Making Lemonade From Jumps

I had a few things I wanted to work on with Liam today.  Transitions, in particular halt-trot and trot-halt, as well as trot-canter and even more so canter-trot.  The canter itself, since lately he has begun to develop a more regular, 3 beat canter with the teeniest bit of uphill balance.  And lastly,the 10 m circle at the trot, for first level.

And, since it rained the last few days and today turned into a pretty nice, moderately sunny day, I figured I’d ride outside.  The arena had been “well watered” by all the rain, and although a little thick still, I thought it would be good to work on different footing in preparation for shows, so out I went.

There were still jumps set up in the arena, two on each quarter line, and one in the center of each long diagonal.   At first I looked over the obstacle course as Liam and I walked around and thought about how I could work around this stuff.  As many dressage riders probably agree, jumps set up like this do present a challenge to regular dressage work… no quarter lines, no center line, no diagonals, and tough to find space for a 20 m circle.   But as I reconsidered my goals for the day, I realized I didn’t really need any of those things.  And furthermore, the line of jumps on the quarter line was set perfectly to help with my 10 m circles.

So I made an exercise that worked beautifully.  I rode a sort of flattened figure 8 around the two jumps so I made half a 10 m circle around the jump and returned to the rail going in the opposite direction, then rode another half a 10 m circle around the other jump and returned to the rail to repeat.  The half a 10 m circle and return to the rail is in First level Test 1, and this was a great way to practice it.  The jumps gave me an easy guideline to keep the size of my circles consistent, and I think helped Liam to understand what I wanted from him by giving him a marker to work around.

I mixed up the exercises to include the other things I wanted to work on too, and overall had a very successful and very enjoyable ride.  Liam is really getting stronger, and is able to use his back more and to push more from his back end.  I think he is starting to get the idea of the lengthening, and the difference in his canter is just incredible.  He had a very flat, lateral canter (as do many tb’s at the track I noticed when I was there last weekend!) and he stills goes back to that when he loses balance or gets tired, or when I stop riding it correctly.  But when I sit up and ride the canter uphill, and use my half halts and figures to keep him balanced and organized, he can produce an entirely different gait.  It feels much better, and as he is getting stronger he is able to carry it more easily and for longer periods of time.  Along with this change in his gait, the transition into the canter especially has improved, and also the transition back to trot, which is still the more difficult one.   This horse just continues to amaze me, and is a perfect example of how dressage improves a horse.


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