Isn't it weird how once you start to focus on a particular idea, you start to run into that idea everywhere?
I am really focused on the stretchy trot right now. I finally, finally "get it." I am not getting it perfectly, but I now see how to get it. The stretchy trot is really just one way to demonstrate that your horse is working over his top line. I am discovering that both of my boys need more stretch and reach in general, not just for movements 7 & 12 of the Training Level Tests.
The May issue of Dressage Today made several references to the stretchy trot. The best one appeared in a "What I Wish I'd Known Then" piece written by Doreen Horsey. She writes, "The relaxed, swinging back improves the paces, encourages a soft chewing of the bit and acceptance of the forward driving aids. The horse can now meet the Training Level test purpose... This throughness must be further developed and maintained throughout the horse's training for success at the advanced levels." In other words, you're not going to rise through the levels if your horse can't, or won't, stretch.
I have another lesson tonight where I hope we'll continue working on encouraging Speedy to stretch forward. I worked on the concept on Sunday and was relatively pleased with what he offered. It's not a show worthy stretchy trot, yet, but at least I am finally seeing what I need to do to get him there.
Just like at last week's lesson, I started at the walk. I can now feel that his walk lacks march. His hind end is being dragged along by his front end. This isn't going to help anything. So, I clamped my legs on and sent him marching. When I could feel that he was truly marching forward, I pushed my hands forward slightly and asked him to reach. When he did, I quit asking for quite as much forward. The instant he dropped the contact, I widened my hands, leaned back, and SQUEEZED.
When he was marching along pretty steadily at the walk, I asked for a slow trot and repeated the exercise. By the time that Speedy really gets this, I am going to have thighs of iron; my tube of toothpaste is in a tin can! Even though Speedy's reach is very small, there's still a reach.
It's a lot like knowing that 2 + 2 = 4; once you know it, you can't unknow it. I know the feeling that I am working for. We'll get there.
Squeeze it forward
There is nothing like a dressage lesson in the full sun when it is 100 degrees. Bakersfield's heat has arrived early. I didn't even bother grooming Speedy G; instead, I simply hosed him off thoroughly and tacked him up wet. I am not a huge fan of riding in the heat, but I really like my Monday lessons so I trudged down to JL's arena despite the high temperature.
After reviewing how Saturday's show had gone, I suggested that we spend the afternoon working on the stretchy trot, especially since it was so hot. Getting Speedy to stretch is going to take some work, but when he gets it, we're going to really be on a roll.
JL had me start the exercise at a walk. Teaching a horse to stretch involves two basic components: a LOT of leg and a delicate feel. JL had me wrap my legs around Speedy and SQUEEZE without letting up, ever. The first part was to teach Speedy that he needed to move forward without speeding up. At first, when I put my leg on, he tried to trot, but it was my job to say forward, but not faster.
When faster wasn't the right answer, Speedy assumed I was clamped around his barrel because I was afraid to fall off so he just shuffled around slowly. That was not the right answer either so we had to play a minute of Race Horse - I add leg, you move!
When he was back to moving forward from the leg, I had to remind him to go forward but not faster. Now his mental wheels were really turning. He understood that he needed to push forward with his hind end, but that I didn't want him to speed up. He was ready for the next step.
JL's next instruction was to let my hands slide forward just a few inches. If he stretched his neck to maintain the contact, all was well. If he let go, I was to lean back, widen my hands, and add even more leg. Until he learns to keep himself driving forward, I wasn't allowed to stop squeezing. It took us a few rounds, but I eventually felt him stretch his neck forward consistently. I could squeeze his neck forward and then draw it back it in.
Once JL could see that I had the feel at the walk, she suggested we try it at the trot. I added leg and Speedy marched forward, but he didn't trot forward; yah! It took an extra bit of leg to let him know that yes, this time I did want a trot. Using my seat, I sloooowed my posting to get a very slow trot. I was still squeezing him forward but reminding him that he wasn't to go any faster. He got it almost right away.
When I felt him pushing steadily from his hind end, I allowed my hands to go forward just a few inches. When I felt him maintain the contact, all was well. If he dropped the contact, I added more leg, leaned back and widened my hands until he stretched forward again.
