Either way, it was a very productive ride, and for the first time in a while Prairie seemed very relaxed and happy in her work.
This is her third time working with this trainer (the first lesson I rode, last week S took P2 and then yesterday makes three...) which I think contributed to her increased relaxation, But I also think that hauling down with a gelding helped out too.
While S was tacking up and getting ready for her ride, I noticed that instead of screaming and looking for her trailer buddy, Prairie just munched on some hay, drank lots of water and snoozed in her borrowed stall. While I think she is more at ease at this barn now, I don't think that explains it all. S and I got to talking and nearly every time I've hauled Prairie it's been with a mare who she becomes fiercely attached to even in a 20 minute trip. But the last two trips have been with a sweet gelding and the last two trips have seen less bellowing, searching and desperation to be reunited with her friend.
Maybe it's the hormone-less gelding? who knows... but it's an argument for a mare-ish supplement or perhaps even experimenting with Regumate again...
Regardless, I was grateful for the calm demeanor and excited to ride. We started out just walking long and low around the ring before we picked up our trot and again worked on slowing the tempo while keeping the hind legs quick and underneath her.
Nancy then had me halt. Get Prairie low and deep (and soft) in the bridle, and slooooowwwwlllyyyy (key word there) back her up encouraging her spine to roll up and rise under my seat.
which it totally did.
Then, trying to keep the lifted back and low/deep/soft neck, we moved into a walk, and eventually back up to a trot. Whenever Prairie started to brace (or I did), we returned to the halt and repeated the process.
It seemed to work wonders, and after a few short repetitions Prairie was soft, blowing and floppy eared.
One of the hard parts is keeping the rein-back slow. Prairie wants to invert and shoot backwards like she's avoiding a punishment. You can see the anxiety in her eyeball and she's a little wary. So coaxing a slower, controlled rein-back is a little tricky, but it results in a nice stretch over her back and once she figured that out, the mare seemed to readily oblige.
Then we moved into some nice haunches in/shoulder in work that felt looser and nicer than our recent lateral attempts. I was reminded constantly to keep Prairie as soft in the bridle as she is during that slow rein back. If I can't get it with some easy suppling, then it's back to the halt/rein-back to dislodge the tension.
It certainly helps Prairie but I found it a really effective tool for me as well to ensure that I don't get rigid in my shoulder/elbow. I really liked it.
Finally we moved into our canter work was was mind-blowingly-amazing. You may recall our early canter work as resembling a runaway freight train plummeting down a hill. So finding a nicely balanced, cadenced, contained canter is always exciting.
I worked on nice half halts during our suspension and also asking Prairie to contain her frame even during releases of contact and pets on the neck. We kept the halt/rein-back move in between each canter depart and it was fairly magical.
Compare this screen shot from yesterday:
|blurry but you can see the general shape.. kinda|
Aside from keeping my arms loose and soft, I also lightened my seat a lot more than I'm used to. My tendency is to always SIT down and really ride with me seat, which I don't think is helpful for Prairie's hammock of a back. But it's a position I feel safe in, and like I can defend myself against scoots/inversions/etc. However, unlike on P1 or other horses I've ridden, I think with Prairie I tend to drive her a bit hollow. Even though my intention is the opposite.
Bah. So I ended up thinking about putting 50% more weight in my stirrups and quieting my hips. I doubt I shifted more then 10lbs into my stirrups and I still sit pretty deep but I think it changes my mentality. Whatever it was, it was working yesterday so I'm looking forward to playing with it some more.
Here's a quick video of the same canter about halfway through our lesson. I dare say we got even a bit lighter and more collected in our later work, but that video is like 5 minutes and I don't feel like sifting through it all :)
It was a great lesson. Prairie felt so relaxed, happy and content. She worked happily and her trot and canter were beyond words. She was 100% between my aids and focused on me.
Here's hoping we can replicate some of the magic back at home...