Friday, October 14, 2011

Project Pony Swap, Part Deux: Under the Lights

I don't know why it's crooked, and I can't fix it.
Wednesday night I interrupted Tiki's normally scheduled programming to bring him Part Deux of Project Pony Swap.  I had ridden Sparky first, in hopes of having some daylight (no such luck), so it was about eight when I pulled Tiki out of his stall.
Honorary Big Sister Jen had used his dressage bit for the IEA show on Sunday, so I used that same bridle; to protect the preshus, speshul, sensitive red-head's ears, I did a very Morgan-y thing, and tucked Tiki's forelock under the browband and to the side.  Because I was feeling a bit lazy and a bit pressed for time, I also used my saddle on him.  Because my saddle is too wide for him, and partially due to a discussion on Sunday, I also used my sheepskin halfpad (with front shims) on him as the only pad.  Delicate, preshus flower and all that.

I would like to make an aside here, and point out that I really have the best barn owners ever.  Last year, they put some lights in the arena, largely because it was always dark by the time I was at the barn and working with Star in prep for Nationals.  Throughout summer I didn't need to use them, but for the first time this season, I turned on the arena lights.

Because I knew Honorary Big Sister Jen was planning on taking a dressage lesson with Susan the next day, I didn't plan on doing anything too terribly difficult with Tiki.  I figured dragging him out at 8:00 PM and riding him under the lights (something I'm not sure he's done before) was trying enough.

We warmed up much as we did last week - W-T-C on a loose rein.   An improvement over last week is that Tiki immediately settled in to a decent length of stride at both the walk and trot, rather than doing his best impression of a sewing machine.   After warming up, I picked up contact and was greeted with some pissy-fine-I'm-going-to-trot-ness.  Back to a walk - on contact - and proceeded to do some circles each direction.  We moved up into the trot, and trotted for a long time, with lots of serpentines, circles, and general changes of direction.  My primary focus was to acheive as little head tilt as possible and to maybe convince Tiki to soften, but keep contact. 

To this end, I actually asked Tiki for less bend than normal, riding him a little bit straighter.  This worked in two ways: #1) If I'm not asking for a BIG bend, then Tiki has no reason to give me his goofy head tilt.  Since I know he can bend, I wasn't worried about "loosing" his ability to do so - it's not always about putting together all the parts, sometimes it's just about the pieces; and #2) Tiki is your typical chestnut Thoroughbred mare, except for the mare part.  He is sensitive.  I mean, he swishes his tail and kicks out from his tail brushing him-type sensitive.  And what I've found is that sometimes he gets in such a hurry to move away from leg that he forgets to use himself properly.  The "riding straight" seemed to work pretty well (remember, "straight" is all relative).  By asking for a bit less bend, and focusing on inside-leg-to-outside-rein, I felt that we maintained a pretty good track, with his hind end following the track laid by his front end.

In terms of contact and softening and keeping shape and all that good stuff, other than focusing on the above, I kept a steady contact (still working to keep my elbows soft and following), setting the parameters Tiki was allowed to work within.  It started out with a bit more "telling" him where he needed to be, but once he was there and maintained the "acceptable" range, it was much more "asking" him to keep up the good work.  Over time, this, along with our changes of direction, circles, serpentines, etc, resulted in Tiki really lightening, carrying himself, and developing a little bit of schwung - swinging in the back.  And he felt great.  I could have ridden that trot for hours.

We cantered only a little bit after that really good trot work; I only wanted to improve our transitions.  A few up and down transitions, and I was content there.  We did just a little bit more trot (mainly because I'd been having so much fun with it), and then came back down to the walk and halted.  It was again a nice halt - not quite square - but with no head-flingy pissiness.

So overall, the really neat things were as follows:
- Minimal head tilting
- Really excellent trot work with softness, lightness, and swinging over the back
- Maintaining correct bend and outline on a circle when I "gave up" the inside rein
- Much improved canter transitions
- Nice stretchy-over-the-back work at the trot
- Pretty darn good halt
- Tiki didn't seem to give a rat's ass about the lights

One more thing:  Tiki is not quite as clean as I'd thought.  I have to wash my saddle pad now.

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