Monday, October 26, 2015

October Lesson with Amy

Last Wednesday I had my October lesson.  We had planned that this one would be a training ride, because I feel like at this point it would be helpful to have Amy sit on him.  I think she'll be able to feel for herself what holes in his education need fixing before we move into training during the off season and (hopefully) prepare for our move up to 2nd level.

But, since Hurricane Joaquin rescheduled my ECRDA championship to this coming weekend, we decided I should stay in the tack this month.  So, I told Amy what we've been working on, what has been going well, and what could use some help.

For the past week or so I have been warming him up yet another way (in case you don't follow along with Tucker's warm up routines quite as closely as I do, I had previously departed from the long and low warm up in favor of lots of walking and lateral work getting him into the bridle first).  Now I'm trying, after a few minutes of loosening up at the walk, picking up my reins and going really forward to start - like a not too pretty trot that feels to me like I'm running him off his feet but gets him actually taking both reins.  

Well, Amy loved it.  Although she said he looked a little more forward than ideal, it didn't actually look like he was being "run off his feet," and she told me to then just settle into my regular working trot without allowing the feeling I had on the reins to change.  We then had some truly lovely trot work, and moved up to our canter.  

The only adjustment she made to our canter (which I've been thrilled with lately) is to have his nose come up and out a couple of inches.  Just envisioning that slight change totally altered the balance of the canter.  Once we did that, she said "There!  That's the canter you need to have in your test."  Amy observed that Tucker prefers cantering over trotting, which isn't something I had thought about before, but seems pretty accurate.

We moved on to the zig-zag leg yield that appears in the 1-3 test, which I've been struggling with all season.  I demonstrated that we do lovely leg yields across the diagonal when the line isn't as steep, but when I try to make the line happen from the corner to X, I completely lose the alignment and his haunches end up trailing.  I also explained that I have a really hard time with the corner, because I have to bend right around the turn and then change the bend and begin my leg yield toward X in the space of 6 meters:

From the Equitests App.  If you don't have it, get it.

So she had me (for practice) work on starting my leg yield on the short side, so I'm leg yielding around the corner as I turn and then just continuing the leg yield toward X.  This smoothed out the turn considerably and then I just made that less and less obvious as we practiced it.

Once I made the correct line toward X, however, she saw what I meant about losing the alignment. And here is where the big game changer came in.  When I try to force the leg yield to happen on that steeper line, I try to drive him sideways with my left hip and left leg.  This ends up sending his shoulders diagonally right, so his shoulders move over faster than his haunches.  And then we lose the alignment, even when we start out the leg yield with his haunches right behind his shoulders.  

So instead of doing unhelpful twisty things, Amy had me step my weight hard into my right stirrup, keep both hips facing forward, keep him "in the box" (between both reins) and bump him over with my left leg.  Like magic, we executed a lovely zig-zag, repeatedly.  Amy explained that the horse wants to stay under your weight, so if you step into the stirrup you want them to go toward, they'll naturally move over to stay underneath you.  (Side note:  Why has no one explained this to me before?  This makes SO MUCH SENSE.)

After we solved the leg yield issue we moved on to his stretchy trot, which is the next movement in the test, and the other trot issue we've been working through.  I demonstrated the false transitions we've been working on, which Amy was very happy with.  We aren't nearly to the point yet where we'd get a good score on a stretchy trot, but the concept of reaching toward the contact is coming along.  The problem I have is that I lose his hind end when he stretches, and (especially at the walk) when he reaches down it fees like I'm sitting in a hole.  I think when he stretches down, he stops using his back and his hind end altogether.  Which probably stems from Tucker's lifelong understanding that stretching down in any gait means break time.

So she gave me exercises to work on.  First, I need to start working on asking him to "dig in" more at the trot, more collection, more drive from behind, being careful to compress his body without letting him drop his chin to his chest, so that I have a lot of horse I'm holding back in my hand, and then let him stretch out from there.  This is similar to the canter collection work we've been doing, so now we need to apply those same concepts at the trot.

Amy also wants us to incorporate more ground poles and cavaletti (which Tucker will be very happy about) at the trot, to get him to start lifting his legs and using his back more, which will both strengthen the back muscles he needs to do this work, and help me get the feeling I'm looking for when I ask him to "dig in" at the trot (more suspension/engagement, not more speed).

She gave me some ground work to do as well, asking him to step sideways around me in a circle (like a turn on the forehand, but in a little circle, to work on loosening up his lower back so I can get better cross-over behind.  We've done some of this before, it sometimes causes panic-flail moments but we're going to work on that too.

So, good progress, a couple of lightbulb moments, and some homework I'm looking forward to for the next month.  If we're being honest though... I think perhaps my favorite part of this lesson was when Amy came back into the barn while I was untacking and said "Do you drink red?" Cause that's my favorite sentence in the English language.  Cheers! 


  1. Wine + Dressage Lesson. I am mad jealous! I think I need to talk to my trainer about this idea.

  2. wow sounds like an awesome lesson - love the breakthrough feelings !


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