Thursday, October 22, 2009

Good solid flatwork

So my goal for this winter is to really delve deep into my flatwork with Tucker and make it right. Like all horses he is a work in progress, and since we've been training with Alicia his balance and self-carriage has improved by leaps and bounds. He understands collection now, which for a big guy like him is a huge feat. It's amazing the horse he has become since he first moved into Whitmere last winter.

What I'm working on now is acceptance of my right rein. We have left rein issues -- probably something that I unwittingly started and he has now taken and run with. I think it went something like this: He was a little stiff to the left, so I worked my left rein more, he became dependent on me using my left rein, and he now seeks the left rein contact all the time in both directions, to the point where he's very uncomfortable taking the right rein. Does that make sense to everyone? The progression has happened over a number of years, and now we're working on creating a more balanced Tucker, which of course has to start with me changing my behavior.

We worked on this during a flat lesson this past weekend, and I picked it back up last night. Basically, tracking left, I am using a counterbend to establish connection between my right hand and right leg, so that he's actually turning off my outside aids. It's so amateurish, but I have realized that I have gotten into the habit of turning him left with my left rein. And then his hips go right and he gets stiff on the left side. Tracking right it's much better. He wants to bulge through his left shoulder and lean on the left rein so I just have to create a wall and keep his hind end moving forward into my hand with both legs.

By the end of the ride he was much more accepting of my right rein and I tried to get a little bit of a left bend by opening my left hand without taking back on my left rein and asking him to move away from my left leg into my right hand. Moments of success but overall as soon as he thought there was something to lean on in my left hand he wanted to get a little flat and heavy.

Yet again... I seem to have stumbled upon a gap in my riding knowledge. Why is it so important for them to turn off our outside aids? I know that's what you are supposed to do, but why? Just for the reason I stated above, that otherwise the hips move out and they lose their bend or get heavy on the inside rein, or is there something more that I'm missing? And, how does it help me to counterbend, when what I want is acceptance of the outside hand on an inside bend? Is the counterbend just a means to an end? It does seem to help, don't get me wrong. By the end of the ride I could at least track straight down the longside (without a counter or inside bend) and see in the mirror that without any left rein contact his hips were square behind his shoulder and he was moving straight and forward and light. I'm interested to hear your thoughts. Ultimately I think I'll need to hash this out in my next lesson and hopefully I'll report back with a little more knowledge.

The other thing we are working on is downward transitions. He wants to get heavy/stiff and I lose the hind end in the very last step of the transition. It's a very subtle thing but something that could really use improvement. Walk to halt start off badly (he just wants to lean through them) but then he gets it and I can get really nice halt transitions off just my seat and leg. Trot to walk are getting much better, but it seems that he really doesn't understand what I want at first. ("What? I walked. That's what you said. What's the problem now?") I have, in lessons, gotten a few really nice trot-to-walk transitions though. So I know that it's possible.

Canter to trot, still haven't been able to get a transition that I'm happy with (sort of an emergency brake, horse falls out from underneath you type of transition). It has improved to some degree though, because his trot is well-balanced and soft right away, instead of heavy, too big, and overreaching for five strides. I've had to learn to keep my leg on through them, that helps a lot. And stay relaxed and tall through my back, sink deeper with my seat. Those things help. I sort of query what I'm supposed to be doing with my hands though. Reader thoughts on downward transitions?


  1. Possum and I are doing a similiar training regimen bringing it all back to basics. I'm trying to get in touch with my dressage roots and really make him a better athlete on the ground which will in turn transfer over to jumping courses. So far so good and I'm pleased with our progress. Tucker sounds like he's really responding well and improving, keep up the good work!

  2. Oh my I am going through the same process with learning to turn with the outside aids as well! Neat :) My trainer just brought it up our last lesson... I was told it is a more balanced way to ask for a turn, and it helps the horse maintain a bend with out caving in. I saw that illustrated when I practiced really tight serpentines at the trot. When I asked with the outside rein and leg he shifted his weight over instead of caving into the turn. It also helped him stay lighter on the forehand... As to the mechanics of anything I am always the worst at that. So far it still feels very strange to me though! Keep us posted. :)
    Ah yes the dreaded downward transition good luck with that as well!

  3. Flat work...the holy grail. Groan groan groan on rein issues. Tiny won't take the right rein, and I'm not so good on working with that. No advice, since basically I plead. "Pleeeeeeze Tiny?"

    At one point, Greta had me give away the left rein tracking right, (I'm still not clear why) and using my outside leg to inside rein to try to get him to pick up the right rein. Worked when she did it. Bombed abysmally when I tried.

    My understanding (here's a grain of salt with this) on outside aids for turning, is: the inside leg is the steadying guide and position moniter, and the outside leg/rein controls the bend through the body, position of the haunches, and impulsion. Please do report back on counter bend as a fixit. I've done it, it works, and I don't get it.

    Downward transitions: my understanding (remember the salt); hands are used as part of a half-halt prior to TX down, but the TX comes off your seat, and if you do it right, horsey lands softly in your hands in new gait. Sort of an early warning system for your horse: "and for your next brilliant act, you will transition into the trot on 2". I work on hands being almost a thought in a half halt (TX coming...yoo hoo horsey!!!) but don't make my goal with any frequency.

    I can't wait to hear the report back. At times I wonder how I can listen so hard and hear so little!

    Sounds like you have completely cleared up any dreaded falling on the forehand in your downwards, and that is fantastic!


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