a good old fashioned temper tantrum about being made to go really straight. I will never understand why horses find going crooked to be preferable, but so it is. I've been trying to make it as fair to him as possible though, by getting him really between my aids at the walk before I move up to trot or canter. So after warming up I come back to the walk and get his haunches loosened up and moving around. I've been mixing it up between leg yields, square halts, rein back, shoulder-in, haunches-in, renvers, walk pirouettes, whatever feels like it's working that day until he feels straight and like he's not resisting if I ask him to move his haunches or shoulders.
Lastly, I originally thought that he hated me riding with shorter reins (you know, the correct length rather than long enough to hang your laundry). Driving home from the barn one night this week, it occurred to me that maybe when I shorten my reins and try to carry my hands (i.e. not rest them in my lap politely like I'm having tea), I brace through my arms, and that's what's pissing him off. So I'm trying to figure out how to be soft with shorter reins. Amy says to "soften my wrists," which is a helpful image. I read this really helpful article about keeping your arms at your sides to help anchor and engage your core, so I've been focusing on my arms at my sides, but not braced, for the past few rides. Sadly I have not yet transformed into Charlotte Dujardin. But I might look a little less like a chicken.
|That face. He melts me.|
So with all that in mind, yesterday Tucker and I had a truly excellent ride (which I needed, for personal reasons. Horse = therapist). We warmed up long and low in all three gaits, then came back to a walk and did some zig-zag leg yields and some halt work in the walk and trot. I have been very incrementally working on our rein back, and yesterday we had two four-step rein backs where he stayed on the aids and then walked forward without getting stuck. Huge progress.
His trot work was really forward and consistent in both reins (no head nodding, no dropping the right rein). After a haunches-in at the trot he stepped right into a lovely left lead canter and we worked on a few steps of collected canter, back to working canter, to lengthening, and so on. He mildly protested and stiffened against my hand the first time I asked him to collect but he didn't break and didn't leap, and got it the second time. The upward transitions were beautiful and the downward transitions are coming along. He did break once going right, but I was able to touch him with my whip without major upset (!) and the next time he got it right.
We took a walk break and then headed out to the hay fields, where I did some more transitions within the gait at the trot and canter. Lengthened canter is not a problem with a huge stretch of green ahead of you, that's for sure. He did throw in an unexpected lead change at one point but it was on a slight decline and I think it was a balance issue. His hind end may not be strong enough to hold a working canter downhill just yet, which is fine for now. So nice to be able to ride out there instead of always being in the ring. For being by himself, his focus was pretty impressive.
In case you were wondering, Tucker found this whole thing absolutely exhausting. This is his post-game face.
|Sometimes he seriously looks like a cartoon.|
Afterward I treated his feet and then gave him a bath, clipped his nose, cleaned and conditioned my tack, and generally spiffed him up a little because we have a lesson on Wednesday! I kind of can't wait. Wednesday is going to be a big day for other reasons too... but I'll get to that later in the week. Stay tuned. :)