Holy lord yesterday was moderately exhausting - and shockingly so when I consider the fact that I didn't actually ride anyone/thing.
I hauled P2 down for her Hunter lesson yesterday (which always ends up being more dressage-y than my dressage lessons... ) planning on giving S the ride while I stood in the middle of the ring watching and taking bad video. I was oddly excited to watch Prairie from the ground and connect it to my own rides.
Somehow I got stuck at the office in the morning so I got to the barn all of 8 minutes before I wanted to be loaded P2 up which was going to cut into my beautification time considerably. What I didn't count on was aside from my own delay, another delay of chatting with S and another client about whether or not a mare needed to go back to the big hospital for a joint infection issue.
I gladly offered to haul and to cancel P2's lesson if necessary but we ended up opting to first haul out for Prairie's lesson, then come back, do a mare switch-a-roo and haul up to the vet. The vet pony wasn't in a "dire" situation but after a week of hospitalization, followed by three weeks of stall rest and meds, the swelling wasn't where it should be so it was back to the hospital for a check up..
Let it be known that I always, always volunteer to take other horses to the vet. For one thing, I think it's nice. If I were freaking out about my horse and didn't have a rig, not worrying about how I was getting somewhere would be one stressful consideration off my list. For another thing I think that going out of your way to haul other horses to the hospital builds my good vet karma. I feel like one way or another you make emergency trips with horses and I'd rather spend all my trips on someone else's horse :) Plus there is the added bonus of fostering a relationship with the vets and their techs before you're there with your own beastie.
Anyway, so that was an easy decision, but the haul ended up happening in rush hour which made for a long, obnoxious drive but I'm glad we got the mare there without any issues.
But back to P2's lesson -
After a sub-par grooming effort (I hate hate hate hauling horses anywhere without being spotless) P2 gave up her cow-ish trailer behavior from last week and happily marched right on without protest. She hauled calmly, unloaded fabulously and warmed up like she was at home. It's nice to see that after being someplace 3 or 4 times she let's go of 99% of her drama llama behavior. Good feature.
Anyway, S got put right to work on some lateral stuff, our typical warm-up of shoulder/haunch in, some half passing etc.
Then we dove a little deeper into Prair's half-passes. We started zig-zagging them, at first half passing from the rail to the quarterline and back with a focus on keeping Prairie super soft and supple in the change of bend and direction. By the end Prairie was moving three strides to the right, switching the bend, three strides to the left, switch, 3 strides right, switch, etc. It took some work but I think it ended up being a very productive exercise.
What I liked about it is that it addresses the issue of keeping control of P2's shoulders and haunches in a change of direction. That's often where we get braced (both her and I) and we look connection. Additionally, it was an exercise that Prairie could succeed at so she was able to stay calm, and work on something tough without hitting a spiral of frustration.
In watching from the ground I could also really see what I feel when I'm on her in terms of our sticky points. Specifically when I work on it I can pretty easily scoop Prair's left hind up underneath her, but I have a harder time with her RH. I'm constantly putting her in shoulder fore or leg yielding her haunch out to get the "feel" of that step under. What's difficult is even when it feels like she is trailing with that RH if I look in the mirrors... she's straight. Argh. So something is up with that hip/stifle/something and I can't tell if it's a weakness issue, a discomfort or pain issue or possible just an evasion.
I snapped some video from the zig-zag half pass work that is ok. It's from the beginning of the exercise which shows more resistance and tension from Prair, but my phone ran out of space by the time it got a bit smoother (whoops).
Then the rest of the lesson (which ended up being like 90 minutes long - extra glad I wasn't the one being tortured) worked on the canter. More counter canter, more zig zagging in the half pass (without a change of lead... so really more of a half pass in, leg yield out..) and finally some work on changes.
I can say without a doubt that Prairie gets tense and inverted when she loses her balance. Or if she anticipates loosing her balance - such as when she goes into a tight turn, hits a distance to a jump oddly, or thinks she has to change leads. All hard things for her to carry herself properly through so she tenses, throws her shoulder and runs away from the issue.
Even though she's not bolting around the arena as often, there is a distinct loss of connection and control of P2's front half when she enters this mode. With her changes she gets nervous, tenses, blows through your "new" outside rein and scrambles around. On the most compact horse this would make a clean change tricky, but on Prairie-the-Brontosaurus it's down right impossible. So step one is trying to maintain a soft, balanced stride. We did figure out that P2 cues her canter mostly off her outside leg. This is not surprising because that's how I ride. But S cues mostly off her inside leg. Which has probably been contributing to her ongoing confusion, scrambling and issues with her changes. Not the primary issue, but still a small "a ha."
Anyway, we ended up setting some poles to help with the change and Prairie really tried hard.
My sense with Prair and her changes is that she isn't being obstinate or naughty, but that she really isn't quite sure what to do with her feet to accomplish a clean swap without getting all tripped up. She tries, and her anticipation let's me know that she knows she's supposed to change, but she just isn't quite through enough to get it done cleanly. When she does get a good change, she gets that omg-mom-I-did-it-aren't-I-good spring to her step and head shake.
Basically you just come across the arena like a figure-eight but ask for supreme straightness before the poles and then exaggerate the bend as you round the corner. Ideally you put one full stride between poles.
This exercise was actually really good for Prairie since the two poles gave her two good opportunities to get her hinds swapped. She gets the lead up front consistently, it's just that balance and push form behind that's tricky... and also keeping that shoulder corralled.
When she got 4 changes in a row through the poles we called it a day and let the mare walk and rest. She was dripping in sweat, but didn't give up even at the end. S was also dripping and I remained thankful for my role as observer for the day :) it was a good lesson to see from the ground.