Saturday, February 10, 2018

Counterbending, Calmness, and Collecting the Canter

Guess what the family did today! We all traipsed to the barn for my jump lesson on Casey. That's right, all of us. I managed to get my very reluctant horse-hubby to come out as well so that I could finally get some decent jump photos. It may, or may not, have required a lot of pleading, begging, and whining, but it was worth it :)
Yep, worth the begging for these photos
This was our first lesson since getting hocks injected (although I have ridden her on my own in the past week) and I was super excited. Additionally, the weather was nice and the outdoor arena had been freshly dragged with perfect footing. Riding Casey in the outdoor arena is sometimes (as in, most of the time) like signing a death wish, but it was so pretty outside that I decided to take the gamble.
Dogs + Outdoor Arena + Casey = Zea is likely to die
We arrived at the barn half an hour early so that I had plenty of time to groom and tack up Casey (there is nothing worse in my mind than having to rush to get ready at the barn). Once she was pristine, we headed out to the outdoor arena. Immediately there were some potential threats to our ride. All of the dogs decided to be under the pavilion right next to the arena - Casey hates the dogs. Also another boarder was working with her gelding in the outdoor arena as well - Casey hates the gelding. (Casey may or may not hate most things...) When I hopped on, I could tell that Casey was very anxious about these threats. She was giving me a very short-strided walk and was giraffing her head all over the place. 
Casey trying to be good and not worry about the dogs
Trainer had us start with getting a nice bending walk on a circle. We started with just a free walk and then moved into a collected walk when it became apparent that Casey needed a mental distraction. At this point I was second-guessing the decision to ride outside because she was so nervous. She kept breaking into a trot, flinging her head around, and doing all sorts of anxious behaviors. Anytime a dog would move or the gelding would come down to our end of the arena she'd start to have a mini-melt-down. Trainer had us move into some collected, bending trot work on a circle to try to get Casey back on track. And it worked!
We worked for quite a bit at the trot. Casey was in a much better head space after we started trotting the circle, but she was being a bit resistant to truly bending. Trainer had us work at counter-bending for half of the circle and then bending for the other half. We did this a few times and it really seemed to loosen up Casey's neck and she did a lot better after that.
I really don't think of Casey as being a big horse, or as myself as being a small human... and then I see that in photos my leg does not take up her whole side and I rethink my position
Trainer also observed that I am using a lot more inside leg to push Casey's haunches over than I should have to use. When bending on a circle, Casey thinks that the correct answer is to over-bend with her neck, but she ignores her booty. Trainer had me work on using my outside rein to encourage Casey's neck to stay a bit more straight rather than resorting to my leg. It worked surprisingly well and by the end we were getting a much more true bend.
Too much inside leg. This is going to be a sucky habit to break.
Once the trotting sets were done, we moved on to cantering. Since getting her hocks injected I've noticed that Casey is much stronger at the canter, but being in the outdoor arena really was magical today. I think it was a combination of the footing being perfect & Casey being a bit on-edge (thanks dogs for barking as soon as we pass you on the rail...), but she was absolutely floating. She was really pushing from behind and allowing her front end to free up. There were a few moments where she tried to grab the bit and take off with me, but suck it mare, I'm too smart for you!
Casey trying to take off. She failed. BWAHAHA!!!
At the canter, Trainer emphasized lots of half-halts while also keeping the bend. This concept was hard for both Casey and I to entirely grasp, but after a few laps we seemed to be getting the hang of it. Since Casey's canter is definitely her weakest gait, it's been a bit of a struggle for me to figure out how to best support her. I don't want to use too much hand, because her tendency is to try to lean on my hands already, but if left to her own devices, Casey will just flat-out run. I've obviously used both half-halts and bending at the canter with her, but haven't successfully used them together until today.
So light, so pretty
And finally we move on to the best part... the jumping! We haven't done a ton of jumping for the past couple of weeks, because Casey's hocks needed injected, so we were both excited! We're still just on tiny little crossrails, so Trainer had us start with just a single jump. The goal was to calmly jump and then turn before the second jump. The first time through Casey thought it was entirely appropriate to blow through the reins and take off a stride away from the jump. That of course got us busted by Trainer. We then spent a bit of time practicing halting before the jump... After that little bit of schooling, Casey jumped the jump very nicely and calmly.
And we're jumping!
Obviously Casey is very excited to be jumping. Look at that focused little face!
Once Casey was handling the first jump well, we moved on to jumping the whole line. And OMG Casey was so good! The canter in-between the jumps was so light and collected. Since she was so collected the distances were coming up perfectly and she was jumping really round. We went through the line just a few times and since Casey was being so good, we let her end on that good note.
Will I ever learn to stop jumping ahead? Probably not...
Now that I've felt just how light Casey can get while jumping a line, that's what I'm going to continue to work towards. I want us to get more consistent in that calmness and lightness. My goal is that we should theoretically be able to enter a hunter class and not entirely embarrass ourselves. And yes, I really want to show jumpers, but let's be honest here. Going fast is not hard for Casey, but slowing down most definitely is, so that is what we should aim to work towards.
Pretty mare
At the end of the lesson, Trainer encouraged me to work on those same things over the next week in preparation for next week's lesson. She told me that she thought I could probably jump Casey a few days over the week, potentially even a few jumps each ride. She said that since these jumps are so low, it really won't overstrain Casey's leg. I don't think I'll jump Casey every ride, because I don't want her to think that's our new game plan (that seems like a sure-fire way to cause rebellion when I insist on a flat-only ride), but I probably will jump during at least two of our rides this upcoming week. I'd really like us to be able to jump things slightly bigger than crossrails, so building Casey's stamina will help with that.
My furbabies
Overall it was a good lesson. We came away from it with plenty of exercises to work on over the next week and I really can't complain about Casey's behavior. I shouldn't have second-guessed her... She was perfect!
She's too perfect <3

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