I had a lesson with Amanda Moore today and I have to tell you that she is amazeballs! She knows her stuff and she knows how to help Ashke and I become better at the things we aren't doing so well. She had watched the video I posted a couple of days ago of my dressage test, she remembered the test elements from our last lesson, and she came to the lesson with an idea of what I needed to work on to improve my ride. That was awesome!!
We started with some square turns at the trot, and then incorporated some bending turns, and then we went right into working on the canter. Amanda is really good at making us do the things we are struggling with and she started us doing leg yields at the walk from the quarterline to the outside edge of the ring. We worked to the left first. Once Ashke was moving off my leg and doing the exercise at the walk, we moved right into doing it at the canter. The point of this exercise is to get the two of us moving out to the quarterline and back to the rail without using my hands as much and with Ashke keeping the bend he needs to properly execute the exercise. We were fairly successful to the left.
To the right was another story. We were both really struggling to do the exercise correctly. Ashke really wants to do haunches out when he canters to the right, with a lot of counterbend. He bends his neck to the outside and leads with his right shoulder with his hips to the outside. AM got to see it in person during our ride. I think he is still tight through the hamstring and it is uncomfortable for him to do this correctly. Or maybe it's just habit and hard for him to break. And I haven't been insisting that we do it correctly, but Amanda immediately identified what he was doing (what I was allowing) and worked to help us correct it.
She had us break the exercise down even more, starting with a spiral in and back out. Ashke was much better at the spiral during this lesson, maintaining a consistently tightening circle without dropping down to the inside too quickly. That was much better than the first time we worked on spirals. I could feel him struggle to maintain his canter as I asked him to spiral out again, but I kept my leg consistently on at his girth and verbally encouraged him. We did that exercise twice with improvement the second time. Then we did the spiral in, spiral out, straighten out the line parallel with the rail at the quarterline, then leg yield out to the rail. This would be the second part of the loop to the quarterline required in the test. It took a lot of work, but finally Ashke was able to do it. It wasn't pretty yet, but he was maintaining contact and bending his body correctly while moving to the rail.
We took a walk break, changed direction and worked on the serpentine loop in separate pieces. We started the canter, did a 15 m circle, straightened out to go deep into the corner for our turn along the rail, then came out to the quarterline along the long side of the arena. We curved around the bottom of the arena and went back up the long side of the arena while leg yielding from the quarterline to the rail. It took a couple of tries to get Ashke to understand what I was trying to do. The first time he thought we were going back to the rail in the loop we do in the test and tried to make that decision for us. When I closed that door and sent him forward, he broke to a cross canter and we came back to the trot. Amanda told me to ignore the break and just try the exercise again. The second time we did the canter circle to the rail and back out to the quarterline, he was much better. When we swung around the end of the arena and I asked for the leg yield to the rail, I could feel when he realized what we were trying to do. I could feel the click in his mind as he worked it out.
One of the things Ashke does after cantering is get really reactive and tense about cantering again. Amanda told me to ignore him and keep him moving forward until he released the tension. I did and sent him into 10 m circles or a series of turns until he had finally relaxed into the trot again. We had to do that several times in between cantering sets. Sometimes we just walked because I had to catch my breath. It's hard work. Really.
Then we did the same exercise to the right. This side is much more difficult for Ashke. Amanda thinks that the issue is actually his left shoulder/wither area, which corresponds to his right hamstring issue (remember, Ashke was very underdeveloped on his left wither up until about a year ago). I know he doesn't stretch well in that direction, so I will start incorporating stretches before we ride (complete with treats) with his neck and his right hind leg. The circle helps get him into the correct bend, although I really have to remember what to do with all of my parts. I'm so used to riding without holding my leg on him, that he thinks leg means go faster, not bend here. We worked on it until we got the leg yield out to the quarterline and back to the rail on the other side of the arena, without breaking the canter. And without flailing. I need to remember to keep my leg on. He can't do this without me (nor does he really want to . . . ) and I need to remember to hold him, support him through the exercise.
At the end of the canter, when we dropped back into the trot, Amanda wanted me to keep him in the trot and let him stretch down on his own. He always stretches at the walk and she thought we could begin to teach the stretchy trot by allowing him to do so, plus she wanted me to keep him moving very slow (jog) after the canter to help him regulate his tempo, so we don't rush across the arena. I have been struggling during the test to get him settled in the four strides between the end of the first canter and the start of his stretchy trot across the diagonal. She said horses associate the diagonal with extension, so trying to teach them to slow down is important. He actually did that really well for our first attempt. I was so pleased, I got off. Ashke heaved a huge sigh of relief. He tried so hard to do what I was asking of him.
I was so sweaty, it was running down my back in a river and my legs were trembling with fatigue. It was good though. I could see the things that I have despaired of figuring out how to teach Ashke come together in the exercises Amanda had us do. I have stuff to work on for the next week. It's going to be too hot to ride out, so I will ride either late or very early in the indoor arena.
Things to practice:
- Spiral circles to strengthen and increase correct bend
- Maintaining consistent contact and letting him find his sweet spot.
- Keeping my hands still - using my seat and legs
- Stretches before and after every ride (with treats) to help limber and flex
- Doing the 15 m circle to the leg yield out and leg yield back to the wall on opposite sides of the arena for now. Maybe by the end of the week, we will be able to do them the long side of the arena.
- Canter, Canter, Canter with support and correct bend. It's good for both of us.
- Throw in some transitions from walk - trot - canter, walk - canter, trot - canter
- Turns vs loops
- Practicing using my seat and legs until it becomes more of the go to than my hands (important enough to list twice).