Sunday, 11 April 2010

My horse is my...toothpaste?

Tonight the boys had a night of grooming and fussing only. Quadi and I did carrot stretches and I took off a lot of his loose coat. Bliss.

Here is Day 1 of our clinic (Saturday):

Quadrado embarrassed me before we even got to the arena, he decided to grow roots as Fin walked past him after his session. We were on our way in, they were on their way out. Quadi decided he could Go No Farther. I changed his mind ;)

I mounted up and rode around to get Quadi moving out and so Perry could see us going.

Perry asked me if I ride with a schooling whip. I said no but I'd brought one down in case he'd like me to use one. Which he did!

With my newly-whipped inside hand, we went onto a 12-ish metre circle ("ride the horse, not the school"; it didn't matter what shape we made at this stage) and worked on inside bend. The idea being that I was to ask with just a squeeze of the inside hand but also a very open rein so that whilst the finger movement was slight, the invitation to move into the space was very clear.

If there was no response to this then I was to very lightly indeed touch with the whip behind the leg, and further from that a gentle tap if a touch went unheeded. It's easy to get lost in semantics to when I say tap I do mean as if to tap a fingernail on a windowpane, probably even more delicate than that. When I obtained a good quality bend the idea, obviously, was to maintain that. Something which is all still very new to me so we lost it a lot but I had to get it back. When it worked I got a cheer from Perry and he'd ask me what I did, so that I was learning what to do and not just taking instruction from the side. Becoming a thinking rider.

We then went on to discuss the importance of transitions for Quadrado. As many as possibly, from pace to pace and within the pace. Perry asked me to work on walk-halt-walk, still on our 12m orbit.

Once I had a soft inside bend I asked for a halt, and in the process tried to maintain softness. At first this wasn't possible but the idea was to regain it as soon as possible, and to keep a good contact regardless. A little ask of the inside rein (I'd say a centimetre or two) and he was back with me. Then move off again. His head would shoot up when I asked him forwards and Perry called me over.

He said the reason his head was up was because I used too much pressure. I am to think of him like a tube of toothpaste. I you grab the middle and really give it a good old squeeze you lose your toothpaste. I only need a pea-sized amount, as all good dentists will tell you. I was already amazed at how little rein I needed and now I was in awe at how little leg I needed. All this time I'd been giving the most ferocious aids. My intention was never fierce, they've never been given out of anger. But it's a bit like the British tradition of talking loudly at someone who is not a native-English speaker. Quadi's not deaf, he just didn't understand. It's amazing what they'll put up with, and even more amazing that they don't just ditch us off their backs!

In order to help Quadi as much as possible I am to remember many things. Firstly the try and reach up and forwards with my ears. It's not necessarily the most helpful analogy but Perry went on to explain he wants me to incline forwards. Not from the waist, but just very upper body. Not all the time, and without looking down or dropping my chin. This will help align my body and also stretch over the vertebrae in my upper back, a source of much tension. It will also help remove the hollow in my lower back. When trotting I am to think of keeping my coccyx under me at all times. It feels very exaggerated to me but I know to look at it means I look more 'normal' up there.

Legs forward. I have to keep my legs very softly on Quadi's side, almost not at all, and the whole leg forwards. Opening my hips is very difficult but will give him room to lift his front end up under me. I also placed the balls of my feet behind the foot of the stirrup as directed by Perry, so as to prevent me anchoring weight down that way and to lengthen my leg without over-stretching my tight hips by simply dropping the stirrup a hole.

Inside bend, which I worked on for the whole session, is also imperative. If the horse's head goes up, no reins clearly aren't the answer. Two reins will only exacerbate the situation so the only answer we have is bend!

We moved up into trot. I wasn't sure I wanted to, I insisted it would be a messy and ugly disaster but was willing to try and wanted as much help as possible. So trot we did and continued the exercise. In trot I was to control the tempo with my seat and my stomach muscles. Very hard work for me. Perry said he likes to work his horses either a little faster or a little slower than they would which I think is a great idea, so we worked on slowing everything down. The slower the horse works the harder the muscles work, which is a good thing. For a while it was just Perry shouting over and over the list of things I had to correct..."Ears! Inside Bend! Legs forward! Bum!" It made us all giggle and laughing actually stopped me getting too tense because I was trying to do a lot at once. But we did it and received much praise. Everything I corrected helped Quadi move softly and slowly in trot.

Before the end, we worked on shoulder-in on a circle. To be honest, we ended up doing almost giravolta work, spiralling on a very small circle in order for my body to get it right. I had to point my hips in on the circle and give the aids for shoulder-in. When I got the leg aid just right it worked and he really gave me some nice, active steps. I couldn't help but beam when I felt his back lift up under me, pretty amazing feeling!

This was a substantial physical and mental workout for both of us so we stopped there. We had more to do the next day.

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