Contact = Connection = BALANCE
|LOOK WE'RE A CARTOON! Where are my reins!?|
After driving all over East Bumbletown on Wednesday in the pouring rain to replace some real estate signs, I got to ride yesterday and put to use the concepts we worked on in my lesson earlier this week.
I spent what seemed like way too much time scrubbing all the mud off my pony, and then got on and focused really hard on keeping my seat quiet in the walk. My goal was to keep it still following, but not pushing, and creating 'forward' with my leg instead of my butt.
It seemed that Dino had been mulling over our lesson just as I had, and responded very nicely to my leg without dropping his back. Yay! He also happily moved into the trot when I asked with no complaints, and I really tried hard to keep my posting from being as 'enthusiastic' as usual. I also focused on leaving him the heck alone unless his pace dropped down, in which case I would bump him up with my legs and then leave him alone again. WonderPony sincerely appreciated not being nagged, and went so, so nicely for me.
I also picked up the contact way, way sooner than usual, starting to gather Dino into a longish frame at the walk. As someone who rides with reins flapping in the breeze for the first 20-25 minutes of every ride, this felt weird. Like my trainer had told me, I didn't over-focus on getting him marching super forward, but just created a connection with the bit.
Connect. Connect. Connect.
And Dino was freakin' amazing. He was so, so soft in the bridle without any of the head-flinging, loss of momentum, or heavy, pulling resistance I normally encounter when first starting to put him on the bit. When normally we have CONTACT (spoken in a manly German accent), yesterday we just had Contact. And it was nice.
I went into the canter with the same mindset of "You can do whatever you want, but I'm keeping this bend and this connection with your mouth, and eventually you have to canter. Let's go." The first few departs were less than prompt, but Dino did eventually canter off, and I didn't relinquish my contact! My reward was a pony that dropped into the bridle after a few strides, and stayed there. And after a little schooling, the up transitions to the canter happened immediately.
We ended our lovely ride with a nice hack around the fields with Jeannette and Hugs, and had a fun little canter up a hill before riding home. As I was brushing Dino down and putting all my things away, the lightbulb went off.
When I ride for the first 20 minutes with reins a mile long and literally no contact, trying anything and everything just to get my pony MOVING, this whole situation essentially dumps him right on his forehand. The lack of contact and connection with his front end lets all of that energy fall right on the ground, and upsets Dino's balance. Then after we're warmed up and I try to put him together and on the bit, he struggles because we've just spent 20 minutes going on the forehand, and now he has to shift his entire body into a correct position - a position I've been actively discouraging for the entire warmup.
When I establish a connection within the first few minutes and maintain it during our warmup, I also help Dino establish a correct, uphill balance. I'm giving him a place to go - into my hand - and shaping his body in the right way from the very start of the ride. Creating contact from the beginning allows Dino to choose the right answer - being light in the bridle and round in his body - because I'm offering it to him in a way that's easy for him to accomplish. Once the balance is established, I can let him stretch down and then bring him back up without hassle.
I only wish I'd realized this YEARS ago!