We still don't have a stretchy trot, but I now have an excellent exercise that will get us there. Speedy's a fast learner; we might be surprising JL in the next few weeks!
I’ve been using the bucking strap for a week. It has proven to be much more useful than I originally thought it would. I’ve used it while riding both boys, but for different purposes.
While Sydney is stiff, he enjoys being loosened up and gets a lovely swing through his back once he relaxes. I am finally realizing that his shape and build make dressage easier for him than for Speedy. He is built more uphill and has a better top line than Speedy does. He is also much more willing to accept contact and actually enjoys stretching out and down.
When I first get on Sydney, we always walk on a loose rein. This week, I’ve allowed the rein to be fairly loose, but I’ve tucked my fingers under the strap. Within a minute, Sydney lowers his head and neck and walks along very relaxed. He no longer starts out with a giraffe neck. The strap helps me keep my hands low and quiet which tells him to go low and quiet.
When we pick up the trot, I also keep my fingers tucked under the strap. For the last two months, I have started out with my knuckles pressed into my thighs to keep my hands quiet as well as to encourage myself to ride with my seat and less with my hands. The strap serves the same purpose, but it allows me to keep my hands in a more natural positon.
As I feel Sydney get more relaxed, I slowly let go of the strap, but I focus on maintaining contact with it so that my hands, particularly the right one, don’t get too high. If Sydney starts to resist, flip his nose, or root, I re-establish the steady contact by slipping a finger under the strap and adding leg. As we continue our warm up, I also slowly shorten the reins. This usually causes Sydney to tense and bounce his nose, but as soon as I tuck a finger under the strap, he actually reaches and accepts the shorter rein length.
On Wednesday night, for whatever reason, Sydney had a bee in his bonnet and couldn’t relax. The strap was extremely helpful when tracking left. I tucked my left fingers under and was free to focus on slowing down the outside shoulder without losing the inside bend. The next night I did the same thing while tracking right. The strap is really giving me a better feel as to what steady really means.
And then there's Speedy G ...
Speedy is so heavy on the left rein that while the strap is very helpful, it is physically difficult for me to maintain my hold on the strap as he resists the left bend; he’s that heavy. JL suggested I put him in a bitting rig for a few days with a slightly exaggerated bend to let him work through the problem without fighting me in the process.
Several times this week I did just that. Speedy’s a smart boy and while he wasn’t thrilled to have his neck bent in the side reins, he didn’t fuss or throw a tantrum. It took him a bit to trust that he could go forward even though he couldn’t stretch his neck out. I tend to be overly cautious with the side reins, so I know they weren’t too short. To prove to him that he would get a release by softening his jaw and poll, I left the outside rein fairly long and shortened the inside rein to where I have been holding it with the use of the strap.
The first day we tried this exercise, he resisted the inside bend, but by the second day, I could see a little slack in the inside rein and I was able to push his body away from the whip’s tip much more easily. I paid special attention to the inside hind leg and really asked it to step up and under himself (to the best of my ability). By the third day of the exercise, the lunge line was slack as Speedy trot around me without falling in or tugging on the line. We did a series of trot to canter to trot transitions that I was really happy with.
On Saturday, I lunged him one more time before riding. I know that it will take him a while to build up the outside hind and really learn to stretch his right side. Now that I understand his stiffness, I can help him loosen up.
... was a real stinker! We're still trying to get some left bend. JL liked the idea of the bucking strap, anything that I feel comfortable grabbing to hold my left hand steady works for her. She also saw the benefit of the strap as it allows me to maintain my seat. Burying my knuckles in Speedy's crest requires I ride in a two-point position.
Right off the bat, Speedy noticed a discarded lunge line on the other side of the fence. And of course, it was in the corner where he likes to pick up speed. Of course he spooked and warned, "Snake, snake! There's a giant snake approaching!"
