I had a lesson this week that was a little different progress than what we've been working on lately. The weather took a major turn in the past week, from nice fall days in the 50's to 20's and snow. Needless to say, Louie has been a bit "disconnected" in return.
We started our lesson working on the walk as usual, with a discussion about how much the horse's head should move in the walk. Julie's opinion is that if the horse is working the hind end, the head should not move significantly so that you need to give with the hands to follow the horse's mouth. Since I've alwyas followed the horse's mouth with my hands in the walk, this is a challenge for me, but to Julie, the problem was simply that Louie's hind end was trailing, not driving. So to correct this, we assumed "Ninja Turtle" posture- creating angles in my body to create a similar angle in Louie's body. So a Ninja Turtle is basically a curled back (shell) with knees and hips flexed to almost 90 degrees and arms straight out front from the shoulders. In addition, during this, you lay your whip and slow the horse down. When the hind end comes up under the horse, you can assume normal riding position.
With this, we worked on the walk, then into the trot- we worked on the transition. While Julie kept saying, "don't let him piaffe!" I really don't know how to not let him do it, lol! The answer is go a little more sideways. Though, on a side note- she really liked his piaffe and suggested maybe he ought to work more on it! But the basic goal is to have him engaged in the hind end in the walk so that he can basically piaffe into the trot. Now this is a tricky balance since he tends to teeter totter between over-relaxed (heavy on the forehand, good reach with the neck, sluggish, and no transitions) and over excited (often over-collected, sometimes no contact, antsy, practically rearing, but engaged!) So I probably have to use the Ninja Turtle briefly just for a transition to avoid excessive frustration.
We also worked a lot on trotting and half halts, and using the wall as an aid when the half halt doesn't go through. Now this is kind of nice for teaching it, but it's not my favorite exercise as I don't always have a wall available when I need to half halt or stop without my hands. But I nearly always have 1 rein and space to turn on the forehand or go sideways. So, I can use any of the above methods to make my half halt go through. One note on that though, is that Julie doesn't want me to overdo the correction, so I don't always need a big turn on the forehand if Louie won't yield, just a little sideways may be an ample correction a lot of the time. Seems reasonable to me.
One of the biggest themes we worked on throughout the entire lesson was my hands- or basically lessening the use of them. They need to always be pushing forward into the neck, and rarely pulling back- and when they do need to pull back for something, just do it briefly, then go right back to pushing forward into the neck. No cheating! Half halts, everything, should be hands free. So this, I think is really important, because I do tend to be very busy with my hands, not necessarily hard, but just frequent little pulls or wiggles to get Louie's attention or encourage him to stretch, or whatever. And while this might be fine to cover things up in the show ring, it does nothing beneficial for our training, so I'm always kind of temporizing a bigger problem by making it "look" like Louie is doing everything right. Sometimes he actually is, but sometimes I'm helping. The bigger problem with it is that all that backward motion with my hands translates to backward movement in the horse, and breaks the delicate connection that develops due to trust in my hands. So... I've got some homework to do!
My homework is lots of transitions, Ninja Turtle to get the hind end engaged, and then piaffe into the trot, and NO hand wiggling- plant them on the neck and push them forward!