Continuing on the theme of "this horse is fun" - This week has also been fun.
Slightly harder work, but informative.
Tuesday we had a great a flat lesson, and I'm sure we learned stuff, but all I really remember is that toward the end of our canter work, Mr. Still-Wants-to-be-a-Stallion was much more interested in two mares idling around the ring than our (riveting) canter poles.
I don't blame him. If I was used to going gallopy-gallopy over massive jumps I'd hate me for micromanaging him over poles too. But right now we have to work on poles. And that means stud-man has to listen.
He held it together for the most part. Nothing overly dramatic, but he definitely puffed up like a peacock when we'd go by either of the pretty mares.
Or at least he held it together until we were finishing our lesson by putting 4 strides in the 5 stride line.
Clearly this takes a bigger, open step. And since we are both "working on our fitness," when this variation comes at the end of a ride, it takes some spur to get it done - actually it takes a lot of spur.
So I established a big step, and poked him in the ribs every. single. step. trying. to. get.... there.
He listened and lifted and went. But I think the combination of a huge, forward step, a crap-ton of spur in his side and then a squealing, pretty mare at the far end was too much.
He shook his head and struck out with his front legs and sorta bounded through the corner like a proud, drunk, frat boy.
One hefty jerk on my outside rein and some serious inside leg, and he returned to business as usual.
It was actually nice to test the boundary of his focus/patience/response. His "expression" wasn't that rude, and he quickly turned his focus back to me.
Thursday we (again) revisited cantering the 5 stride line (this time with small crossrails, WHEE) and I had a good light bulb moment.
I've been focusing so much on being "light" in my hand to avoid scrunching Windsor's neck, that I haven't had much front end management to keep him straight and/or shaped over fences.
A couple of times we got a tad deep to the out fence and I finally figured out how much outside rein I needed to be encourage Windsor to coil up and fall back, rather then just pop out his shoulder.
Oh Right. That.
Then we moved on to three "high" cavaletti set on a curve through the short end, with a bounce between each one.
omfg, want to make sure I ride like a goober? Set this exercise up. Jesus...
I was having a (really) hard time getting us forward and uphill - (but not flat) into the first bounce. Then, in trying to let him figure it out, I was sorta giving him his head and letting him sort it out on his own then regrouping our balance on the out.
Finally, I found some success when I started sitting a tad deeper on the approach and making myself ride like I didn't have stirrups. I think that helped me mentally manage his hind end and not get too obsessed with where his front end was.
After a few good reps through to the left we switched and went the other way.
So, this horse is sorta hard to turn to the right.
And he's really hard to turn right in the air, or in a bounce.
He'd rather pop his shoulder and pour out to the left than stay with you and give to the contact (remember our jumping on a circle last week?).
So the first few reps consisted of me trying to figure out how much support I needed to offer in order to literally keep us in the exercise. Once we figured that out, I tried to pretty it up a tad.
Trainer told me to not release quite so much and ask Windsor to keep his shape a bit more.
This was good advice.
Once I felt like I had "permission" to manage him a bit more in the bounces, all the sudden things started working.
I mentally thought about riding him more like a Dressage horse (micromanage that shit) and less like a Hunter (don't get in your horse's way) and that was the mental shift I needed.
Instead of trying to get him to the cavaletti and then letting him learn and bumble his own way through, I tried keeping a steady nudge on that inside hind every.single.stride and a "Morse Code" contact that asked him to stay up and back with the energy coming from the hind leg... all the sudden he was light, and balanced, shaped beautifully and kept his balance perfectly on his way out...
So, apparently wherever I got the notion that I need to be borderline absent with my contact over fences on this horse was total BS and not actually useful.
It's just so easy to get talked into being overly soft (and absent) on such a light, relaxed horse.
It's nice maybe, but not actually helpful
Yes he's light, and yes I need to be much softer than I ever have been, but Homeboy still needs some boundaries and help in keeping himself balanced. And straight. And focused in our work over very tiny speedbumps.
Very productive lesson.
Saturday was a variation on the same theme. Big, forward work on the flat asking Windsor to engage and come through - followed by some light work over small fences with my newfound outside rein contact.
We started on a circle (again) with more success than we had previous, then worked up to a small course.
I tried to establish a big, rolling canter to the fences so that I had a straight, balanced horse. Those are things I like, but it literally felt like we were clocking around at a pace suitable for Prelim XC.
SO FAST. OMG
So fast, so big, so much.
But, as long as I had that canter, the distances were there, we straight balanced, all was good.
Blessedly a friend was able to take a couple clips, and I reviewed them after my ride.
Turns out that HUGE ROLLING GALLOP is pretty much just a normal weeny canter.
It looks nice. But it looks nothing like it felt like.
Literally nothing. Thanks brain. (Amateur brains are the worst...)
Here's my huge forward gallop - judge for yourself.