Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Renaissance Man

What's the only thing that could possibly be better than your horse returning a loose baby draft horse to his home, spending 2 1/2 hours on the trails wandering through the woods, galloping through hay fields, keeping his trail mate calm and relaxed, and walking home on the buckle, in a hackamore?  That same horse spending the next day in the ring for a lesson, getting down to business doing some serious flat work and jumping around a 3' course.  He is truly a renaissance man.  The kind of man I've always dreamed of, in fact.  Up for anything, dependable, reliable, smart, brave, honest, devastatingly handsome....

On Sunday we went for a lesson at Alicia's farm.  I spent Saturday afternoon body clipping him after our trail ride, so he was looking extra gorgeous, all dark and sleek and shiny (another plug for SmartShine).  Before my lesson we discussed my lesson with Sarah, which was very helpful.  (Note:  This is the mark of a truly great trainer who is not an egomaniac -- something hard to come by in the horse world.  Alicia appreciates the benefit of getting another trainer's perspective and wanted to discuss it with me, as opposed to so many other trainers out there who would completely lose it at the thought of their students ever doing anything so disloyal and sacreligious as taking a lesson elsewhere -- heaven forbid!  Do you know that some trainers don't even let their students take clinics?  Talk about insecure... sheesh.  But I digress.) 

We started off at the walk asking him to do some lateral movements to get him stepping under with his inside hind leg in both directions.  Then we did the beginnings of a turn on the haunches.  We didn't worry too much about maintaining an inside bend (that can come later).  Instead, we started off on a small circle and spiraled it down, focusing on keeping him coming forward as the circle got smaller until I was asking him to turn on his haunches, pushing him off my outside leg.  He got the concept right away and did this really well in both directions.  This was a good exercise to get him engaged behind and coming forward, and light on both reins.

Once Tucker was warmed up at the trot, we worked on some collection and extension exercises.  We would do a small circle in the corner asking him to collect, letting him elevate his frame a little, with a slight shoulder-fore to avoid letting him bulge through his shoulder to avoid collecting.  Then Alicia had me follow with my hands for an extension coming out of the circle (so my hands slid about 4-5 inches toward his ears) and Tucker reached down for the bit and held a longer, more relaxed frame, in front of the vertical and stretching down and out, but he stayed light in front and pushing from behind for the extended trot (we're not talking about the kind of "extension" that I see in dressage tests here, mind you, just a bigger trot than his regular working trot).  For Tucker's conformation and build, this is a great exercise for him.  It really makes him work hard and push from behind, but stay relaxed through his back and swing through his shoulder.

In the canter, we worked on getting a similar carriage out of him on a big circle.  Once we had a good, engaged canter in his normal working frame on the circle, I followed more with my hands and used a lot more leg and seat to push him forward and get him to stay engaged but in a bigger canter and a more relaxed, lower frame.  He did the same thing he did at the trot, when I gave with my hands he followed and reached down for the bit but stayed light (good boy!), though it was hard to hold the canter together and not let him get strung out (my thighs were burning!).  We could tell this was really making him work, because after holding this canter for two circles he broke back to the trot right out from underneath me, which made us laugh ("Um, guys?  This is super hard?  Trot now?  Please?"). 

We re-established our canter and then worked on figure-eighting a set of cavaletti, where we had no trouble getting the left to right change but could not get the right to left.  I had a couple of little break throughs on the lead change issue (or, Alicia did but somehow also managed to get the concepts through to me too).  First, Tucker likes to bend right, so when I go for my right to left change, he's bent right, not straight.  So, when I ask for the change, he just falls in with his left shoulder, swaps in front, swings the hips out and there's no chance we'll get a full change. Second, I sometimes try to ride my 17hh warmblood like he's a 12hh welsh pony.  I stand in my stirrups and lean for the lead change (this doesn't really work with little welsh ponies either, but I think when you weigh 65 lbs it doesn't really matter what you do up there).  I also plant my hands on his neck when he raises his head and gets quick for the change.  This move is also known as RVB:  riding very badly. 

