A few times a year I immerse myself in my education. The mental side is what drew me to this sport (and away from my fringed chaps). Wednesday I loaded Secret and Venus up for four days of lessons at Hassler Dressage.
Carol started the whole “Hasslerville” thing, but in my over-stimulated-caffeine-induced-excitement, it went from fun to downright silly. This goes to the tune of “Margaritaville:”
Driving down to train again at Hasslerville
Looking for my lost canter half halt
Some people say that there’s a German to blame
But I know
It’s my own damn fault
Ok, on to the training. When I come for a multiple-day visit, Scott and I spend day one reviewing my homework and looking for any holes in my work--areas that, because of so many days riding alone, need a brush up.
Venus was up first. Last time Scott saw her in December, he sent me home with two pieces of homework. First, I was supposed to be a bit less tolerant of her tipping onto her right shoulder, especially in half pass. Second, I was to shrink the canter down, make it even a bit too up-and-down, to get her to quit rushing through me on any straight line, especially in half-pass lines.
The right shoulder balance homework has come along really well. With the exception of haunches in on the right circle, it didn’t show up. Excellent, onward and upward.
As I’ve worked on her canter homework, we’ve had good results, but tightness has started to peek in from time to time. Sometimes I ask for a more manageable canter tempo and stride length, and she willingly obliges. Sometimes she gets a bit stiff and stuck behind me, especially in the left lead.
To work through this, first he had me settle her into the tempo we want, even if that puts her a little on the forehand. Then go to lateral work to supple her back, and let that suppleness give me the uphill balance I’m looking for.
Of course, it worked like a charm. She went from a 2nd level balance to a 3rd level canter with a hint of even more power and balance in no time. That is, if I was quick enough to clarify my half-halt when she got confused. The best part-- she was willing to accept my corrections without getting tense. The girl is really growing up.
One thing Scott cautioned me about, with her canter stride. It feels divine to me when it is a little too big. When her giant canter gets to rolling along, she looses lateral suppleness. So throw in little shoulder-in/haunches-in strides now and again test her balance. If she can’t roll from straight into lateral work and back to straight without any tension, the canter has gotten too big for her balance. I love tests like that, they give me confidence when I’m working on my own.
Scott hasn’t seen Secret since the BLMs in October, and her last “real” lesson with him was back in July, so I was anxious to have him check her progress. Back in July, we had discussed getting more ground cover into her right lead canter, improving flexion before corners so she doesn’t fall against my inside leg, and holding long, shallow lines of lateral work.
Secret, in her normal, perfect-girl fashion, nailed her homework.
So on to what I wanted to work on – I want her to carry her neck lower/longer and her nose out in front of the vertical, and I want more access to her hind legs, so I can get better crossing in the half pass and how to best prepare for clean changes (yea, she’s only been a dressage horse for 17 months, but she’s a super star, what can I say??).
Scott disagreed with my first goal. He didn’t think that a longer, lower neck served her balance. He had me keep her poll up and her neck out, then ride accurate, supple lines until she relaxed her neck and reached for the bit. So in short, ride her neck like an FEI level horse. Of course, after a few minutes she started pushing into the contact and quit fussing with the bit.
Once we got her neck where he wanted it, we then added lots of lateral work. My first priority was to make sure she was settled into the bit before asking for the bending. If she wasn’t settled, sure enough, she shortened her neck. Then we circled to settle her, and asked again. Within no time she had it all figured out.
We did the same thing in the canter. Her canter is much easier to keep organized than Venus, so before long he had me making smaller and smaller circles. Which, of course, she handled with ease. Love this mare’s super work ethic.
We also spent some time on the walk-canter-walk. He had me really insist that she be with me in the first stride of canter. He said that her delay in the first stride directly relates to getting clean changes in the future. After one correction, of course, she was right with me. This mare is a delight to train.
We talked a little about the show plan for Secret. Her uphill balance and Friesian blood make collection work easy, but it means the mediums will take longer to develop. Showing her extensively at First and Second Levels, where the mediums account so heavily in the scores, probably isn’t going to be her best scores. He agreed with my ideas of light showing this season, and let her develop. She’ll be a rock star again at Third Level.
Ok, heading out for day two.