I mentioned yesterday that I am starting twice-a-week lessons now that I am on summer vacation. They could not have come at a better time.
I had one of those ow! my head is hurting kind of lessons yesterday. You know the kind; a big idea that doesn't quite fit in your head, but you struggle and grab on and keep shoving it in until your head is so full of idea that it feels as though it is going to simply burst.
The idea was this - Sydney is not anxious anymore. He is anticipating. This might seem like a teeny tiny little idea, but for a horse who is an over-achiever with a very sensitive ego, the nuance is huge. With an anxious horse, the rider needs to soothe and reassure while providing leadership. With a horse that is anticipating, the rider needs to provide correction while being the leader.
For so long, it was okay that Sydney anticipated. At least he was in the conversation. Because before that, he couldn't a hear a word I said. This horse did not trust me at all to make decisions. He simply took matters into his own hands and careened around doing what he thought he was supposed to do.
At some point, he realized that I was up there, so he started to try and figure out what it was that I was asking. My aids were obviously very unclear so he simply guessed, also known as anticipating. This was good.
But now, the anticipation is causing problems. For a horse who prefers structure and a strong leader, this iffiness is confusing. He would rather not have to choose what comes next, but since I haven't been making the decisions in a clear and obvious way, he's been helping me out. Until now.
So that was the big idea; Sydney no longer gets to hurry into the trot and he never gets to race off into the canter. He must now wait for me to tell him when. In order to achieve this though, several things need to happen. First, he needs to respect the outside rein. Second, his shoulders need to be in front of his rear end.
Waiting for me wasn't hurting my head; it was understanding the implication of a hind end fishtailing behind me that caused the headache. So here is how we worked on it:
- Walk … halt with the outside rein, repeat, repeat, repeat.
- Trot … halt with the outside rein, repeat, repeat, repeat.
- Halt with the outside rein, and add outside leg to keep his hindquarters from falling out.
- Walk forward while opening the outside rein and at the same time using the outside leg to push the hindquarters behind the shoulders while giving the shoulders room to essentially come over.
For classical dressage instruction, this probably seems so backwards. We are taught shoulder in and inside leg to outside hand. But to the right, Sydney does not want to weight the outside hind which means that in the right lead canter, the inside leg is not free to step deeply beneath him because he wants to carry his weight on the inside hip and shoulder. In essence, he carries all of his weight on the inside hind and fore which creates a rolling-over effect. Does that make sense?
After working on these exercises for a while, Sydney's head came down and it was so obvious that he was finally working back to front without the need to fiddle with his mouth. Once he was straight, his back came up and he began to work honestly.
My homework for today's ride will be to do lots of walk/halt and trot/halt transitions where I do not allow his hind end to fall out. Keeping him straight is the key to getting lovely right lead canter transitions.
As a little hmm, that's interesting, JL pointed out that it has only been in the last few weeks that Sydney has seemed to take note of her in the ring. For the past two and a half years, he has basically ignored her. Lately, she has noticed him looking at her, flicking his ears in her direction, and trying to walk in towards her as the lesson comes to an end. It's as though he has finally realized that she is there helping.
And like the other day, Sydney was so relaxed and happy by the end of the lesson. His relief at not having to "run the show" was so obvious. His whole demeanor just exuded love and gratitude. It's really the darndest thing to watch.
Here's to happy horses!