After a few days off and then that great walk ride, on Thursday Liam was a bit of a handful, and we had another one of those “I KNOW you know how to WHOA” days, but we put the energy to good use and ended up with a decent ride anyways, doing lots of canter circles and big trots. Friday, I put him back in the snaffle bridle since I wanted to just do an easy ride before taking him for a lesson on Saturday. It ended up being a fantastic ride and I had to hold myself back from doing too much. It seems the time spent in the double helped both of us learn a few new sensations and come to some realizations… most importantly, now we BOTH know that he CAN do all the lateral work and transitions and whatnot while staying through. I think it was important for me to see that he could do it, and with a level of quality I hadn’t felt in him before, and therefore was not requiring of him. Now I know I can be a little more demanding with him. I think he also figured out exactly what it was that I wanted from him, and he found a new way of using his body, and once that little light bulb went off, it became easier for him to do. So, he worked in the snaffle and did all his lateral work and transitions with a new found throughness and level of collection, in a new balance and with a new confidence.
And so with this fantastic ride under us, on Saturday morning I dragged my trailer out of its cozy snow bank and loaded up my Liam for a trip up to Wisconsin to the beautiful Wyngate Equestrian Center for a lesson with Elizabeth Poulin. Liam, as usual, loaded and traveled like an old pro (one thing to love about ex-racers!).
The lesson was fantastic. Liam gave me a repeat of the fabulous Friday ride in the snaffle bridle. Elizabeth watched us trot and canter a few circles as we talked briefly about what Liam and I are working on and our goals (bronze medal!). Then she put us to work on lateral work. We did a few leg yields, then moved on to the shoulder in. She tweaked my position a little, and had me bring his hind legs just a touch further in from the wall, so they were still on the rail, but moved slightly to the inside of the rail. The first few times we tried it, our shoulder-in wandered in toward the quarter line as Liam tried to figure out what I was asking for, but it didn’t take long to get it, and then it flowed quite smoothly.
Then we moved on to haunches in. If you remember from my Working the Walk ride, haunches in left was sticky for us, but breaking it down in the walk seemed to help. In our lesson, we started off to the left, doing our haunches in trotting. Sure enough, Liam gave me a great effort, but he seemed stuck on my left rein, preventing him from softening to the left. Elizabeth said the angle I was getting was correct, but that I didn’t have enough bend, and suggested I ride the movement with less angle until I had the bend I wanted, then to add the angle back in, so that I didn’t sacrifice bend (and therefore the quality and correctness of the movement) just to get the angle. At first, when I tried to do it with less angle, Liam quickly anticipated our former haunches-in, and I had a hard time trying to get him to do it with less angle. We once again had to slow down to the walk, show him what was required, and then go back to trot. It took a few tries, but we ended up with a much improved haunches-in. Now we have to keep practicing it that way, breaking it down as needed to maintain the quality and correctness of the movement until it is easy to do it right.
The remainder of the lesson focused on getting him to step further under himself with his hind legs, with the long term goal of improving his rather flat gaits. She had me “ride the corner like you are turning onto the centerline”, which was an analogy that immediately clicked in my mind and made perfect sense, resulting in consistently better corners . In the canter, we did a little shoulder-fore, looking for that increased engagement of his inside hind. Then in the canter we did some very gentle leg yields from the quarter line back towards the rail, again looking to improve the gait, so we wanted to see more engagement rather than an actual crossing of the legs. Both of these exercises went pretty well, and I will continue to use them daily to strengthen him.
The last thing we did was to try the same gentle leg yield in a big trot. As Elizabeth explained, my goal was not to cross his legs like in a regular leg yield, but to get him to step under the middle of his body with his inside hind, while maintaining the biggest trot we could, so he would (over time and with strength) use himself behind better. This was actually tougher than in the canter. As we started up the quarterline, he immediately wanted to shut down his gait and leg yield over to the rail, then when I went to send him forward, he instead cantered. After a few tries, we maintained a decently big trot and got the gentle drifting out leg yield idea going, but I can see foresee this one taking a bit more practice.
Overall, a fantastic and productive lesson. I got some great feedback and some great homework. Liam could not have been better behaved, and Elizabeth was great to work with. As an instructor, Elizabeth is knowledgeable and pushed us to try new things and make progress, but always in a kind and patient way, allowing us to make mistakes and not get things perfect the first try. I also appreciate that she not only didn’t look down her nose at Liam, but was very encouraging as far as suggesting ways to improve the gaits of a more average horse and offering to help us find ways to get every extra point possible in tests. It sounds like she will be back at Wyngate somewhat frequently so I am really looking forward to riding with her more in the future.
It was also really fun to get to take my horse on a field trip and spend a day focused on him and me. I always feel like these are relationship building experiences, enhancing our trust in each other as we gain new experiences together, and especially when they are so successful, I love to come home and have that feeling of satisfaction and appreciation for my wonderful horse. I think he mostly just appreciated the cookies.