JL coiled up the line, showed it to him, and even rubbed his dorky face with it while he soaked up the non-working
Since maintaining a left bend is hard work, Speedy spent the entire lesson rearing, bucking, or bolting past the place where said snake had been lurking. Each time I approached the corner, I asked him to move sideways away from my inside leg while maintaing a left bend. As that requires some work, he would instead offer some naughty form of resistance.
At places along the circle, I was able to finally get some truly connected, rhythmic sideways movement that was FUN! We had one series of steps that were like floating: he had a lovely bend and was connected from the bottom of that inside leg all the way through and over his back down into the bit. I laughed out loud.
Most of the time though, he just said no
. At one point, we had an all out rodeo. I finally had to "cowgirl up" and flail my legs and yeehaw him to get his feet moving forward through the corner. Somewhere during the bucking and rearing, he slammed me into the arena fence and bruised my knee. I recognized the bump when it happened, but I didn't stop to check it out.
We finished the ride with the knowledge that we have a lot of homework to do, but I know exactly how to get it done. On my drive home, I realized how sore my knee was. I ended up needing to ice it that evening. I also decided that Tuesday would be a good day to skip the barn, which I don't do very often.
The day off proved very valuable. I accomplished a million little errands that had been piling up:
- I did my grocery shopping at Target which also meant I picked up a dry erase board for showing and a mini notepad for the trailer.
- I returned the blingy belt I had ordered a few weeks ago; it turned out to be way too small. I wear a size 6. How can a 32 be too small? Poorly designed product?
- I also mailed JN the pictures I took of her in thanks for taking so many of us at El Sueno. She took much better photos than she's getting in return. I am not much of a photographer.
- On a non-horsey front, I was also able to sit down for a few minutes and send the balance that we owe for our upcoming trip to Central America (a big woohoo for that!).
- And while I was doling out money, I also ordered a plaque from the California Dressage Society on which to hang my "plate." More about that in the next day or two.
- And finally, with all of my chores done, I zipped over to Fancy Nails and got a much needed pedicure.
Today, back to the barn for a ride on Sydney and if time, a quick lunge with side reins for the reluctant-to-bend Speedy G.
Except, we all know what it's really called - an Oh, sh*t! strap.
Homemade from biothane and trigger snaps
Sorry for the slightly blurred image. Sydney could not figure out what I was doing standing over his neck. I think you get the idea though. I've added my version of an oh shit! strap. I am not certain where I got the strap, but I think it was purchased as a chin strap to be used with a snaffle bit to keep the bit from sliding through the mouth. It has to be ten years old, and I don't think it was ever used for it's intended purpose. Or for anything else, until now.
To make the bucking strap, I adjusted it so that it is as wide as it will go. I attached a trigger snap to each end and clipped it to the dee rings on my saddle. It is the perfect length. As an added bonus, the bright blue color makes it very easy to see when I want to actually use it.
Rest assured, Mom, neither horse is being naughty enough for me to need it for safety's sake. In the past, yes, I might have used it as its name suggests, but for now, I am using it as a way to stabilize my hands. It was the trainer, Chemaine Hurtado, who suggested I use the strap. I've used it twice with each horse, and I can already see how beneficial it is going to be.
I used it first with Sydney. While he and I have come a long way together, there are still many things we/I need to learn. I feel like I keep my hands very quiet and steady with him, but the strap revealed the opposite. While riding, I grabbed the strap with my left pinky and was delighted with how quickly Sydney quit bouncing his nose. The more steady my hand was, the quieter and more solid his contact became. All I could think was that I was finally giving him a comfortable contact to hold.
When I shorten the reins with Sydney, he gets tense and "bouncy" with the contact. With the strap, I shortened the reins and slipped my bottom fingers under the strap. Almost instantly, he quit fussing. This tells me that my contact has not been very inviting. As we worked, I practiced letting go of the strap while striving for the same steady feel that the strap provided. I also worked on lowering my right hand so that my pinky could just graze the strap. This showed me that I do lift my right hand far too frequently.
When I rode Speedy G, the strap showed me that he is very heavy on my left rein. We have a lot of work to do there. Instead of planting my left hand in his crest as JL had me do, I maintained the left bend by hooking my fingers under the strap. With the strap, I discovered that Speedy never releases his inside jaw; he pulls on me the whole time we work.
