Well I'm happy to report I have a week's worth of pretty decent rides under my belt, despite the fact that it's now the time of year to play every equestrian's favorite game: "Where will the ice slide off the roof next?" If you're lucky, it will slide off somewhere behind your horse, which will propel you into forward motion a whole lot faster than you were expecting. If you're really lucky, it will slide off right beside you, causing your very large horse to demonstrate the fastest side-pass this side of the Mississippi. (Happy to report we both lived through this experience, and really excited that it's going to be above freezing for a few days again this week, so that Sunday's snow can start sliding, and begin this whole fun and exciting circle of death all over again. Can it just be spring already? I'm getting cranky.)
Anyway, despite mother nature doing her best to ruin Tucker's concentration, he has actually been wonderful to ride all week.
|The face of a horse who knows he was good.|
We have been playing a lot with ground poles and cavaletti (in an effort to convince a certain equine that "shuffle" is nowhere listed on the dressage training scale). There are a few really cool videos floating around the internet featuring a horse affectionately called Tristan the Wonder Horse. Tucker the Wunderkind thinks he and this Wonder Horse should be friends. Check them out:
... which inspired me to come up with a little exercise of my own (despite my lack of dozens of brightly colored beautiful rails). This one was deceptively difficult, as it turns out, when you add in trot-canter transitions. I set up the poles as follows:
So if you'll pardon the crude drawing, I basically had trot poles to a cavaletti-sized X down the center line, and four trot poles on a curve through the middle, with two cavaletti at the top of the ring.
I've stumbled across something, and I don't know if this is "right" or not, but it does seem to help him. In his warm up (not every day, because it's hard and thus it annoys him), we do a very slow, collected sitting trot. Since he attempts to make this easier on himself by shuffling his hind feet along in the sand, we then go through trot poles in a little figure eight again and again until he starts loosening up through the small of his back and lifting his feet, and I keep closing leg to hand until I can get him stepping like that even after the poles. I don't know if people-who-know-what-they're-talking-about would frown on this or not, but it's working for us at the moment.
We did that with the poles on the center line, and then moved on to go down center line, turn right or left, circle through the middle and do the poles/cavaletti on a circle, change direction across the diagonal (crossing over the first two of the curved trot poles on the center), and then repeat in the other direction. All the while we practiced transitions within the gate and walk-trot and halt transitions. He tends to get tense the more transitions I ask for, because clearly I'm about to ask him a question he can't answer and that's cause for major anxiety in the equine brain, so basically the goal here is to stay relaxed and forward and then try to get the bend correct on the circles.
On Saturday, after our trot work we did some canter work over the cavaletti at the top of the ring, which were set as a long two stride, so you could also collect for three. It was not always pretty, but we did get twos and threes, eventually. And then, to add another level of difficulty, every other circle we did a downward transition to trot, then through the four trot poles in the center, then back to canter and over the cavaletti at the top. If you have five or six poles at your disposal, this is an easy exercise to set up, and it is harder than it sounds to do smoothly. I think we did it well once, to the left, and made a valiant effort each time to the right. In other words, we'll be setting it up again soon :)