Despite continued improvements in Echo's responsiveness, thanks to my last lesson with John, I have still been having huge issues with her taking the contact in the left rein. The right has always been her worse rein, but it was getting ridiculous last week. My problem was that every time I took any sort of contact in the left rein, she would turn her nose to the left. To compensate for this I would have to take a stronger contact in the right rein, meaning that I was having to pull her head to the right, which didn't feel good. When I put my right leg on to continue to ask for the bend, she would escape out through the left shoulder, because I didn't have a true contact in that rein. If I put my left leg on to catch her, she sped up, so we ended up zooming round in a wooden, unpleasant fashion. Not so good.
A couple of influences encouraged me to change tactics. I was reading a blog a couple of weeks ago (I can't remember for the life of me whose blog it was, but if I do, I'll be sure to credit them appropriately!) about working from the ground. The writer was talking about doing leg-yielding and shoulder-in on the ground, which I had never really thought of doing. I also watched a demonstration with Emile Faurie on Horse&Country TV (!!) where he was showing his work with a four year-old stallion he is training. He was saying that everything must be explained to the horse. So many problems come from a breakdown in communication between horse and rider: all it requires is that the horse understands. This got me thinking. I knew that Echo just didn't understand about the left contact, but I really had no idea how to tell it to her in a way that she would understand. Every suggestion people had given me hadn't worked - probably because I was explaining it wrong.
So - I came up with my own method, combining my two inspirations. I decided to lunge her for a couple of days and followed our usual method of lunging - free on both reins in walk, trot and canter, then with side reins on both, working on transitions. I then put her on the right rein and shortened her left side-rein a little more, so that they were uneven. It wasn't by lots, but enough for that left contact to take a hold when she was bending on the lunge circle. I was able to keep the right bend using the lunge rein, and I varied the size of the circle, all the time watching to see how she was reacting to the tighter left rein. When she accepted it, she actually moved much better and her canter transitions were much improved.
At the end of the session, rather than immediately taking the side reins off and letting her walk free for a few minutes as usual, I kept the side-reins on and walked her in-hand around the arena. Using my hand on her side where my inside leg would be, I asked her to move from the three-quarter line to the track in leg-yielding. As the left side-rein was still shorter, it kept that contact through the movement. We did this a few times, then I took the side-reins off and let her relax.
I know it probably isn't the most orthodox of techniques, but I thought it would probably explain it to her in a much clearer way than I can do when I am riding her. In fact, when I rode her yesterday, she was a lot better. I felt that for the first time in weeks...even probably months, I could have an even contact in both reins, with her maintaining the correct bend. Particularly in canter, where she usually falls out through the left shoulder quite dramatically, my left leg did not cause her to speed up - instead, she kept herself straight and cantered beautifully. It was so nice to not be fighting her on the right rein. I hope that she felt that too, and now is starting to understand about the contact. I would be interested to know what all of my wise blogging friends think about my method, as I know it isn't ideal, but she does seem a happier horse as a result
After she had gone so well, I popped her a couple of times over a little cross pole that was set up in the arena. I have got a friend to come down with me next weekend to help me with poles and jumps. I can't wait!!!