When I asked Chemaine about what we need to make the move to showing at Second Level, that was her response, more. I am not interested in showing at Second Level unless I can do it with scores in the 60s. I don't want to post a 54%; that means we aren't ready. When Chemaine said more, that's what she was saying. Unless I can get more from Speedy, low 50s is what we'll get.
So that's what we focused on for Day 2's lesson - getting quicker responses, a better connection, and longer strides.
We started in the center of the ring with Chemaine holding the dressage whip. I asked for something, and when I didn't get an immediate response, Chemaine reinforced my request with a flick of the whip. I can poke, poke, poke with my spurs all day long, but Speedy is pretty good at tightening up and ignoring the jabs. He has a very healthy respect for the whip though. Simply suggesting that it might tap his hocks is enough motivation for him to start stepping out.
Once Speedy was sharper to my aids, and let me tell you, forward fixes a lot of things, we moved on to getting a better connection. Chemaine has been using the compression exercise with all of her students to improve the connection and engage the hind end.
I wrote about this the other day, but when you combine compression with a quicker response, the withers start to lift and all sorts of good things happen. To compress, you shorten the stride while still asking for forward. It's not about dragging the horse to a halt or getting the walk from trot. It's about keeping the hind legs engaged while the frame gets shorter and shorter.
Once the horse is compressed as short as he can get, he must soften to the inside rein, and then the rider asks for go. The horse's response should be an immediate push off from the hind legs.
Once Speedy was sharper to my aids and demonstrating some impulsion, we moved on to lengthening the stride. Chemaine has developed a bit of a rider cue to help with the transition from the compressed stride to the lengthened stride.
Rather than expecting a developing horse to move from compression to full-on lengthening, she has the rider lengthen in three stages. It goes something like this:
- Half halt in the corner and compress the horse's frame.
- Counter bend ever so slightly to bring the shoulders in front of the haunches.
- As the horse leaves the corner, he should now be straight and his frame compressed, ready to shoot forward.
- Rather than let him go all at once, where he's likely to either fall on his forehand or break to the canter, the rider needs to think "big" as she squeezes him forward,
- In the next stride, the rider things bigger. The stride should get a little longer.
- In the next stride, she now thinks biggest as she pushes the horse for an even longer stride.
Another way to develop the lengthened stride if the horse has a tendency to lose the trot is to halt at X during the trot lengthening. The rider can move the halt along the diagonal to keep the horse thinking about the half halts. Also, the rider must remember that there is never a lengthen without compression first. So if you halt at X, be prepared to compress the stride again before resuming the trot lengthening.
The last exercise we worked on was using the haunches in to control the counter canter portion of the single loop from First Level Test 3. Having control of the haunches will be important in counter canter and travers (haunches in) for Second Level Test 2.
We began by doing a haunches in at the walk. It was instantly "easier" with Speedy than it had been for Izzy. Speedy moved his haunches in as soon as I asked. I shared this earlier this week, but to ask for a haunches in, get an inside bend through a shoulder in or a ten-meter circle. When you're back on the long side, open your outside rein to ask the shoulders to move toward the rail. Then, bring your outside hand back to ask the horse to weight his outside hind leg as you push the haunches to the inside. You're basically asking your horse to take a bit of a banana shape.
When Speedy and I had it down pretty well, we picked up a canter. When he was relatively soft on the inside rein, we started working on the single loop. Chemaine had me focus on starting the loop deep in the corner with a good inside bend. As we neared the counter canter portion of the loop, she had me keep the inside bend as I sent Speedy into a haunches in which effectively pivoted him around X so that we were heading back to the next corner with a correct bend from nose to tail.
The work at Training Level and First Level is about acceptance of the bit, a willingness to go forward, and maintaining a rhythm. Speedy's got that down. Second Level is where collection starts to happen, but we can't get that until Speedy can really stay connected while using his hind end effectively.
I'll be riding with these four strategies in mind, minus someone chasing us around with a whip of course. I don't generally ride Speedy with a whip, but it looks as though I am going to need to do so more often. I'll have to be my own enforcer! So for now, quicker responses, a better connection through compression, and a gradual lengthening of stride are goals for the next month or so.
If you try any of these exercises, let me know what you think.