A Fine Line: Lesson Recap
|Someone FINALLY got to wear his new DSB's!|
The day was almost miraculously sunny and above-freezing, so the plan was to warm up inside and then head out to do most of our work in the big outdoor arena. Dino was feeling a little sticky that day, so we focused on just trotting FORWARD and getting prompt transitions from forward walk into forward trot without any shuffle-steps in between. We loosened up with our lateral-shoulder-unlocking move at the walk and trot, and then headed out into the sunshine.
Dino had never been in the big outdoor at this farm before, and there was a lot for him to take in! His little head popped up like a periscope and his ears pinged forward in curiosity as he swiveled his neck around looking at all the horses in turnout, spooking at log jumps, and snorting at puddles. As always, he never offered to buck or bolt or explode in any way, but he was definitely very tense.
And so, of course, instead of inviting him back to relaxation and focus, I tensed up my entire body, took a death grip on the reins, locked out my elbows, and took my leg off. Because that's helpful.
|"Seven years with this woman and she STILL can't ride. Oy."|
You know, like, actually riding instead of clinging onto my pony's back like a frightened toad. Mind-blowing.
Riding Dino leg-to-hand with soft, floating elbows and a strong, supporting leg and outside rein resulted in him connecting nicely into the bridle, pushing forward off his butt, and generally going around like the stellar dressage pony he is instead of a stretched-tight bungee cord with furry orange ears. Go figure.
Once I remembered how to ride, we started incorporating a line of three ground poles into our trot circle, spaced about two trot strides apart. The key here was to keep supporting Dino through the poles (i.e. don't take your leg off and float the reins at him. They are poles. No one will die if you miss.) and to maintain the impulsion and connection all the way up to the first pole no matter what the distance was. No worrying about the right 'spot' for a trot pole, just keeping the pony in front of the leg.
It soon became very clear when Dino dropped just a teeeeeny bit behind the leg. The second his impulsion dropped just a touch under where it should have been, suddenly he had to reach and scramble through the poles, and we exited the line in a disorganized heap on the other side. When Dino was sufficiently forward and in front of the leg, he was able to adjust himself and float through the poles with ease, no matter what the 'distance' was to the first one. The line between 'in front of the leg' and 'behind the leg' for him is so very, very fine, but this was a great exercise for me to learn to identify where, exactly, that line is for him, and to help his little senior-citizen self get to the optimal place of impulsion to make his job as easy as possible.
|A topline that is, shockingly, not wasted away after a winter of doing mostly nothing.|
When it came time to canter, I was nervous. Dino was working well and was nicely forward in the walk and trot work, but in my left-over anxiety I was anticipating a negative reaction to my canter aid. So, naturally, the first couple times I asked for the canter Dino did not, in fact, canter.
No one is surprised.
But eventually I held it together and sat down and asked for the canter with some kind of positive mental commitment and lo and behold, the pony cantered! The right lead was harder for Dino that day and took some more support on my part, which was tough given the body soreness I was experiencing after running a 5k the day prior. But, we did the thing, and worked on cantering through the 3 poles with the same intent as we did in the trot: keep the pony in front of the leg, over the fine line of enough impulsion, and let the poles come up as they will. Again, when Dino was over that line the poles were easy. When he was a touch behind the leg, he had to reach and scramble and often broke to the trot in the poles. The left lead ended up being much easier for us, and Dino offered me a lovely, light, forward, uphill canter that was an absolute blast to ride, and the poles were cake going left!
We ended the lesson by riding some mini "courses" that included the ramp and small bank that are built into the outdoor arena. It's set up for hunter derbies, so you can ride in and out of the ring via the bank (a wee mini bank or a big-ass N/T size monster with a big log jump) or a steep ramp that link together with a grassy pathway in a "U" shape. We cantered through the poles, up the bank, down the ramp, and over a small 18" rolltop in both directions.
Once Dino figured out what the bank and ramp were all about, he had SO MUCH FUN with these elements! It really spiced up the ring work for him, and he was taking the bit in a good way and really carrying me to the bank each time. I was being a nervous weirdo about the tiny rolltop and wanted to trot it each time, but I was making Dino's job harder by holding him back and so we had several awkward jumps over it until I just boss-mare'd-up about it and let him canter. We ended the lesson on a great, fun, note and I left feeling like we'd had just the sort of fun, confidence-building session we needed. Here's hoping I can get my act together for some more productive jumping next time!