We did quite a few canter-trot transitions which revealed a very powerful moment. As we transitioned down to trot, Speedy tried to take the bend away during the transition. With my fingers tucked snuggly around the strap, he couldn't pull his head and neck out of the bend. JL has told me several times that he will never learn to maintain the bend if I can't show him that that door is closed. The strap is already helping me to show him that he can't take the bend away.
The second time I rode him with the strap, he got quite fussy about the fact that he couldn't tip his nose to the outside. Thinking back to the ASK! comment on my final test from EL Sueno, I decided to really stick to my guns. I increased the bend even more and laid into him with my inside leg. MOVE, MOVE, MOVE was my reply. I also asked for more than a couple of canter to trot transitions, each time maintaining the inside bend by holding the strap. I also added a lot of inside leg as we did the transition which prevented him from falling in on the inside shoulder.
I think the bucking strap will help me tremendously with straightness as well. He really wants to tip his nose to the outside which allows his haunches to fall in. With his nose tipped out, the outside rein just sends his haunches further in like a carousel horse spinning on its pole. The strap is going to help me keep his nose pointed in the right direction which should allow me to utilize the outside rein better.
Once I ride a few more times with the strap in place, I'll be sure to let you know what else it reveals. We have a lesson tonight. Hopefully JL can help me utilize it to the best effect.
On Monday afternoon, I had a lesson on Speedy, and we'll be showing on Saturday and Sunday at El Sueno
in Somis (schedule below). This is a USDF/USEF/CDS show which means I have four chances to get the last score that I need for my USDF Rider Performance Award. My fingers are crossed!
But on to The Lesson
The farther I get with Speedy, the more "finer points" I am seeing. Right now, we are stuck on the left bend. Of course he can bend left, and of course he can make the turn, but I am definitely feeling some stickiness in his jaw and poll. To the right, he moves off my leg well (enough for now, anyway). To the left, not so much. JL has had me working on an exercise to fix the problem.
It goes like this: 1. Create a left bend (a lot if he's really naughty). 2. Plant my knuckles into his crest just above his withers so that he can't escape the bend. 3. Send him forward (walk, trot, and canter). 4. Ask for lots of sideways movement with the inside leg. 5. Slow him and lift his outside shoulder with the outside rein. 6. If he can maintain the bend, lift the inside rein to a "normal" position. 7. If he tries to take the take bend away by tipping his nose out, plant the inside hand again.
This exercise is working really well. I couldn't believe how much movement off my leg I was able to get on Monday. And for the first time, I felt what it was like for him to try and take the bend away. I've never felt him try to take it before because I've never felt him actually bending away from my leg with a soft, yielding neck and poll. Until now, that is.
Now that I know what it can
feel like, his resistance to the bend feels horrible. I rode on Thursday and just kept chipping away at it until he finally softened his jaw and poll, and moved off of my leg with some lightness. I can feel the pieces to the puzzle trying to slide into place. There's a bending piece, an inside leg piece, and an outside rein piece. I can almost
feel how they should go together.
I know I am still trying to make the turns with the inside rein when I am frustrated. But I am now seeing that when he has taken away the bend in his body, he won't turn. What I need is to be absolutely solid with that inside rein so that he hears my outside rein and inside leg. He won't move over if there is somewhere
else to go (straight). By planting that inside hand, I am removing an exit. There is nowhere else to go but out.
I know we won't have it mastered by Saturday, but you can bet that I am going to ride with a better understanding of how it should be. Maybe the puzzle pieces will snap together during one of our warm up rides. If not, we have plenty of time to keep working on it.
Here's my weekend schedule.
Have a great weekend - see you on Monday!
Or, lots of little things ...
Today is Hubby's birthday. What a keeper I have. Happy birthday!
Both boys went to the vet on Monday for their spring vaccinations and dental work. I've blogged about this several times already so I am skipping the what I give and what they do part. I want to talk about getting there and then the after part.
