One of the nice things about a blog, in theory, is that it gives you the chance to let history repeat itself in a positive way. I’ve often looked back over previous entries when looking for the solution to something – and bam, there it is. I already tried it three years ago and it worked or didn’t work. Sometimes my memory is just that bad or that hazy.
With that in mind: Sunday’s ride.
I started him off in Back on Track hock boots while I re-clipped his neck and chest, which was an epic failure because it turns out $30 clippers with their original, never-sharpened blades probably need refreshing after a few years. So, yeah. But still, he spent maybe 20 minutes in the boots while I attempted to hack away at him.
I started with some crossover exercises in hand, doing a full circle in each direction asking him to step over in his hind end. We then did about 10 minutes of walk warmup still wearing the hock boots, and I took them off, and did maybe another 5 minutes. I picked up a trot and let him canter for a bit with me out of the saddle, then did some really straightforward, nothing-special trot work focusing mostly on getting him straight and not flinging his shoulders around, and going deep into the corners.
I had thrown down a pole on the long side, and we worked on going over that in stride and not getting super-excited about it and rushing it just because it might someday be part of a jump, Tristan. I worked this intermittently into our trot work, nothing really focused or planned. Then I picked up a right canter and worked on a 20m circle until I got a good clear in-stride canter over the pole. This took a few minutes as he kept dropping to the trot, either just before the pole or just for the split second over the pole.
Then we went back to the walk because it was 40 degrees and a little over-warm, and I thought about how hard it had been for him to canter over that pole. And here’s the part of the ride that really worked.
In that walk cooldown, I thought hard about exercises that would engage his hind end. We stopped on the long side and did a turn on the haunches in both directions, a couple of times. We worked on stepping back under saddle, counting steps. This is something he typically has trouble with, for whatever reason.
[Sidebar: I once had a dressage lesson in which a solid 30 minutes of it was the trainer trying to get me to back solely through my seat, not touching the reins, not using the leg. Yes, it was as incredibly fucking excruciating as it sounds, no, we never actually managed it, yes, that was one of my signs that it was time to move on from that trainer. Oh, and yes, there was talk of “opening chakras.” Oh, 23 year old me, you were so trusting.]
Anyway: loading the hind end. We also went deep into corners, then straightened on the short side, then straightened again. We stopped at the pole and sidepassed down it, in both directions.
None of this was pretty, let me be clear. It involved a lot of missteps and frustrating moments, but it got better and better after only about 10 minutes.
Then I picked up a trot, and holy shit, Tris had no idea what to do with his hind legs. They were all of a sudden THERE, and they were pushing him UP through his withers, and I could practically see small fireworks going off in his brain. He didn’t want to go all that forward, because he clearly couldn’t quite figure out what was going on in his body. It was awesome. It was, I’m sure, not the fanciest dressage trot ever, but wow, did it feel funky and awesome.
Then I asked for the left canter, and immediately it was a world of difference in quality than the right canter had been ten minutes before. Now: part of this is because right now his left canter is better than his right canter, in one of those plateau/side-swapping moments that just happens in training. But still, this was miles away beyond even that. He was sitting down, coming up through his withers, and fuck if it wasn’t actually collected. I felt like I had all of him under my seat and between my legs, and the reins were the light balancing point they needed to be.
We went forward over the pole, keeping that feel and that jump and yeah: nailed it. Perfectly in stride, perfect canter step over the pole. I kept him for two more strides after the pole and then dropped him to the walk and let him be done, praising him at the top of my lungs.
So: loading the hind end in the walk break. Self, remember that. It worked amazingly well.