The part of this video I would direct your attention to is at 36 secs
He was so weak in that right hind leg, that you could see it collapse under him trying to move to the right at the sidepass. This was in March of 2014, almost exactly two years after we brought him home. I honestly did not think we would ever really be able to get better at Working Equitation, despite how committed I was to doing so, primarily because I didn't think I could help him get better. This was just at the beginning of riding season in 2014, before I put over 400+ trail miles on him that year. I think the trail riding really helped him get stronger and able to carry us at w/t/c. His right hind began to straighten out and although he still adducts a bit and drops that foot straight down instead of extending into the stride, he is working through his physical issues.
After the show at Expo, where we scored the same score as our show in September the year before, I knew I needed to do something different. I needed help from a trainer that was going to work on the test I was going to ride, and who would eventually be willing to apply that training to the obstacles we struggle with. I had listened and watched Amanda with several different clients at our new barn and thought she was a very gentle and patient trainer, but still able to push her students when they were ready to be pushed. Then I saw her ride. She has an amazing seat and very soft hands and the horses seemed to love her. Watching her ride Electra, a sweet, amazing but very sensitive Arabian mare, sealed the deal for me and I approached her that day.
So, now we've been in training with her (doing weekly lessons) for several months and Ashke has just gotten better and better every ride. He has demonstrated that he can do what we're asking of him, especially since our lunge session where he was in side reins. His set evasion of throwing his head up and bracing against the bit with stiffened front legs has evaporated (knock on wood), and he is more willing to try what I am asking him to do. And he just shines in our lessons. He's figured out he can do this without needing to worry that it is too much for him.
This last Saturday, on trail with J, I recognized that he was more willing to pick up a soft, easy canter rather than trying to rush himself through whatever we were doing. His canter was much easier and he was able to maintain it for quite a while before getting tired. It almost felt like we had turned a corner. And then last night happened.
We started the lesson with Ashke doing square turns and working on maintaining a working walk, rather than a short stepped, bunchy walk (that's what it feels like). He did that really well, so Amanda had us do the turns at the trot, which he also showed improvement doing over last week. I'm finally figuring out how to help him lift his front end, move the shoulder off my knee and keep his hind end where I want it. We did leg yields from the quarterline to the rail and then from the centerline to the rail, since the quarterline was so easy. A couple of rounds with Ashke on haunches in in both directions, which he is improving on every ride, and then it was time to move to our canter.
Amanda started us doing circles between 10m and 20m, at random, with walk to trot, trot to walk, trot to canter and canter to walk transitions at random moments in the exercise. Once those were easy and comfortable, we added walk to canter transitions. Ashke was showing signs that he wanted to demonstrate the serpentine along the rail (which he was also insisting on doing on Monday) and it took a little work to get him to refocus on our circles. Once he stopped trying to anticipate what I wanted him to do, he stopped fighting my cues and began listening to what I was asking.
Then we pulled out two barrels and I told her what I was having trouble with schooling them on Monday night. He was really rushy and wanted to drop his shoulder and twist around the barrel instead of maintaining his circle. I didn't think about it on Monday, but did recognize last night that the reason he was rushy was because the last time we worked the obstacles was the speed round of our last show. He was trying to race them. Amanda had us trot the circles, coming to a walk in the middle, then trotting the other direction. Once we had that pretty solid, we cantered the right barrel, transitioned to a walk and trotted the left barrel. Every time Ashke started to get amped up or anxious, we just stopped. He got lots of praise and at least part of the focus of the lesson last night is getting him to canter without getting anxious about it. We would walk into Amanda, who would rub Ashke's head and neck while we both told him how good he was. He would snort and agree, but most importantly relax.
Next, we worked the barrels with circles in both directions at the canter, transitioning to a walk in between, which Ashke did very well, without getting upset and tense. I would ride through, stop out a ways, do a turn on the haunches and then work through the barrels from the other side, sometimes cueing the left lead and working the left circle first, to keep him from predicting what we were going to do.
Then Amanda, with a wicked grin on her face, put those barrels together and had me work on canter serpentines, transitioning to a walk for the change. That was good, although I could really feel it in my upper thigh and knee. Amanda said that there was an exercise she was going to have me do that would start to teach Ashke a rollback, which I said we already had, so we demonstrated a couple of times up and down the arena, with a turn in each direction. Then I had to calm my hyped horse down and get him resettled to work on our calm and focused canter.
Then she had me do the serpentine with a stop in the center, turn on the haunches and then a walk to canter transition in a random direction. Ashke picked up the wrong lead a couple of times, but I think I worked out how to make it clear which direction we were going to go. I added a reinback if he was beginning to feel tense and made sure to give him lots of vocal praise when he did what I asked. Finally, we went back to the figure 8 barrels and he did them incredibly well. I think we both figured out that if I can keep his shoulder up and his body more straight, we don't lose the haunches on the turn. That was enough canter work for the day. It was a good thing too because my legs felt like spaghetti. They still do hours later.
I finished the lesson doing trot work along the rail, letting him lengthen his stride on the long side, then shorten and slow on the ends. We tried to do some stretchy trot, but we both think he was too tired to try it without rushing. We called it a day. He wasn't even sweating after all of that work.
Last night demonstrated to me what he is capable of and what we can accomplish together with our great coach. I've been very happy at this barn and am even more ecstatic that it brought me to a woman that can help us unlock all of the things we need to be able to progress in this sport. I am finally on fire with wanting to practice and work on these things, to feel us both believe we can do it, even if we end up too tired and weak to walk the next day.