It’s been a crazy week. The temperature plummeted, giving us highs in the single digits and wind chills well below zero. I lost 2 days of riding to crazy temperatures, and spent my limited time at the barn checking everyone’s blankets were warm enough, plenty of hay in stalls, and lots of hand walking in the arena just to keep all the joints moving. Then the temperature came back up to double digits last Friday, so I got to try out my new surcingle (I love it!! It’s a Kieffer I found at the consignment tack shop!) and lunged a bunch of horses so they wouldn’t be crazy for everyone to ride on Saturday! I was struck as I was lunging Liam, who was well behaved but a little sassy, that he was being silly enough to pop from a trot to a canter on his own without being asked, but when he did pop into the canter, he held a very small, uphill, slow 3 beat canter. I don’t know if he was hoping I wouldn’t notice he was cantering when he was supposed to be trotting (he is a very good lunge horse and he *knows* he’s not allowed to do that), or if all the work I’ve done on his canter has built his strength and balance to a point where it’s now comfortable and easy for him to hold that canter without my help, but either way I was excited to see the transformation from racehorse canter to dressage horse canter!
Saturday and Sunday I had great rides on him and on Cava. I changed Cava’s bit to a rubber D ring snaffle (see previous posts about my bit issues with her) and it seemed like she loved it, and I finally was able to easily get her to reach into the contact and bring her back up. I was really excited to keep working with that bit and see if we were finally past the contact issues and found a bit she was comfortable in, but Monday she colicked. She is doing much better now and in the next day or two I’ll get back on her and see what we have. In the meantime, I’ve been keeping myself working with Liam, and had another canter lightbulb moment.
The trot-canter transition is something we’ve been working hard on for a long time. I want an uphill, balanced transition, where he steps with his back legs, stays round over his back, and reaching into the bit. For a long, long time, I had a downhill, falls-on-the-shoulders, runs into the canter transition, that of course was accompanied by a hollow back and ripping the reins out of my hands. Even longer ago, that was followed by off to the races! His canter has improved a ton, through half halts and transitions and basic lateral work in the canter. I’ve started mixing in counter canter, which has helped, and I often ride a shoulder-fore position in the canter. While the canter itself has greatly improved, from a 4 beat lateral racehorse canter to an actual 3 beat canter, the transitions in and out of canter are still not as smooth as I’d like.
For a few months, I’ve been riding the transitions into the canter by letting him stretch his neck out and throw his head up as he wants to, as long as the feeling I have under the saddle is correct. I want the back to stay round, and the withers to come up under me. I had the feeling that he wasn’t strong enough to do this without his nose popping out as he tried to balance himself through the transition. Now it seems my hunch was correct, because he is able to do the transition in a “dressage frame” (term used to simplify the explanation) without adding more weight to the reins. So the next step was to make it smoother and rounder, and following my seat at exactly the moment I asked for the transition.
I put him on a 20 m circle, and did a LOT of trot-canter transitions. Sometimes they were awesome, sometimes they didn’t happen for a step or two, or he came unbalanced, or kicked at my leg, or I felt like he kicked me in the butt as he did the transition. What was the difference? I finally figured it out. It was the timing of my aids. As I sat the trot, I felt his back legs working, alternatively reaching forward under his body. As I asked for the canter, I had to time it so my inside seatbone led and lifted, making room for his shoulder to come up, at the same moment his legs were positioned to step into the canter, so that his back *could* follow my seat. Bingo. It worked. I did transitions both ways. Sure enough, I had those transitions nailed, 10 times better than before! Now off to the barn to practice, practice, practice, until we can do them in our sleep….