Channeling Robert Dover (or trying to, at least)

I have nine pages of notes and hours of video from the weekend’s clinic with Robert Dover, hosted by Wyngate Equestrian, and I really will try to synthesize all that info and share it with you.  For now, I’ll stick to just a couple key things I took away from the experience.

First and foremost,  Dover focuses on the basics.  He tested almost every rider’s connection with their horse, and proceeded with the lesson based upon what he observed during the exercise, no matter what level the horse and rider were at.  One rider, who was mounted on one of the most fabulous horses in for the clinic (and that is really saying something, folks, there were truly some world-class animals there, including one that had been shortlisted for the Pan Am Games) that was purportedly schooling all the FEI work wound up working on getting the horse through and into the bridle honestly!  It was an astounding lesson, from the standpoint that someone at that level could have such fundamental weaknesses.  And this rider wasn’t alone.  Another GP rider had similar issues with connection, and a third rider who was competing at fourth spent most of her lesson working on bend.

It was fascinating watching Dover work with these three in particular, because I really wasn’t expecting to see people with issues to which I can really relate.  The difference in the riders from the beginning to the end of their lessons was amazing, and one rider must have done extra homework, because her ride the following day was truly extraordinary, drawing applause from the auditors, myself included.

In addition to his emphasis on the basics, Dover also emphasized perfection. “Walk perfectly,” he said dozens of times, going on to say that if your horse wasn’t through and on the aids at the walk, it wouldn’t be through and on the aids anywhere else.    He required riders to follow his instructions precisely, and had them repeat the movement when it wasn’t up to his standards.    As Christy noted in her first recap of the clinic, every rider rose to his challenge.  In our chat about the clinic afterwards, Christy and I both noted that the charge to expect more of you, and your horse, was one that we would be taking back to Silver Fern.

Finally, the last big take away for me was around forwardness and responsiveness.  I *know* that you need your horse to be forward and attentive, willing to respond instantly to the subtle aids that make well-ridden dressage so beautiful. Dover emphasized the fact that how we ride trains our horses, and essentially, we have to ride them like we want to ride, and require them to respond.

As I said, I have a lot more to share about the clinic, but now I need to talk about today.

Derby’s abscess seems to have healed nicely, but he’s been short on his right hind (the abscess was in the left.) I had the vet out, and while she did support putting him on Adequan and said he would need to have his hocks done at some point, the issues I’m seeing are more about weakness and tightness in his SI region. She prescribed a course of forward, correct work.  Which means that between what I learned from Robert Dover and what my vet says the horse needs, I need to make some changes.

It’s been two weeks since I really rode, so I did a short lesson to get back into the swing of things.  I told Christy to take no prisoners, and my formerly sweet trainer turned into a demanding taskmaster.  But that’s what we needed, and we had a good ride  – despite his reluctance to use his back end and step under himself, I was able to get him to do both, with constant coaching from Christy.

Because the correct work is now an absolute imperative, I’m taking lessons each night this week, and on Saturday, and will probably repeat the same next week.  I need to channel Robert Dover and get the perfect work Derby and I badly need.

Ask and you’ll receive

Nice contact, going right, in a bigger gait.

We’ve been working on establishing a better quality “default” working trot – specifically, tracking up and staying in front of my leg.  And overall, we’re doing much better work, and I’m able to generate good quality gaits  pretty much from the get-go.  There are two keys to our improvements – my staying balanced on the horse, and insisting upon a good forward response when I ask nicely.  Tonight a few other things happened – as the quality of the trot improved, I could feel Derby’s back come up nicely, and the contact really improved.  And watching the video after the ride, I can see that his mouth is a bit quieter and he’s a lot steadier in the bridle too. Best of all, however, I could feel Derby really engaging his hind and pushing forward.  That feeling of power is amazing.