We then carried our cavaletti exercise over to figure-eighting a small jump in the center of the ring, landing and turning right, then landing and turning left.  We worked on the same thing, getting him straight instead of bent right.  When he's bent right coming to the jump, this turns into bulging through the left shoulder, drifting left, landing on the right lead, and missing the right to left change (see how this is all connected?).  When we come to the jump straight, with a little counterbend out of the turn, he stays straight to the fence, the distance works out better, and he's more likely to land his lead in the direction we're going, or get his right to left change.  (Remember that line from Cocktail with Tom Cruise?  "Light dawns on marble head!")

Next we jumped this same fence bending left 5 strides to another small vertical, landing right.  I find these short bending lines exceedingly difficult, even when the jumps are itty bitty.  HP's do bending lines in 10 strides, across the entire diagonal of a huge hunter ring, where you have plenty of room to find your track and get straight for the last few strides.  5 stride bending lines make us nauseous.  You have to count and turn at the same time.  It's madness.  So, the first time we did it in 6 (we got a little, er, lost).  Then I came through the turn to the first fence with more pace (reminder from previous lessons -- jump in with more pace if we want more pace in the line itself) and we got 5, but jumped out huge (I thought there was one more, he didn't).  The next time, Tucker knew where we were going and helped me out a little (this horse is going straight to heaven one day), so we did it a little more directly and the 5 worked out perfectly.

Lastly, we did some course work.  Started out with the bending line in 5, landing right, then long approach to a single 3' oxer on the outside off the right, then the triple (vertical-oxer-vertical) across the diagonal, landing left, and then a forward 6 down the outside line, vertical to oxer.  As opposed to my last couple of lessons, this time we did the triple in a collected four to a forward three, and the last vertical was set at 3'3" (the rest of the line was around 2'6"/2'9").  The first time the bending 5 was great, but the outside oxer was a little tight.  I have a bad habit of taking my leg off when I see the distance, instead of keeping my leg on and stay still.  But, because he backed himself off and I stayed back with my upper body, he jumped it well anyway.  We landed left and missed the change, so I did a small circle (which was part of the plan) and asked for a little counter-bend on the way in to the triple.  We jumped in quietly, put in the four strides neatly, and then I gave him a big release in the air over the oxer, landed sending him forward, kept my arms following and my leg on, and he made it there in three strides easily.  Then, since I knew that the last line was forward and he landed forward, I tried to maintain that pace all the way around the corner and the six was beautiful.  I'm starting to realize that I can actually signal in the air when I want him to land forward through how much of a release I give him:  I can either land with a little feel or land with a following hand and almost no contact at all, and that changes how big his first landing stride is (I think I used to know this, once upon a time, and I'm re-figuring it out).

We did this course twice more and each time it got a little smoother.  I was so pleased with his adjustability.  He had to stay collected for the five stride bending line, then get a good, steady rhythm to the oxer, then collect for the four, move up for the three, and go forward for the six.  I never would have thought he'd be adjustable enough to do a collected four to a forward three in the same line, that was such a huge accomplishment for him.  We finished by doing the oxer just one more time and I changed my track a little to get a slightly better distance, which we did.  He jumped it fabulously, and then we landed left and I remembered to lift my hand when I asked for the lead change and I got it.  Love ending on that note!


  1. I've got to say Tucker sounds like a wonder horse. He can really do it all. Great lesson Marissa, I'd have jumped off him in the end and given him a huge kiss on his nose and a gigantic hug. Liked the story of the baby draft and trail ride too. He truly is a Renaissance Horse.

    It's also nice to find a trainer who is secure enough to know that her students can take lessons somewhere else once in a while. I've never come upon that in my life, maybe because all my previous trainers were men? Egos?

  2. I am sitting in a Drs office waiting to see this guy so I can get my sales pitch on, and I must say loved reading this post Marissa. Reminds me of the old days....bravo.
    PS- I like to think I have those qualities as well. Lol


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