My boy went on an extended vacation in November, part of that was to make myself focus on Gwen, the other part was that the time changed and it was simply too dark to ride after work anymore. Apart from a bare handful of rides, Coriander's had the last three months off. Not to say I haven't done anything with him in that time- we've worked quite a bit on head lowering and getting him to follow the rein aids sideways and down- but I did it all with my feet firmly on the ground.
Now I haven't had the last three months off, oh no. I've spent the last three months puttering around on a 2nd/3rd level friesian (I'm still training level- mind you), I've become accustomed to a certain standard of carriage and have become "discerning." Meaning that when Coriander starts to get sluggy and floppy I'm going to notice, and I'm going to want to do something about it.
First, my boy who was used to wandering around the trails on the buckle now has to contend with contact. Not much contact, but enough to have a feel of his face. Walking forward even into this gentle contact has totally blown his mind, he initially took some convincing to keep going forward.
Second, those leg yields that I thought he knew? Well he's got one to the left but going to the right? He immediately falls on his right shoulder with his hindquarters trailing out helplessly to the left. How did I never notice this before?
Third, I've now incorporated some equine pilates to the ride. Now when I throw in a halt I add the butt pinch to ask him to raise his back. Hopefully this will help him gain some of the back strength he needs to carry us better? Time will tell.
Fourth, forward! Last Monday I had a great lesson on the friesian where we worked on gait transitions within the walk and trot (working walk/trot, medium walk/trot, short/semi-collected walk/trot). I immediately thought of Coriander, the transitions within the walk could be a great exercise to help him get back in shape! Well, the next day I pulled out the bareback pad and gave it a try. The results were interesting.
Coriander has a fantastic walk, it's one of my favorite things about him. Sometimes, when he really gets going, it feels like he's actually doing a running walk- it's wicked smooth and it feels like his hind feet are landing directly below his sternum. That horse can move! Unless he doesn't want to, in which case he plugs around like a beginner school horse with his feet glued to the ground. My first task was to get him to actually move instead of plug around -while having a feel of his face. Trying for medium walk from that was also a little difficult, I'm not really sure there was any change in his stride length at all. But the worst was when I tried to get him to pull himself together and shorten his strides.
"Would you like to halt?" he said. "No, keep going forward."
"How about a leg yield?" "No, keep going forward."
"Shall I pop my shoulders out?" "No, keep going forward."
He did eventually get a few strides forward, for which he was promptly rewarded. After this I kept it up, changing the length of his strides until for one brief, shining step he actually lifted his back and stretched his face forward into my hands. Holy cow, click and treat for that one!
|And of course, my brain was instantly flooded with images like this: of a quarter horse actually winning at PSG.|
Unfortunately since Tuesday, my back has been on revolt and I haven't been able to ride. As soon as I can ride again I'm going to keep exploring this exercise and see where it takes us. Self carriage school has begun!