Ashley Madison Clinic #4: The Madison School of Witchcraft, Wizardry, and Dressage
But. Uh. It was just a really big abscess in his heel, which he very clearly pointed out to my vet, my barn manager, and I. (Thanks for talking me off the ledge, my friends.) We wrapped up his foot, the abscess popped in three days, and Dino was right as rain in no time. Even though he wasn't out of commission for very long with the abscess, between it and my insane schedule he had a solid week and a half off between lessons.
Because of this, I ended up putting him back to work only a week before our lesson, and had just managed to convince him two nights before our clinic ride that yes, he could weight his hind legs again, and no, I was not responsible for holding up his entire front end with my hands. While he was definitely sound and feeling a LOT better, he wasn't going as well as he had been a month ago, and I sort of just mentally threw up my hands and accepted that the lesson would go however it would go. It wasn't a show, and after all, Ashley was there to help me solve problems. If Dino and I weren't up to the same level of awesomeness as we were the month prior, it would be ok.
And as I expected it might, things started out kind of not-awesome. Dino was sticky and grouchy and felt like a 2x4, not a fancy dressage pony. I explained to Ashley that we'd had a big chunk of time off and he wasn't really feeling it so far that day, and she sent us out to loosen up at the trot. As is usually the key to unlocking Dino's work ethic, we worked on getting him light and forward off the leg with little-to-no contact, making big loopy figures and asking him to get his blood pumping a little bit. Thanks to Swishy Whip, I was able to get him thinking more forward, and after a loose-rein canter in each direction Dino was feeling much better.
During out warmup, Ashley reminded me to keep my toes rotated in and my heel out of his side, and mentioned that anything I can do to get his neck stretching out and his head down would help with the forward. When he gets tight and upside-down in his neck, he locks up his entire topline and it really blocks him from moving forward. I'd never thought about it that way, but upon musing over it later, I recalled how much better, looser, and more forward Dino feels when he's in stretchy trot vs. when he's putting his ears up my nostrils and resisting my requests to move with everything he's got. Definitely some food for thought and something I'll be thinking about the next time I encounter resistance to the forward aids!
Once we were warmed up, Ashley asked what I wanted to work on first: the medium trot, leg yields, or canter-walk. I picked medium trot, with the thought that once we were rocking and rolling in that movement the other two would come much easier. She agreed, and after a little long-rein walk break I picked Dino up and headed out to work on the medium trot.
We worked mostly around on the rail and occasionally over a couple ground poles, with Ashley asking me to build the trot up a little more every so often as we traveled around the ring, giving Dino a chance to increase his power in a stepwise fashion. It was really tempting for me to let him drop the tempo way down on the short sides, but Ashley wanted to see the trot still building even in the corners. And as per usual, the name of the game was getting a big response from a light leg aid, reinforcing with a sharp kick or Swishy Whip when necessary. We got a few really lovely, elevated, powerful steps especially to the right, and it was great to have Ashley there to reinforce what I was feeling and remind me to make a huge fuss over Dino when he offered it!
|Working that medium!|
Then came the canter work.
Y'ALL. THE CANTER WORK. I'm going to say right now that this was probably the absolute best canter work Dino and I have ever done in our entire lives. It was, without a doubt, absolutely magical, and one of those rare occasions where the video looks as incredible as it felt. I felt like I was riding a very, very fancy dressage horse, and IT WAS FREAKIN' AWESOME!
|Not sorry at all for the deluge of canter work GIF's you are about to view.|
At one point Ashley commented, "I have nothing to say to you. This is a beautiful canter." Most of you know what a huge compliment it is to have your trainer not have a single thing to change about what she sees!
|2nd Level Here He Comes?!|
|Instead you get MOAR CANTER-WALK!|
- Leg Yields - Improve response to lateral aids and strengthen flexibility/deepen crossover in this movement. My current plan involves working on this movement in-hand as well as under saddle.
- Walk-Canter-Walk - Keep working on this movement, especially the timing of and commitment to the walk request.
- Medium Trot - Build strength in this movement by asking for stepwise increases in stride length and power; reward good steps generously!
- Use That Magic Canter - Carry that beautiful quality canter into movements like 10m and 15m circles, lengthenings, and counter-canter.
- Find ways to help Dino release the base of his neck and allow him to bend more fully through his body.
- Remember to let go of that dang inside rein - quit holding him in the bend!
- Remember to sit on my right seatbone to keep yourself straight - actually purchasing and using a set of Franklin Balls will likely help with this.
- Keep riding the gaits with my seat even through the corners and short sides. I really noticed that I tend to "quit" on him in those spots, and I need to remember to keep my body riding all the way through.