Speaking of the video, here it is.  We were working on a few things – maintaining the quality of the gait, while also keeping Derby (and me) balanced and not falling inward – at one point you’ll hear Christy say “shift out” which means she wants me to get some weight into my outside stirrup and push the horse outward.  And late in the video you hear me say “Boosters!” – it’s at that point I felt Derby finally start to push.

We drilled big trot / little trot and then did some canter work that wasn’t fabulous.   I need to work on staying balanced in the transitions, and also reinforcing immediacy with Derby.  This will come.

LIttle trot. His back is up and he's holding the contact nicely.

Now I have something else to confess.  Last night I rode Tucker, the very fancy, very small (15 h) Quarter Horse.  Tuck has a ton of training and is light and responsive to his rider’s shifts in weight, balance and posture, and aids.  He was the perfect mirror for me last night, and the reflection wasn’t pretty.  It took me a while to figure out how to ride him – his short legs move a lot faster than Derby’s, and the tempo of his trot is a lot faster.  At first it made me laugh but within a few minutes, I apologized to Tuck for laughing at him, and asked him to please stop humbling me.  I want to do a few more rides on him because he forces me to stay very quiet – and makes it clear when I’m not.

Two firsts in one lesson.

We got some really nice work tonight.

We had such a fun ride tonight.  Going into my lesson, I mentioned to Christy that I wanted to work on “forward” first, because it’s dang hard to connect a horse that isn’t moving.    Once I had warmed Derby up and trotted a few laps, we cantered a few times – just a lap or so, because neither of us have an excess of fuel in the tank.  However, Derby still wasn’t in front of my leg, so Christy had us work on some exercises to get us there.

First, on a circle, she had me do trot-walk transitions, only walking two strides before picking up the trot again.  Initially, the transitions were mushy – indistinct and not prompt.  Christy had me remedy this by *requiring* a crisp, “trot NOW” transition.  Derby replied enthusiastically on our next attempt, stepping straight into a canter.

Not the prettiest moment in equitation, but I like how he's stepping up underneath himself.

Okay, so our first walk-canter transition was an accident, but it felt awesome.  I allowed Derby to roll for a minute, because an enthusiastic forward response is a very good answer.  The last thing I needed to do at that moment was to jerk him in the mouth and punish him.    From there, quickly tallied our second “first” of the evening.  Christy had us do trot-canter-trot-canter transitions, with just a few strides of each gait – and Derby responded with alacrity.  And after that, the overall quality of our work improved.

Best of all, we were able to get the transitions both ways. I still need to work myself into balance going right, but I’m able to get there, and able to generate good work that direction.

To wind the ride down and let the horse stretch (he’s been stuck in his stall for the last two days due to torrential rain and thunderstorms) we just trotted some laps – but I was asking for a big, reachy trot and also asking Derby to work over his back.  Building top line is still a top priority, and this is a good way to do it.  I was happy with his responsiveness and overall, it was a fantastic ride.  We need to keep him in front of my leg but we really are making progress.  He’s a good boy!

Puzzle pieces

He *can* stretch down and out.

Finally.  Finally finally finally.  We had a really decent ride today, following a nice effort yesterday.   Things are starting to come back together, and I’m relieved.

When we started picking at my position a couple weeks ago, one of the things I was struggling with was getting Derby to move forward beyond a sluggish trot.  Christy theorized that my closed hip angle was actually sending Derby “whoa” signals, even as I was asking for “go.”   As we worked on my position, Derby started moving out when the situation up on his back improved.  That was great but those moments were fleeting.

The good news is that things are definitely better.  Yesterday we had a very nice ride.  Derby was a lot more forward and I worked hard on staying balanced, especially as I circle to the right, since I’ve noticed that I tend to collapse to the right, causing Derby to lean inward.  I rode lots of patterns. paying attention to my balance, position and aids going left, and then maintaining those going to the right.   The quality of Derby’s trot and our balance through the turns improved.

