Monday, January 16, 2017

1/16/17 Lesson Recap: The Story of the Errant Limbs

Today Casey and I had our first lesson in over a month. Going into the lesson, I had some ideas about what I wanted to get out of it. I wanted to get feedback on the progress we have made since our last lesson, I wanted to learn some new exercises that Casey & I could work on outside of our lessons, and I wanted my trainer to be critical of of us so that we could make improvements. I know some people who really can't handle any critical feedback when they ride, and my trainer is really good at dealing with those people. I think if anything, she struggles to give criticism and be blunt. However, when I directly ask her about things she is honest with me. So I went into my lesson prepared to be open to this criticism. 

Right before we started the lesson, I asked my trainer if we could work on leg yields and shoulder-in today, because Casey and I have gotten to the point that bending and collection are a part of our regular routine. We started by working with Casey in-hand on the ground, asking her to yield to thumb pressure. Basically the purpose of this was to see if she understood the concept at all. She seemed to get it, so I hoped on. We started with a relaxed, loose-rein walk for a few circles. Then I rode Casey a few feet away and parallel to the arena wall and asked her to leg-yield over to the wall while keeping the forward momentum. She kind of did this, but was leading with her shoulders and wasn't moving her haunches well so trainer asked us to come over to her to break the movement down even more for Casey. We stopped next to trainer and trainer held Casey's reins and asked me to leg-yield and as soon as Casey took a step with her back legs, stop and give her praise. Casey was able to do this, but as soon as trainer stopped holding her front end, Casey refused. Trainer then asked me to circle her at a walk and gradually spiral in, making a circle so small that Casey's front feet would barely move and her butt would swing around. Casey was able to do this, so we repeated it a few times. Overall Casey seems to be really bad at leg yielding, but if we break it into baby exercises like these she will figure out what I am asking and it will come easier to her. So I will keep working on this on our own! 

After working on leg yielding, I asked Casey for a trot. She was sluggish after all of that complicated yielding work and trainer told me to just ride her at where she was at. She gradually picked up pace and eventually resumed normal trotting. At this point in our joint training, Casey has got the trot down. She bends well at the trot, she can collect and extend her trot, and she keeps a consistent pace. Trainer turned her attention on me and my body position. She isolated her instruction for each particular part of my body, giving me a new thing to focus on every lap. The first lap she told me to keep my hands soft and apart. and barely use my reins (Casey handled this really well). This was easy for me. The next lap she told me to focus on bending my elbows with my movements so that my hands could remain still. This required some thought, but wasn't hard either. Next lap she told me to keep my shoulders back and my chin up while looking into the horizon. I got that easily. She then asked me to keep my feet further back, because I was pushing them too far forward. I could do that too. 

Then things got harder. 

Trainer asked me if I could feel my legs sliding on the leather. I told her yes and she told me, "well they shouldn't."  She told me that I had been posting from the balls of my feet, but really I should be posting from my thighs. So I trotted the next lap paying a lot of attention to keeping my legs tight and "stuck" to the saddle. This wasn't actually hard for me, it just required a lot of my attention. And then it got even harder. Trainer asked me to make my post as small as possible. This sucked. I could do it, but it required so much attention that in doing so, the rest of my body fell apart. I would finally get a small post and realize that my upper body has tensed and crumpled forward, or that my hands had suddenly decided to end up right next to each other. We did probably three laps of this and then got a walk break. This instruction was super helpful, because now I know what I will spend all of the time before my next lesson working on! 

After our walk break we trotted the other direction for a few laps and then trainer asked me to do a four-loop serpentine. Basically it involved crossing the arena multiple times and changing the bend in the turns. This was supposed to be a difficult exercise for Casey, because we haven't worked a lot at changing the bend back and forth, but she handled it like a champ! We only did this exercise twice, once each way and then ended it, because it was so easy for her. Go Casey!
Four-loop serpentine

This had been a lot of flatwork at this point and we were running short on lesson time, so for the canter we did nothing super fancy. We cantered each way alternating between cantering the whole arena, 20 meter circles, and 15 meter circles. Casey was really good, she gave me the most calm and collected left lead canter that I've probably ever gotten from her. Trainer had only positive things to say about our canter. She is super impressed with Casey and how well she is doing at collecting at the canter. Her feedback for me was to practice a sitting canter more, but told me that I will only be successful at this when Casey is collected in her canter. She told me to sit the canter when cantering the 15 and 20 meter circles, but when cantering the whole arena, since Casey opens her stride so much, I should just stay in my half-seat to keep her balanced.

After cantering it was time for jumping! We started by jumping a crossrail on the end and then doing a rollback to the other crossrail on that end. We did this each direction. Then we jumped the dark blue crossrail to the white vertical (2'3"), and the other outside line (which wasn't a spread yet). Trainer then bumped up all of the jumps to just under 2'9" and set up the spread and the oxer jumps. We started by just doing two lines at a time. First we did the dark blue to light blue, then white to dark blue. The second line was hogsback to pink (bending line), then light blue to the spread. This was an interesting ride, because I don't think Casey had ever jumped the spread before and she got all the way up to it, hesitated and looked at it, and then jumped it. My perception of it was that it was slow motion, I was sure she was going to stop and she deer-hopped it at the last minute, but the video footage shows she didn't actually slow down too much.

Arena jump set-up
Jumping the pink vertical
Jumping the light blue vertical

After doing some lines, we did a course. It was hogsback to light blue (bending line), white to dark blue (outside line coming home), oxer to white (bending line), and light blue to spread (other outside line coming home). It didn't ride terribly, the only major error was that after the first line Casey lost her canter so we had to circle to pick it back up again, but it didn't ride super well either. Trainer and I discussed it after, but basically Casey is not collecting herself while jumping lines and so she ends up just rushing to the jump and jumping over her shoulder. I try to help her out by half-halting, but she is unresponsive to it while on course. What ends up happening is that we are "discussing" what speed to be going and how collected to be right before jumps and so we get not the best approaches. Trainer wants to stick Casey in a running martingale to give me a little bit of extra leverage so that we can get Casey sitting back on her haunches more, which will set her up for more success as the jumps go up. 

Going home
Light blue jump
Pink jump

My trainer's feedback doesn't surprise me, this was all stuff I knew about Casey, but it was helpful to get advice on where to go from here. I know my horse is talented, but she is also very green and so it is really important to set her up for success, especially because we are getting to bigger jumps where mistakes are much more costly.

My overall take on this lesson was that it was super helpful, I now know tons of things that Casey & I can work on. What was really apparent in this lesson was how much progress we have made. We still have things to work on, but they are all entirely new things. It's like we graduated to a new level!

She gives me side-eye, but she loves me

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