Contact isn’t a game, and it isn’t magickal.
November 9, 2011 2 Comments
Well, the crappy weather is upon us, and I donned my favorite cold weather britches tonight (Irideon Wind Pros), wool socks, turtleneck, fleece, jacket and stocking cap and headed out. The horses were stuck inside for a second day, due to the heavy rains that have turned their paddocks into seas of mud. Derby was really happy to get out of his stall, to say the least, and the rides we’ve been having lately are great motivation, even on awful nights such as this one.
The walk quality for the last couple days has been really good from the get-go – really powerful and swinging – which I attribute less to my riding and more to the fact that Derbs has been cooped up and has a lot of energy. I’m taking advantage of it, though, and am using the walk as a foundation for getting him really through and into the bridle. The contact I’m getting is so strong, and even – he’s really pulling into the bit, and I’m feeling his back under me consistently. Really consistently. I’m even starting to play with lateral work at the trot – shoulder-in and leg-yield – movements that are way head of the game for us, but helpful in engaging (and strengthening) his hind end.
I attribute our ability to generate shoulders-in and leg-yields directly to the this new-found solid contact. *This* is what a connected horse feels like! I had a few glimmers of this with Maddie, but wasn’t able to hold the feeling. Derby and I, on the other hand, have been able to hold it together pretty well lately.
We also have a fantastic free walk – Derbs will follow the reins down to the end of the buckle, and he’ll stay there. We’ve also experimented with stretchy trot, which is also growning pretty reliable. I can pick him up, stretch him down, rinse and repeat to my heart’s content.
It’s such an elementary thing but I know – from my own experience and from watching the Dover clinic – that contact is fundamental. It’s not a game, as some would have you believe, and it’s not an ephemeral state. It’s physical, it’s feedback, and it’s truly something the rider doesn’t take. The horse has to give you contact, and the rider has to create the environment that encourages and rewards the horse for doing so.