Wednesday, February 8, 2017
About three weeks ago, Kelly had already made some improvements in fitness and remembering her training, but it was made clear that we still had a LONG ways to go. A turn on the forehand was a messy affair, she was ducking behind the bit (though that had improved since her arrival), she was falling out of a leg yield, her hindquarters were swinging out to the left... even though her fitness had improved, she was still lacking in strength and balance (no surprise, considering how long she'd been out of work).
Willing to try to do what I asked: absolutely.
Able to do it correctly: not particularly. (And we weren't really asking a lot!).
I will, therefore, leave it to your imagination what it was like the three weeks before that (I mostly spent that time hacking her at the walk and trot to start bringing her back into shape and encouraging her to reach for the bit again, rather than duck behind).
Of course, we don't get better at the difficult things by doing only the easy things. But we can try to make the difficult things easier. My instructions three weeks ago were to only leg yield at the walk until that was satisfactory before trying it at the trot. So - we REALLY had a long way to go. But Trainer L said, "she'll get there," and made no indications that Kelly would benefit from Working Student (WS) also riding her, so I took this to mean that Trainer L felt I was up to the task. (Perhaps I'm grossly overstating the trainer's meaning here, but it makes me feel better, so I'm going with it).
Life, however, is a bitch, and about one week later, my husband and I had to go to California for his mother's funeral (pancreatic cancer is also a bitch, by the way). I asked for Kelly to go on the fancy walker-exercise machine during this time, so that she would at least be doing something, even if it wasn't that she was getting ridden. The walker apparently worked, because she didn't lose a lick of condition while I was gone, and in all honesty, probably improved.
This weekend was a bit eventful. Kelly is still not really used to sharing the arena with other horses, as she has pretty much always been ridden alone. And because, during the week, I ride at night (you know, when it's dark out and you can't see much out the windows of the arena), this means that on the weekends, Kelly gets very distracted and sometimes upset at being able to now see what's going on *outside* the arena. Also, she doesn't like the chickens. So our ride on Saturday was almost entirely at a walk, convincing her to relax. Seriously, it was about 50-60 minutes of just walking. It worked, though, because the next 20 minutes or so of actual work were lovely.
I decided that on Sunday I should probably get on her early, well before our lesson. This was a good call, as she again started out very distracted and anxious, but with some quiet, patient work, she settled in and gave me some very nice work and was ready for the lesson. What I found in our lesson is that I had a much stronger horse than I did three weeks prior. I had a horse who could produce a pretty decent shoulder-in. I had a horse who could perform a much better TOF. I had a horse who was pretty consistently accepting of contact (no inverting or ducking). And I had a horse who was now an equal-opportunity thrower of the haunches to the outside! (Doesn't sound like improvement, but it is).
The canter still needs considerable work, as Kelly still lacks the strength and the balance to hold it well. But this situation is actually a very good example of why I ride where I do - there are a lot of trainers and riders who only have one tool to answer a specific problem in their toolbox (every problem looks like a nail when all you have is a hammer, as the expression goes). But this isn't the case at this barn. To help improve the canter, Trainer L originally suggested only cantering about five strides before coming back to a trot. But this wasn't working; if anything, it was making Kelly *more* anxious and the quality of both the canter and the trot was suffering. So Trainer L suggested another tactic: rather than coming back to a trot, keep going at the canter. As long as she was relaxed, just keep cantering on a generous (though not huge) circle and asking her to bend. This, paired with lots of transitions within the trot (posting to sitting, baby lengthenings to baby shortenings), began to produce a much better canter. The transitions within the trot also served to help Kelly to better engage her hind end. We ended the lesson with a better horse than the one I started with that day.
And last night, for the first time in quite a while (not since Lovely Rider was riding Kelly), I felt Kelly actually engage and really use her hind end at the canter. It was only a couple strides, but it's all about those little moments, and building them up bit-by-bit into bigger moments, and bigger moments, and bigger moments.