So when I told JL that I was now trotting three whole poles in succession, she suggested I set up four poles in a circle to both trot and canter. She loves this exercise because it presents the horse with repeated opportunities to get heavy and fall on the forehand or to stay light in the rider's hand and maintain the rhythm.
I was pretty cocky when I set up my circle. I had every intention of cantering the poles on day one. I walked Speedy over the poles during our warm up and then went and worked on my three poles in a row for a few minutes.
When that went pretty well, we ambled over to the circle of stupidity and gave it a quick look. I realized that it might be awkward to begin cantering outside of the circle and then try to kind of jump in. It reminded me of jumping rope where you can jump in. I realized that wasn't going to work. Huh. (That was a Mr. Obvious type of Huh, by the way. Bob and Tom listeners will get the reference).
I realized that there was no way we'd be cantering those poles today. In fact, we probably shouldn't even trot them. Rather than give up, I shortened my reins and asked for a very slow motion trot - the very thing we'd worked on when the poles were in a line.
The first few circles were a bit chaotic, but little by little I started realizing that I had to ride every single stride. And if maintaining a rhythm over three poles in quick succession is important, it is even more so when the trot poles never end!
When we first started trotting, I didn't throw away my reins, good girl! Instead, I found another way to screw up. Since I didn't know how much room Speedy needed to clear the pole, I started hovering over the saddle as we got close to the pole so Speedy could get quicker or slow down as needed. ERRRRRR - wrong answer!
It took me only a few moments to realize that was totally wrong. When I had that little AHA, which turned out to be a bigger 'doh moment than I realized, I made the connection that the exercise is about developing length of stride while maintaining the rhythm. My rising trot was determining the RHYTHM. If I quit posting, Speedy was going to get quick or slow down. You can't develop a longer stride that way.
When I figured that out, I focused really hard on keeping a steady rhythm, which meant that I had to keep my rising rhythm no matter where Speedy was in relation to the pole. When I kept the rhythm, he lengthened his stride to clear the pole. Woot woot!
Once we got the rhythm down, he started focusing on the poles and adjusted his stride as needed. It was the most awesome ride. We tracked left for a few more minutes and then changed direction. He got it much quicker tracking right.
I can't wait to try this exercise again!