The Laws of Physics
|Back in my happy place!|
It was good.
|So very, very good.|
In any case, on to the good stuff.
Isaac Newton once postulated that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and ponies are not an exception to the Third Law of Motion. The past several years of riding Dino have been all about getting him to go forward, especially over fences where too little impulsion often resulted in a nasty stop and my body-in-motion remaining in motion until it hit the ground at the base of whatever fence I had been attempting to jump.
I can happily report that we've, for the most part, fixed that particular problem.
However, the actions taken to get Dino to move his feet faster have had the unfortunate consequence of showing him a new, fun way to blow off work: Going Too Fast.
So in her infinite wisdom, Miss Trainer made this lesson all about adjustability.
We began at the trot, riding five strides working trot and five strides lengthened trot, alternating as we went around the field, concentrating on not changing the connection but keeping the horses firmly between leg and hand as we lengthened and shortened their strides. Dino and I caught on to this exercise fairly quickly, though I needed a few reminders not to chase him so much into the lengthening. Instead of a lengthening it became more of a running a few times, and I needed to calm it down a bit. Dino was listening quite well, and the more we worked at the back-and-forth the steadier in the contact and the more uphill he got. All good things!
We moved from the trot exercise right up into canter from our working trot, and while Dino very nicely kept up the forward momentum from the trot work, he was also not quite reaching out to the contact, instead bracing at the poll and feigning the connection. Trainer took note of it, but that will be a topic for another day. A change of direction across the diagonal with a simple change of lead prompted the first of many, many reminders for me to half-halt my pony. This instruction would make several other appearances throughout the course of the lesson.
Our exercise of the day was deceivingly simple, consisting of two outside lines, each comprised of two canter poles and an oxer:
|Looks easy. Was not.|
We warmed up for jumping by circling over two canter poles in both directions, focusing on maintaining a forward, BALANCED canter. Reader's Digest version: Alli gets told to half-halt her pony nearly constantly while riding in circles over poles.
It began to become apparent at this point that spending several years struggling to install the go button had effectively un-installed any sort of useful half halt that we may have had in our toolbox previously. This was an unfortunate realization as I struggled to canter a large circle on wet grass on uneven ground over two poles in a consistent, balanced, and energetic manner.
The slick footing that morning did, however, have one advantage. Dino's natural carefulness and innate desire to remain upright on poor footing forced him, in a way, to rely on my instructions. Don't want to slip around? Then listen to me, buddy, and get your hind legs underneath you!
Unsurprisingly, our circles were lovely and Dino didn't slip at all when I half-halted, kept my upper body tall and light, shoulders open, and lower leg on. If I pinched my shoulders in towards my chest, did weird things with my hands, and tipped forward while my lower legs floated away on the breeze, things were not great and Dino broke from the canter and/or slipped on the wet grass.
Good riding. It works.
After successfully navigating the poles, we moved on to the meat of the lesson: cantering the poles down to the small oxer in 6, 7, or 8 strides as instructed.
The first time through, Dino galloped down easily for the 6, though I felt that he landed a bit heavy on his forehand from that distance. The 7 was also easy to achieve with just a little less leg and a "waiting" mindset. Going back and forth between those two numbers wasn't so bad, though it required a lot of pre-planning and active riding on my part. The 8, however, was a huge challenge.
Our first few attempts resulted in a very lovely 7 strides, or Dino responding to my half halts by breaking to the trot halfway through the line, or Dino breaking to trot between the poles because I didn't enter the exercise with enough energy. Trainer advised me to re-direct all of his forward energy UP, which clicked very nicely in my brain, and to half halt emphatically and not accept "no" for an answer. FINALLY, we got the 8 a couple times, but it was really hard work, especially as I realized that the half halt is not a fully functional button at this point in time.
The little oxer went up to a slightly bigger oxer, and Trainer asked me to ride the line in 6. Okay, galloping! Dino came through the poles well, but didn't come forward off my leg like I asked him to in the line, and he ended up jamming in a 7th stride at the last second and then rocket-launching the oxer by jumping at least 4ft vertically into the air. Somehow, I stayed balanced throughout this entire thing and landed back in the middle of the saddle, but I'm pretty sure my heart stopped for a moment there. When I came back around to re-attempt 6 strides to the bigger oxer, my butterfly flapped HARD, I panicked, and I pulled out of the line. Putting the jump back down to a crossrail oxer soothed my nerves, and we kept working at the line.
The main issue was that Dino was just not listening. The exercise was getting hard, he actually had to use himself, and he didn't want to. He was behind the leg and going too fast, and not reacting to my half halts or my forward aids quickly enough. After schooling the line a few more times, the half halts started going through, and things started smoothing out. We put the oxer back up, and I rode it the other way: oxer to poles. I concentrated on making a good square turn to the oxer and then riding a very strong, insistent half halt after landing as we headed towards the poles. After a few times through, Dino started rocking back on his haunches, slowing down, and listening. It was great!
We went to end the lesson with a ride through the opposite line, poles to oxer, with that oxer set at normal BN height. Dino cantered through the poles and then started picking up speed and plowing on towards the oxer. I half halted once, no response. I half halted again, and got an answer, but now that Dino had adjusted his stride halfway through the line, the distance I thought I saw had disappeared, and I didn't release him from the half halt quickly enough after he responded to let him move forward to the fence. At that point, Dino also lost his footing and slid on the wet grass and crashed into the jump. I was actually much less shaken by this than his earlier rocket-deer-leap-to-the-moon, so I came right back around to try again.
|Dino's response to me going to bring him in for a lesson at 7am.|
This time, I had a better plan to half halt EARLY and then LET GO and KEEP MY LEG ON to the oxer. Wonder of wonders, it worked, and we rode through the line with a quiet, balanced canter.
In our post-lesson pow-wow, we talked about how not having a good half halt is a big factor in my inability to find the Magic Gallop on cross country. Being able to maintain all of that great energy that Dino has when he's running to the fences like a shopping cart rolling down a hill, but redirect it in an upward direction, seems to be the key. My ability to half halt, get an answer, and then LET GO and allow Dino to go forward is also a piece of the puzzle that I really need to work on, as well as my eye for a distance, of all things. My trainer has done such a good job at training that distance-dependence out of me that now that I need my eye again, I'm having a really hard time finding it! Especially when I do get an answer to a half halt and Dino shortens his stride dramatically, I tend to lose sight of the distance I thought was there. But despite the lack of a half halt, we've made a lot of improvements this summer, too. Slowly but surely I'm letting go of my addiction to riding with a heavy, driving seat, Dino no longer sees an imperfect distance as a reason to stop, and we're swinging steadily back towards a good middle ground as we navigate this new extreme of "Too Fast".
Thankfully, I have lots of homework to chip away at and lots more lessons in my immediate future!