Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Shaking Things Up

Yesterday we had a real live earthquake, an exciting thing for this area!  My horses did not even notice.  They looked up from grazing when I ran out the house just long enough to give me a "What's your problem?" look, then went back to eating.  So much for animals being "in tune" with nature and being able to sense these things.

"Umm, Hello.... We're busy!  Predict your own earthquake."

Aside from literal earth shaking, I've also been shaking things up a bit training-wise the last two days.  So far my riding has been fairly inconsistent this month, so I've been focusing on the basics:  forward, round, contact.  Since my neck is finally beginning to feel a bit better, I threw in some shoulder-in yesterday.

At first it wasn't great.  Spider just popped his outside shoulder and fell onto his forehand,  not really crossing over with his inside fore leg or lifting his shoulders.  Evading me, little stinker! I tried again, this time remembering to block his outside shoulder with a strong half-halt and to lift my inside rein upwards to free his inside shoulder.  Success!  I felt his shoulders lift and could see the cross-over in front.  In this fashion, we practiced several shoulder-ins in both directions at trot and canter. 

Today I was originally going to take a fairly light day.  But Spider felt good, and I felt good, and we ended up working for nearly an hour!  I started by revisiting the shoulder-ins from yesterday, then we played a bit with transitions within the gaits: collecting the gait, then going back to the working gait.  After he was feeling pretty good with that, I decided to try a little half-pass.

I introduced half-pass to Spider a few years ago, but never really polished it.  It was really just something we played around with.  Since then, he really hasn't felt collected enough to revisit it, because of my inconsistency with riding.  Although we really aren't that consistent yet, I decided to throw it out there anyway. 

I started at walk, tracking right (his good side).  From the corner, I brought him into a shoulder-in.  Then turned him right onto the center line (still thinking "shoulder-in").  From the center line, I moved my outside leg back, shifted my hands to the right and began to ask him to move sideways into the bend.  And he did it!!!!  His haunches trailed a bit, but he kept the bend.  It was a very nice "baby" half pass.  We did two more tracking right at walk, then tried left.  And it was great, too!

Drunk on my baby half-pass success, I tried for more.  I stepped it up to trot.  Tracking right, we nailed it.  The impulsion of the trot even kept his haunches from trailing as much.  Tracking left, he broke to a walk as I asked for the sideways movement.  I tried again, same result.  Obviously, I was going to have to get tricky...

For my third try at trot halfpass left, I asked for shoulder-in from the corner, then turned down center line and kept right on turning onto a 10 meter circle.  The circle re-balanced Spider, and as we came back to center line I asked for the halfpass.  He nailed it!  I was so proud of my little Thoroughbred.  We called it a day after that, since he had done so well.

But as I thought about it more, my glee turned into annoyance.  I am still struggling with canter-walk transitions.  If I can do a decent halfpass, why the hell can't I do a canter-walk transition?! 

Luckily, as I stewed, the answer came to me:  My canter work sucks.  Spider has a very lovely rocking-horse type canter.  It's easy to be fooled into thinking we're doing good.  Not so with his trot....  If his trot isn't forward and round enough, he turns into a jackhammer.  It's pretty obvious that something ain't right, so I fix it immediately.  But his canter!  I could ride that all day, even with his head in the air and his hind legs trailing.  I need to be more conscious of that, and make sure that the canter work is truly correct so that we can move forward in our training. 

I guess we'll be doing a lot more canter exercises from here on out!


  1. We've been struggling with canter/walk transitions, too. It's not an easy transition. Let me know if you find any tips and tricks! I've been trying to collect 3 strides ahead and say to myself " 1 ... 2. .. 3 ... walk" and allow him to walk, instead of hauling on the reins to make him walk.

  2. The mental issue with canter/walk transitions as that riders tend to think of it as a downward transition and do not ride it forward enough. You have to think and ride "Forward into the walk," almost so that your horse is ready to canter off again immediately.

    Get a good canter going, as that is important, and then within the gait, try a half halt where the horse almost, but not quite, breaks gait, then canter off again. The idea is to get him to "sit" a little on his hind end in a hesitation. Once he is responsive to this, you can take that hesitation down to a walk that must be forward, and still ready to balance up to take canter again.

    One of the biggest issues I run into is for the horse to lose impulsion down into the walk. Then he tends to "fall" a little on his forehand and is in no position to pick up any new gait without being rebalanced.

    Riding a good, foward, into the bit walk is not the easiest feat in itself, so a transition into one is often pretty tricky for most horses.

    I heard the earthquake was much stronger down your way. Interesting that none of your animals reacted much to it.

  3. Glad you're feeling well enough to ride. I get a lot out of your thoughtful posts. Even though Val and I are still working on very elementary dressage, I file things away that I read here. Thanks :)

  4. LOL, I am born accodring to the Chinese Zodiac a horse. May be horses don't mind the quakes.

    I was in the earthquake ravage city of Christchurch. The world shook, and I slept on.


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