Monday, April 4, 2011

Follow Your Nose

I'll be honest.  I haven't posted in about two weeks because I haven't ridden my own horses in about two weeks.  *Sigh*... to be independently wealthy and not need a regular 9-to-5...

I have, however, ridden Kellie a decent (for us) amount.  I arranged with Gigi Nutter for Joyce, Debbie, and I to take Kellie down to her place for a lesson and an assessment of where Kellie might best be suited.  So we weren't completely unprepared, I pretty much neglected my horses and worked with Kellie. 

Up until fairly recently, the premise of my work with her has been pretty much just to keep her going.  If left to her own devices, she starts to forget that people are the boss and that she must listen to the person on her back.  She is a young warmblood, and has gone through more awkward and gangly phases than balanced ones, so there wasn't a lot of point in working towards a lot of the grand goals we have for our horses.  The ideas were to introduce leg, hand, "I'm up here, you listen to me," and, "I'm not holding you up."  This has worked pretty well, but Kellie is now grown up enough and balanced enough that it is time to start asking her to work harder and truly begin her job.  Oh, and to get all her parts working together.  So to this end, Kellie and I have been working with Susan, the dressage trainer across the street, and Kellie has started to figure out bending, using herself, blah, blah, blah.  Somedays she's okay, but other days are pretty damn frustrating.  I can't seem to get it, she can't seem to get it... you get the picture.  But overall, she has progressed.

So we go for our lesson with Gigi, Atlanta-area dressage trainer extraodinaire.  Overall, she was complimentary of Kellie, and she was able to get right down to what the issue with Kellie was, and why it's been so difficult to "get it."  I knew she was locking up her whole neck and using the muscles on the underside against me... but I just hadn't quite been able to work her out of it.  Gigi took the approach of taking a bit of a step back: don't worry about the hindquarters, don't worry about your postition, don't worry about all the other little *details*... get her to follow her nose.  Use as small a circle as it takes, ask her to bend her head and neck to the inside by squeezing the inside rein.  Get her to follow her nose.

And lo and behold, it started to work.  As Kellie became more accepting of contact and bending, we were able to move out to a 20m circle (which can, apparently, be counted as 6 strides on each of four tangent lines... great, something else to count!).  As she became more consistent about accepting contact and bend, we were able to also use the outside rein to half-halt a bit and balance her up.  And her hindquarters followed.  We also played a little bit with riding a "broken line," again to encourage Kellie to unlock the base of her neck and follow her nose.

As we moved up into canter, it was a bit more of the same, but for the first time ever, someone clearly explained the timing of closing the ring finger on the reins.  As the mane comes down, that it the time to close the inside ring finger.  And once bend is established, using the outside ring finger as the mane comes up will help balance the horse.  And with this timing, Kellie balanced up beautifully... and her hindquarters kept following.

So it turns out that part of the trick with Kellie is just to convince her to follow her nose.  I also learned that she really does benefit from being talked to as she is ridden.  I talk to my horses more than most people I know, but definitely not as much as some others I know.  And as luck would have it, Kellie is in the category of "needs more."  Okay, I can handle that.

Talk more and Froot Loops (i.e., follow your nose).  I'm on board with that.       

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