Friday, March 11, 2016

March Lesson with Amy: Opening and Collecting

Since my last lesson (which I didn't blog about because I'm a terrible blogger and I took a winter break), my homework was to get the whole horse bending, and work on collecting the canter more in preparation for the canter-walk transition.

We've definitely made progress in both areas.  I went through our current warm-up.  Leg yields, shoulder-in, haunches in at the walk, and then at the trot, concentrating on getting the whole horse to bend.  Other than a minor adjustment of getting his shoulders pointed a little more facing forward instead of toward the wall in the haunches-in, Amy was happy with this work and the progress we've made, especially with the left bend.  She even thought he was getting a little overbent - which I'm fine with.  Since our left bend was basically non-existent before, now that I have it I can just dial it back a little bit.

Amy then had me do a fun exercise, which Tucker seemed to really enjoy.  She said she was happy with how he was bending but now we needed to open him up.  We came across the diagonal and lengthened, working first on keeping his hind legs together through the turn (not stepping out with the outside hind).  When they keep their hind legs closer together, you can get a better lengthening. So outside leg and hands close together through the turn off the rail. 

Then right around X, we'd convert the diagonal line to a leg yield.  So if you're on a diagonal going right to left, the shoulders have to swing left so he's facing the short side instead of the corner, and then he has to step sideways back toward the rail.  Once we got the hang of it, doing this out of a lengthening created these big, swingy, cross-over steps.  Pretty fun to watch in the mirror.  And of course my little boy genius figured the exercise out just as quickly as I did and by the last time we did it, he started shifting his body before I even asked him to.  Smart cookie.

We moved on to the canter and Amy got to see some of the issues I've been having (I had a very tough ride the night before my lesson).  To the left he is now picking up this super collected canter and I have to work to ride him out of it, so Amy helped me get out of this by keeping my hands forward and still, and using my seat to control the size of his canter stride.  She warned me to be careful about not overbending him in the transition which might be creating that super collected canter that I don't mean to be asking for.

When we went right, she got to see where things unraveled the night before.  On Wednesday night I was on him for an hour and a half, because after I cantered right he absolutely lost it.  Amy saw the problem right away - he was twisting (and I was letting him) in a way that was taking him out of the contact on the inside rein completely, and then I'd use too much left rein, cause it felt like he was hanging on it, and then when I'd go to pick up the right rein he felt boxed in and trapped. 

Amy saw the moment when he hit panic mode - his head went straight in the air and she said "okay he's got that huge eyeball, let's come back to the trot and regroup."  So we went back to a stretchy trot and got him to take a deep breath.  Once he relaxed, we started working on getting him to take the right rein again.  Leg yields from the rail to the quarter line (left to right), my right hand steady to "catch" him, and not pulling back on the left or counter-flexing.  Amy said sometimes you have to just hit the reset button.  We went back to the right lead canter, and Amy told me when he gets tense to flatten the canter out before I try to collect it again.  Makes sense.

Taz is a fan of Amy's footing
(She and Ethan watch all my lessons, such dedicated cheerleaders!)
On a walk break we discussed that now I'm starting to actually get somewhere in our collection work, which is good, but also means it's possible for me to get myself into trouble.  He's sensitive, and I need to make sure that he's not just doing the work, but also staying relaxed.  I think I've created some issues that weren't there before because he's been fresh, and I've been working too much on collecting him without enough opening him up (because no one wants to open a horse up when you feel like he's going to explode).

So when we went back to work, we did some of the numbers exercise in the trot, and did some trot-walk transitions.  Here there was an obvious weakness - he wants to root and/or tighten up in his neck in that last step trot to walk.  So I need to be really, really patient through these and not snatch him up when he roots, and just go right back to trot if he inverts/tightens.  It was a little tedious, but we did get there.

Then we applied that numbers exercise to the canter work.  "6" being a forward canter, "1" being almost cantering in place, etc.  If he got tense we'd send him forward again until he softened, and only collected when he could do it without getting tight.  It was exactly what was missing from our collection work.  Once we got him sitting but in a relaxed way, the transition from canter-walk and walk-canter were much better.  I have to focus on collecting from my seat more, without changing anything in my hand.

From there I was able to show Amy our best collected canter at the moment, and I explained I knew it was overbent and was having trouble fixing that.  Once Amy pointed out that I was actually putting him there with my left hand/left side, so my right leg was fighting against my own left aids (it felt like I was kicking against a brick wall on the right side), I was able to get it straighter and he came rounder and softer.  Basically, I had to get out of my own way.

We did three pretty awesome canter-walk transitions from here, going left.  Amy said for the short amount of time we've been working on these (a little less than a month since our last lesson), she was very impressed with where they were at.  I was able to watch one in the mirror because of the point in the circle we were on, and I was shocked to see a real dressage horse looking back at us.  I hardly recognized us.  Felt pretty damn good.

Going right, which is his weaker direction, we didn't get the canter-walk transition perfected but we did get some really good moments where he was able to sit down without getting tense.  And - huge personal victory for me - he thought about leaping and I sat down harder and rode through it, but didn't tense up myself, and he just went back to work.  First time I've successfully prevented it from happening.  Huge win.

For the next few weeks, Amy wants me to work on collecting the canter to the right just to the point where I'd be almost ready to walk, and then move him back out again.  Play the numbers game.  So (a) he gains the strength he needs to do the transition properly, and (b) he learns that he's not always going to be asked to walk, which seems to be worrying him.  

Overall, really productive lesson. Amy pinpointed the moment he was about to unravel, and helped me regroup and get him working in a positive way again.  Homework is to work on both opening up and collecting the canter, and in the collected canter be able to add leg without increasing speed or stride length, so we "increase the RPM's" as Amy puts it.

Good boys get candy canes!
Guy said something in his last ride on Sunday - about taking a mental image, like a photograph in his mind's eye, of the best parts of his rides, and focusing on those images in his head, not any of the things that didn't go well.  I've got a few snapshots in my head of Tucker in the mirror that I'm going to focus on going forward.  So proud of this horse right now.


  1. I'm stealing that lengthening to leg yield exercise! I could see it working really well with Henry.

  2. Taz is so cute. I second Amanda's thought to steal the exercise above.

  3. Sounds intense but good! I also love that first exercise of lengthening to a leg yield

  4. That is a really cool exercise! I like it.

  5. I like that idea with the numbers! We are working on that at the trot.


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