Liam and I had a lesson with our trainer Betsy tonight. We did a lot of work on a 20 meter circle with a pole set for us to ride over each time we went across the middle of the arena. The pole helped us to keep our circle a consistent size and shape, and also gave us a point each time we went around to half halt and rebalance as we stepped over the pole.
We did some very nice trot circles both directions, Liam is more consistantly staying soft and round and on the bit, and he is responding to my half halts. Although, going to the left, as we would come over the pole and head towards the corner of the arena, he picked up the canter a bunch of times. Betsy commented that she didn’t see me doing anything and wasn’t sure what it was about that corner that made him pick up the canter each time. We got him to trot through the corner a few times, and we moved on.
We did a little canter work, first to the right, still on the 20 meter circle over the pole. Liam thinks trotting over the pole is entertaining, but CANTERING the pole is *really* a good time. I think in a past life he must have been an eventer. But, I digress. So we cantered over the pole a few times and worked on a few adjustments in my position, mostly being sure to keep my shoulders up and to soften with my hands a little over the pole so that he could soften over the pole instead of coming more up over it like it was a small jump. The right lead canter is not bad, but I do feel like he looks in more than straight, and he feels like his whole body is falling in, like a motorcycle around a corner, but I can’t quite fix it. Otherwise, it is relatively straight and balanced.
Then we turned around and tried the same thing to the left. You know from previous posts that our left lead canter is much harder for us, and we had such a hard time staying on the circle and getting the circle over the pole! We walked for a minute to discuss our challenge. Betsy noted that I was turning my shoulders to the outside, and that I needed to give my inside rein, but could also see that I was doing that trying to compensate for him cantering darn near sideways! His haunches were swinging to the inside as he cantered, which was making the canter feel unbalanced and counter-bent, and was also making our circle very very difficult. Betsy also suggested this was a big part of our lateral canter issue. She asked me to try turning my shoulders in the direction I wanted to go in (to the left, around the circle) and ask his body to follow mine. We picked up a canter and tried again, without much more success.
When we stopped to discuss again, I started connecting some dots. I was riding the way I was for two reasons. Remember my previous lead change story? He loves lead changes! When he puts his haunches in traveling to the left, if I slide my left leg back and try to put his haunches back straight, instead of straightening, he gives me a lead change. So he trained me not to do that. Instead, I was twisting my body trying to force his to straighten out by influencing his shoulders, since I couldn’t control his back end. But I didn’t really want his shoulders to move, so then I was blocking what my upper body was telling him by hanging on the inside rein so he couldn’t move his shoulders. Crazy huh! But the worst part was, the more I tried to do this, and the more it didn’t work, I only worked harder, and as my seat twisted and I worked to keep him on that left lead, I think I ended up actually pushing his back end in! And, I didn’t even know I was doing any of it!!!
So, the mystery I solved is that this problem goes right back to the haunches-in exercises I have been working on the last two weeks. I need to be able to move his back end around. And with my leg, not by twisting up my seat, which has become my bad habit. And, another dot connected… remember at the beginning of this post how he would pick up the canter when trotting to the left over the pole? Well, his haunches were falling in as we came around the corner, and as I tried to push them out with my inside leg, he instead picked up the canter. It’s the same thing again!!
To test this, Betsy next asked me to walk him straight over the pole and then leg-yield to the wall. Going to the right we could sort of do it, going left it wasn’t happening. First we thought maybe he really didn’t understand how to move his back legs the way I asked. Then she suggested maybe his hocks were bothering him. But the more she corrected my position, from shoulders to hands to hips to legs, the more I thought, “My poor Liam, I am just not doing this right! How could he possibly understand what I want??” So Betsy climbed aboard to test my theory.
They looked great at a walk and trot on a few circles. Betsy has ridden him only a few times before and not for a while, so as she got the feel for him I got to watch him go, and I must admit, I was very proud! He looks so fancy trotting around softly accepting contact, and she is a very pretty rider. They were the picture of elegance. After a few laps, she went back to the walk over the pole and leg yield to the wall exercise, and guess what? It wasn’t perfect, but he did it. She got a few good steps out of him in both directions. So it was something I was doing.
It’s a relief, really. There is nothing wrong with him. However, I will need to be super conscious of my own position for a little while, until I sort out what it is I am doing, and especially to the left. To be fair, he is resistant and Betsy also told me I just need to be firmer with him. But what I saw tells me that something I am doing is not quite right.
So, it was a very productive and enlightening lesson. It gave me lots to think about, and lots to work on. Updates to follow as we discover how to do it right! And then, hopefully, lots of things will start falling into place for us, just as Mandy said when she first prescribed the haunches-in and spiral circle exercises for us 🙂
On a totally different topic, I may have a new project pony to start working with. Don’t tell Liam, he was very mad at me when he found out I cheated on him! But check out the story: http://woodend.wordpress.com/2008/05/19/counting-blessings-blessings/