Losgelassenheit

This long German dressage term doesn’t have an exact English translation.  It means looseness, but with suppleness, energy and throughness.  It’s hard to describe in words, but I see it now when I watch Christy ride Remy, or when she lets Liam stretch after they’ve been working.  The horses go forward with enthusiasm, but with balance.  They are on Christy’s aids, and work beautifully over their backs.  I want to do that.  And today, we came close.

With images of Christy’s recent beautiful rides on Remy fixed in my mind, I mounted up today, determined to build on my good ride yesterday.  Right off the bat, I had a really nice, swingy walk.  Derby was marching along with purpose and energy.  After walking around on the buckle, I  gathered up the reins and started to work on suppling.  We flexed left, flexed right and did some shallow serpentines. The contact improved, at least it felt like it did, so I decided to check.  Turning onto a long diagonal, I fed Derby some additional rein, and he stretched nicely.  I sponged the outside rein, and pushed with my inside seatbone.  He stretched a bit more.  This was a real improvement.

Circling right, I asked Derby to trot, and got a prompt response, and a decent trot. I repeated some of the suppling exercises we did at the walk.  The contact improved even more,  as did Derby’s trot.   Taking advantage of the much-improved and steady contact, I decided to work on adjustablity within the trot.  Heading into a turn on the short side, I half halted, and asked Derby to hold a smaller trot, and he did.  Turning onto the long side, I kept the contact, and increased my my post. Derby responded hugely, stepping out into a really solid, forward, ground-covering trot, pushing from behind.  I half halted into the next corner, and felt his back really come up.  Down the next long side, his trot increased in power.    For fun, we did some nice shoulder in, and Derby responded easily and willingly.

I was thrilled. Around we went, changing directions, getting quality and power both ways.  We repeated the shoulder in.  Derby’s back was up, and it felt great. so I fed him a bit more rein produce a stretch as we trotted.  I did dump him onto his forehand, but I sat up, half-halted, and we recovered.

This was, by far, the best ride I’ve had on Derby to date.  I think Christy really nailed it when she spotted the fact that my old position was blocking Derby’s forward gears.  I’m excited for my lesson tomorrow night to show the boss what we’ve found!

Joy, Pain & the Outside Rein

Today was truly a day with ups and downs, starting right off the bat with a text from the barn – Derby had been kicked.  It wasn’t an emergency, but he did have some scrapes and the location – the lower part of his chest – isn’t ideal.  The barn owner and her daughter (an ER nurse, and a nurse-to-be) did some triage and cleaned things up.  He’s tender but sound.  Happily, Derby and the other low man in the group who also gets picked on a lot are being moved tomorrow.  This is a relief to me – clearly Derby (and Remy) weren’t in a compatible group – and horses can be tough on each other.

I did an easy ride on Derby tonight, wanting to be sure he was okay after his ordeal this morning, and he was.  We rode outside and he was moving well and willingly.    It sure felt better than yesterday – I had a hideous ride, due (I’m sure) to the lingering effects of the weekend.   My riding muscles were screaming, it was hot, and I think we lasted about 20 minutes.

Today was decidedly better, but I still wasn’t terribly happy with myself.  I could feel myself tipping forward, and letting my leg curl back, so I did some laps in two-point and also did a good exercise Christy taught me – standing two beats and then posting two beats, over and over.  It helps build balance and steady the lower leg.  We did these exercises with loop in the rein – I wanted to be sure that I didn’t accidentally pop him in the mouth if I bobbled.

After we had been moving around for a while, I worked on Derby’s responsiveness to my leg.  I’m still wearing tiny spurs (until my legs are stronger and steadier) but a larger pair have been purchased.   For now, I have to turn my toes all the way out and poke very deliberately if I want to put some spur on.  Which I did, when Derby declined to heed my request (delivered via the inside leg) to step his fine self over, and fill up my outside rein.  He bent outward, effectively counterbending a bit.  I turned my heel in and *poked*.  A ha!  He stepped over!

