Thursday, December 1, 2011

Lesson 3: Shake the Coke Bottle

Tonight was our third lesson.  I got two nice rides in since our last lesson on Sunday, and it seemed to Julie as though they have paid off as Louie was doing great, much more forward, almost "round," and, surprise surprise- neck lower.  I got him to lower his neck with one simple thing- when he did it, I praised him like crazy.  He clearly feeds off of the positive reinforcement quite well.  I did use just a bit of light seasawing as I used to teach him to lower while wearing the Chambon this fall, but just one or two little wiggles on the rein and he seemed to relax. So once I started linking that with bending and praising, it seemed to stick- at least so far.

So tonight's lesson we started with some basic bending and riding straight exercises at the walk and trot.  I still am pushing with my seat, but I can't figure out how not to, as Louie pushes me, so I do my best not to resist.  Anyhow, it must have been somewhat better today as I didn't get yetlled at quite so much for it today. 

After some warm up, she sent us through a line of 8 cavaletti on the lowest positions (still about 6 inches off the ground) at a trot.  The first time through was somewhat of a disaster.  Louie rushed the first one, then spent the rest of the time trying to figure out his spacing and where to put his feet in a big hot mess.  I lost control and quit posting, just kindof bobbling along through the uncoordinated jumble.  The second time through was much better.  Julie had me focus on controlling our speed and posting the whole time.  By the third time, Louie went through with just about perfect stride, speed, and foot placement, but he still wasn't truly round.  We changed directions and this time did the same things, focusing on maintaining our speed and rhythm (not too fast), controlling my posting so I don't land on Louie's back like my couch, but this time trying to encourage Louie to go round as he went through them, encouraging him to drop his neck and use his core to hold his back up.  By the third time through the second way, Louie went through "almost round," which I thought was pretty awesome coming from how Julie felt his back was so hollow at our first lesson two weeks ago.  It felt like I must have been riding some big warmblood doing a nice passage- it felt good!  Julie really likes cavaletti because they help to balance a horse, as they have to work both sides equally.  Of course cavalleti also help to strengthen the legs and back (if done properly in a round form), and improve rhythm and judgement for the horse in placing their feet.

Next we worked a little bit on getting Louie to shift his haunches out on a circle.  Louie really had completely forgotten how to shift his hindquarters to the outside, so we needed to refresh the turn on the forehand lesson.  Part of my homework for this week is to work on the turn on the forehand in both directions.  The reason this is important is because when Louie tracks to the right, his "concave" side, he lets his left shoulder fall out too much, so she wants me to work on once in a while asking for haunches out to help keep the shoulder straight and re-define our "pie tin."  Since Louie did know how to do this at one point in the recent past, a quick refresher should be easy.  The one thing that is quite different between how Julie and Marlene teach is that Julie is okay with me moving my inside leg back, whereas Marlene would never let me move my inside leg back, which was my natural reaction, so, I guess back to what feels easy for me! 

The last thing we worked on was a tiny bit of canter work (I mean like half a circle) to the left.  Julie says that the key to a good canter transition in this exercise is a good walk to sitting trot transition a few strides before it.  So, we spent the majority of our time getting a good walk to trot transition- without begging or really using any leg.  The key is to shake up the Coke bottle (rev the engine!) then allow the transition to happen by just "thinking" it.  So, we worked on what I would interpret as half halts, to help re-balance and get the hind end ready to spring into action for what's ahead.  We worked on getting a forward, active (but not fast) walk, and half halt by asking for more go from the hind end with the legs and whip, but at the same time, saying "stay" with a very still seat (stop the saddle from moving) and a little bit of rein pressure if needed to stop forward movement.  When it feels like there is a lot of energy brewing and the bottle is about ready to explode, let him transition into a sitting trot, just by thinking of it and letting the seat slide forward a tiny bit into the trot.  After a few strides, with the inside leg quite forward, weight on the inside hip bone (literally feel the ischium pressing into the saddle) knee bent and heel light, and the outside leg way back (bent at the knee), ask for the canter. 

We had about half a 20 meter circle of nicely balanced canter that Julie liked before he kindof fell apart when I asked him to work harder.  We worked on pushing with the legs while using quite a bit of rein (hands low, wide, and very little following of his movement) to get him to essentially balance himself and be round in the canter. 

Overall it was a good lesson and I'm really glad to know that Julie thinks we've made some good progress!  I'm already looking forward to my next lesson!  My homework for this week:  work on the turn on the forehand and shifting the haunches out, and walk-trot transitions where I "shake the coke bottle" then ask for the trot without really cueing him with my legs.

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