If you're tired after reading that sentence, think about how I felt at the end of Saturday's marathon of a lesson!
I am not really sure I can sum it all up as she worked us pretty hard. At one point, I was near tears from feeling so overwhelmed. In the end however, I felt as though I had enough take-aways that it didn't matter if I had missed something. Here is a bulleted list of what we worked on.
- HALT him as hard as necessary when he gets heavy on the rein. This is absolutely crucial if I ever want him to stop being a freight train. To teach Sydney that I am serious about the halt, I asked him to halt and then gave him one step to see where he was, and if needed, I asked again, but much harder. And when I asked the second time, I didn't do a steady pull, but rather a pull hard - release, pull hard - release.
- Once he was taking the halt seriously, we worked on checking in with him to see how little "pull" I needed. After a series of halts, he was quick to stop with just a release of my breath.
- When he would stop with just my breath and resistance in my core, we worked on backing without pulling. Oh my gosh, once he figured it out, it was amazing how light he got in front. From the halt, I kept my hands just in front of the pommel with my elbows bent. The reins were short. I squeezed both legs together, but did not allow him to go forward. At first, he leaned forward, but I just kept the rein steady without yielding. Since he wasn't allowed to go forward, he tried to fishtail his hind end, but I moved my leg and re-aligned him. Then I stuck my spurs back in him and held steady. Eventually, he rocked his weight backwards and took one step step back. Woohoo!
- Once he understood that I wanted him to go backwards, I was able to change my leg cue. Instead of a steady squeeze, I squeezed and then lifted my feet up into his belly in a pulsating motion to encourage him to lift one foot and then the other. In no time, he was marching backward without me needing to touch the reins!
- When we switched from halt work to forward work, we had some difficulty as Sydney now only wanted to go backwards when I squeezed. This is a good problem to have. From the walk, I had to use alternating leg pressure to get a forward motion.
- Once he was going forward, JL had me switch from forward to back, forward to back. And all the while, I had to remember to keep my elbows bent, my hands low (not up high and not low with my wrists bent), and my hands slowly following, not pulling back.
- To get Sydney round from the walk or trot, I put my hands where they needed to be and squeezed him forward. When his head shot in the air, I tried to keep my hands in that neutral position since I was not going to fix a hollow back with my hands, instead, I squeezed and bumped my legs without quitting until he finally dropped his head, and accepted the contact. JL just repeated over and over, be patient, be patient, wait for him. Eventually, he would drop his head and accept my contact.
- The exercise showed me that he has been dragging us around with his front end. The squeeze with my legs is finally telling him to get his rear end moving. JL promised that as he gets more and more accustomed to engaging his hind end correctly, he will accept the contact more quickly.
- After he was light in my hand, we practiced keeping him there. Now, I know JL doesn't teach this the way most dressage trainers do, but she had me flex him left, right, left, right from the elbows to tell him that he was not allowed to hang on me. When he was light, I flexed so small that no one would be able to see it. If he started to hang a little bit, I flexed him bigger. If I felt like I needed to flex him really big, that meant a strong halt was in order.
- Once he traveling steadily in my hand, accepting the contact without a whole lot of flexing, JL placed a pole on the ground to create a moment of hollowness when we crossed it. As we approached the pole. I had to straighten him up as he ducked around the pole several times. This exercise encouraged me to look ahead to where I was going and feel for when he he was blowing through the outside shoulder.
- It took us at least 30 minutes before he would trot over the pole. Sometimes we walked it because I had to correct so many issues with straightness. Other times he vaulted over it and bolted to the right. we did it over and over again. Each time I got him straighter to the pole, and straighter after the pole. And then one time, he just trot over it.
Today, I am heading to Tehachapi for a lesson with Lois Quinn.