|Cody posing for the camera the other day. I love the camera on my new iPhone!|
Lately, it seems like our riding has been going backwards. Downward transitions were taking 10 or more strides to accomplish, if they even happened at all without resorting to a one-rein stop. Bending on a circle? Yeah right. We’ve been working so much on ‘forward’ that we’ve lost a bit in the process.
The last couple of rides, I’ve tried to mix forward trots up with slower, methodical turning, and stopping, and backing. We’ve had a tiny amount of success, but I would still often end up frustrated.
When I got out to the barn tonight, a couple gals I know at the barn were already out in the arena, one riding around on her Appendix QH gelding, and the other working with her young horse who has had some issues to work through. Sam is a gentleman from another barn who has been working with that gal and her horse and through slow, consistent work, they’ve made progress. Tonight I saw her riding her horse around bareback!
It wasn’t long after I got out to the arena with Cody that the other two were wrapping up and left. Cody and I were trotting around when I saw Sam come back out to the arena. I stopped to say hi and he asked how things were with Cody. I told him things were alright, but that Cody likes to ignore me. He asked me if I was sure that Cody was ignoring me—which made me pause a bit and try to explain. So I showed him how if we trotted off down the rail and I asked Cody to walk, he ‘ignored’ me for half the width of the arena before finally walking. So we got to talking and an impromptu lesson ensued.
Some of the things he showed me and had me try I’m not quite sure how they would fit into ‘dressage’, but it is giving me a lot to think about. Hopefully I haven’t managed to mangle things too much from arena to keyboard.
First, he lowered the bit. I’ve wanted to have the bit lower in Cody’s mouth, so he learns to ‘pack’ it, but any lower than I’d had it and it would be hitting his canines. Well, by lowering it a hole on either side, if it just hung loose it was below his canines. Cody was mouthing it and mouthing it because it felt funny. Doing his normal bringing it up with his tongue so he could crunch it with his molars. I was having a hard time with this because of where his upper canines are, but Sam made me wait and give Cody a chance. Low and behold, his mouth calmed down. Now it is up to him to hold the bit and keep it in a comfortable place in his mouth.
Speaking of it being up to him. Sam is also of the mind that a horse should be responsible for going in a straight line, at the gait you ask them for, until asked differently. So no riding and pushing and bumping Every. Single. Stride. like some are apt to do. This is something I can very much agree with. That is one thing I have had a hard time accepting when taking more dressage-type lessons, being told to ‘bump bump bump’ or ‘push to keep him going’.
Big, audible sigh, relax into saddle, pick one rein up, bring to hip, turn and look at his hip and disengage into a one-rein stop—if it takes that many steps. It took a few tries, but Cody was doing it most of the time with a sigh into the saddle and pick one rein up kind of against his neck if relaxing into the saddle wasn’t enough. The step of picking one rein up was literally picking it straight up before bringing it back to your hip, if needed. I found, that by just picking it up, it was enough of a reminder ‘oh hey, stop’ that he didn’t end up turning in the stop so much.
Sam explains this in 9 steps. One, pick up the reins at the buckle in one hand. Two, make a loose loop around the reins with your index finger and thumb of your other hand and slide it down the reins towards his withers. Three, take a rein in each hand, holding it between thumb and hand. Four (through seven), start closing your fingers on the reins, one finger (on each hand) at a time. Eight, tuck your tail bone under. Nine, with your hands closed on the reins, bring your elbows in and back to your sides. At first, he was having me reward even bringing Cody’s nose down as I closed my fingers on the reins. Then, even if he did that, I didn’t release until he’d at least shifted his weight back. Next, hold out until he’d taken a step back. Sam said it was important to have your release timed well. It is better to release in the middle of a step than wait until the step finishes—if he doesn’t take another step backwards, by releasing after he takes a step, you’ve now rewarded him stopping instead of backing… Oh, and sit up tall and light before and while you are tucking your tailbone to give your horse somewhere to lift his back into and back properly.
Turn your head and look, turn your shoulders, turn your belly button (which is turning your seat), turn your toes—he literally had me turn my toes in the direction of the turn, and this is the part that I kept messing up, but when I did it like I was told, it actually worked—use your outside leg and take your inside leg off, like you are opening a door. We worked on this at a walk, just doing 90 degree or quarter turns, and it felt like we were getting somewhere. Sometimes I’d forget and use my inside leg in the ole “inside leg to outside rein” idea, but if I remembered to take my inside leg off and use my outside leg to sort of push him into the turn, it seemed to work. This is going to take some thinking, and some experimenting to see how we do, and how it might work into a more ‘dressage’ type of riding.
Without the rail and on a loose rein, my horse is very wiggly. He veers off one direction, I try to lightly correct him only it ends up overcorrecting and we veer off the other way. So Sam suggested we practice walking straight towards a target. Once there, stop and rest. Then we would turn 180 degrees with a combination of an indirect rein and moving his hindquarters for the first part, and then a direct-rein and move his shoulders over. Stop and rest a moment before heading out in a STRAIGHT line on as loose a rein as you can. He recommended we do a lot of aiming towards targets to work on straight lines.
I would have loved to have done more but I happened to glance at my watch finally and saw it was 9:30! We were supposed to have the arena lights off by 9:00, oops. Hopefully, by writing this down I will remember enough pieces tomorrow when I go ride that we will take some steps in a positive direction.