Friday, January 16, 2015
Once again this is an old post but I want to publish it anyway so I'll have it for later (periodically I read my old posts to motivate myself or just cringe over my past foolish mistakes). Last Wednesday I had a great lesson with Starbuck, we did a few low jumps and it just went really smoothly - her rhythm was good, I didn't have to nag too much at her and we arrived at each jump really well, without zigzagging, stalling or jumping from too close or too far away. And even though it was a nighttime lesson with the arena lights casting scary shadows, she didn't spook once. I gave her extra carrots and went home with a big smile on my face.
But that was nothing compared to last Thursday. Since I was the only person who showed up for the 7 p.m. lesson and I have the exercises from the last post to work on, I told Marina I was happy to ride on my own so she could have an early night but she told me she'd stay for at least a little while and give me a bit of coaching before I started working on my own. So since we had her full attention, she set me to working on inviting Starbuck to arch her neck downwards and lighten the rein contact at a walk. We've been working on this a little at a time at the walk for quite some time now and mostly she knows that when I squeeze the reins gently several times it means for her to lower her head. So we did that, on a fairly long rein (just short enough to have a constant light contact) and also focussed on keeping the hindquarters active by drawing my legs a little further back than usual and using the crop to tickle her (rubbing her against the direction her hair grows in for instance). And when I could consistently get her to do it, I worked on getting her to stay there for longer and longer. When she lightened the contact, I could really feel her back arching up beneath me and see the way the muscles in her crest swayed with each stride - it was an incredible feeling of lightness.
When I had several strides in a row at the walk, we did a few transitions into trot attempting to maintain the same low head carriage, flexed poll equalling soft contact and raised back through the transition. Needless to say it all fell apart. But we finally got one where she raised her head a little, then went right back into the correct position. We then did the same work in trot we had done in walk and let me tell you when we got a few steps in a row it felt amazing. It felt like riding on Pegasus or a springy magic carpet. After lots of changes of rein, a few rests where I let her put her head down on a loose rein and some more transitions to walk and back to trot when I "lost" the physical sensation I was going for, we had gone from no strides to two strides to nearly half of a 20 meter circle with her carrying her head and back in this position, lightening the contact. We felt like we were flying at times, and even though she was completely focussed and not at all spooky, far from having to nag at her to keep going I even had to slow my posting action from time to time to keep her from getting ahead of herself. Both Marina and I just kept saying "Wow!" and ooh-ing and aah-ing over how well she was working.
We finished up at a canter which is the gait which is hardest for her. I honestly didn't expect her to achieve this "mini-self carriage" at all but I asked for it anyway. The first try didn't go so well, and she bucked going into it. The second try she still bucked but wasn't quite so heavy on the reins as the first time. On the third try Marina told me to try to "visualize" the same feeling I had in my seat at the walk when she went "light-and-down". And it worked! Only for two canter strides, but it was such a good start and much better than I hoped for.
Since then I've been able to "recapture" the same feeling at times, not like that day but certainly more than before. And our lesson with Daniela on Saturday very obviously benefited from it - she mentioned how much we had progressed since the last lesson. I just need to remember to ask for it every day until it becomes a habit.