Wandered over to Bluegate on Saturday (well, an hour’s wander!) to hire their gorgeous arena. It really is a treat to have a go on it, but the main reason for our visit was to get some nice, relaxed work from Saf away from her home environment. We’ve not been here since September last year but Saf felt at home at once. A little tense at first, but got down to work pretty quickly. Had a quick walk, trot and canter to warm up, concentrating on keeping Saf focused on me. It’s a very quiet place, but Saf used the horses being brought in as an excuse to have a gawp.
Once the tension settled, I felt I could get my leg on her a little more, without the feeling that she would wizz off. Got some lovely work towards the end where we had both lateral and topline flexion, but Saf would respond with the third evasion, namely speed. She insists that she can bend correctly and flex her neck at the same time, but she has to slow down, so I then have to ask for forwardness, which she responds to but shortens her topline, and so it goes on!
The thing is, we could do all this and really knuckle down and got the same kind of work we get at home, so absolutely over the moon with her today!
Sorry it’s been a bit quiet, just been mainly hacking so not much to report. Had a super session with Saf yesterday. It was very windy so she started off quite tense and fixed in her neck. Worked on 10m circles, so a 10m circle right, then straight away change to 10m circle left then continue up the arena. Seems to be working really well and does help Saf become a bit softer in her neck. By the time we’d done this a few times Saf was really soft, and suddenly seemed like she’d remembered what we’ve been working on the last few weeks.
Did a few walk, trot transitions making sure Saf was soft in her neck and listening before making the transition, she’s getting really good at this! Then did a few canter transitions making sure the trot was relaxed before asking. For some reason I seem to get a mental block with canter every year. It’s all going really well by the autumn, then we have the winter off and I just can’t seem to process what I am supposed to be doing. It’s not exactly Saf’s strongest pace either so between us and my self deprecation it all falls apart. I gave myself a stern pep talk today and am going to do a few 20m canter circles on each rein every session just to work through this mental block. Felt tonnes better today compared to Friday and managed to just relax into it a bit more.
So a great session, really pleased! All the ponies now happily installed in their summer quarters (we cheated, I know it’s not quite June yet!) This does mean that Saf needs to do twice as much work to keep her waistline in check! Penny is doing a grand job blending in, bonus points if you can spot her!
Been looking forward to another lesson with Max all week. Saf has been a sweetheart and worked really hard all week putting up with me experimenting with one thing or another. I really wanted to clarify in this lesson how my seat should be feeling in the saddle. I have gone from knowing very little about weight aids, to understanding (kind of) the feeling on sitting across the saddle, a feeling of being central. At the same time a ‘weight aid’ is not as simple as piling a load of weight onto my right seatbone to turn right, and vice versa for left. I cannot simply weight the desired seatbone and abandon the other one. My outside leg is now further behind the girth than I am used to, so that’s taking some thinking about. I can ask for inside flexion with the rein, but mustn’t be tempted to raise my hand and hold it there.
Excitingly, I am now at the stage where we can start getting a feel of lateral work. Max had me coordinating my legs, seat and rein aids and swapping from inside bend to shoulder-out (counter shoulder-in) on the left rein and shoulder-in and haunches in on the right rein. Non-horsey folk, I will try to explain these movements when I get a chance, but suffice to say they are effective suppling exercises designed to stretch out Saf’s contracted left side. I have to say that this part really was good fun, I’m itching to get back on board and have another play! Must be more aware of Saf’s posture though, and ensure she is standing straight and evenly before attempting to move off, plus watch out for her shoulders drifting left when on the right rein (that pesky right handedness!)
Had one of THOSE rides this morning. You know when you just feel so connected to your horse and it’s like they’re reading your mind. I concentrated really hard on what we did in my last lesson (first proper opportunity to do so). In walk, one handed or no rein contact, we just flowed from one circle to the next using just my weight. I know I’ve said it many times but Saf really is the best teacher I could wish for, she may as well be telling me in plain English what I’m doing right or wrong.
