Monday, March 14, 2011

Early March lessons, part 2

We went to the canter work first, and Barbara had me ride him just a little more forward, and his neck just a little longer, and check the balance with an occasional counter flexion, and he locked into a rolling, forward, effortless collection.

In the trot, after some tinkering with the balance, he found a nice, uphill swinging trot, but was setting that giant stallion neck right into my hands. Barbara liked how he looked, and when I glanced in the mirror I agreed with her, but I wasn’t happy with the heaviness. So she had me purposely lighten my hands whenever I half-halted, to which responded by shortening and stiffening his neck (his favorite mistake). So we tried doing the same in shoulder-in, and again we got a short, stiff neck.  Then we tried it in a slight renvers. Bingo. The trot got rounder, with a softly swinging back. 

The whole process of finding Eclipse’s best gaits was a bit like Venus’ canter corrections with Scott—get in, make the adjustment, then get out and ride the harmony—but  with the adjustments toned down for Eclipse’s sensitivity.

Then we spent some time working the half passes. I had gotten in the habit of letting my weight fall to the outside in the half passes and pushing the horses over, instead of sitting with the bend and leading the motion. Once she got me sitting more correctly, his half passes became more fluid and correct. 

For the last two weeks, I’ve been applying her insights to Eclipse’s training plan, and the quality of his gaits feels more fluid and forward. This Friday I let him do some of his tricks, and his tempi changes were straighter and more on my seat, without a hint of him taking over.  In his trot lateral work, I can really feel the shoulder freedom. I can’t wait to get some fresh video of him.  

Silhouette was last to go, with a ride in the OVCTA Jean Moyer clinic on Sunday.  Jean Moyer has made a name for herself as an eventing coach. I signed up for the lesson because, a few weeks before the clinic, entries were looking pretty light. Plus the clinic was to be hosted at Firefly Farm, which is a five minute hack from Journey’s End.  On Friday night, at the OVCTA Annual Meeting, Jean was our speaker, and discussed her annual educational trips to Germany, and bragged about her horse who is competing Prix St. George in Germany.  I was starting to look forward to my lesson.

After I introduced myself to Jean, I discovered her German education includes time spent at
Herbert Rehbein’s barn.  My most influential instructors all go back to Rehbein’s training program, so I knew instantly our training priorities would align. She immediately saw Silly’s weakness and her highlight.  Silly’s weakness is her try-too-hard attitude, which means she can get tense and quick easily. When she’s a little nervous, like at the beginning of a clinic in a new environment, it really shows up.  Her highlight is her wonderfully sensitive back, which means I can make small changes with my seat that will affect her overall balance.  Jean used her sensitive back to settle the tempo, then took it to small, repeated collections with just my abdominal muscles, followed by allowing her to go a bit more forward and a bit more uphill by relaxing my abdominal muscles, followed by a following seat.  Again this confirmed Scott and Barbara’s work with me – get in, get the job done, then get out and relax and ride.

Jean kept the small transitions within the gait going through transitions, circles, figure 8’s, shoulder in, half pass, and counter canter.  Silly, true to her good girl nature, kept working harder and harder, and her gaits became more uphill and swingy.  At the end, Jean had me collect her all the way back to half steps, and once Silly showed off her half steps, Jean had me set up a few baby passage steps. Silly was pretty tired by that time (event folks don’t seem to believe in breaks), but she came up with a couple steps for me.  Gotta love this mare’s heart. 

Again the true test of a clinic is in the next ride, and I was a bit worried as Silly was really whipped at the end of her lesson. But on her next schooling session, she was awesome--really swinging and uphill from the first steps. By the following Tuesday I could see a difference in her topline muscles, and feel more suspension in her trot and canter. 

The other horses in my barn have also benefited from my three-lesson reminder-course in ‘ride better.’  Secret has been going like a rock star. Rocky, who I develop with his owner and only sit on once or twice a week, is more accepting of my seat. Flash has made huge strides this winter, as has her owner, and the last two weeks have just been icing on the cake. 

Looking at all three lessons as a whole, the recurring theme of clear, quick corrections followed by riding the harmony, is not a new idea for me. I teach it almost daily. Working on my own, it’s easy for my type-A controlling dressage personality to take over and want to fiddle along, under the guise of “light corrections,” instead of making a clear correction and trusting that correction to work.  When I ride this way, my eclectic collection of mounts each begin to happily show me their best gaits, regardless of their bloodlines or conformation.  That’s what it is all about.     

Now the challenge, to make it happen in front of a judge in May.  

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