Friday, September 17, 2010

Such a great ride this evening!

Don't you love those rides where your horse is just feeling fabulous and responsive, and totally willing to try his hardest for you?  There is no better feeling in the world.  It makes me feel invigorated.  Like I could solve any problem.  Like I've got super powers.  Like I'm leading some kind of charmed life. 

Then I get in my truck and the "Check Engine" light goes on.  Sigh.  And just like that I come grinding back down to reality... but still, I'll take the super powers feeling for as long as it lasts.

Tucker started out loose and relaxed, and reaching down for the bit.  I had to press him forward with my leg pretty consistently tonight, but he wasn't ignoring my leg, just needed support, reinforced with a little spur now and then, throughout the ride.  I was asking for more forward, more hind engagement, more use of his right hind, so I guess that makes sense.  I have made it my pet project to get his hind end stronger.  I think it's the piece that's missing from the lead change.

So after we walked a while to warm up, we did our five minutes of stretching at the trot, and I made him get going forward.  Then I gradually started collecting him by making my circles smaller, shortening my reins as I went, until he was in a good medium trot, all the while continuing to send him forward into my hand so that he stayed engaged behind.  Throughout the trot I added in lots of transitions -- extended trot, collected trot, walk-trot, trot-walk.  He was very responsive, though I had to ask several times for the trot-walk transition until he did it without letting his hind end fall out from under him.  What I've started doing is closing my leg through the downward transition, and as soon as I feel him lose his engagement, I send him back up to the trot and start again.  That seems to be working, eventually he seems to understand what I want and stays engaged through the downward transition.  I think it's just easier to do it the wrong way, and he's being a little lazy about it, but once he realizes I'm going to insist on a little more, he sucks it up and does it right. 

I let him walk a minute and catch his breath after the warm up.  I've decided to add in more breaks than usual right now because I'm asking for more from him.  I know he's working hard and I don't want him to get too tired to do it correctly or start to resent the work, since he seems to be enjoying it now.  When he's going forward and light in my hand and using his back, he gets this soft relaxed look in his eye, his ears are forward and floppy, and he does that happy breathing/snorting rhythmic noise that I've always heard is a sign of relaxation when working (do you know what sound I'm talking about?  does it have a name?). 

Anyway, after we walked a minute, we went back to the trot work and I worked on some lateral movements and lots of changes of direction.  I'm trying to do more haunches-in to the left and more shoulder-in to the right, because his right hind is his weakest point.  He understands what to do when you ask for a shoulder-in or a haunches-in but what I struggle with is keeping the forward momentum (he says that's really hard!) within the movement.  So tonight I tried to mix in forward trot circles, some lengthening, and worked on asking for a haunches-in or a shoulder-in while posting, which seemed to help.  I even played around a little with extensions in my sitting trot (which, as it turns out, is really hard.  You dressage ladies make it look so easy.)  It still wasn't perfect, but closer.  So we took another walk break. 

Then I worked on his canter, and really concentrated on sitting up tall, wrapping my legs around him, and using my seat to send him forward and keep his hind end engaged (I was channelling my inner DQ!).  I got some really, really nice moments from him where he was light as a feather, elevated up front, sitting down and had this great, forward, big but very balanced canter.  It felt incredible.  I have been working on lots of transitions between trot and canter lately (again, working on strengthening the hind end), but tonight I just wanted to keep a consistently forward rhythm and work on keeping the bigger canter balanced.  I could tell he was working really hard because a few times he tried to break back to a trot (though never actually broke his gait because I was ready with my leg), but again he felt very relaxed even though he was putting in a big effort.

After the canter work, I wanted to do just a little more work on the haunches-in tracking left.  I started off at the walk and tried to stay relaxed through my arm while keeping the contact.  He protests a little when he's actually doing it right by flipping his head or just coming above the contact.  I was trying to just ignore that, not resist it, go with the head flipping so as not to break the contact and keep my arms relaxed so as not give him something to brace against.  That seemed to work, I got a few really correct steps where he was soft and holding an inside bend and really reaching under and across with his right hind.

I was so happy I gave him tons of pats and told him how good he was over and over (he was delirious with joy -- he lives for being told how good he is).  I think I seriously underestimate how well that works with him from a training perspective.  When he was a baby I gave him tons of praise whenever he did anything right, or even something close to what I was asking.  I've gotten out of the habit of the over-praising and I think I need to bring it back.  Once I fussed over him a little for doing the haunches in correctly, he did it twice more at the walk without any protest, and then I picked up my trot and he did another one all the way down the longside, the best he's ever done it.  He held the bend, stayed soft and round, used his hind end well, and kept going forward.  I know that's physically difficult for him, so I was really happy that he offered it.

 Of course, we ended on that note.  I always like to reward him by ending for the day when he does something just right like that.  And now, for the best part:

Do you know what that is?  That's a foamy right side of his mouth!  That almost never happens!  (Only a horse person could get this excited about spit.)  The left side usually looks like he's been hitting a can of Reddi-Whip, but the right side almost never gets foamy.  I think this is a sign that he's accepting both reins more equally, and hopefully that my contact is more even.  It might also have something to do with using the hackamore alternately with his bit.  I'm hoping that will teach him not to grab the left side of the bit (since there's nothing to grab), and hopefully help even things out.  Anyway, right side foam is a sign of progress, and I'll take it!


  1. Sounds just wonderful! That snorty thing is really nice - it does indicate relaxation if it's in time with the horse's strides. A tense horse won't breathe on every stride in the canter, while a relaxed horse will.

  2. I am so happy for you! Yep I understand the excitment of the foam!!!!!!!!

  3. Well, it sounds like you had an excellent ride and are making great progress with what you want to accomplish. You're so right there is nothing like the feeling you get from a great ride. Sorry about the check engine light, isn't that always the way, something to rain on your parade just after you were soaring in the clouds.

  4. Love the breathing thing and the foam :) LOVE great rides....they are THE best thing ever


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