One Foot In Front Of The Other

In the intervening months since our last lesson in January, Dino and I have been slowly putting one foot in front of the other building the skills and fitness we both need for Second Level. I've been pretty good about working out in our home gym regularly, minus a few breaks when I was sick over the winter. I'm REALLY enjoying weight lifting, and the strength training is carrying over to riding quite nicely. Dino is generally getting worked 4-6 days a week depending on my schedule and current global pandemic status. I'm asking him to carry himself in a more collected 2nd Level frame most of the time, and he's responded by being able to tackle the movements with more and more ease as time goes on.

Like most of horse training, it's a slow climb. I'm tying my best to do things as correctly as I can and not get frustrated or rushed, but I'll be the fist to admit that sometimes I get discouraged or lose my temper. Thankfully, Dino is a forgiving and generous partner, and despite not having had much guidance in the last couple months, we are moving forward. At this point in our training there is just SO much to work on, it's now impossible to touch on everything in a single schooling session any more. Between the lateral work, medium gaits, collection, and the forever-needed basics of forward and straightness, I've struggled to figure out how to choose what to work on on a daily basis. We're both tackling this level for the first time, and while it feels like we're flying blind at times, I'd like to think we're still making steady progress!

The trot work, for instance, is getting REALLY good. Dino feels so much more uphill and full in his topline these days, and it's been so exciting to be able to give a half halt and ask for more collection and actually get MORE COLLECTION! The feeling of his haunches dropping down and under is just crazy-cool. One of my favorite exercises lately has been a 10m circle in collected trot in the corner to shoulder-in for a few strides before straightening to go across the diagonal in medium trot. Using the shoulder-in to get him more under himself does really, really cool things for the medium! I need a seatbelt to stay with him! I have been working on sitting the medium more often, and there are days when I feel locked in and solid in that movement, and others when I get left behind and bounced around. It's a work in progress, to be sure.

The canter work has been hit or miss, with a lot of the 'miss' coming earlier in March when Dino was going through his usual change-of-season "blahs". He always gets a little funny in his stifles in spring and fall when his hormones are flip flopping all around, and it was tough for him to really sit down and hold his left lead, and the counter-canter was an absolute mess. But now that we're firmly on the other side of spring and we've been able to ride in a saddle he loves, the canter work is coming back! The collection is accessible most of the time, though I am still having a hard time getting my half-halts to go through effectively at the canter. I know the issue is likely my own timing, since my canter-walk transitions are still abysmal as well. I just can't seem to get it right and achieve the same "lower your butt - but with FEELING!" response I can in the walk and trot. The counter-canter is getting way more balanced in both directions, however, and the walk-canter departs are downright fluffy! Dino is finding his medium canter as well, and when I can manage to get him straight and collected before I ask, WOW is that gait a total blast! I've never felt him fling his front legs out from the shoulder like that, and it's so. much. fun. The 10m canter circles are also SO much easier than they were a couple months ago, which is a testament to our strength training doing its job! But if anyone has any tips for improving canter-walk, I'm all ears. I've REALLY been struggling with that movement lately!

The lateral work is coming along, albeit slowly. The shoulder-in I think is pretty much there when I'm riding well, but if I ask for it without being 100% straight and accurate in my body, it's kind of crappy. The haunches-in is getting there, and I can feel Dino shifting his weight more responsively when I ask for it, even if I don't quite have the angle I need for the show ring yet. The walk pirouette is also getting better over time; we're both getting a feel for the balance, positioning, and energy, and I think it will just take more careful practice to perfect. I'm also taking time to work on trot-halt-reinback-trot to instill the idea of the halt as a working 'gait' with good results!

Throughout all this hard work, Dino has been incredibly happy to come up to the barn every day and Do The Things. I brought out the treats and the clicker a few weeks ago, and have been trying hard to reward him generously for giving me the right answers both on the ground and in the saddle. As a result, he walks eagerly by my side up to the barn instead of having to be dragged along, tackles his work with relative enthusiasm, and our disagreements in the arena are short-lived. Every week or so I treat him to a massage session using The Masterson Method, and Dino LOVES it! It makes him incredibly relaxed, improves his posture, and I think the technique helps him feel like I'm listening to him more. Hopefully I'll get a chance to write about that in more detail later, I absolutely love it!

God willing, we'll be making our debut at Second Level at some point this year, but in the meantime I'll take the opportunity to keep training while we can.


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