I don't write about every lesson I have with JL, but I am telling you, she is one heck of a smart lady. And one of the things I love so much about her is that I can say, "Chemaine said do it like this, so how can I do what you're saying?"
She never takes offense. She simply explains that she is actually saying the same thing that Chemaine has said, or she shows me that what she is asking for is the step before we can turn whatever it is into "dressage."
This week, I wanted to work on leg yielding and canter departures. She's great about letting me choose what to work on. Since she's not a dressage trainer, she doesn't know the tests so she trusts that I am asking the right questions.
The first thing JL said was to slow down. And of course out popped a but Chemaine says we need more forward and rhythm. JL pointed out that until Speedy was crossing that inside leg, forward meant nothing. In fact, I might have to stop all forward movement and focus on just getting him to step sideways. Sometimes it takes one sideways step followed by a forward step followed by a sideways step and so on.
It took use a few passes and a lot of SLOW DOWNs before I could finally feel when his hind leg crossed over. AHA! We were definitely moving slowly, but I could feel each stride and more importantly, I could feel when I was influencing the stride.
The trick to the leg yield, as everyone but me already knows, is to keep the neck nearly straight. There is a slight inside bend in the neck, but the inside rein does not have a job in the leg yield other than to maintain some bend. Most of the work is done by the inside leg and the outside rein - the Holy Grail of dressage.
Once I focused on keeping Speedy's neck straight, I was able to control the outside shoulder and NOT LET IT LEAD! It works like this: ask with the inside leg, SLOW DOWN THE OUTSIDE SHOULDER. When JL said slower, she meant to slow down his front end UNTIL his inside leg stepped over. Sometimes I had to STOP. Once he stepped over, we went forward again.
Before long, Speedy was moving forward and stepping over with a more forward and rhythmic pace which Chemaine would have loved. We worked on leg yielding both directions and then did a few of the zig zag leg yields which are really fun.
The next question I asked was how to improve the canter departure. We've been working on this for several years (and will probably work on it forever). Again, the answer was to slow down.
JL had me really shorten Speedy's frame, a lot. With his frame this short, I can really feel each leg moving underneath me, something I can't feel when he's long and strung out. With a shorter frame, I can feel when his front legs are trying to run into the canter so I can work the rein to slow him down. It feels a lot like revving up an engine - you put a foot on the brake while you give it some gas. When I could feel that I had revved him up as much as I could, I took my foot off the brake.
To ask for the canter departure, I moved my inside hip forward, stepped into the inside stirrup, and then sponged the rein to ask Speedy to let go of the inside rein. When I had all of my aids coordinated, we got a lovely up and over departure. When I let him get strung out, he hoists himself into the canter with his front end clawing his way into the gait, which is not very pretty.
JL explained that once Speedy learns that he has to engage his hind end in the departure, I can try it with a longer and longer frame and from a working trot rather than the super bunched up trot we were doing.
Speedy's a great fellow, but he's quite lazy when it comes to work!