Tonight Louie and I happened to be in the right place at the right time, and had our first hunter "mini lesson!" This might have been my first actual lesson in something I was inexperienced in/rusty on, in quite a while. I feel like I'm learning to ride all over again, and I think my body is going to tell me that is the case over the next few days! Ouch!
One of the ladies at the barn is an experienced hunter/jumper rider and formerly worked as a riding instructor in this discipline. We've been talking a bit about my goals for Louie and today she gave us a short lesson with some suggestions and had us work on a few exercises to improve Louie's gait, my equitation, and our work as a hunter team.
When she first got there, we were just starting to warm up, had walked and trotted both ways, and had cantered to the left. We were just walking to the right when she walked in, and Louie was being an absolute stink- anticipating that I was going to ask for the canter and balking and moving to the middle of the ring. I really need a whip so I can reinforce my right leg that he has been ignoring. He was being a stinker, so I trotted him, then after he calmed down and forgot about the canter, I asked him and he took about a half a stride on the left lead, and kicked the wall. Grrrr. . . We tried one more time and he just trotted and showed me he was NOT happy, so we just continued on at a trot. He trotted like a bat out of hell- I mean FAST for several laps! I think we might have been able to beat some of those Standardbreds on the track tonight.
So right in the nick of time, Mary chimed in and had us work on a few exercises- 2 point for, I swear, 10 hours! No, it was about 10 minutes, but it's gonna hurt tomorrow! During my 2 point session, we trotted a bunch of big figure 8's while Louie chilled out, and she gave me little pointers on keeping my calves on Louie's sides, using my inside leg to connect to my outside rein around corners, and using my legs to get some more impulsion from his hind end. She said she really noticed a lot of improvement in his gait after a few minutes of this, and all through the lesson she didn't think he looked unsound at all.
After my legs were starting to get tired, apparently so was Louie, and he settled down into a more relaxed pace trot. We did a few spiral in-spiral outs and this was a really great exercise for Louie. We did a few long-way figure 8's, then she set out a few ground poles for us, which we did a posting trot over. One of the things that I learned that was really interesting and makes a lot of sense was that when first going over ground poles, don't try to set them perfectly- vary the distance between them so that Louie has to figure out how to approach, change his speed, and place his legs by himself. And don't mess with his mouth while he's doing it, just hang on for the ride and let him figure it out. This makes a lot of sense and as she varied the pole configuration each time, I could really see Louie thinking, watching, and planning his approach and thinking his way through the obstacles.
At the end, she set up a single caveletti, about 8 inches high in all and we trotted over that a few times in 2 point again. The first time he stumbled through it, but by the third time, he was arranging his feet well enough to get over cleanly. He didn't really jump the caveletti, more kindof trotted/half leaped over it. Mary said I should work him over some poles and similar small obstacles on a lunge line so that he can learn to approach it himself and set himself up, with the goal being that he coordinates his legs so that at least the front legs are both going over it together, not one leg at a time like he is currently doing. One other important thing that I learned tonight was about the function of the pole at the base of the jump and how it is very important for a horse's depth perception that there be a pole on the ground on the approach side of the jump, so they can judge the height of the obstacle- good to know the rationale behind that.
By the end of the lesson, I felt like I was carrying Louie around the ring. He was TIRED! That was a hard workout for him, and he got a little steamy, but I can tell with some regular work on these exercises, Louie will be a much stronger, more balanced and more impulsive horse. I really enjoyed my lesson with Mary and I am looking forward to working with her more! It has been so long since I've taken lessons where I've actually had to learn something and work hard, I really miss that! It's fun!