I had another cruddy lesson this week. I ended up fighting with the pony I was riding, Scout, the entire time. (I've ridden Scout quite a bit, we do normally start the lesson with some "discussions" but generally we're a pretty good team.) It started when we were trotting past the far end of the ring and the horse in front of us spooked, so Scout spooked too. Then he spooked in that spot every single time we passed it. Add to that his counter-bending the whole dang way around the ring which continued into our fence work, and the end result was an incredibly frustrated me. I wanted to wring that pony's neck.
I was still pretty frustrated about it today so I went looking for some help. Jessica Jahiel to the rescue! Looking through her archives I found this page, which was just what I needed. Jessica gave the following advice to someone else with a similar problem:
"It's very important for you to be aware of your own body and your own aids. If you lean to the inside as you approach the scary corner, for instance, or if you collapse over your inside hip, your body is telling her to go to the inside of the arena, AWAY from that corner. If you pull her head to the outside to "make her go into the corner", she will bend her entire body AWAY from the corner, and be going left bent right, which isn't very useful. If you pull her head to the inside, she will fall over her inside shoulder, lose her rhythm and forward movement, and move away from the corner -- again, not useful. If you hold your breath as you get to the corner, your physical tension will make her tense and convince her that there IS something really bad in that corner. So you have a very active role in this, but it's more to do with YOU than with the horse: sit straight, post rhythmically, look out and ahead, and BREATHE deeply and steadily. If you do those things, and your mare is already in position (very slightly bent to the inside), you will be making it easy and comfortable for her to do what you want, and you will get through the corners without a hiccup.
Be ready to add a little leg if she starts to slow down -- but that is probably ALL you will need to do. If there's any hesitation or uneveness, just keep breathing and push ON. Don't reprimand her if she hesitates -- send her forward. Don't comfort her afterward -- she doesn't need it. It'll be easiest for you to do this at a trot, since her head position and your hands will be very steady, and you can regulate her rhythm by regulating your own posting.
Don't try to go into the corner by pulling her nose to the outside -- keep her IN POSITION, and send her forward into that corner, as if you were going STRAIGHT into the wall. Don't change your own position, her bend, or your posting rhythm, or your breathing (keep your breathing slow and deep and steady, in rhythm with her gait and your posting) and keep looking UP and OUT between her ears. When she is about to reach the new wall, look down the new wall and ride her through the turn without changing anything. Don't chat with her or comfort her -- just ride her through the turn and up the next wall in a steady rhythm, and then ride a circle halfway up the next wall. When you come back to the rail -- still in position left, still keeping the same rhythm -- come down the rail to your next wall and do the same thing. The circles on each side will prepare her for the bend through each corner -- you aren't going to ask for a sudden bend, all you want is for her to go where you send her and not change her position."
Basically I was doing everything wrong with Scout. When he kept spooking I got mad, and after I got mad I started riding off his face. It's like I forgot I had legs. He defended himself by counter-flexing all over the place, which further annoyed me so I pulled on his face some more. Add to that the fact that I stop breathing when horses act silly and what I got was a disaster.
Ugh, I hate when I ride like crap, but this is how we learn, right? Fortunately I CAN learn, and I was determined to be a better rider for Coriander today. After I mounted, I took up a light contact with his face, told my hands to "stay," and put my legs in charge. Success! Except for one time when he really, really wanted to turn the other way (because he wanted to go eat in the field), I kept him on track with just my legs. We had a ride I was proud of.
Lesson learned: My hands need to shut up already.
Now I just need to go apologize to poor Scout...