We had initially signed up for a two day clinic with our favorite outside trainer at a facility that was about 15 minutes from our barn. I figured it'd be a great opportunity for some extra butt kicking without all the rigmarole of hauling all the way to her facility which is just over an hour away.
Best laid plans and all (wow, do I say that too much?) of course it was forecasted to be the rainiest weekend in Seattle ever and the clinic location only had an outdoor. Ergo, we relocated to the trainer's home facility which has a gorgeous indoor, but would come with a big commute, in the rain that we were trying to avoid riding in.
The rain was truly hideous and had me at a crawl with the rig. I think we averaged about 40mph the whole way which turned an already long drive into a painfully long drive, but oh well. And of course there was no overnight stabling available so we'd be commuting both days (wah).
|Prair even tolerated a bath to get all pretty for her outing and modeled her new cooler|
|She also made faces and demanded cookies|
We spent a majority of the time working on mobilizing the shoulder, relaxing our lateral work and trying to get Prairie to carry that relaxation into her work over fences.
Almost immediately my spurs were taken away and my stirrups were raised which left me in a state of perched horror as I tried to figure out what muscles would stabilize my body and position without just death clamping knees.
The phrase of the day for me was to "whisper" my aids and try to do everything as quietly as possible and still (barely) get a response. This meant trying to execute out turns on the forehand (and haunch) in slow motion and not letting Prair go "oh I know this!!!" and then proceed to whip herself around.
This was easier said than done, but exposed an important hole in our communication which is that I ask for something and Prairie goes "EEEEEEEEEeeeee, don't hit me don't hit me don't hit me, watch how fast I can get through this... eeeeEEEEEEE."
This showed up early in our career together in her canter departs, leg yields and rein back. Reared (not literally) it's head when we started over fences and Prair would RUSH through them. And most recently is obvious in the tension she sometimes shows during her flying changes and in between fences of a line. (especially In and Outs).
The idea being if I can quietly converse with Prair about where her body is and have her respond thoughtfully and without anxiety, then maybe I can start t take that level of communication into the things that Prair just blacks out and rushes through.
The next tool that we used (and I really liked) was the concept of focusing more on lateral flexion (bend) than on vertical flexion (in terms of collection) to soften the mare. I'm not sure this "fits" on a traditional training progression but it was very effective for us.
I tend to try to constantly soften Prair by collecting her up and working her mouth to keep her from getting tense. Of course, my own issues get in the way and I end up pick, pick, picking her to death instead of pushing her together and then softening.
Also, I let the pick, pick, picking turn into a less and less powerful canter and after a while we're barely loping around with zero gas in the tank.
SO - this idea of lateral flexion over "vertical" was interesting. Instead of trying to compress her and "tip" her back on her butt - I focused on creating some bend through her neck, or even asking for some haunch in to get her to unlock and transfer her balance.
Something about the "lateral" ask doesn't trigger my obsession to keep asking for more, more, more... So I was able to ask... and soften. Ask... and soften. And wouldn't you know it - the mare felt like butter. She was patting the ground, slow to take off, soft when she landed and I felt like I could just loop her around however I wanted - no stress or strain attached.
When we put these tools together over some smaller courses I kept having to remind myself not to override the fence (not totally dissimilar to the placing pole-two strides-MONSTER JUMP exercise from last week) and when I did stay soft and not worry about landing our lead and not worry about my distance... we had lovely rides. When I started working too hard, things deteriorated a bit. Not exactly shocking, but very obvious.
We came home exhausted, but no worse for the wear. I definitely have a few lightbulbs to plug into our regular rides and some new muscles to work on in order to stabilize and support Prair the way I should...
All in all a good weekend!