I’m being very, very careful not to nag with my aids.  My legs are either on or off at the moment – I’m trying to avoid grey areas.  And after a few pokes with the spur, Derby stepped nicelyunderneath himself, and somewhat  into my outside rein when I asked with just some calf pressure.  I say “somewhat” because Derby resists contact a bit, but I’m pretty sure it’s partially a  training issue but primarily a rider issue – he’s better when he’s 1) warmed up and 2) I really ride.

I finished the ride practicing working from my seat – steering Derby with my leg and seat aids, and halting from my seat.  It’s all a work in progress but this sweet boy is a quick study.

After I put Derby away, it was time for my lesson.   Cathy is away this week, and has handed me Atlanta’s reins.  After a rough patch this spring with sore hocks and some farrier issues, Cathy has gotten to the bottom of Atlanta’s issues, and the mare is going magnificently.  I had such fun riding her, and can’t wait to get back on tomorrow and do more.

Christy had seen my ride yesterday which I know wasn’t pretty, and asked me what we were working on tonight.  I told her that I suspected it would be more of the seat and balance issues, but once we got going  … well, things went pretty well.  It was great to ride a big, proper trot again, and while Christy agreed that my stamina has waned, she told me that my form was looking pretty good.  Hooray!  I don’t suck after all!  After hearing that, as I cruised around on Atlanta, I felt nothing but joy.

So the focus turned away from my postion, and instead to the outside rein, and moving the mare around with my seat.  We did an exercise I remember doing with Maddie, when Christy needed to get.me.off.the.inside.rein already.  She had me bend the mare to and fro, from just my seat, keeping my hands still.  Then – and tonight with Atlanta – the effect was immediate – the mares both softened and stretched into the contact, backs up and engaged.

We also did some transition work, because I forgot entirely how to ride a graceful downward transition.  By half-halting the mare as I posted, and gradually slowing Atlanta, I was able to produce a nice, smooth, relatively engaged transition. This will be a particularly good exercise to work with Derby on as he gets stronger – half halts are an area of communication we need to improve.

Speaking of Maddie ….

We got some exciting news this weekend about my former mount, Maddie.   She and Heather (her new owner) competed in their first HT this weekend – a rated show up at Silverwood.   They went out at BN (Maddie is just learning to jump) and … they won!  Heather is clearly the perfect person for Mads, who looked enthusiastic and happy in the videos I got to see.  It was thrilling watching my old girl out on XC and in the stadium.  I’m so proud of her!  Congrats to Heather on a job very well done, indeed.  🙂

I’m beginning to understand

She's just so dang pretty.

I’m happy to report that I made good progress with respect to re-installing the forward gears in the mare.  Her motto tonight was “Ask and ye shall receive.”

Christy was in between lessons and gave me a few minutes’ coaching, and with her encouragement, we got there – in both directions.   And once I got the mare connected and over her back, following Christy’s instructions to leg yield out on the circle was surprisingly easy.

Getting to the good gait still a process for me.  Mads (and frankly, any horse) requires me to ask and ride correctly, but when I get my act together and my ducks in a row, and actually manage to ride the mare effectively, back to front – well, wow.  She gives me the most amazing gait, pushing powerfully from her hind end.  It feels entirely different from her trot when she’s less engaged.   When Mads is over her back and pushing with those hind quarters, the it feels like we have rocket boosters – you can really feel the oomph and thrust coming from those big muscles in her hiney. It’s the same feeling you get when you’re on a plane that’s barreling down the runway for take-off, when you feel those engines pushing the plane forward – you can feel that power behind you very specifically.   This is the trot that Christy calls “the trot that has a canter – or a walk – in it.”  That’s a good analogy, because in order to produce this gait, a few things need to be happening:

  • I’m pushing her into the outside rein – and holding that contact – with an active inside leg.
  • I’m driving her from behind, asking for more step.
  • I am softening the inside rein.
  • My posture is straight, my leg is long and draping, my shoulders are back – in other words, I’m sitting up and riding.
  • I’m inviting the bigger gait from my seat by posting further out of the saddle.
  • I’m using half-halts actively to encourage roundness and engagement of the hind end.
  • The contact is elastic – I’m holding it, but am also inviting the mare to go forward and maintain flexion.  However, I also have to “catch” the power coming over her back in the contact, creating a loop of power, balance and contact in which the rider supports the horse and encourages an even better gait.

