Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Yay we can canter!

We had our best canter ever this week. I feel like (crossing fingers to not jinx it) we've made a breakthrough. I had a really great lesson with my trainer Melissa. She totally called me on some things that I needed to be called on. It's really great to have her be Bijou's advocate and I'm so happy to have her.

My lessons started off promptly at 9 am, which I think is the earliest I've even been on Bijou. It was foggggy! This, of course, meant that my little mare was shying and spooking at everything... oh dear. After about 10 minutes of bolting giraffe impressions: (see below for example)

Melissa asked if we even had a horse to work with today, and a month ago I would have asked the same, but I know better now. Bijou had this trick. She knew if she was REALLY bad for the first 10 minutes, I would get off, and just lunge her. I think she much preferred running around like a maniac to working hard under saddle, so in essence I was rewarding her. Then I got sick of it, and kicked myself in the butt to just ride it out. Lo and behold just at the point where you're thinking - "great, I'm going to be flung into the air today" all you have to do is make her do some HARD work, and then she settles in. This sometimes means tight trotting circles, counter bent circles at the walk, leg yields, etc. Then all of a sudden there's a horse underneath you instead of a bouncing bunny rabbit.

So, with that taken care of, we did some transitions to warm up. Lots of concerted 'on' with real contact and pushing forward with my seat and then big releases of 'off' to give her a reward. We've been struggling with the canter for a while now. Melissa wanted to get her to canter (not gallop) on a loose rein, so that I could then turn my aids 'on' and ask for collection, and then when she gave it to me turn the aids 'off' for a reward. This. just. wasn't. working. Every time I would let go of the reins (off means on the buckle) Bijou would rev up and get faster. I would get more tense, waiting for her to start misbehaving, she would get faster in response to my tenseness and you see where this was going.

We changed tactics. For the first week I just would randomly ask for a canter, and then as soon as she would get strong/fast, I would halt. This was not always pretty, but it got her to the point that when I half halted, it was strong enough to actually slow her down. This resulted in short spurts of ok canter. It also helped her realize that cantering is not so damn exciting :P

My last lesson, on Sunday, was a bit miraculous. I was supposed to have worked on what Melissa called "shutting her down" in the canter. The only problem is, I didn't get what that meant. I thought it meant some kind of shut the door in front of her, aka pull on her face. She asked me to show her our progress and when we realized we weren't on the same page we had a talk. Basically, I need to make sure that my body energy level meets what I'm doing. When I'm sitting in the middle of the arena chatting is 'shut down'. Armed with this new idea, I picked up a canter (from the walk, mind you :D), picked a spot, and just went into "I'm sitting at a halt" and without touching Bijou's face, we were trotting! It was amazing. I knew it was possible because she does really follow my seat, but I couldn't do it before because I didn't have the right mental image to follow. Hooray!!

This week, I've been really focusing on keeping my energy at a level that matches what I'm doing. I think that's why yesterday we cantered in both directions, with amazingly calm pace, and when I added contact, Bijou dropped her nose and lifted her back - even to the point where she had her head below her knees for a few strides. Needless to say, we called it good after that and I was smiling so much I got tears in my eyes.

I love my pony-mare.

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