I am tempted to write ONLY about the World Cup because it's so exciting and I wish that I was there... but I've had these notes written about my Wednesday night lesson with Amy Howard and need to get this post out there too.
To satisfy your World Cup cravings I have posted a link to a bootleg video of Charlotte Dujardin's winning ride on Valegro on Tucker's facebook page, which has been made possible by a kind anonymous FEI tv subscriber. I'm not going to repost it on the blog because I'm fairly certain the FEI's copyright lawyers will hunt my *ss down, but surely sharing on facebook is less of a crime?
Anyway... go watch Charlotte and
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I always come into the lesson with a list of things that need to be addressed. This month it was: My position, the left lead canter, right lead transition, and free walk.
As for my position, I tried really, really sitting up in one ride last week and when I do that it's the only thing I can do. Seriously. The rest of me falls apart, my reins get long, my leg comes off, and the horse starts plodding/tripping over himself. We agreed it's a work in progress and for now I'm going to work on opening my shoulders/chest more as the next step to actually sitting up like I'm supposed to.
I warmed Tucker up like usual, sending him forward on a long rein, encouraging him to stretch down and get his shoulder swinging (he loves this), and then gradually picked up the reins doing little diagonal turns from the rail to the quarter line and back (something Amy taught us over the winter). Amy commented that my hands are much more steady now (!!!) and that he's much more consistent in both reins. I heard Angels sing an Hallelujah. Not saying my hands are perfect yet - but at least I no longer have a rhythmical left hand half-halt every time I post, making him look like he's really agreeing with everything. Mmm hmm, yes human (nods head). Obviously, I wasn't doing this on purpose. My left hand needed an exorcism.
Trotting to the right we worked on squaring off the corners like a box, not letting his inside hind get wide, and not letting his withers fall to the inside around the turn, but keeping him straight, on the outside aids, and stepping under himself with his inside hind. This really helped the leg yield from right to left as well. As we worked on this Amy said "I bet that's exactly what's happening with your right lead canter transition." (Spoiler alert: she's always right.)
After a walk break, I picked up my trot again and pointed out that particularly after a break, he seems to hang on my left rein. I usually try to fix it with left rein half halts and left leg on at the girth, but it's not terribly effective. We tried a few different things, small circles left, etc., and then Amy told me to do a haunches-in. I couldn't make his haunches budge. "There it is!" So we worked through that a bit until he gave in his left rib cage and low and behold, he was back in both reins. Must remember that when it feels like a rein issue, it is almost always a hind end issue. [Are you seeing a pattern? His haunches go right in both directions. Perhaps rider should work on not twisting left?]
As for the left lead canter, getting a better canter from the start is a matter of timing. I need to give him a reminder kick with my inside leg immediately as he picks up the canter, right after I cue the canter with the outside leg, so that his inside hind leg steps up quicker and with more energy. I understand this concept, theoretically, but my timing is off. By an entire stride. (Two separate cues in the same three-beat canter stride? What am I a magician?) I told Amy it's going to take me about three weeks to figure this out, but I'll work it out by the next lesson.
Once we got the canter going, we worked on revving the engine without increasing speed. So creating more canter with the inside leg but keeping it packaged together with half halts on the outside rein. We actually got a SUPER canter (Amy said so) although right now it definitely takes a lot of managing on my end. Going back to the ride every stride discussion from last week, right now I have to ride almost every stride to the left. But I'm hopeful that will change with time, one he figures out what I want. He's already learned to open his gaits up so much, I believe he can learn to hold a better left lead canter on his own too.
Next we worked on the right lead canter transition, which is definitely not as good as it could be because, just like at the trot, his haunches are coming in and he's getting wide behind. I have been working on using my inside leg to set up the transition (which we discussed in my last lesson) but it hasn't completely fixed it. Amy checked out the transition from every angle and helped me drill down and figure it out. I love that she's so thorough.
First, he has to be slightly off the rail, and the turns have to be squared off, so his wither stays up and haunches stay under. (Did you know that you don't need to be right up against the rail for your test? You can be slightly away from it and still accurate. I did not know this.) This helped, but what really made the difference was when Amy watched the transition from the outside, and told me not to bring my left leg back when I ask for the transition, but keep it right at the girth. This way I'm not cuing the haunches to go right, which he wants to do anyway. When I did this he just stepped into a beautiful right lead canter, stayed in both reins, stayed straight. Success!
We pretty much ended here, but discussed the free walk a little. Although the test says I should allow "complete freedom to stretch the neck forward and downward," if I give Tucker "complete freedom," the periscope is going up and we're going full Drama-Llama. Nobody wants to see that. He needs to stretch out and down, rather than poke his nose straight out/up. Amy gave me a little trick. Rather than riding pin straight across the diagonal, very subtly curve left and right. Not so much that the bend changes or that it's obvious what you're doing, but just enough to keep the horse thinking and focused on you (rather than sight-seeing). We did this once just as we were cooling out and I think it's really going to make a difference.
We briefly discussed my general plan for the show season, and I'm glad I brought it up. I told her I planned to start schooling stuff from First-3 in June and then move up to showing First-3 in or around July, and she told me to start working on it now instead. We have a zig-zag leg yield from the rail to X and back, and shallow serpentines at the canter. So she said to start working on these now but keep them really shallow, and just gradually increase the angle as it gets easier for us. (This makes so much sense. I'm so glad we have her to give us advice like this.)
We have a show this weekend where we'll be doing First-1 and First-2. Hoping to put a bunch of this into practice! Maybe I'll just watch videos of Charlotte Dujardin from now until then....