What I’m beginning to understand is that this powerful, forward gait needs to be a constant state for us, not a fleeting occurance.   I’m sure that the well-ridden dressage horse is always in this forward state of mind, encouraged by a rider able to generate the power and maintain necessary balance. This was a light bulb moment for me .  This is what it means to truly ride forward.

More blogging! And riding!

Over the next week or so I’ll be riding my friend Stephanie’s horse while she’s on vacation.  She blogs over at Dressage Adventures, and I’m recording my rides on Oliver there.

Multi-tasking

I was back in the saddle today, after a four day hiatus due to a business trip and subzero weather.  As I noted in my last post, I need to re-establish forward, and get Mads back in front of my leg.  At the same time, I need to work on fixing the crookedness that is causing me to hang on that left rein.

Except, maybe I shouldn’t work on the two at the same time.  Today’s ride was a bit ugly, because what I got was some nice forward work — and ugly resistance, as Mads braced her neck and popped her right shoulder out.   I did a couple laps to the left,  softening and releasing my left rein, and she softened nicely into my outside rein.  Which I made a point of holding.

But when we went back to doing circles and figure-8s, I had trouble with the steering (!) and, over all, she was resistant to the left. However, the quality of our work improved when we did serpentines.  So, if I get to ride tomorrow (which is iffy) I’m thinking that more work in serpentines would be good – at least as we warm up.  And, I think it’s time to put the spurs back on, now that my leg position is better.  I need to add emphasis to my leg aids.  However, I need to keep insisting upon responsiveness too.  The last thing I want is a horse that is dead to the leg.

The good news is that Mads was nicely forward, though we still don’t have the quality trot we were generating before the holidays.

This nice trot is still eluding us, but we're working toward it.

In addition to the hanging issues, and the forward issues, I’m dumping Maddie onto her forehand.  So, half-halts need to be a bigger part of my repertoire.  I’m good about half-halting as we head into a corner, or asking her for a shorter, “smaller” gait on the short side, but I am not using them enough at other times, to engage her back end and invite her to lift her shoulders, producing the pretty, uphill gait pictured above.

So I need to get better at multi-tasking in the saddle.  This is always hard for me when I’m not fully proficient with a skill. Feeling what’s going on underneath me, and responding in the moment — and appropriately — is hard.  But that’s dressage.

Learning is a process.

I'm a big fan of my new leg postion. It's a lot more secure, and things like this aren't as scary!

I took my good weekend rides into a lesson tonight, telling Christy that I had figured out where my trouble with the right rein is originating – I’m popping my right shoulder forward – so even though my hand is not.giving.rein, well, my shoulder is.   Here, from tonight, in all its spectacular ugliness, is my issue du jour.

Where to start? Note the right hand (and shoulder) are far forward, and there is loop in the right rein. The outside rein. Nice.

So I focused a lot on keeping my shoulders square, pushing my left hip a bit forward (feedback from the Equitrainer a couple months ago) and not letting my right shoulder come forward. Obviously, I have a lot of progress to make in this respect.  I mentioned to Christy that I felt like I was constantly breaking and fixing my postion, and she assured me that there would always be something like this to work on – it may eventually be more subtle (I sure hope so) but, as she said, if it was easy, we’d all be riding Grand Prix.

