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This morning we had a lesson.  Well, it may have actually been closer to noon until it started, but lesson, today.  Since we’d been working pretty solidly on the flat, and getting a good bit of exuberance jumping, I asked if we could do something to work on both of those things, and slow down her brain a little bit.  Kelley is excellent at coming up with deceptively simple exercises that get right to your problem spots, and we certainly homed right in on some trouble spots today.

We started very simply, trotting a 15m circle over a pole, working on getting her relaxed and consistent, and actually bending around the circle.  That’s harder than it sounds, because we also had the distraction of Kelley building the rest of the gymnastic in front of us as we were going over it, and then of course Cally wanted to go on down the line.  After a few times through both directions, Kelley pointed out that Cally is turning by turning her shoulders as a locked pair, rather than swinging her outside shoulder further open and forward.  Which led to a modification of the plans to work on that issue.

Two poles on an arc, part of a 20m circle seems relatively simple.  We started as we were, by trotting over them, working on staying consistent in our rhythm and bend in the direction of travel.  Cally really wanted to go straight through them, even though they were angled, which almost forced her to swing that shoulder and take that slightly longer step with the outside leg.  It took quite a few passes through, and them being raised on one end so she had to step up and over, before she really figured it out.  Instead of getting through by running, which is what she wants to, and can, do with regular gymnastics, she had to really think about where her feet were going in relation to the poles.

Then we progressed to cantering through, which turned into what felt like a rushy hot mess.  But when a couple of times through didn’t improve, as Cally went back to trying to plow her way straight through, collapsing her inside shoulder, Kelley had us come back to a walk.  I had to drop my outside rein entirely, and open my inside hand, asking her to bend around in increasingly smaller circles, until we were almost making a walk pirouette.  (I’m sure the DQs would be horrified, and say it was nothing at all like one.)  Then we trotted.  No collapsing to the inside shoulder.  

I picked up the reins and tried tried tried to think soft with the outside hand, and keep the inside hand open to the inside.  It took a few more circles, both over the poles and on the flat, until we finally figured out what we were doing, and she figured out that I wasn’t going to give her an outside rein to lean on, and we finally got through properly.

Our homework is to work on this exercise again on our own, using just poles on the flat if we want, and really work on keeping her bent correctly, with less outside rein and an open inside hand.  It should be very easy to set up on my own, and even the circling over the single pole will be easy to integrate, even on days we just do flatwork. 

We also had a little discussion, post-lesson, on tack options.  Cally’s favorite evasion/resistance is to bring her head up and use the muscles on the underside of her neck to brace against you, and leaning on the bit.  We talked about martingale choices, and while I’m going to give a running a try, I think given her sensitive mouth and reactivity to even the standing, that the standing is the way to go for now, for schooling.  Obviously we can’t event in it, but it will hopefully work as a reminder until we can break the bracing habit.  We talked bits, too, regarding the leaning issue; I asked about a Waterford, which I’d been contemplating for some time, since it’s soft and there’s nothing to lean on, and Kelley mentioned a bit she uses on her Advanced horse she’d bring for me to try next time, so we’ll give both of those a try.  A different bit won’t fix a problem, but if it takes an issue out of play for a while so we can work on other things, that would make a difference.  I stopped on the way home and picked up an appropriately sized Waterford, so maybe I’ll try it out tomorrow, just to really confuse her while we practice our dressage tests for Sunday.  (Which will be ridden in a nice, dressage-legal copper oval linked loose ring, don’t worry.)

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