Friday, April 20, 2018

"Shape the Clay, Don't Smash It"

After a month of no lessons due to figuring out Casey's back soreness issue, we have finally gotten to resume them! Yesterday was the first lesson back and we went into it not really knowing what we would be working on. I figured that it would be a flat-only lesson seeing as we just started her on the vitamin E supplements at the start of the week. We want her to be on those for at least a couple of weeks before jumping, although it's highly dependent on how she is feeling and moving.

Finally in a lesson!

We opted to have our lesson in the outdoor arena because the weather was gorgeous. The downside of this though is that Casey is always a little bit worse in the outdoor arena. She gets overly excited sometimes and so is just a lot harder to contain and focus there versus the indoor arena. I was a bit worried about how it would go, but aside from some slight jigging at the walk when we started, Casey actually seemed very relaxed! This was a good thing because, as Trainer proclaimed at the start of the lesson, this ride would be about focusing on Casey staying relaxed throughout the entire ride.

A perfect weather kinda day

We started off our lesson with a stretchy walk. After a bit of a warm-up, Trainer immediately kicked our butts into gear. She asked us to get a nice, calm trot. Not only did we need to have a calm & slow trot, she also wanted Casey to be light as a butterfly on the bit and hold a bend. All of these things do not come easily to Miss Mare. She dislikes going slow, she loves to lean on the bit, and she tries to blow through her outside shoulder while bending. That being said, I lucked out in that Casey was in a very agreeable mood and so, while it did take effort on my part, I was able to get all of this out of her.

Calm? Check. Bending? Check. Light? Mostly check!

All of these things are bits and pieces that we've been working on in our independent, non-lesson rides, so it was a matter of putting all of the pieces in place. In order to get a calm & slow trot, I had to really focus on keeping my posting slow & even (and not use the reins to get her to slow, because then she'll lean on my hands). In order to get Casey to be light in the bridle, I had to play with the reins (slight wiggling) when I noticed that she was trying to lean on them. And in order to get a true bend, I had to give and release the inside rein, while also remembering to keep her bending around my inside leg, and supporting with my outside leg and rein to keep her from blowing through her shoulder. None of these things are complicated exactly. We've been working on all of this stuff for months and months. BUT Casey doesn't like to make any of this easy. The other thing is that I am working on becoming more refined and delicate in how I communicate with her. As I get more advanced in my riding, I am able to become more refined in my communication, but it's a learning process and is a hard thing to learn.

Why is riding so hard!

And so, that's what brings us to the article title. Trainer came up with a new saying to try to help me with the concept of lightness, which is "shape the clay (the horse), don't smash it." The goal of every ride should be to get the horse to be light and responsive, and in turn, the rider must also be light and responsive. The rider should be able to shape the horse into the movement that they want and then be able to step back and allow the horse to continue without support. Ideally, Casey will be able to carry the trot we were getting, with the bend, and the slow pace, and the lightness on the bit, with minimal help from me. Trainer had us work on this by having me give Casey all of the reins, see how long she would hold all of the aspects, and then resume normal riding when she fell out of the rhythm. Surprisingly enough, Casey figured this trick out relatively quickly. We went from only being able to get one or two good strides, to getting up the seven or eight by the end of the ride.

The "can she hold it" game

After doing all this good work at the trot, we decided to test out the canter. We wanted those same qualities that we had in the trot to show up in the canter; the lightness, the bend, and the calm & slow pace. We got really nice upward transitions from Casey and she stayed mostly calm & slow. There were puddles in one corner of the arena that she got a little bit strong through but for the most part, I was able to keep her at a reasonable pace. The lightness in the bridle and the bend were definitely harder for us. When we stayed on a twenty-meter circle, I was able to get a nice bend from Casey, and it was significantly easier to keep her light. As soon as we used the whole arena, she would start to try to pull. Trainer emphasized to me that I need to be soft in the hands so that Casey will be soft in the bridle, so I was working hard to keep her from leaning while at the same time staying soft. It's definitely a struggle because she kept trying to throw herself on my hands and then I would have to give-take-give to get her back off of them. We also spent some time working on downward transitions. Casey loves to just ka-plunk her way into the trot, so Trainer had me really exaggerate the bend in the transition, which resulted in a much nicer one.

Canter bend

Trainer and I opted to end our ride at the half-hour mark, rather than a full lesson. Casey had been so good throughout the whole lesson, and the things that we were asking her for was some complicated stuff. I definitely had a lot of good takeaways. I can feel that Casey and I have made so much progress in terms of how we communicate with each other and the type of movement that we can achieve. I was talking to one of my barn friends post-lesson and she observed that Casey has come such a long way from the giraffe-bulldozer hybrid movement that she had when I first started working with her. At this point, my horse is almost fancy! My homework for the next week is to continue to work on lightness and bend in my rides and I'm super excited for our next lesson!

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