You might remember that I started hand grazing both boys together in an effort to get them more friendly toward one another. I am glad I did. You already know that I do everything alone: riding, showing, visits to the vet, etc. Loading two horses in the trailer at the same time by yourself has some potential for disaster when you're the only biped within a quarter mile.
While I have a three-horse slant load, I have removed the second partition to create a singe forward stall and a double second stall. Speedy fits quite nicely in either stall, but Sydney certainly needs the space provided by the double stall set up which means that he has to load last.
I tied him to the trailer while I went back to Speedy's stall. I was very pleased with how quietly he stood and waited. I sent Speedy in and closed the partition. He looked a little puzzled as he hasn't been in that stall in at least a year, but he took it in stride. I climbed out of the trailer and brought Sydney up. He looked surprised to see Speedy inside, but he loaded up without hesitation. It's been a year since they've been in the trailer together.
I gave everyone a good check, adjusted the windows for ventilation and left for the vet. Both boys rode in silence and unloaded like perfect gentlemen. Sydney went to a holding stall while Speedy saw the doctor, and they later switched positions. There was never a moment's drama. The trip home went even smoother, especially since boys were still slightly buzzed from the "Valium" they received.
Does this trailer make my butt look big?
Waiting for the vet. Someone is waiting more patiently than someone else!
Last spring, Sydney got pretty puny after his vaccinations so I expected much the same for this year; I was right. By Tuesday morning, neither boy was feeling too well. In the afternoon, I turned Speedy out while I hand grazed Sydney. Walking and grazing really seemed to help loosen his neck up, and it had the added benefit of perking up his appetite.
By Thursday, their appetites had improved and they were much more cheerful. I saddled up Sydney for a short ride of mostly walking to see how stiff he still felt. He was a bit lethargic, but it was also quite warm so it was difficult to tell how much was from the injections and how much was due to the heat.
On Friday, both boys hollered at me as I pulled into the barn. I knew everyone was back to normal. I did my regular routine of cleaning stalls, feeding Sydney, and mixing their beet pulp. Sydney began waiting at the gate which told me he was really ready to get back to work. I saddled up and walked out to the arena. All was well. I got on and began to amble to the far end at a leisurely walk like always.
All of a sudden, Sydney slammed on the breaks and considered for quite a few moments whether he should spin and bolt. I willed my legs and seat to stay relaxed and balanced. I scanned the arena for some wild animal. It took a moment, but I finally saw what Sydney had seen: pallet after pallet of bricks. It looked like the neighbor (of tractor fame) was preparing to build a large brick wall on the other side of the road. The bricks must have just been delivered.
Sydney didn't bolt, but his whole body was quivering and his head was as high as he could get it. I pat his neck and urged him forward. It took a bit of time, but I was able to urge him around that end of the arena and begin walking back toward the gate. He gave a few bouncy gonna bolt steps, but I asked him to walk and he did! I had him walk four laps around the arena; each time the bricks were less and less of an issue. By the final lap, he walked by them as though they had always been there. We went on to do our regular ride with no further issues.
I was actually thrilled to have this experience two days before the show. He showed me that he can listen to me when he's scared. Six months ago that was not the case. I don't know what is going to happen at tomorrow's show, but I feel a little better about my ability to encourage him through the stress.
I have to leave the house by 5:00 a.m. so you won't hear from me tomorrow, but I will be sure and let you know how we did on Monday. Wish us luck!
I've been writing so much about Sydney lately that I thought Speedy G deserved a post. He got a few days off after the HDEC show, but then it was back to work.
A week or so ago, I watched my BO take a lesson. She's working on developing the feel of steady contact so her lesson was mostly walking with some trot work. It was a great lesson for me to watch as I am working on confirming my contact at the canter. Watching her develop the feel of steady contact at the walk was like watching the process in slow motion. It was very helpful.
The number one issue that my BO had was letting the horse take the contact from her. She could tell when this would happen because all of sudden she would have straight arms with no bend in her elbows. JL would remind her to bend her elbows and shorten her reins. How many times have I heard those words?
