40 mph winds always make for an interesting horse experience. Tonight during my lesson there was an added element of horse conflict happening right outside the arena door. Louie was riding along pretty nicely, warming up and doing well when all of a sudden a horse started squealing and kicking (from what I could hear) in the neighboring paddock, and Louie got a little bit upset/excited over it. I tried to continue asking him to relax and stretch on his nice 20 meter circle, but the stars aligned (too little work, cold windy day, plus horse conflict event) and Louie set off in bronco style. He only did one little jump/buck thing, but succeeded in un-seating me, though luckily I stayed on. Needless to say he was a little fresh and we spent a lot of the lesson getting him to pay attention to me and not the ongoings of the weather and scenery. Everyone could see the Saddlebred come out of him today!
The first thing we worked on was a lot of bending. Over-bending for a while, to get him to listen and work harder- it worked. Then we worked on some 10 meter walk figure 8's. I tend to use a neck rein in addition to my direct/leading rein, which is a really bad habit, so Julie had me plant my inside hand on my knee, and when leaving the circle to change directions, have two inside hands (2 hands wide and on the knees) for a stride or two until I change the bend start the second circle of the figure-8. After a few times this clicked. And, don't forget to shift the entire seat to the inside!
We carried the exaggerated inside bend along the straight away, and transitioned it into a shoulder in. We worked on this at the trot and it was probably the first time Louie had really done shoulder in at the trot. It wasn't beautiful, but using my whip really helped. Also she pointed out that I'm not to post side to side, but always up/down/front/back.
Then we worked on a drill, in which we walk along one of the long walls, then half halt (stop with my seat) and if Louie doesn't stop, I turn him into the wall. Then I ask for a turn on the forehand, 180 degrees, and continue on walking. We then transitioned this into a leg yield along the wall, haunches in. I believe we only did this at the walk, but I could be wrong. I'm pretty sure Louie thought I was asking him to canter when I asked him to shift his haunches. This will be something we'll have to keep straight.
We then worked on shifting the haunches out on a 20 meter trot circle. Shift the haunches out, then once he's moving away nicely sideways, let him relax and stretch down. He was pretty sure he was supposed to be cantering with this drill too. And the whip came in handy with this exercise as well.
As you can imagine, there were several times during our lesson today in which Louie, being excited but restricted, resorted to his usual Saddlebred neck curl. We actually found several ways to get him out of it. If he is going slow, speed up and ask for more bend. If he is going fast, slow the gait down (slow down our posting) and much to my surprise, I was met with an improvement in contact after a short time. This is part of our homework, to work on encouraging contact and always asking him to relax his neck deeper and lower, before he even anticipates to raise up. We've had pretty good luck thus far getting him to lower his neck by bending him, applying a little leg (calves), and gently wiggling my inside rein, softening/lengthening the outside arm as he reaches down for the bit, to "give" a little, all while encouraging him to "fill up the bridle" by pushing him from the back and catching him with my hands. By the way, a little side note, and that is that I only get to use my hands if I use my legs, to catch him or control his rate/bend if needed.
Finally we actually did work on the canter, and she wanted us to work on keeping that same fullness in the bridle (contact). Julie wanted us to slow our canter down and choose whether I was going to sit or two point, as I was "posting" in the canter (haha!). Louie was going a bit fast, which can be hard to sit, so I was doing sort of a half seat. Julie said, "we all know he can canter slower than that!," but of course being lazy, he broke into a trot when I asked him to slow down. Eventually we got a very nice relaxed canter in two point. She said I'm to work on the same way of getting him to relax his neck down in the canter as I do in the trot. I did notice him doing a little bit more relaxing than he usually does in the canter, probably because by this time, he was pooped!
One last little note, is that we've struggled a bit with the downward transition from canter to trot, probably because my seat contact is limited in the canter. But, basically the transition aids should be adding both calves (lightly, and progressively, as it's not intuitive and isn't going to be natural at first until we master it at the slower gaits first), and moving the outside hip bone forward and holding both hip bones forward. Naturally in the canter, the inside hip bone sits more forward, so stilling the seat (lower abs!) and bringing the seat straight is essentially the cue.
Our homework is to basically to work on most of the stuff that we worked on today, especially getting him to seek contact, and encouraging him to lower his neck. Julie did comment that my feet looked a lot better (I pretended like I was riding without stirrups, and my knees more flexed), and she hardly picked on my legs at all today. So, our 5-10 minutes of no stirrup work that we did on Monday probably paid off.
For the second time this week I had to walk Louie in a cooler for 10-20 minutes and use the hair dryer on Louie to cool him out and dry all his wet sweaty fur. He doesn't mind the blow dryer, in fact I think he loves it. So relaxing and warm. :) But, we might have to think about a trace clip if we continue to work up a sweat!