Saturday was my first lesson of the New Plan for Drifter, me and my instructor. (I need catchier names for both the Plan and the three of us).
But before the lesson I discovered that the two little sore bits on one leg (which I’d noticed a few days ago and hoped were just a scuff from the other hoof) did not seem to be healing. Mud fever? Yep. It’s only a tiny bit, so we’ll keep an eye on it and treat with nothing more aggressive than Sudocreme and use Vaseline as a barrier when he goes out in the field. But of course the whole yard has offered their own opinions on “the only treatment that works” and few are pleased when I don’t take their advice. The advice of the staff members who I most respect was to follow this noninvasive course of action. It also sits well with my own feelings on the matter. If it gets worse, there’ll be plenty of time to try scrubs, scab-picking, mixing potions and whatever else then. If you don’t hear more in future posts about this please assume that his leg did not drop off and he’s doing fine. I hope that’s not jinxing us! But even if his leg does fall off it’s the weak one that he’s not so keen on using anyway, so he’s got a head start on managing around without it. 😉 . He seems pretty much unbothered by this tiny bit of mud fever at present, so I shall follow his lead and remain calm too.
So, the first lesson. As the instructor was feeling under confident about her abilities she requested the one-off support of the office manager, formerly a dressage rider and very knowledgeable instructor. She got on and he arrived to help for a bit.
It was really good. I stood with him in the middle of the school while my instructor rode around us and he pretty much gave her a little lesson. There were quite a few occasions where he said to her exactly what she’d usually say to me and I could see her find it hard when I find it hard, if that makes sense. And that made me feel better that it’s not just me that finds it hard. I knew what she was feeling from him, and for once I could see it from the ground too. They tried a slightly larger circle in counter flexion and he couldn’t really do it, but I was able to see it from the ground and see a) it wasn’t just me making it hard for him b) how he moves when he does it for a stride and how he moves when he doesn’t.
She cantered him on the right rein, although not on the first attempt.
He did get worked up about it. When I got on for my lesson the first few minutes were spent calming him down again. An interesting point that the manager made to my instructor was that you can’t put your leg on when he’s rushing. I know that sounds obvious, but I’ve been told to keep my leg on even when he’s rushing. It didn’t work, but I hadn’t really processed that it doesn’t – I just assumed I was doing it wrong. He needs to be calm(ish) and steady before leg aids can do any good.
I find I can’t really describe what was good about the session, but it was great. In my part of the lesson I didn’t need to spend it all building towards some failed attempts at cantering on the right rein because my instructor already did that bit for me. I did a little bit of counter flexion and then we moved on to other things. We tried some leg yielding as well. I have to say I’ve tried a bit of leg yielding on my own, but didn’t know if I was doing it right – this was the first time we’d done it in a lesson. If there had been time I would have liked to do some pole work, but it was getting a bit late to get the poles out, so we’ll do that next time.
On Monday night I rode on my own and tried working the counterflexion for only a few strides at a time, for example going round the corners of the school in counterflexion and straight the rest of the way. It’s difficult to get the balance between asking for too much and asking for too little. He didn’t sweat much during the session but it was quite cold and when I got home I ached, so I think I did work us hard, just not in the sweaty-out-of-breath kind of hard. I worked on asking for different things (bend, transitions, circles) but on keeping him calm and listening all the time. If I asked for something that made him rush I stopped and brought him back to me before trying again. I hope this won’t train him that he can escape work by rushing – the idea is to keep him in a responsive state at all times. A few posts ago I noticed how he got unbalanced and rushed when we tried to run the walk-trot test – well that’s the kind of thing I’m trying to avoid with this way of working. I want to work at him doing the basics without getting worked up. I know for him a turn onto the centre line can be quite difficult, but really it’s nothing for him to get worried about. I want to get him to the point where he can do something he finds difficult and still trust me and keep his rhythm.
I guess I’m starting to learn about the pyramid of dressage 😉 Work rhythm first, then suppleness. I guess I should have already know that, but there’s a big difference between the theory of dressage and the actuality of horse owning. I have to say that I used to think the pyramid was only for people who wanted to get their horse to the top, or at least compete to a reasonable level, but I didn’t realise how much I’d have to train my horse in order to get to that goal of cantering in two directions. It might not be Prix St Georges, but we still need to sort out rhythm and suppleness before we can sort out straightness. In some ways that makes me sigh, but in others it feels good to say “I can’t fuss about that now, I need to get other things in order.”
So I’ve been thinking about the little steps I can take towards my goals, and ways of working for progress rather than beating my head against things we can’t do.
I’ve been making notes. How do we get from here to there? What do I want to work on and how do I progress it? If you can add any more ideas to the below please comment.
Rhythm: Work on things that are within his ability and don’t let him rush. We can’t work in canter and he doesn’t usually rush in walk, so we’ll work a lot in trot, with circles, centre lines, shallow loops and changes of flexion only to the point that he can manage without losing his rhythm. I’d rather lose steering than rhythm. While keeping this, try introducing some of the below.
Counter flexion: First work in straight lines bending first one way then the other > progress to counterflexing around corners > then large circles bending first one way then the other > large circles in counterflexion > small circles in counterflexion > small circles in counterflexion with a transition up to canter.
Strength of weak leg: Counter flexion as above; Pessoa lungeing; Trotting poles; Transitions. If we had any hills I’d put hill work in here, but we’re a bit challenged in that department!
Improvement of rider: Sitting trot; jump position/light seat; all of the above!
Last night was our lunging night and I was pleasantly surprised to see how much better he’s doing in the pessoa now. I can really see him bringing the weak leg further under himself, and finding it easier to do so. This is a great improvement from when we got it and he clearly struggled to get that leg under him at all. That is faster progress than I expected (although probably more weeks have passed than I realise) and it’s great to see something getting easier for him. Looks like we’re on the right track!