Did a little bit of trot work on large circles too, aiming to keep the weight aids going (but much harder in rising trot!) Saf now seems to find right rein easier, despite being a left bended horse. I suspect this may be to do with my right leg and hip being squashed up into the hip socket due to Saf’s barrel swinging to the right when doing a left circle. Plus I can hula hoop better to the right than to the left.
More in-hand at the weekend, I am learning about Saf’s centre of gravity and how to shift her weight back more onto her hindquarters. You can see me doing this at halt. The ultimate aim today is relaxation, which Saf is really getting the hang of. Head goes down to stretch the top line, which makes the horse relax anyway, then bending left and right at halt, then on the circle. Saf can get quite pushy with her hindquarters, so she’ll power along on her forehand getting more out of balance and ‘falling’ forwards. Today she was less pushy, so we could try to get a little weight back. This is very strange for her, something she’s never really had to do. The ultimate aim is to get the horse’s weight off the forehand (which is natural for the horse when grazing), and to move it further back so the hindquarters take more weight (which is far better for the horse when ridden).
Saf is now getting used to bending both sides in a nice full body bend – was really pleased with her when I saw the video. Her inside hindleg is starting to move under her centre of gravity, not 100% there yet but going the right way. The next thing will be to encourage her to shift her weight from her inside foreleg, to her outside hindleg.
After a 2 month competition break, we dragged the bog pony from her mud pit, brushed her off, gave her a haircut and hacked to Bluegate. I think Saf might have forgotten all about being a dressage pony, and we’d also hardly done any hacking, so she was a bit surprised when we arrived. A lot of tension from both horse and rider, but with Claire’s brilliant help in the warm up, we managed to calm down. Even though I felt calm myself, when we got to the long arena for the test, the tension came back in Saf.
She managed to keep it under wraps, it felt the best in ages, plus it was my beloved Prelim 17 test! I was enjoying the feeling of having time to think, and was confident about the next movement so could actually plan ahead – a first for me! We seem to have well and truly slain our ‘incorrect bend gremlin’. I was really pleased with both trot circles, and even enjoyed the canters, actually managing a single half halt during the canter to slow Saf (it worked – just need to work a few more in now!) Loved the final centre line and halt (got a lovely 7 for that).
I did have a bit of a ninja grip on the reins, before the bell rang and asked for a trot transition and Saf decided to sod off at high speed, so wasn’t too keen on giving too much rein after that. Things to work on: longer rein for next time and remember my elbows!
Finished with 61.53%, really pleased with that, so nice to claw our way into the 60’s. We’re going verrry slowly but it’s so nice to see a bit of progress. We’re now more consistently getting 6.5’s for our trot work and 6’s for our canter work, as opposed to 5’s and 5.5’s previously. Canter feels a million times more controllable now. Not entirely sure whether we’ll do any more this year, it really depends on how the weather goes, but if it is our last one this year, a really nice test to finish on.
Back to work for Saf this morning, we went through the usual arena excitement that happens when we haven’t ridden for a week (the fact that Saf was grazing in that very arena not 15 minutes earlier is neither here nor there!) Once we’d had a little canter to relieve any silliness we got some really nice work in walk on a 20m circle on a slightly longer rein (but not ‘free walk’ long) with me concentrating on keeping my elbows weighted and under control and keeping a close eye on what Saf’s shoulders are doing.
I’m also now focusing on the quality of the transitions (this is dead basic but something that never occurred to me until recently) so into trot and we managed to keep the soft, roundness without tensing up and had a lovely 20m circle trot, again without me creeping up the reins. A beautiful swinging, round, softly bent trot on each rein. So pleased, just wish I had a video camera running! I’m convinced that controlling the Saf’s shoulders is another one of these lightbulb moments, that never came on my radar before, but will unlock new doors. So exciting!