Second lesson on Tuesday, and it went really, really well. I think the 30 minute spots are a perfect fit for us right now: I have him warmed up, we zero in on a few specific issues, and then I have homework.
Warmup was a bit rocky on Tuesday, as he was hopping about rather than go forward, so I stood up off his back and urged him into a canter for a few minutes, and focused on staying forward and straight rather than anything he was doing with his head.
When R. came up for the lesson, we started by testing the response to driving aid exercises we’d been drilling and she saw huge improvement. Not perfect, but already much sharper off the aids. So now that we had laid the forward-and-straight foundation back down, we added flexion back ion.
She talked about something I’d never really parsed for myself before. If the inside rein is responsible for flexion, then there are three types of inside rein that can help achieve that flexion. The first is an indirect rein – a subtle lift and shift of the inside rein more toward the outside rein, while brings your elbow back behind your shoulder. Second was direct rein, which is straight back. Third was open rein, bringing the rein away from the horse’s neck.
Indirect rein is more for collection, is more subtle, and is a lighter aid. Direct rein is, well, more direct, and in Tristan’s case in particular I have to be careful not to kill the motor when I use it. Open rein is more for greenies who are just learning to steer (and also for oh $h!t moments on XC, I should think…).
We worked on a 20m walk circle and re-established flexion. Tris settled in beautifully, thankfully showing R. that instead of the lazy lunatic who slams into walls as in our last lesson, he does have a dressage pony in them. Within a stride or two he flexed beautifully into the inside rein and filled up the outside rein. We’re not talking FEI collection, here, but he recognized and executed the concept beautifully. We repeated at the trot, and worked through a rough patch tracking left – he is hollow to the left and over-eager to fling his shoulders to the outside. So we applied a few strides of counterbend, release, inside bend, release, counterbend, release, and he worked through it nicely.
Then we worked on layering in a half-halt for more collection into that outside rein, once he’d filled it up. R. doesn’t like to use the term half-halt when teaching because she feels it places too much emphasis on the “halt” – it’s more of a half-go, or as she calls it a connecting aid. I’ve always thought of a half-halt as that guy in the old phone commercials – “Can you hear me now? Good!”
So we broke the half-halt down into its component parts: forward energy, inside flexion, outside rein, and release. In the perfect, imperceptible half-halt these all happen practically simultaneously. I’ve never been that coordinated and in the past my half-halts have been an approximation of this but I’d like to take this opportunity to really nail them. So then we worked half-halts on the 20m circle at the trot.
One of the most useful concepts R. gave me while we were working the half-halts was about recycling energy. That’s essentially what a half-halt does: if you feel like your energy/collection level is at, say, a 2, then your next half-halt should be at a 2.5, and think about loading the hind legs, increasing the collection, etc., up to that 2.5. Then go for a 3 on your next half-halt. The idea being you’re always asking for a bit more with each half-halt and that you aren’t “leaking”” energy in between (or at least hopefully not). I am thinking of them a bit like a catalyst, too – you’re checking in, you’re putting a finger on the connection, and when you’re asking for more dressage collection you use it to recharge the battery, but if you use a half-halt out on XC or in the jump ring, you’re asking for a re-orient – “here, the jump is here, let’s touch base, let’s re-form ourselves to tackle what’s next.”
Tris was a bit tired even after that short lesson, as he used his back and hind end waaaaay more than he has. Our prescription is 10-15 minutes of this work a day for the next stretch and then we’ll check in again and take the next step. We’ll also make sure we get plenty of road hacks in there, too. 🙂