But getting that lift through the back and wither is not only necessary for good balance and jumps - it's imperative in keeping Prair strong and sound.
|Old photo since I lack any really evidence of recent lessons.|
As such, pretty much every aspect of our ride, from warm up to cool down is focused on encouraging the mare to round up, lift her back and use herself.
The first exercise, which I know we've talked about before starts with our walking on a loose rein just ambling around the ring. I ask for a nice round halt, get Prair soft and very deep in the neck, then rein back as slow and straight as possible asking her to roll her spine up. Then we halt again, (she usually sighs) and we walk on trying to maintain the same shape and softness.
Eventually this routine works up into the trot and when I've got a fairly responsive, light horse in our transitions we begin focusing on other work.
All our lateral work is done with the emphasis on stretching her over her back and really reaching with whatever hind leg is doing the most work. Often I'll drop Prair's headset lower than normal in order to emphasize the stretch and to make sure that she's not binding up in her jaw or neck.
We spend a good amount of time alternating every 5-7 strides of asking Prair to move out in more of a medium trot, and then "pushing together" into a short, collected trot. Inevitably at this point the first few transitions are a bit heavy and on the forehand, but as we go she sits back more, lifts through her wither and becomes more adjustable.
The same exercise is repeated at the canter, along with some very slight lateral work, and then (if all is well) we start working over fences. In our last couple lessons we have been trying to maintain balance and relaxation at all costs. So, if while on course I need a circle to get everything 100% where I want it, we circle. If I need to trot and re-establish our rhythm, we trot. Whatever we need to keep each jump slow, steady and round.
Yesterday we spent almost all of our time trotting the fences to keep Prair from using her momentum instead of her back. It was really good for me as well as I had a better chance to keep her straight and balanced and light to the fences. I was shocked by not only how much I was getting snapped out of the tack, but also by how quickly Prair was willing to roll up her back, balance and come back after each fence.
It felt awesome
Of particular note was in a 4 stride line that we trotted into (planning on getting a quiet 5), I really misjudged our stride length and while I thought we had room to cram a fifth stride in, Prair did not and we launched. I slipped my reins and let her go which resulted in a terrified, inverted, llama when we landed on the far side.
I braced for impact and got ready to pulley rein her around, but turns out, as I added my leg, Prair pushed together, softened like butter and dropped right back to her round, happy canter. (whaaaaaaa?)
Usually it's not the ugliest fence of the day that you're most proud of, but seeing that response from her was a little magical and really inspiring.
N keeps saying that she never really understood how hard Prair tried to please and how well she responds to praise and reward - but it's becoming really clear that the more we emphasize the rewards, the quicker Prairie is giving us what we want.
The mare is really working hard for both of us in our rides and that just makes everything so damn fun.
Which I suppose is what this silly hobby is supposed to be.
Oh, also - Prair got her feet done for the first time by the new farrier, and aside from freaking out and breaking her halter (ugh), I am extremely happy with his work. He set her heels nice and wide and each foot looks well balanced.