As I rode, we also paid attention to transitions. I’ve been so focused on my leg position and other issues, I’ve allowed the mare to become very sloppy – I have to work harder to get her off my leg, and make her round onto the bit.  She’s fallen behind my leg, which doesn’t help.  It’s hard to do much when your horse isn’t even tracking up. Christy pointed out to me that I was having to ask the mare repeatedly for upward transitions, so I dispensed with my wishy-washy-ness and started using my whip.

I would love to say we went around like this all night, but I would be lying. Besides, you've already seen the two previous pictures.

Fact is, it’s hard to ride well when your horse isn’t responsive.   It’s hard to stay balanced, and keep the horse round and soft, if at the same time you have to kick the critter into an upward transition.  And I recall how easy my first few rides on Maddie were – Christy had put 90 days of training on her, and the mare was ultra light and responsive.  I’ve made her dull, and I need to fix this.

We made some progress tonight, getting what we call “big trot” which really just means a decent working trot, with the horse tracking up and a nice rhythmic tempo. It feels good to be riding that trot again, though I’m still not getting the gait in which I can really feel the mare pushing with the big engine in her hindquarters.   But we aren’t too far away from it.  And I need to make that nice “big” trot my habit.  That’s the trot that ultimately is easiest to work from – which is precisely why it’s called “working trot.”  It’s an essential piece of the foundation.

Toward the end of the ride, Christy assured me it didn’t look as bad as it felt (at least the last few patterns.  The first part of the lesson wasn’t pretty, I don’t care what she says!)  I’m looking forward to the point in the near future when I have re-installed the responsiveness buttons, and have fixed that dratted shoulder!

 

Joy

These winter nights, when it’s dark and cold, are sometimes hard to face.  After a long day of work, the prospect of carousing around in the freezing dark sometimes doesn’t appeal.   I was feeling tired and sluggish this afternoon – and while I’m truly happy to be back in my riding routine, as the sun sank the prospect of the barn became daunting.

I pulled on breeches, wool socks, turtleneck and fleece, and ran out the door before my darkening mood could sink my plans.

Arriving at the barn, I hot-footed it across the cold parking lot, and into the not-much-warmer barn, teeth chattering.  I realized too late that I really should have added some long underwear to my evening’s attire.  As I hustled around, greeting the mare, setting her beet pulp and alfalfa cubes to soak and fetching my tack, I started to warm up.  Mads was standing by her door, ears pricked.  I pulled her out. scratched her jaw for a minute, and put her in the cross ties.

As I groomed and tacked up, I got warmer, and happier.  I slipped Mads a few extra mints – she seemed pretty happy with the proceedings too.   We went into the arena, and mounted up. From the get-go I had nice contact – none of the hanging-on-the-rein nonsense from last night.  We warmed up, stretching down, flexing right and left, doing a little shoulder fore and some serpentines.  We trotted off, and Mads was simply gorgeous.  Light and responsive, responding to my softening inside rein.  I hopped up into two point and let her cruise for a minute, while I stretched out my hip flexors.  Mads trotted on, ears flopping.

Picking up my post and the reins, we started doing some slightly more interesting work – circles and serpentines in varying directions and sizes.  Mads remained nicely round and on the bit.    We worked on transitions within the gait – I half halted and reduced my post going into the short side, not quite collecting, but asking (and getting) shorter strides and a nice connection.  Turning down the long side, I gave Mads a little cluck, and elevated my post.  Bam! There was my nice trot!  We rolled down the long sides, and she came right back to to me on the short sides.  Good mare!

I was thrilled, and, I’m sure, beaming.  My dark mood and lack of motivation had melted away like the last snow in spring.  It was joy, pure and simple.

At the end of our ride, we hustled back into the barn.  I dove into my coat, and put a heavy cooler on the slightly-steaming mare.  After I cleaned her up, we hung out in the aisle, both pleased with the other and enjoying each others’ company.

Lovey-dovey

Got carrots?

There! That's the spot!

I like you too, Mads.

