This weekend, Carol came back up from Florida for a mid-season clinic with those of us that lesson with her up here. It was nice to see her again, since the last lesson I had with her was the unfortunate one where I dislocated my clavicle. So, yeah, looking for a bit of redemption there, and to show off how awesome Cally has been doing over the winter.
Horse was clean, tack was polished, saddle pad was freshly laundered, and boots were even cleaned and conditioned! So needless to say, on Saturday, it was 60 degrees after it being 30 and snowy the day prior, and they were all feeling a little “SPRING! Glorious SPRING! I must be wild and FREE!!!!” So, um, maybe not the best place to be coming from for a submissive and well-behaved dressage lesson. Not that she was really bad, just super distractable, and while the focus was quick to come back, oh, haaaaaay, was that a bird over there, this is a nice trot, where did that ray of sunshine come from? But, on the good side, it wasn’t super tense, and we had some really good moments during our lesson. Basically I asked to work through parts of our Training 2 test for in two weeks, because I figured working on it as a sort of quasi-fix-a-test was really the best approach, sort of coming in cold to how she’s been going lately. I asked to work on our nemesis, the canter-circle-to-stretchy-trot-circle. dun-Dun-DUN! Naturally, the first time was somewhat imperfect, with a decent canter circle to a trot-attempting-to-canter-against-the-riders-wishes circle.
Step one in improving this was a really fantastic visual for me about how to sit the canter: think about sitting on her hocks. And voila, like magic, there we had this lovely canter where I was able to sit quietly on top of a round bouncy ball of canter, that was easy and responsive. Step two was to half-halt her in to, and throughout, the stretchy circle. I thought I was half-halting, but apparently not quite right–it’s more that feeling Kelley had me thinking of when I did the little XC school at her place in the fall, of almost closing my thigh and knee like I do when posting the trot, or at least using those same muscles. And again, like magic, we had a beautiful stretchy trot when I used that half-halt in the corner between K and A before we went into the circle, then again as we moved off the rail at F, and stretchy lovely work like I know she’s capable of, without any rushing or silliness! So delighted! We did some more work on other parts of the test, and were ultimately going to try running through the same thing, but given the temperature difference from what she has been used to working in, and how hard she was working, I opted to call it quits having worked through parts of it.
Then Sunday dawned a bit cooler and windier, so I wasn’t sure if we’d get to ride outside as planned, or if she’d be a little frisky. Turns out worries were completely unfounded; we tacked up and headed into the little outdoor, which was a bit wet, but totally rideable, and started warming up. She felt great, happy to be going around, seeming to like the fresh air, and I just avoided the big puddle so as not to have to have a fight about whether or not we were going to go through that. We started off trotting through some groundpoles, which Carol initially asked me to do in two-point, which led to Cally trying to canter through them. Um, no, we have breaks for a reason, and you don’t get to be silly like that. She got abruptly halted, and made to walk over them politely. We then just trotted around the ring a bit with me in two-point, to make the point that it wasn’t a race to anywhere. After going through the poles a few more times, we trotted on around the ring to a longer, spaced out set of groundpoles, just to give her a feel of the rhythm of where they were. After twice through those, we started out over a little crossrail, la-de-da, perfectly well-behaved. We worked through it both ways, putting up the X to a small vertical, and landing cantering through the groundpoles, nice as can be.
Then we upped the ante a little, and cantered into a little bounce. That caught her by surprise the first time through; as we approached, about two strides out, I could feel her go “oh, crap, not an oxer!” I let her sort it out herself. So she managed to compress herself, actually grunting, and while it felt a bit awkward, she managed it. After we went through it a few more times each direction, I realized that we were missing something coming in; in order to keep the lovely canter we had, that Carol wanted us to keep to the fence, we needed that half-halt from the dressage lesson the day before! With that, rather than her attempting to make an executive decision 3 strides out to launch from the long spot, we got a lovely, steady distance and continued on nicely.
After that, it really came together. We went from going through the bounce to bounce-two stride to a vertical, then going through it the other way, vertical, two strides to bounce, which really required keeping her steady and not letting her get flat and run, which is what she’d prefer to do, often. And it was a great exercise to be able to ride both ways.
As good as it felt to be jumping a horse that was ON, the best part of it was feeling how happy Cally felt to be out of the indoor, jumping. She loves to jump, and it is so wonderful to really feel your horse light up and enjoy their work. The feel of the spring breeze in her forelock might have had something to do with it, too.
I was so happy with her work over the course of the weekend, and feel like we’re in a great place right now. Rather than feeling like we’ve got huge gaping holes to work on, I feel like we’ve got things to polish up and confirm, and that’s a wonderful feeling.