The second issue RM dealt with was not using enough outside rein. Sounds familiar. Seeing it happen from the sidelines helped paint a very clear picture for me as the observer. As soon as RM's lesson was finished, I zipped back over to our barn and saddled up Speedy. We got to work on the canter, specifically to the left where he tends to get really heavy. Keeping in mind what I had just watched, I refused to let him take the contact from me.
I didn't hold him up, but rather I pulsed the inside rein to say let go, and I lifted his outside shoulder with the outside rein. I didn't let him pull the reins forward. If he got too heavy, I added lots of leg, and I made my circle smaller and smaller. When he lightened up, I made the circle larger.
Over the last week, I've worked on our canter departures and transitions back to trot always keeping in mind that he can't take the contact back. When I rode on Tuesday, I was particularly pleased with his canter; it wasn't perfectly uphill, but he has certainly lightened up a bit which makes the turns easier to navigate and the downward transition much softer.
I think we might be making a bit of forward progress! Lesson later today - hopefully we can show JL the improvement.
I think I forgot to mention that today begins my Easter Vacation. I have this entire week off as well as next Monday. With the success of last weekend's show still bubbling around in my head, I forgot to mention that I get to spend a whole week riding both boys each day.
My trainer also has the week off which means we often change up the lesson schedule to accommodate our vacation plans; my regular Monday lesson is on Wednesday this week.
Since Speedy had just come home after three days away and two days of showing, he got to sit out last Monday's lesson; Sydney, waiting on deck, got called up. Sydney only goes for a lesson about every 4 - 6 weeks; I've talked about this quite a lot. He and I just need more time to develop the skill that JL has lined out for us. This works out well as Speedy does great with a weekly lesson.
JL was quite impressed with Sydney's left lead canter work. There is zero tension in his body when he tracks left. He's soft and relatively balanced. I can move him around at both the trot and canter without any fear of him bolting or rearing. He actually has a really nice left lead canter. He gives me a perfect place to sit and wants to be uphill all on his own.
The right lead canter is a different story. This is his hollow side. JL said long ago that the hollow side is the more difficult side to ride because there is nothing to push on. I finally see what she means. He wants to collapse on this side and fall into the circle. I've been working really hard on moving him OUT, OUT, OUT, but it hasn't been getting me anywhere.
Instead of making the circle larger, JL had me make the circle quite small. Doh! That's Michael Schaeffer's Perfect Circle; the one I've been doing with Speedy to teach him to bend his stiff side. I never though to use it for a hollow horse. Once I made the circle small, I had something to push against. And if I made the circle small enough, Sydney wanted to move out on the circle.
We did this exercise at the canter. I used an opening inside rein to keep his neck bent, but kept an even feel in my outside rein. As soon as he started to soften in the bend and want to move out on the circle, I felt him fill out my outside rein in a very satisfying way. Once he was willingly moving away from my inside leg, I could then use my outside leg to "catch" him and bring him back to a small circle.
I worked on this exercise several times over the week and am really pleased with how much better his right lead canter is getting. He always picks up the correct lead, but doing it without falling in is our goal.
This Easter vacation came at the perfect time for us. I now have a full week to work on his right lead canter in preparation for his first show of the year! We "tried" to do Intro A and B in September and at a Ride-a-Test in October, but for both attempts he was so tense that we didn't accomplish anything. I am hopeful that I now have a better understanding of how to work him through his tense moments. My entry is in the mail for a schooling show at HDEC where I've signed us up for Intro C and Training Level Test 1.
The show is April 7. I am hoping to round up a friend to go with me as I think a bit of ground support would help Sydney be more relaxed. Anyone want to go to HDEC?
Since Monday's lesson, Speedy and I have been working very hard on that left lead canter-to-trot transition. It's getting better each day. I've been reading Riding in the Moment by Michael Schaffer and happened to hit the perfect part at the perfect time. His descriptions of riding the square, the turning square, the octagon, and finally the circle helped me "get" what I need to do to make the transition work.
The square is what you would image: from a standstill, turn your belly button in, have an open inside rein, place the outside rein in front of your belly button, and use a gentle outside leg to help your horse turn in.
