I decided to document our fourth attempt at training canter to walk. I am very glad that I did!
I placed the camera close to the rail, so that we would be riding closer to the camera than in the June 2011 video. I knew that we would be off camera for parts of the ride, but this was a compromise with filming distance. I tried to work in front of the camera as much as I could, without putting too much pressure on Harley to be accurate. Accuracy is the finishing touch on a transition, not the first step, so I had to be careful not to focus too much on when we were in the camera's eye.
I am very happy with the progress shown in this video. I also appreciated the opportunity to be a ground person for our ride, even if it was post ride. Some things that I am now working on in our rides include asking him to stay released in his neck during the upward transitions. I do not want to hold his neck in place, but I do have to be careful that I am not dropping the support if he needs more from me. I am also using toe-touching exercises to increase suppleness and flexibility in his neck, back, and rib cage. Hopefully, this will also make him more comfortable so that he does not feel the need to root against the contact after a downward transition.
As for myself, my right side is tighter and I tend to raise my right arm and shoulder and drop my left arm and wrist. It was good for me to see this on camera. My personal brace is in my shoulders. It is a real challenge for me to not tighter up across my shoulder blades, which raises them and make the contact hard rather than forgiving. I am sure that this is also contributing to Harley's desire to jerk my elbows open or tighten his neck. He is trying to unlock my shoulders for me! Thanks, Harley. I will try to keep my shoulder blades loose by purposely moving them from time to time, even in the transitions. As all riders know, position and effectiveness are a constant work in progress, so although I write a lot about training my horse, I am training myself just as much. My stability in the saddle and a neutral pelvis have been my focus for a long time. I need to remember to move my awareness up my spine and think about my shoulders. "Trying too hard" is the death of soft, dropped shoulder blades in the rider, which further complicates my attempts to fix myself. But I will get there. It only takes 10,000 repetitions!
I like observing the conversation between horse and rider. I hope you will see that I praise often, give breaks often, and forgive things like head tossing or abruptness as we work on a new skill. I also talk to my horse out loud, although most of this is not audible in the movie. As he gets stronger, he should stop throwing his head up in the transition. He does this more if he gets tired, so I have to be careful not to work him to the point where he starts using the wrong muscles to do the walk to canter and canter to walk transitions. Now that he knows the exercise, I am going to limit canter to walk practice to three to five attempts per direction. I do not want to tire or bore him. Even attempting the transitions without perfection will benefit his balance, which should increase our frequency of success! I have already felt the positive effects on his canter and downward transition to trot. Continuing to practice this easier transition will help gently strengthen his muscles and coordination for the canter to walk, just as the challenge of canter to walk helps the canter to trot.
Dressage is an iterative process for horse and rider.
He also has one super electric tail. Let me assure you that I am not wearing spurs! In fact, I am not using much leg except to support the downward transition. Harley's expressive tail is a sign that he is being challenged, he is engaging his hind end, and that he could do both of these things with even less physical aid from me. He is a mind reader, big time. Once he knows the game plan, I find myself trying not to think about what we are going to do until the moment arrives and then I allow him by releasing the aids (physical, mental, vocal). Harley and I have ridden with a number of professionals, including my wonderful teacher, and all of them have said the same thing:
"This horse is sensitive and smart."
I just keep trying to live up to his standards! Thankfully, I am loving the journey.
Sitting the Canter
Canter Repeat and Starting Canter to Walk
Training vs. Understanding: Canter to Walk