Our lesson tonight started with continued work on shoulder in, which, it turns out, needs more bend than I was using. According to Julie, if I have his body too straight, then he's leg yielding, so I need to keep a nice bend to the inside while asking for the shoulders to come in a few inches from the rail. We started to really do well with this, once I understood the concept of keeping a bend. During the shoulder in maneuver, I need to continue to sit to the inside, use an inside leg at the girth (inside leg should be ahead of outside leg at all times to be correct), a little wiggle to make sure my outside leg is still there and giving some forward encouragement and catching him if the hindquarters shift too far out, placed back behind the girth. My inside hand needs to be off of the neck and toward the inside, just wiggling and releasing on occasion to keep a nice bend with very little contact on the inside rein, and the outside hand with light contact, releasing gently once in a while to ask Louie to stretch his neck down deeper, and giving (the important part!) when he does reach down to it.
Then after Julie was satisfied with our shoulder in (which wasn't new to us thanks to our lessons last winter with Marlene), she had us trot over a few cavelleti (which was SO much better than the first few times we did them!), then learn something completely new- Renvers.
So renvers is haunches out. It is very similar to shoulder in, except the bend is opposite. Well if we have shoulder in down pretty well, renvers should be no big deal then, right? Wrong! The hard thing about renvers (besides the fact that it is nearly impossible to keep correct in my brain!) is that the horse has to be really, really responsive to the legs. It's a true test to find out if your horse moves away from your legs well, as unlike shoulder in, it takes a LOT of inside leg to keep both the haunches and the head out. Think of a parachute or a gently curved semi-circle. It is a lot easier for that semi-circle to travel in the convex direction, with the center of that line leading and the two ends of the semi-circle trailing behind. This is like shoulder in. You push the middle of the horse sideways and the head and tail follow. Renvers means pushing that semi-circle in the opposite direction, in the concave direction, which, to a parachute creates a lot of resistance, and hence slows it down. So we have to push two ends of the arc forward instead of just pushing the middle and having the rest follow. So naturally it is challenging, and it's a bit unnatural!
This is a view from above of a horse in renvers. You can see the rail at the bottom left of the photo.
We worked on this mostly at the trot. Julie loves renvers because it forces a horse to use both of their hind legs, rather than just the inside leg. Well, Louie doesn't love to work, so he resisted, but eventually we had some decently okay looking renvers on a 20 m circle in posting trot. For the renvers movement, my weight needs to be to the outside, my legs need to switch (inside leg back, outside leg forward), and both of my hands need to come somewhat to the inside. You use a TON of inside leg (but intermittent, with help from the whip or you'll be a hurting unit) to keep those haunches out, but some outside leg at the girth to keep the bend to the outside and to help control the direction of travel. Then the outside rein has to work fairly hard here to ask for the bend, as it's not natural for what we've taught the horse nor ourselves 'til now, and the inside (inside of the circle) rein needs contact to receive the horse's movement from the outside leg and not let the horse drift out of the circle.
Well, it wasn't pretty but we got a little bit of decent renvers, and then we used it as a set up for the canter depart. Julie had me doing a sitting or posting trot in renvers, then switch my bend (and my legs) and ask for the canter with little to no leg. My inside seat bone sliding forward (with my legs already in position with the outside leg back) should be the cue for the canter. After three or four tries, we couldn't pick up the right lead (well, think about this, three months ago, I had to use spurs, seat, lean forward, and kiss in order to get it, now we can do it with just a little leg and seat, but we'll have to shake up the coke bottle a bit more so he is more sensitive to just the inside seat bone sliding forward with the legs in the position of canter (outside leg back, inside leg at the girth). So that is our homework for the week.
I figure we'll do a lot of work on renvers and probably also on our trot-canter transitions in the next ride or two that we get in before our next lesson. I'm hopeful that it will get easier! Hopefully we'll get more than one ride in with Christmas this weekend!