I really try not to work on the same things every time we ride. The basics (rhythm, straightness, forwardness, relaxation, suppleness, connection, contact, softness...) are everpresent, but repeating the same exercises in the same ways ride after ride is a drag. I want to keep my horse interested, so I try to keep things interesting. Sometimes this also means going for a trail ride, groundwork, or jumping instead of "dressage-ing".
So I waited a couple rides before returning to the canter to walk. This time I did not use strong aids. Instead, I used my voice "aanndd wwaallkk" and tried to still my seat dramatically from the swing of the canter.
Does my horse understand what we are trying to do?
I do not think that horses understand "goals" as humans do, but they definitely understand "intent" and "having a job". With each repetition, I was trying to ascertain if Harley new what his job was in this exercise, even though he was not yet able to complete the request. As a rider, I feel that this is a very important challenge. I do not want my horse to rely on me to place his balance and his feet all the time; I want him to have some autonomy. Ultimately, I would like to communicate to him that I would like to walk and he should take care of his body. This is an ideal which we will slowly work towards, gradually shaving off levels of support. Like any ideal, the reality may always fall short, but hopefully this reality will be moving toward lightness.
|June 2011: Balancing nicely in canter left.|
I think I can answer the above question in the affirmative, with some supporting reasons:
- Harley felt in the zone. He was focused and seemed to be cantering with deliberate strides. He felt thoughtful.
- Harley was listening and responding to my seat before the reins. The reins supported him, but I allowed him to trot between the canter and walk as much as he needed to balance himself. I judged how much was too much support by monitoring his frame and his softness. If he tightened or hollowed I was using too much rein or my timing was not in sync with his hing legs. This would also cause him to worry and lose focus, so I erred on the side of too little.
- The trot after the canter was very small, like a jog. Then he would walk or halt.
- The number of jog steps decreased with practice, but did not go below five.
- The walk to canter transitions felt easy.
Harley got lots of praise for every try. I know that the quality of the transition will be better if I wait for him to learn the coordination necessary to walk from the canter.
I left room for him to error,
because he would need the same room to succeed.
|June 2011: Canter right is his autopilot lead.|
In the meantime, Harley's canter to trot has vastly improved. I have felt him gather himself in a ball before the transition. This is very new. The resulting trot was nicely balanced and he was light in the bridle, which is a significant accomplishment for my horse. Attempting a transition in a new way, makes the old way easier.
|I love the energy in this picture, even if we have lost some softness.|
|A very good balance after canter left, especially for a horse who used to enthusiastically throw himself onto the forehand.|
|We are getting some consistency with the downward transitions from canter.|