Her gaits are mediocre at best, but when she’s working correctly, her gaits improve. Isn’t that the goal of dressage training? When we begin her shoulder-in at the trot is a little rusty, but at the end of the session she can do a nice, soft, easy shoulder-in that is round and engages her inside hind leg. Due to some track bling she tends to be a bit short behind, but after she works in neck extension and really stretches forward, down, and towards the bit her total physique changes, her strides lengthen, and the connection is much more defined. Oh yes, and she’s a chestnut thoroughbred mare.
This is Kate. I refer to her as my sunshine girl. I call her that because she’s simply a pleasure to ride. She’s fun, easy, willing, clever, and enjoyable to work with. She’s my steady eddy that I can ride for fun and then use as a lesson horse. I say she’s my easiest horse in the barn. One clinician told me that she’s not so easy, and in another’s hands she’d be much more difficult. Maybe the difficulties they sees are things that I am completely unaware of, maybe they see things on a different level than I do, but the truth is I love to ride Kate. She is my favorite horse to ride at the end of the day. I don’t have to don a coat of mental armor to prepare myself. I don’t have to worry about spooking, running, bucking, rearing, or any of those tricks. Her best evasion is to use 10,961 lateral ways to evade the direction you want to go.
In November I rode Kate in a clinic for four days. I’m glad I chose to ride her because she is super sensitive and the clinician took her sensitivity to the next level. She taught me how to do action reaction in much finer detail. She taught me how to put Kate on the aids and get a very clear bend through lateral flexion, which is a tool I will need if she gets excited at clinics and shows. She showed me how to finesse her into really great contact and use that to get a fantastic forward stretching neck extension. And she taught me to really key into Kate’s rhythm.
During Kate’s in-hand work it was apparent that when I picked up contact to ask for bend that she would change her rhythm and slow down. I was taught how to re-school the desire to go forward in-hand by breaking it down into little mini-steps. First go forward, straight, then halt and flex. Straighten, forward, halt, flex. We repeated this several times and then added in a hint of flexion while going forward. It was very clear that as soon as I asked for the flexion, Kate would lose her balance and slow. The antidote – after straighten, forward, bend, I would release her into neck extension on the volte and we were not to change the rhythm. Then higher position again, straighten, forward, flex, and release into neck extension on the volte – all without changing rhythm. Before the clinic I was asking for flexion and looking for lightness and bend. The clinician was the type of person that can oh so subtly change your focus to realize that yes, you have lightness and bend, but do you have the whole package? Now where’s the rhythm?
The results of riding in the clinic were fantastic. Kate now readily accepts the bend and is much easier to round. After the clinic it was easy to make Kate stretch too!
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