The lady that shares my Wednesday night lesson had a bit of a rough ride tonight. We're having our first cold snap and the school horse she rode wanted nothing to do with the canter. Just nope, nope, nope. It's a frustrating situation for someone that's really been focusing on getting strong enough to canter consistently so she can do a two phase next year. By the end of the lesson she was cantering some poles in four strides as directed, but it was not an easy ride.
I felt bad, since she is paired up with me and while she's working on getting a canter all the way around the ring, Theo and I were working on reliably adjusting our strides to three, four, or five strides between the poles. It's the same old story, one every rider knows. You look at the more advanced rider and say 'but it looks so easy'.
And there I am, cussing under my breath all the way around the ring, my abs aching, panting for air, fighting for every inch and bit of flexion as he lets me know that the cold weather is not conducive to stretching through his stiff side. I stop for a break, gasp for breath and hold my abs, only to hear 'of course you can do it, it's so easy for you'. HA. Are you kidding? Adjusting Theo's strides is a whole body experience.
Trainer A had to remind her that last winter, she wasn't cantering at all outside of some short sides on specific horses. Now she's cantering over poles and learning to count strides. Her horse was sticky today, it happens. She was able to ride through it and that's where the progress is. As for Theo and myself? Last winter, I was sobbing that I couldn't make him fit strides in for our grids. Now? Three, four, or five strides can be done. We're still working on style while doing it, but getting Theo to take a stride out completely is a huge challenge. He's not built for it. The fact we got it on our first try speaks volumes.
Sure, I was up in a half seat (in my dressage tack) with the reins completely fed out, goading him into a strung out stride, but it's still insane progress for a horse that always wants to touch the ground one more time.
Incremental progress is tough that way. Last year, we couldn't adjust his stride without divine intervention. This year? Sure, we can do it. He might brace a bit, but we can do it. He will also trot around the ring with his nose down around his ankles, swinging through his entire body and stretching out. He looks like an athlete. It's so weird.
We've been working on the idea that once he's going, I feed him the reins until he stretches all the way out and powers along under his own power. Now I'm teaching him to let me bring him up, right now only half way, without bracing or curling or losing the natural forward. Then he goes back down. The hope is that one day I'll be able to pick him all the way up without him losing that amazing forward and swing that he's capable of. He just can't compute going forward on a contact without guarding himself in some way right now. But we have months to work on this fundamental concept.
I feel a bit ridiculous, since getting Theo to stretch in the trot is something we've been working on since Day 1. Ages ago. And yet, here we are, getting him to stretch forward and down in the trot. On bad days, I feel like we've made no progress. But the reality is that Theo wasn't strong enough to do it correctly back then. He inverted and braced or faked an arched neck to get people to leave him alone. Only now is he strong enough to stretch all the way out while powering along of his own volition. And while it's the exact same exercise, it couldn't be any more different.
Now, we make it all look so easy. At least to people that can't hear my profanity.