It's amazing how getting beat up at work can make you forget to do the other things in life, like eat. Or sleep. Or ride. Or blog. Huh.
No, I haven't fallen into a black hole despite the rumors my husband is spreading. I have been riding and stuff, just not as much as I want. Well, if it were up to me, I'd be at the barn 12 hours a day so that's not saying a lot. So long as I got to keep my office salary and could wimp out whenever it got cold.
On Tuesday Trainer A got creative and took my saddle away so we could work on feeling the biomechanics without a big hunk of leather, wood, and metal in the way. Sometimes I think she thinks I'm actually one of the teens and not one of the adults. Fortunately I ride bareback often enough that this wasn't unsettling, but I did forget to account for Theo's reaction to the turn on the haunches question. That butt started dropping and I realized I was on a rather slippery surface with no blocks, stirrups, or cantle to save me. Then Trainer A walked over with her dressage whip to 'encourage' him to step over.
Fortunately mi papi rethought his plan of striking out at her and decided that turning on the haunches without the airs above the ground component was his best plan of action.
He had a training ride Wednesday and got Thursday off. Today I got to run screaming from the office at noon and spent a whole four hours with him. First came the two hours of grooming to get caught up after slacking for a couple weeks. Tail done, hooves spotless and treated, coat gleaming. Then he got a break from me in a stall to stuff his face while I did a bit of tack cleaning. After all of that nonsense, I got around to riding. I had the ring all to myself and we had some new mirrors put in so I can do my laterals on both quarter lines. Woo hoo, traveling in both directions!
I read an article this morning that reminded me that a soft contact isn't something that you can fudge or say 'good enough' on. You need to keep on it every single ride. With my shoulder issues, having him hang on the reins just isn't an option. He loves to do it, so I need to stay on top of it. I went into the ride determined to work toward that lightness I know he's capable of and stay the (*(*&^%&^^%$# off my inside rein. Well, as much as possible.
Warm up was a lot of nice, forward walking with all of our lateral work. As he warms up and relaxes, the reins shorten up. Shoulder in is becoming very natural for him, as is the leg yield. Haunches in and half passe are lagging a bit due to our ongoing inside rein hanging issues, but they're getting better. Ten minutes of this and he's usually ready to start trotting and cantering like a civilized horse.
The first half was, as always, a bit of a battle. Flex flex flex FLEX DAMN YOU okay, good, give the rein and **** it all to ****, start over. Change directions, repeat ad nauseum. I totally blew his brain when I had him step over cavaletti in shoulder in. I'll have to remember to keep doing that. I also made a point of working shoulder in on a circle. He really needs to stretch out laterally, particularly his left shoulder, and it's a good exercise for that. By the second half of the ride, I was able to start asking him to lengthen and shorten. He does love that game now that he understands it.
I don't get to do collected work on my own, but I might have kind of accidentally got him collected. I was shortening him and then I half halted again with a strong leg, trying to really rev the engine for the next long side when his back came up and the contact went super soft. Well, okay then. Turn down the diagonal, ask for the lengthen, damn near fall off. Woo hoo! Not the falling off part, but that's a good sign! Real lengthening!
Somewhere between the shoulder in on the circle and the transitions within the trot, we hit that sweet spot and he went soft as butter in my hands. I asked him to canter and I got this wonderful, clear three beats without him barging off to kingdom come. It was so tempting to keep him like that, but I know that's exhausting for him. I also have to make sure he doesn't get too deep or too intense, as he was starting to do. Getting him powered up does bring us much closer to that danger zone of his and he reacts very strongly to adjustments. A couple serpentine loops with trot changes and I had to let him out to stretch. I know I had his back because he stretched forward hard, sticking his nose out and reaching with his legs. He only does that when I've managed to get him really working over his back.
So moral of the story is, suppleness in both directions is necessary for softness. I can't just do my laterals or my transitions, I need both. I also need to get the heck off of my hands and ride with my body. Halting off of my hands ruins the nice feeling, halting off of my seat keeps it.
I'm hoping for a repeat tomorrow in my lesson. That first show is suddenly only two weeks away. How the hell did that happen?