Friday, December 24, 2010

Secret’s Three Days at Hassler Dressage

December 15-18 Cara, Linda and I loaded up Secret, Venus, and Ockie for a 3-day winter-training jump start.  I know I’m a bit late in getting this blog written, but frankly, I have been processing all of the info.  To keep this from getting miles and miles long, I divided it into 3 blogs, one per horse.
Check her out in the 'big girl' bridle!

First, Secret.  Secret was awesome, as always. She and I have been on our own with her since October, and I was eager to get some feedback.  She has felt great lately, but sometimes it looks different than it feels, which is why eyes-on-the-ground are so important in this sport.  I was ripe for Scott’s eyes.

Secret has the most unique learning style I’ve ever ran into on a horse – I swear she learns by a series of light bulb moments.  Combine that with her I-will-do-my-best-every-single-step personality, and I have a unique problem as a trainer.  If I have explained it in a way she understands, then her try-too-hard nature works for me, and all is good. If I haven’t, then it works against me, and she’s frustrated. For Secret, frustration means speed, which makes everything harder. I went to Scott hoping he’d help Secret find her light bulb (and a resulting reasonable tempo) in the left canter half pass and the flying changes. 

So on to the lessons.

This was Secret’s first outing in the ‘big girl’ bridle, her double bridle.  She’s been schooling in it 2-3 times a week for about 6 weeks. Scott was as impressed as I have been at how well she accepts the double. Where double bridles are concerned, the light bulb is glowing brightly. 

First, we addressed the canter half pass.  Scott and I had worked on the half pass back in October at the BLMs, and my homework had yielded a much more adjustable canter with a more even contact, but hadn’t really worked into a better half pass.

So he changed gears. Instead, he had me show her how her feet should go, by first half passing left in the walk, then straightening a bit, then cueing half pass in canter.  He warned me that the risk is she would fall left in the canter, but since she wasn’t going left at all – just speeding up from my leg – it’s a risk he was willing to take. 

The first time we did this, Secret was all discombobulated. She couldn’t figure out how to canter, much less half pass. The second time it was a little better, and the third time, if you used a lot of imagination, you could sort of see a half pass.  The light bulb was starting to flicker on.  So we left that for the day.

Next, the changes. Secret was having the same trouble with the changes—she just hasn’t figured out how to sort out her legs.  In general, dressage has come so easily to Secret that she gets frustrated when she can’t sort it out.  Since frustration creates speed in Secret, several attempted flying changes had resulted in warp-speed laps around the arena.  I had tried several methods at home, and trying the changes over a ground pole had given us the best results.

Because Secret got a little tense working the half pass, Scott broke the ground pole work into several slow steps. We walked over it, we trotted over it, we trotted up and walked over it, we walked up and cantered away, etc, until the ground pole was no big deal. Then we tried a change over it, and when she got it, we praised her like mad, and called it a day. 
This photo is a bit fuzzy, but you can see her absolute concentration.  She is determined to figure this out.

On day 2, once Secret was warmed up, we went right to the half pass, and she was ready. The half pass was fluid, with clear crossing and sideways.  Apparently, her light bulb moment had happened sometime overnight.  She must have spent the night working out the footfalls in her stall.  It’s freaky sometimes how this horse learns.  

The flying changes were also better. They were pretty consistent over the ground pole, but she didn’t really have it sorted out enough without the pole.  So there’s a light bulb about the ground pole, but she hasn’t quite seen the light without the pole yet.  That’s ok.  We got one without the pole, and then went back to the pole, mixing it up to keep her relaxed.  He recommended that, if she starts anticipating the pole at home, I lay out several poles, or raise one pole up a bit.  We are all confident that the changes are going to be fine. We’ve got all winter.

On day three, again we started with a left half pass, and Secret was like guys, I’ve got this now.  Since I had a homework plan for the changes, we skipped them for the day, and instead went to work on quality of her basic gaits.  In shoulder in, he had me ride the outside shoulder movement bigger. When we returned to the collected trot, the shoulder movement stayed bigger, and the trot itself felt more rolling. She’s starting to show lovely suspension and cadence in her trot.

In the canter, he asked me to make the canter more ‘lofty,’ particularly in the downward transition from medium canter to collected canter.  Thinking this way maintained her suspension and kept the canter from getting too up-and-down (she is half Friesian…). Her neck stayed nice and long, and her back swung like a hammock. What a super feeling.   

We also looked at the trot half passes, and to sum up the corrections Scott gave me,  she’s ready for more bend to go with the leg crossing.  In other words, go find the big girl half passes.  We can do that.  

So we have plenty of homework to keep us busy this winter.  Secret’s so much fun to work with, light bulbs and all.

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