The turning square takes the exercise a bit further: instead of turning in from a standstill, the horse is asked to turn in and then walk forward, turn in and walk forward. As your horse becomes better at turning in, you can add an element by turning in for several steps and then move out for several steps. This exercise eventually becomes a shoulder in. (The stuff I am learning, wow!)
Once the turning square is going well, Schaffer turns the square into an octagon. In this exercise, the horse moves out for several strides and then turns in for several strides. Once that has been accomplished, the horse can now move on a circle. I really loved Schaffer's explanation of how the movement is the same on the circle as the 8-sided figure: turn in, move out, turn in, move out, but in such a subtle way that it happens at each stride.
This is essentially what JL has been teaching me, but with Schaffer's diagrams and simple explanation, the whole concept really clicked. I tried this series of exercises with Speedy G last night and was thrilled with the result. Schaffer doesn't intend for this to be done all at once, but since Speedy knows how to turn and move out, I figured I could string it all together.
I started with the turn in from the standstill and slowly progressed through each exercise. I was really pleased with how quickly Speedy was chewing the bit and how supple he started to feel. Once he was turning in and moving out nicely at the walk, I moved on to Schaffer's Perfect Circle exercise.
According to Schaffer, the Perfect Circle is one "just small enough that he has to move sightly laterally to stay on it." If done correctly, it puts the horse in a shallow shoulder in. JL calls it "letting the geometry do the explaining." I do it quite frequently with Sydney, but haven't done it much with Speedy G. When Sydney gets resistant, I make the circle quite small so that he wants to move out. As he stretches his outside and releases the tension, I allow him to spiral back out. If he tenses or braces, I spiral back in. Schaffer's explanation clarifies the purpose of the exercise. Speedy is going to be doing more of those.
JL had me do this with Speedy by planting my inside hand on my thigh, or by grabbing mane with a shortened rein. This simply helped me maintain the bend, especially at the canter. I started with a small circle and gradually widened it as he got softer. This worked great for the circle left at both trot and canter.
The next part of Schaffer's exercise includes fixing circles. His book has an excellent section on the three main problems that arise: the horse who falls in, falls out, or runs outs. Speedy does two of them; he runs out or falls out when tracking left.
Speedy runs out the moment I exit the circle to continue down the long side. Schaffer suggests that the best "fix" is to simply stop him (even if it is abruptly), and start again. He feels that the horse will eventually "quit looking for the weak spot to burst through." This is exactly what JL had me do. But in Speedy's case, an abrupt halt wasn't enough. I also had to keep his haunches from spinning out by not letting him fall into the circle. Keeping his front end facing forward and catching the hind end as it wants to swing out is hard work.
Falling out is when 'the hollow side is on the outside of the circle.' Schaffer says that the solution for the horse who falls out is to take up more of the outside rein. That seems a bit vague, but when I combined that idea with what JL had me doing, it does work. In order for the outside rein to be effective, I have to maintain an inside bend, and I have to get his haunches back underneath him by pushing them away from the rail.
Speedy's "Hollow" Side
Since Speedy's inclination is to be hollow on the right side of his body, I need to stretch the right side and get those haunches to move to the left. The image on the right is cut from a larger image from Michael Schaffer's book. The diagrams in his book are excellent. It shows Speedy's body perfectly. This is why the left lead canter is so challenging. He wants to carry his nose and haunches to the right.
Now that I have a solid visual of what I am dealing with, I feel confident that I can help Speedy straighten out. We're going to be doing a lot more turn in/move out as well as Natural Circles. Both of those exercises will supple Speedy's right side and get him carrying himself with more ease.
I am still showing tomorrow* which means you won't hear from me again until Monday. My times are great for Saturday, T-2 at 1:53 and T-3 at 2:22. This gives me time to watch some other riders, braid Speedy G's mane, and warm up slowly. My times on Sunday are pretty late considering I have a two-hour drive home: T-2 at 11:28 and T-3 at 1:47. It's okay though; I'll make it work.
Have a great weekend, and I'll see you on Monday!
*uh-oh ... woke up with severe lower back spasms which is a brand new thing. I am currently on the floor with a heating pad. We shall see ...