Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Solstice!

From here on out the days will be getting longer and longer.  And, I'll be able to get more done! No more having to decide between chores and riding.  Although, it is clear from the number of poo piles out there that I've been doing more riding than chores!

Spider continues to do well in the curb bit.  We've even had a bit of a breakthrough.

As you know, I've been struggling with canter work.  Walk and trot are lovely, but Spider's canter is green.  He tends to be unbalanced and not active enough in the canter.  This makes collection and the Third Level "tricks" difficult.  I've been doing loads of transitions, to no avail.  The canter was just not improving.

Then, I suddenly remembered an exercise my trainer had me do in a previous lesson.  We were working on leg yields at trot.  Spider's haunches were trailing in every single yield, and my trainer kept yelling at me to "half-halt!!!".  I was half-halting, but it wasn't helping.  I kept losing Spider's haunches.  Finally, my trainer got completely fed up with me and changed the instructions.  I was instructed to trot down the quarter line, begin the leg yield, then immediately transition down to walk and back up to trot (while still yielding).

I complied with his instructions, although I wasn't sure what he was getting at.  It only took one try of the new exercise for me to understand.  I pulled Spider up and turned to my instructor.  "Wait, am I supposed to be using the half-halt to block his outside shoulder?", I asked.  My trainer gave me his best "WTF?" look, then threw up his hands, rolled his eyes and exclaimed "Finally, you get it!".  At which point I nearly fell out of my saddle laughing at myself.

I was not losing the hind end, I was losing the outside shoulder.  I was driving Spider up nicely from his hind end, but then letting him right out the front door!  I needed to use a strong half-halt to keep Spider from falling onto his outside shoulder.  Once I did that, the leg yields were fine.  No more trailing haunches.

I have been doing the same thing in canter!  I thought I wasn't getting enough energy from behind, but in reality I've just been letting the energy spill out of his outside shoulder! 

I had this epiphany while attempting voltes in left lead canter.  I ended up running us into one of the bushes bordering the arena.  More than once.  Not successful voltes, obviously.  I was annoyed, Spider was getting frustrated, and I just couldn't figure out why he wouldn't turn.  I put Spider on a loose rein to walk for a bit while I pondered the problem.  I thought about how he was responding to my cues:  he was stiff, not wanting to bend and his haunches were coming in.  Aha!  Just like my leg yields!  I wasn't losing the hind end, I was letting the energy out the front door!

So, I put him back to canter on a twenty meter circle and tried a couple strong half-halts.  And by strong, I mean strong.  I had already been doing regular half-halts, and they weren't working.  I had to get out the big guns to tell Spider "No, you cannot fall onto your outside shoulder!".  I took the outside rein, sucked in my abs, huffed out my breath and half-halted for all I was worth.   He was absolutely, positively not going to be allowed to fall onto his outside shoulder! 

Spider broke to trot, which was fine and a normal reaction to what I had just done.  I brought him back to canter and did it again, just to drive the point home:  He needs to listen to my half halt.  I gave him a minute to process this new information, then did a couple of lighter half halts to see if he would be more responsive.  He was, so I tried the volte again.  We did not run into the bushes. 

More importantly, I suddenly felt the activity and energy in his canter.  It had been there all along, I was just letting it escape.  Once I re-established a good half-halt, I was able to capture his energy and use it. 

And, isn't that exactly what the half-halt is for?


  1. Exactly!! Light bulb moment. *G*

    Riding off the outside rein, and "Squaring" your circles will help too. That outside rein is an essential.

    Happy Winter Solstice back atcha!

  2. Excellent breakthrough!

    I'm just starting to realize how crooked I've made Izzy and how to correct it. Also the exciting part, which is how fabulous she feels when I finally find that elusive straightness.

  3. Thanks for the beautiful photo.

    The outside rein connection is key - awesome post explaining why... great work! :)

    Merry Christmas to you and your family Shannon, and best wishes for a healthy, happy New Year!

  4. Great post. Thanks for sharing your experience. I've been struggling with getting Rogo to do even a good 20 m circle since he's been at the trainer's and we're making him use his hind end more. He'd go waaay out on the open end of the circle while my teacher yelled "outside rein, outside rein". I finally got it (and the outside leg on too). The jump in his canter now is amazing. Reading about your experience reinforces it - I can picture it better.
    Happy holidays!

  5. That is awesome! I love light bulb moments. :D Good job taking a break to think out the problem and then fixing it.


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