How to up our trot game.
How to keep our trot game awesome in the shoulder-in.
How to get Cho back into self carriage (quickly) if she decides to brace her neck in transitions.
How all of this may not matter if it rains all week and the arena is under water for our test.
And, how I got there:
I had a lesson on Saturday. This time, I didn’t come with any requests (“WE NEED A MEDIUM TROT. NOW.”)
Trainer comes into the arena with 3 things: 2 whips. A pocket full of peppermints.
Oh, and she was wearing her running shoes.
And that means…piaffe and passage work! Cho and I haven’t done this with someone on the ground in a really long time. I think it’s fun to work on, because when you DO get a few steps it’s so rewarding! Also they are fancy and it makes you feel like you are way more dressage than you actually are.
I got a feel for sitting deeply and really asking her to come up into my seat. I also lost count of how many times she bucked.
Note: It’s really hard to keep your core engaged when you’re laughing. Cho’s bucks = still funny.
When she gave and seemed to get the routine, she got a peppermint. And then we’d do it again, but this time asking for more trot, and then coming back into super collection.
It was fun, and after I had a very soft and supple pony, who was very adjustable in the bridle. (THIS IS KEY).
Last week, the week before…she’s been kind of heavy in the bridle. And some rides it’s taken me a solid half an hour of riding to get her soft in the bridle and coming through, only to lose it as soon as I let her down/try to pick her back up.
This isn’t a new issue, or anything. It’s just Cho. It has gotten so much better in the past several months, though, that it was a little disheartening to have it crop up again. Especially right before a show.
Historically, Cho is a horse that once you have her, you don’t let her down. Say, at a show. Not as crucial in lessons, because it’s training, though still a little frustrating that you can’t just pick up where you left off BEFORE the free walk break.
This issue has largely gone away in the past few months, particularly since the clinic in February where we learned the halting, waiting, rein-back magic.
My goal for Monday’s ride was to figure out what kind of warm-up we’ll need for the show, as well as fixing this heaviness issue/how to make it not an issue in our test. I want a guarantee that if she tries to brace when we trot off, I can soften her out in a few strides. In a test, that’s what you get. You don’t have the opportunity of a volte or some lateral work to get them on the same page. And really, there is no reason we shouldn’t be able to do this. There is no reason that after a sufficient warmup Cho is not through. There is no reason we should have to go through an entire song and dance every time I want to pick the reins back up.
Basically I had to recognize that I was being much too passive as a rider, and I needed to be firm about my expectations.
So, we established self carriage in the beginning, and I held her to that through the ride.
That was step one.
Step two was upping our trot game. I’ve been so focused on canter work, establishing a medium trot, etc, that I didn’t give a thought to our base trot. “It’s there, it’s fine, we can do the things, collected trot is not of my concern.”
…Until we make that turn in the corner to shoulder-in. And she falls flat. Tempo? Lost. The trot is not only “meh” at that point, it’s a very obvious “meh.” It’s like she does a transition into “I can’t possibly do lateral work AND trot the same as before, so I will not only slow down but make it look like this is a massive struggle for me.”
Let’s go back to that “there is no reason…” thing again. There is no reason Cho can’t consistently have a good trot. So,
1) I need to swing my damn hips. Part of the problem is that they get super tight with riding, and I am a terribly yoga student. I should stretch more than just when I am in pain from not. Anyway, especially when I have to do anything in addition to trotting (like shoulder-in), I get into this weird habit of tensing and holding everything, which naturally blocks her back. So. We’re swinging, we’re swinging, and then shoulder-in turns into “do it do it do it shit what if she doesn’t do it” and Cho is like “ehhhh can’t move” and we get a lackluster, wading through molasses kind of shoulder-in.
2) I need to be consistently insistent. I have been working hard on this. Being an absolute stickler for head position/connection through transitions, especially upward. Set ground rules and keep them.
With these things in mind, I applied Saturday’s piaffe/passage work. Sit deep, and ask her to come up up up into my seat. Ask for MORE with my leg and ‘catch’ all of that with my reins and half-halts. She was more than happy to oblige – she gave me much more trot and didn’t try to poke her nose out or brace her neck, just let there be a soft connection and small half-halts to keep that energy supplying the impulsion.
I know, this is what every magazine article and illustration and trainer in the history of forever tells you to do. Activate the hind, but don’t let that energy go out the front or they’ll run, blahblahblah. I can’t tell you how much BETTER that whole concept works when a horse has decent self-carriage.
SO ON MONDAY, I rode the first part of the test (center line, medium trot, shoulder-in, halt, rein-back, walk work, first canter transition) and if I have that horse at a show, I am golden.
Last night we did more canter work and she is really starting to understand the adjustability aspect/listening to my seat. Her downward transitions are a little smoother.
I’m happy to report that BRINGING THE TROT GAME worked last night as well. Also, she has the whole waiting/listening thing down. Which I suppose is a large part of the goal of dressage. Since we generally only do mediums across the diagonal, it’d be fair if she anticipated. But instead she waits, lets me balance her that one stride off of the rail, and as soon as she’s straight and I tell her it’s ok, she is instantly there. That is pretty cool.
Hopefully the arena won’t be under water.
And hopefully we can ride the good stuff well enough to make up for the fact that no amount of work in the time we have is going to fix her tendency to ride haunches-in in the canter down the long side. (and whatever other little quirky things we have going on).