I met Trainer Z down at the ring so she wouldn't have to sit through our long walk warmup. Theo's 15, so I won't rush our ten minutes of walking, especially in the winter. He needs that time to get the muscles warmed up and moving. I trotted him on a long rein so he could get the cobwebs out, then right up into his new big boy trot with a light contact. It takes about ten minutes of encouraging trot and canter for the engine to really kick in. I'm finding that he does need to ease into the idea mentally or I end up with him in the bad mental place. So we take about 20 minutes to physically warm up these days. By the time we're done with that, he's on a contact and happily motoring along with his new big gaits. Cool, time to work.
First thing was that I needed more contact. The whole circle of aids things isn't going to happen if I just let it all zoom out the front. I, of course, struggle with any time I'm told to have more contact. More contact usually sucks because it's heavy, unpleasant, and I feel like I lose communication with the bit. This, however, feels different. I don't feel like I'm hauling on him, I feel like I'm just closing the door a bit more and his pushing into it. I'm not pulling, I'm holding as he pushes. No shoulder pain and I don't feel like I'm losing communication, I just feel like I've got a lot of horse to hold back.
Good gravy look at the neck he's developing
I could tell when I got the right amount of contact because suddenly, magically, that last bit of topline connected and I could see everything in front of the withers lift up and his neck felt like an expanding fan (love that visual for this stage in my training, make his neck open up like a fan, keeps me from getting him short in the neck). His shoulders freed up and I could see them swinging in the mirrors. And it makes sitting his trot freaking impossible but that's beside the point.
I heard 'There it is! That's your Second level trot!' and realized I had definitely made the right call getting help. Because that? Is not at all like anything I'd ever asked Theo to do before. It was not at all small, little, or slow. It was big and powerful but I wasn't letting it get away from me. I was keeping all of that new, big gait boxed up underneath me. That's what I was aiming for, to have that much power but not let any of it get away. Ohhhhhhhh.
It's hard right now because I'm fighting with my hands. My motor memory keeps letting go because it feels like too much pressure. My conscious mind is going 'nope, that's fine, we're in a good spot' but the second my attention wavers or I dare to think about a different body part, I let it go. Poor Trainer Z. 'Look at that fancy trot! Why would you let go of that fancy trot?!'. I dunno, my hands are crazy and possessed by the devil. Especially my right hand that likes to go for a wander. Where the hell are you going, right hand? Is it really that much better over there?
We worked the canter transitions, really getting the idea pounded into my head that I am not to release my outside rein for that transition. Release the inside, not the outside! Theo is totally cool with this and has no issue with pushing into the aid so long as I can convince myself to hold it. That one is going to be hard for me. Theo continues to show that he's 100% ready to move up while I'm the one questioning if this is okay or if I'm asking for too much.
We did have to discuss his odd habits with his mouth. She mentioned she could see his tongue while we were doing traver/renver/shoulder in transitions. I said yeah, he licks and chews a lot and does it even more when he's thinking. Even during tests, he licks and chews. Judges like it because it's very clearly not an evasion, he doesn't stick his tongue out in a bad way. When he's thinking super hard, he sticks the tip of his tongue out and just keeps it there. I think it's cute. She was a bit less sure about that, but if it's not something judges are marking down, then it's not a problem. I shrugged. Pony is weird. If he's evading me, she'll see his mouth completely stop moving. If she can see his tongue, it's a good sign. It means he's thinking and engaged and playing with the bit in a good way. I'm not sure just what he's doing with his mouth when he's sticking the tip of his tongue out, but the bit is definitely moving and both of us are working with it so whatever. You do you, pony.
Trainer Z is super happy with his progress and excited to help us get ready for his Second level debut. No doubt on her part at all, pony is ready. Probably more ready than I am. I'm supposed to work on the S turn from Second 2 as my homework (10m half circle to 10m half circle) since that revealed some balance weaknesses for me. Also need to make sure my hands understand the new rules with contact. Theo's settled into it just fine. It appears I'm the one that needs the miles.
Seriously, Theo, quit making me look bad, being all perfect and willing. Geeze. And while you're at it, stop looking so freaking fancy when I get it right. It's kind of addictive seeing that last bit of topline fill in and feeling like I actually got the whole horse together. Just knock that off.
I'll try to get video. I'm too polite to ask my trainer to do it. She's busy dealing with my hands going rogue, she's not going to take video of me. When it's warmer I may draft the hubby to do it. I'm kind of desperate for media, but I'll make due with what I've got. My truck has a cracked exhaust manifold, so I know where my annual bonus is going and it's not for a Pixio. *sobbing forever*