Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Spring!?

Dandelions blooming in my arena.
It is with great hesitation that I even write this:  I think spring may have sprung here.

I probably just jinxed myself right there.  Bring on the snow storms!  The picture in my header was taken April 7th, 2006.  It was Spider's second dressage show.  The wind was blowing a gale and it snowed on us during our test.  Snow!  In April!  So, I don't expect our current good weather to last.

But, we have been having good weather and I have gotten quite a bit done with my horse.  I am officially making this the year that we conquer 2nd level.  We've been dancing around 2nd and 3rd levels for what seems like forever.  I've been noodling around far too long.  Spider knows the work.  I am confident he could actually do 3rd level with no problems if I would get off my bum and work with him consistently.   He has a good flying change, the collection is there (albeit mostly untapped because of consistency issues with the rider).  Our biggest problem is actually the counter canter.  It's iffy, at best.  It isn't a matter of him not being physically ready to do it, either.  It's a training issue.  Spider was a jumper, he was trained to change his leads automatically.  I imagine that in his day he was a pretty good jumper, too:  when I got him he would change his leads exactly when he was supposed to regardless of the rider's input! 

But, that's an excuse.  And I'm going to declare April as another Month Of No Excuses.  The fact of the matter is that I can control his leads when I am actively riding my horse.  When I lose my focus and fail to set him up things get wonky.  And so, we have been working on counter-canter a lot.  I started by asking him to take the wrong lead on the long side (That was actually my trainer's idea.  He also kindly pointed out that the reason we were having so much trouble was because I was collapsing my core and leaning forward in the canter.  As he put it: "See, it's not a problem.  You just need to ride like a dressage rider."  That was a part of the ass-handing I posted about before.) 

I digress.... I started out by asking for the wrong lead on the long side.  As I said, with Spider it's a training issue.  He will take the "correct" lead unless the rider makes it crystal clear that the counter-canter is desired.  Since I'm the rider, that means that his failure to take or maintain the lead I want is my fault.  This means I need to concentrate, set him up and make my aids clear.  We prepared by trotting the short side.  As we approached the long side, I flexed him in and out of the circle a few times, ending with flexing out, then asked for the counter canter.  By only counter-cantering on the long side (straight) I also eliminated an opportunity for him to second guess me.  Spider wants to change his leads when he changes direction.  The mistake I was making was by going whole-heartedly into the canter serpentines (called for in 2nd level test 1) without first making sure that my horse understood what I wanted.  He needed to understand that I really did want him to canter on the "wrong" lead.  By asking for the "wrong" lead on a straightaway and then being preemptive, asking for trot before he had a chance to change, I reinforced the idea that the counter-canter was what I wanted, without having to resort to punishment (immediately asking for trot after an unwanted change, and then counter-canter again, what many trainers suggest for this type of problem). 

Spider responded to this tactic nicely.  So nicely that we stepped it up a notch.  Once I was happy that he would take the wrong lead when asked, and maintain it until I asked for the trot transition, we graduated to 20m circles.  In the past, I have attempted 20m circles in counter-canter by taking the correct lead on a circle, then attempting a figure eight or serpentine with no change of lead.  It wasn't really working for me.  Some days we got it, most days it failed.  With this in mind, I asked for the counter canter on the circle.  Not a change of direction with no change of lead, but actually asking for the "wrong" lead on a circle.  To prepare, I flexed him into the circle, then flexed him out.  On the "out" flex, I asked for the counter-canter.  Now, it wasn't perfect.  He picked up the "correct" lead on several of our tries.  When he picked up a lead I didn't want, I immediately transitioned down and the asked again until he got it.  When he picked up the lead I wanted, we cantered two full rounds on the 20m circle, then took a walk break. 

We'll keep going with that, until he consistently takes the lead I ask for.  Then, after I am satisfied that he understands that I do indeed want him to canter on the "wrong" lead, we'll graduate to the 2nd level serpentine. 

5 comments:

  1. Excellent work. It also explains why, in dressage, the counter canter should be confirmed before you teach the flying change--not the approach of jumper trainers.

    I find that riding and keeping the counter lead is much a matter of rider commitment and the "internal voice" saying to your whole body...right lead or left lead. When you are riding a lead, think about exactly how your body feels--weight in correct seat bone, etc.--and then transfer that to riding that lead as a counter. Meaning--it's a much mental as physical.

    I think third level is more fun than second, so shoot for that!! *G*

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  2. Nice work. I'm sure with your no excuses April plan you'll be doing third level in no time.

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  3. It is funny how easy we get counter-canter when we do not want it. We say that our horse is false. But then when we want the counter-canter, we can't have it LOL!

    I like the comment about riding like a dressage rider hahaha! I bet you DO ride like a drssage rider, he was just being Mr smarty-pants ^-^

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  4. Dandelions? Already? They were such a problem last year for poor Vinny.

    I look forward to your progress. We're just training level aiming at first, but it helps to read more advanced ideas.

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  5. I'm looking forward to your future posts and seeing how this goes. Hope you try for 3rd level this season too, but that's easy for me to say :)Sounds like your on the right track with the counter counter. Spider's good jumping training creates a whole new challenge, but it also sounds like he'll respond well with the training you're doing.

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