One of the things that annoys me personally about writing about riding is that it all sounds the same after a while, no matter what level you are.
“He continues to improve in the connection, and I’m just really impressed with the way he’s been seeking out the bit.”
Said by a four-star eventer or me after my ride on Friday night?
I made a change in our warmup that would have been catastrophic six months ago but paid off big time. It was based on something the barn manager said to me during our last lesson: that he’s at the point now where I should be able to set a steady contact and expect him to live up to that. In fact, doing so is crucial to teaching him that the contact is a solid and safe and reliable place to be.
So that’s what I did in our warmup. After a few laps on a totally loose rein but marching forward, I picked up the reins far, far earlier than I would have in our usual warmup. I’m not talking full collection rein length – but solid feel of his mouth. When I had that, I focused solely on keeping my hands steady and keeping him forward.
I know, it’s not exactly rocket science. But going back to the absolute basics was terrific and gave me some really interesting feedback. For one thing, he tolerated it far better than I was worried about. For another, any variations in the contact came from him as he experimented. Sometimes he was incredibly heavy. Sometimes he suppled into it a bit more.
Once it was clear that he could keep hustling and still be in this simple contact, I did start to add some very small modifications: I asked for some bend (not a ton) and worked a bit on the feedback I’d gotten from the ride a test: try and capture the feeling of that great stretchy trot in the regular trot. I made minute adjustments to my posture and my sense of give in the reins to promote that idea of stretch, and it worked pretty well! Not a miracle but definitely a good tool to add.
Another small interesting thing was that truly and completely refusing to change the question – forward, into medium contact – meant there was far less flailing into the canter when I asked for forward in the trot. His usually MO is to flip his head around and fling himself into a few strides of canter rather than actually step forward in the trot. On Friday, he discovered pretty quickly that that was VERY HARD in the canter before he’d warmed up. I just let him run himself into that wall and did not change the question.
I’m excited to see what this step up brings us going forward!