Monday, August 29, 2016

Actual work

Aside from our dramaz, mi papi and I have actually gotten some work done.  And it's pretty cool!

Since we made the grand leap to First level, our trot lengthenings have been getting some more attention.  They're currently kind of . . . pathetic.  There's enough of a difference for a judge to give us a reasonable score (6 or 6.5), but they certainly aren't the highlight of the test.  We usually get a couple steps that are longer, but we also get rhythm problems and sometimes some bracing against the hand.  We're typical newbies at First, trying to figure out how to have more than one trot as well as steer and remember where the letters are.  Screw you, L.

I've taught one horse to lengthen in trot, but with Fi, that was practically cheating.  She desperately wanted to lengthen, bringing her back was hard.  Allen already had his lengthen installed.  Theo is clueless.  He genuinely seems confused by the idea of stretching and reaching.  Leg = go faster, right?  So Trainer A has her work cut out for her.  Since mi papi is ridiculously stubborn once he thinks he's learned something, we are forbidden from practicing our lengthens right now without supervision.  I'm not the best about holding the rhythm while trying to get his lazy ass to move on and she doesn't want to have to remove any bad habits.

Our lengthening practice, which is very deliberately designed to start the process of installing a medium for our move to Second, is to set up trot poles along about half of the diagonal across the ring.  The first steps are working trot length.  Then the poles spread out, requiring him to reach and lift to make it.  I do my best to maintain for a couple steps after the poles, then bring him back to working.  It is a massively huge help since I don't have to worry about asking him to lengthen.  The poles do that.  I worry about giving the cue to start, not letting him brace, keeping the rhythm, and not falling off.

It's operant conditioning at it's best.  Theo gets a cue from me at the same time that he moves from working poles to lenghtened poles.  We do this over and over and over.  The idea is that when I turn across the diagonal and give the cue, he will lengthen correctly because he knows what I want without chasing or stress.  And it's working!  It's not stable or confirmed yet, but he definitely has an association started. 

The not falling off part is very difficult, though, since I'm doing this in sitting trot.  Turns out I just can't communicate clearly enough to get this in rising trot.  This is becoming an increasingly common issue as we move up.  We're also working on my reins 'whispering' to my horse.  Instead of my elbows or my hands, my ring fingers are what's talking to Theo.  Sitting down gives me my seat bones to adjust the trot as well as reducing noise overall.  As half pass at the trot becomes part of our routine, sitting trot has become a daily event.  I spend probably 10 minutes of every ride sitting, more in lessons.  So when we started introducing the lengthen and quickly realized I can't cue it without sitting, I skipped the rising trot bit and went straight to sitting the exercise.

The cue is double touch with the spur while 'laying back'.  Which is what Trainer A has to say to me to get me to get behind the vertical in sitting trot.  She showed me video of myself and I'm just barely behind the vertical when we do it, but it gets my hips in front of my shoulders and my pelvis going forward which is what he needs.  The duct tape analogy is back in full force.  I feel like my head is on my horse's tail.  I showed her this cartoon, and she said 'yes, that is exactly what I want you to feel like'.  Ugh.

And it's worse because mi papi can actually do this.  Neither of us expected him to catch on so easily.  I count my rhythm out loud, grab on to my saddle pad with one hand, get back, and pray because when he does a proper lengthen, it's like he's on springs.  He is actually capable of reaching through his shoulder and is now strong enough to truly sit and push for that moment of suspension.  Who knew?  And a true lengthen is so weird to ride!  There's more up, not just more forward!  I never really realized that until I felt his butt drop (in a good way this time) as he lifted himself so he could make it through the trot poles.  Sitting that trot is really very hard.  All that extra lift just wants to toss you out of the saddle.

I did it exactly once.  ONCE.  I happened to nail the approach, have my body where it belonged, and Theo lofted his way through the poles while I stayed in the saddle.  You know when they say you feel like you're suctioned on to the saddle?  It was exactly that.  I just stayed in the saddle even though I knew I should have been tossed up into the air.  Trainer A threw her hands in the air and declared the lesson over.  I sat what will probably be Theo's medium.  I have no damn idea how I did it, but it's a feeling of relief to know that I can physically do it.  It's going to take a long time to make it consistent, but I know it's possible.

All of this is super hard for Theo right now.  That's the other reason it's a strictly lessons exercise.  Mi papi is a serious princess and if he's muscle sore, he lets you know.  One too many reps of turn on the haunches had me doing major body work on him for days.  On the plus side, I always know when something's bothering him.  He doesn't let stuff fester.  It's also letting me get good at doing assisted stretching and muscle work.

I'm starting to think mi papi is playing me for extra massages . . .

But I'll forgive that in exchange for knowing, having evidence, that there's a real, honest to goodness, might even get a 7 one day medium in there.  Second level, here we come!  Very slowly.  And not in a straight line.  But we are definitely en route.