Finally, a special shout-out to my friend Liz, author of the Loving Cloud, blog, who is recovering from surgery.   Cloud misses you but wants you to know that he’s getting lots of attention, and things aren’t too bad.  Still, he’s like you to hurry back to the barn please.

You're not my Mom, but I see you have carrots. Let's talk.

Bogeymen

Ferociously cold weather has kept me out of the saddle for the last few days – when it hovers near zero, the arena footing freezes, and it’s really not healthy to work the horses in those temperatures.  I did get a ride in on Saturday, which was the first ride since the craziness of last Thursday.   Annoyingly, I was jittery and it took me a while to start breathing – despite the fact that Mads had returned to her sweet self.  It wasn’t a terribly satisfying ride, because by the time I got my head together, my legs were done – the muscles I’m re-building still don’t have a ton of stamina.  I decided to quit before I lapsed back into my old, still-more-comfortable bad habits.

So I was looking forward to tonight, but the drama llama made a return.  Invisible bogeymen were inhabiting the far side of the arena.  It was pretty windy out, and the doors were banging.  The far corner of the arena apparently hid a large population of them, because Mads was bothered by that corner, cutting the turn short. I took a deep breath, steadied my position, dropped my heels down, and rode.  We did little circles all over the arena, switching direction and changing things up.  Mads kept an eye on that corner. I kept breathing, made a point of not looking at the corner, and tried to stay relaxed, even as I bent her closer to the bogeymen.  I tried to yield her out to the rail with no avail.  Not wanting to set that precedent, we moved away a bit, and I insisted on the yield, and got it.  I’ll be frank – I’m not quite confident enough to ride aggressively (as in insisting on the yield and not compromising if the horse resists) in this sort of situation, and I don’t want to pick a fight I won’t win.

Another rider was having a lesson on her steady-Eddie gelding, who was blind to the corner full of lurking gremlins.  He trotted along the rail, totally unconcerned.  Remembering how George Morris had a dependable horse give a spooky one a lead over a scary jump, I waited for the gelding to trot by, and put Mads right behind him.  First time by the corner she was better, but not 100% great.  Second time, even better.  Third time, not a look.  Good mare!  I decided to move on from all the circles and yields, and started working a little shoulder in down the long sides, half halting and doing “little trot” on the short side, and then asking for a bigger gait on the long side.  I wanted to refresh my half-halts and work on adjustability within the gait.

On the first couple passes, I didn’t get much of a response from Mads when I asked for a bigger gait.  Going into a short side with an unenthusiastic trot, I half-halted the mare and in the same instant pushed her forward, bending into the corner.  A ha!  Her back finally came up, and I felt her step smartly underneath herself.  I gave her a cluck, closed my legs, and invited a bigger gait by increasing the “air time” of my post.  Bam! There it was! The power of that gait never fails to surprise me – it’s an altogether different gear.  When I get that gait from Mads, I feel like the world is our oyster, and we can do anything.

There was one problem.  In that strong transition up to the big trot, I partially lost a stirrup – it slipped back onto the arch of my foot.  I HATE this feeling – and it’s not safe.  Normally, I correct it immediately, which for me, means dropping to a walk, because I’m not yet adept enough to move the stirrup around on my foot while going at any sort of pace, and definitely not when Mads is in “warmblood” gear and is trying to strut it like Totilas.

Okay, I exaggerate but you get my point.

So, back to my situation.  I knew almost instinctively that I had to keep going in that gait I had sought and asked for.    I had to ride her and encourage her forward, and reward her correct response to what I asked.  I rode that lovely trot for almost a lap with my foot hung up in that stirrup.  I then half-halted and asked her for a nice downward transition on my terms, and got it.  Then I fixed my stirrup. We went back to work, and she moved out nicely for me, adjusting well within the trot.

I was glad that I rode her through the sillies and was able to get some good work.  Part of the new confidence comes from my more secure position, which gets better and better – and stronger – with each ride.