.... want to hear about my ride?
It was a pretty good one, although Tucker was a little distracted. The wind was pretty strong this evening, and my one complaint about my awesome super-sized indoor is that when the wind blows, the sides turn into giant tuning forks and they make this rather loud vibration noise that sounds sort of like the gong show. (Or maybe more cowbell? Told you, I can't sleep. I'm punchy.)
So every time that noise sounded, Tucker lost focus for a minute. I'd get him nice and straight and then the noise would start and he'd just ever so slightly twist his head in that direction and shift just enough that I'd lose the straightness, or he'd bring his head up to look, and slow down a little, and I'd have to re-establish the forward momentum. All in all, not huge issues, but kind of annoying. My hope is that he'll get so used to the noise that eventually he won't react at all.
I wanted to work tonight on keeping him straight, especially tracking to the right when he wants to overbend to the inside, and since I needed to keep him focused, I did this with lots and lots of figures, reverse turns, half circles, big circles, little circles, serpentines, figure eights, leg yields, all the time thinking about turning his shoulders off my outside aids. I basically need to keep my left leg on, my left rein to left hip, and keep my right hand giving and flexible while I am tracking right. Since he's developed a comfort zone of being over-flexed right, I pretty much can't stop thinking about these aids, or he falls back into the wrong place. Sort of like when you are trying to fix something in your own position (like my right elbow, which appears to belong to a very perturbed chicken, or a little tea pot).
I did a lot of work at the walk tonight so that I could concentrate on my position and my aids. Once I felt my horse start traveling straight, balanced, and forward, I knew I was doing the right thing. Then we'd move up to the trot, and when I'd lose it, I'd come back to the walk and get myself centered again.
I've also started working a lot of walk-halt-walk transitions into my rides, working really hard on not letting him lean into the bridle at any point in those two transitions, and making him stay connected back to front and straight. I swear, sometimes I feel like he's bargaining with me. "Okay, I'll stay light up front, but how 'bout if I swing my hips right? No? Okay well I can stay straight, but I'm going to fling my head up in the air and get disconnected. Still no good? How about hips left? Really, no? Okay, fine, picky-picky. Sheesh."
To test the straightness, I worked with a cavaletti that was set up on the center line in the middle of the ring, concentrating again on turning his shoulders and not letting him bulge to the outside to give himself more room (which he does a lot over fences). I had a breakthrough moment at one point toward the end of the ride. I was trying to keep him straight, tracking right, and he kept blowing me off, and then we'd get to the cavaletti on the half-stride because he was crooked and it was changing the track and the pace. I actually said out loud to him, "You know why this is happening right? Because you're ignoring me?" (Yeah, I really do expect him to be able to rationalize. Yes, I do realize that's insane. What's your point?)
I came around the next time and decided not to protect him. THWACK. He smacked his right hind on the cavaletti, hard enough to make a horrible noise. I cantered off and thought, well, I guess that's what happens when you don't listen. Amazingly, the next three times he decided he could actually respond to my outside aids. He stayed straight, and we had no trouble cantering over the cavaletti right out of stride. Huh. Lighbulb moment. I protect this horse way too much.
Once we successfully completed this exercise, it felt like a good place to quit for the night. So we ended with our big stretchy trot and I told him he was a good boy. All in all, it felt like I accomplished a lot, even if the ride wasn't always that pretty or smooth. We had some really lovely trotting and cantering moments where he was nicely balanced and straight, made some substantial progress with the walk-halt-walk transitions, and the cavaletti exercise toward the end definitely taught me something.
Okay, I have a lesson tomorrow morning so I really need to get some sleep. I'll be counting minature ponies (more fun that counting sheep, right?). Hope you are all sleeping soundly with visions of sugar plums dancing in your heads....