We’re heading into fall, with the prospect of the long winter stretching before us. As I warmed Jag up for a lesson this week, Christy and I chatted about the next seven months. We’re going to be stuck inside for most of that time. It’s easy to get bored and lose focus when you ride inside day after day, and the horses can get pretty bored, too.
I want to nail Training level next year, which will be complicated by the fact that Jag has a lateral canter, with four beats instead of the desired three. Horses with this gait are harder to collect, keep round, and bend. It’s not desirable in dressage. The good news is that Christy has dealt with this – it’s not uncommon among ex-racehorses – and knows what to do. We need to keep working on Jag’s strength and suppleness, and I need to work on my ability to control his shoulders, his haunches, and the bend of his body. This will take time – a lateral canter isn’t an easy fix.
As Jag stretched, we talked, discussing that that issue and other plans, including extra-curricular work over poles and caveletti to strengthen stifles, and maybe even working in learning to jump over the odd low cross rail here and there, to keep horse – and rider – engaged. Bursting with ideas, we started the lesson, and a very fresh Jag brought us back to reality. He was raring to go, and was giving me his impression of a racing Standardbred, trotting so quickly and strongly that it was difficult to even half-halt him.
“Bend him!” came the insistent call from the center of the ring as we whizzed by. “Break it up, make him think. MOVE him!” I did a one loop serpentine down the long side, and another smaller one along the short side. “Leg yield, face him toward the wall!” Christy commanded. I did as I was told …. and miraculously, the tempo started to regulate. “Again!” Christy called, and this time, the results were even better – he came up over his back and softened in my hand. Christy later explained that the action of the leg yield forced my not-listening horse to step over with his hind, pushing him into the outside rein, and generating a better connection.
The trick, at that point, was to keep him connected. “You’re losing him! Outside aids!” Christy called, as Jag decided he had expended enough effort, and tried to pop his outside shoulder out. I circled, being sure to hold my outside rein and using a more active inside leg to get better bend and engage his hind end. “Good, that’s good, keep riding him!” Christy called, “Now, circle again, and counter bend while you — what are you doing?”
“I’m taking a rest!” I replied, gasping for air and giving Jag some rein as we dropped to a walk. Between the two of them, I was starting to tire out. The lesson continued, with more trot work that improved in quality. Christy laid down a row of trot poles for us, and we added those to the mix. I was thrilled when I felt Jag’s back come up underneath me as he stepped lightly through the poles – more often than not, he’s happy to stomp his way through the obstacles.
We continued with lots of trot work designed to help us regulate our tempo – bending, serpentines, circles, poles. We ended with more work on leg-yields at the walk, which I practiced last night too, along with adjusting his trot from big trot/little trot last night. We have a long way to go before we can lay down a great Training level ride with a truly quality canter. This will give me something to shoot for over the long winter months.