Welcome to 2015!
I have been forgetting to share a recent development in our riding journey. Recently, I've had the opportunity to ride an FEI-level (Intermediare) horse at our barn, Navello. I've had 2 lessons (one of which was 2 weeks ago, the other was today).
Navello is a really cool horse- very smart, but very kind and forgiving with a lot of skills. He's got fun gaits too- his trot is so much more lofty than Louie's, but his canter, is just rocking and nice! Both of our rides were similar, but it seems to me as though the first was better- he was more responsive and perhaps I was just riding better a couple weeks ago. Anyhow, we've been working mostly on transitions- halt-trot-halt, and some walk-canter-walk transitions, with a few rein backs mixed in.
Some interesting things that I'm learning in riding him are that I have difficulty using my seat bones or really sitting down because I want to ride in my knees too much. We worked on a little bit of no stirrups, really focusing on using the lower abdomen to lift the knees up and keep my seat bones engaged. Doing this we were actually able to get some really nice upward transitions. The downward transitions were a challenge all together on Navello (actually, they've historically been a challenge on Louie too, but not as much), but they seemed harder without stirrups. It seems as though I must be changing my position once I get into the gait- probably letting my core relax and losing my tuck under, which then puts me in a position to not be able to use the seat bones to get the transition to be felt. So I really felt that my lower abdomen and my upper-mid thighs (the part in contact with the saddle) got a good work out by the end of the ride.
I think Navello also taught me that I need to just be more confident, more demanding, and use my whip(s) instead of just carrying a whip for decoration. Today there were MANY moments where our transitions were not as prompt or quality as we know he is capable of doing. This seems like it was better 2 weeks ago, so it may be a function of having other riders on him or maybe being stiff from work, but after a little "wake up" I started to ride much more confident and just insist that he do things promptly and correctly. It was also nice because he's helping teach me that it's okay to use the whip, and not to be afraid of the consequences if I use it. With Louie, if I accidentally tap hip with the whip, he is so sensitive he jumps, or often kicks out or bucks at it, so I think he just needs desensitization. The point is not to use it for discipline, but as an extension of my aids to be able to reach behind my leg and communicate what I want. Louie clearly doesn't see it this way, I think because he's just got me trained so well not to use it because of his reactions. He just needs to get over it.
Now today, after the lesson on Navello, I rode Louie. When I first got on, I did a great job at keeping him straight (I could really feel if he was swinging his haunches out or drifting, or just not going exactly where I wanted him to) and also I got his hind end engaged right from the beginning. It was amazing how much I could feel a difference if I just tucked my seat under a bit and just lightly set the whips (I used 2 on him today for the first time- which is actually great because I can catch his evasions to the side more easily) on him, he tucked his hind end and the whole feel of the gait changed. We worked on a little bit of no stirrups at the end too, which, surprisingly, was great. His trot is much easier to sit without stirrups than Navello's, and his canter has gotten so much better that as long as he's using his hind legs, that is a breeze without stirrups too! That's my homework, so it shall continue! However, I noticed, on both Navello and Louie, that the downward transitions for some reason are harder without stirrups. Though I think the reason is loss of core as I eluded to earlier.
Louie and I worked on transitions for the past 3 rides, and while they've become quite prompt, and amazingly, we've had some wonderful downward transitions (canter to halt in almost not steps)- which tells me he must have his hind end engaged in order to do it- this has come at the price of loss of relaxation, harmony, and connection on the reins. He just gets really snarled up quickly, even if I don't use any hand- which I worked really hard not to! So then I have to go back to lateral work and posting trot to get him to relax, and we lose some of the promptness. So thus, our everlasting challenge- trying to get him round and hind end engaged while relaxing and stretching the neck out and into the contact. Clearly Louie is a very smart horse, but I think this balance might just be beyond me as I can never really manage to get exactly what we're looking for and keep it for more than a couple seconds. Perhaps Julie can, but I truly think it's just not quite clicking in my head to have the insight to recognize which problem is occurring at the moment and then the knowledge for how to fix it- then the knowledge of how to fix the next evasion, which is likely to happen quite quickly. In short, Louie keeps me on my toes- and I think he might be faster than I am! Ugh, the challenge of horses. Well I've at least got a lot of good goals to work on for 2015!