Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Counter-bend and Caprioles!

I chickened out! I didn't have the jumping lesson in the end, but I did tell John at the end of my lesson that I would like some help with the jumping, but that I'm not interested in jumping enormous fences or anything; I really just want to be able to pop over a few jumps every now and then and for it to build Echo's strength and suppleness. It also provides a relief from the schooling, without having to go out for a hack. It has been decided that we will spend ten minutes or so at the end of my next lesson on jumping. I have warned him of my lack of natural ability!

My lesson was good - it felt positive and John said her walk had improved and that her carriage was much better. Good news. He watched me walk, trot and canter on both reins and said that the bend is definitely improving to the right. However, we worked for a while on the left rein, which I found really useful. He asked me what her inside hind felt like. I had to think about this, as I confess that I'm not always 100% tuned in to every part of my horse's body! Once I'd got my head round it, I realised that she didn't feel like she was totally engaging the left hind. John pointed out that she is hitting the floor with her foot as it is travelling backwards rather than as it's coming forward. If I can get her taking the step right as she's reaching forward, her hindlegs will carry the weight much more successfully - at the moment they are a little out behind her. Interesting, but quite hard to fix. I realised that I needed to use a lot more energy in the trot, really asking her to reach under and carry herself. The trot definitely improved.

We went onto the right rein and worked on getting a good right bend - he actually pointed out that I am asking for too much bend. I have it in my head that I have to bend her to the right, and then I get too much, so she's bound to fall out through the left shoulder. When I corrected this with my left hand, I was then able to put my inside leg on and push her into the left contact a little more. It really was only a little more - the problem is not yet fixed, but it was a start. He also got me to trot her on the right rein, but with a left bend. I found it much easier doing it this time, than when he made me do it before, as I have taught her to be more obedient to my directional aids from my legs and seat. She finds it really hard maintaining the bend, but then, when I put my inside leg on and ask for the right bend, she does it correctly and it feels like such a relief!

The canter work was quite brief, but wonderfully self-explanatory. I did a rubbish transition first of all - and guess what? I got a rubbish canter! He made me slow down the process of the transition, by establishing the sitting trot first, then ensuring that I have a good outside contact and am not in the middle of a turn, then asking for the canter from my seat. Abracadabra - a good canter is the result. It's irritating when the answer (and the mistake) is so simple! In the theme of transitions, he also got me to work on my walk to trot transitions. She often jumps into trot from walk - particularly on the lunge - and I always assumed it was to do with her being weak behind. However, he got me to really think about my timing in the transition - and to ask her with my seat and support her with my legs to get her hindquarters really engaged. It isn't perfect every time, but it definitely reduces the jump up into trot.

Since the lesson I have been hacking a couple of times and Echo has seemed to enjoy herself. The cold weather has made the ground pretty hard, but there are still sandy tracks in the forest which you can trot and canter on. Echo rather disgraced herself on one of the occasions though. I took a friend hacking who has not ridden for many years. She borrowed one of the riding school horses and we went off for an hour's wander on the heath. It was a very cold day, and I half thought about riding Echo in the school for a few minutes first, just to take the edge off her, but she had been so good last time I went, that I thought it was probably unnecessary. Bad decision. She was on her toes the whole time; spooking, jumping, grabbing the bit in trot and refusing to slow down... not really the Echo that we all know and love. She settled eventually and I suggested that we have a little canter up a short slope - that way, I thought, if my friend was unhappy cantering, it would be over very soon and being on a hill it wouldn't be too fast. The opposite in fact! Echo started to canter, then started doing a sort of rocking horse canter, then she stopped dead and bucked. Poor girl, my friend nearly ran into the back of me, got very close to Echo's back feet when she was bucking, and generally didn't know what the hell had gone on!

It's so weird - she has these funny episodes in canter when out hacking - it's as if she gets herself in a tangle and just strops because she can't do it! Holding my head in shame, I apologised to traumatised unhorsey friend and arranged to go out for a long hack the following Sunday with my usual hacking buddy, to dust off the cobwebs and find some tracks for some good long stretches. She was an angel for most of the ride - it was a beautiful (but freeezing) day and I had ridden Echo in walk, trot and canter on both reins before setting out, so she felt relaxed and confident. We led the whole way, as my friend's horse was feeling particularly ploddy that day, but she strode out and was calm. She was, however, very ignorant to my half-halts, so I made the most of my friend falling behind, by regularly stopping her and then walking on again. Eventually, she came back to my aids and was then much more relaxed in trot, as I actually had control of the pace in trot. We had a couple of long canters - the first was awesome - up a hill, steady, powerful, calm...the second started off like that, but I don't know what happened halfway through. I think she might have heard the other horse's hoof beats a bit louder behind her, but she suddenly leaped into the air (doing a good impression of a capriole!) and shot off for a few strides! Echo never does this! She is obviously feeling very well at the moment.

I wasn't particularly worried by that behaviour - I would rather she leaped and ran for a few strides than she stopped dead. I have always preferred a horse that bucks to one that backs off or rears - always best to keep the forward momentum, I reckon! We haven't had another chance to hack recently, but the schooling has been going nicely! Talking of which, I should go and ride now...

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Daily adventures while training my young horse.