If you read about our last ride, then you may remember that we were challenging ourselves. Harley made an awesome effort to counter canter left, collect himself even more on the right lead, and tolerate my imperfections, which I know were many. Ever get that feeling like "where are my legs"?
Since then, I have given him a mental and physical break. On the very next day, I trimmed his feet, which are looking very nice since I gave the bars some attention, and lunged him lightly. I like to get him moving a little bit the day after a big ride, so that if he has lactic acid buildup his muscles have a chance to flush and relax. I am sure that our long post-ride walks and 24/7 turnout take care of most of this, because I have never actually observed soreness in him, but it is still nice to cross-train with some lungeing. His walk, trot, and canter were foot perfect and relaxed. What a good boy. This is also beneficial to observe after a trim. I get to evaluate his way of going and determine if the trim has changed his movement. From trim to trim, he moves exactly the same way. I guess I will keep his trimmer (me) on the books. I never see that check from myself, though. ;)
I rode him yesterday, but we did not talk about counter canter at all. I just rode him forward and asked him to be soft in all three gaits. I used lateral movements to ask him to be supple and carry himself. He felt a little "stoppy", which is not like him, so I was wondering if maybe he did feel some muscle strain from the previous ride. It is also possible that this was his way of thinking about re-balancing back. Sometimes he sits back too much and halts or transitions down. This is a "good mistake" in my book. I saw this as an opportunity to practice canter to walk. I stuck to my "3 to 5" rule and only tried three transitions in each direction. The third attempt was successful in both directions. We got walk-canter-halt going right and walk-canter-walk going left. Going to the left I released my aids earlier, so he was able to step into walk with a long neck. Actually, I completely gave him the reins, which was answered with a happy long snort. Lots of rubs and praise for that one!
That was on Friday. I went back out again this morning to go for a short ride and see if he still felt "stoppy". To be honest, I was a little concerned. My goal was to do nothing. I wanted him to have the feeling that there were no requests and no questions to answer. We started with a long walk in the woods. This was fun, because we met three riders and stopped for a chat. Harley sniffed noses with a cute mare. The other riders were very nice and told me how much they liked my horse. That never gets old! Harley looked pleased, too.
After marching over logs, working a couple gates, and surprising some deer, we headed back to the arena. I asked Harley to stretch to the contact. Oh, that's a request. Okay, maybe "no requests" is too strong a phrase. How about "no difficult, new requests"?
Doing nothing is hard.
We went up to trot very soon after entering the arena and I allowed Harley to stretch as much as he wanted. He trotted around with a long, long neck and lots of rein. He felt fluid again, although I did tap him with the whip to remind him to keep the pace. After he felt happy and ready to move on, I picked up the reins and asked (Oops.) him to go in a more working frame. As soon as he felt soft and chewed the bit, we moved into canter. We cantered large, we cantered big circles, we cantered with long, but not loose, reins. I did not practice transitions or ask him to collect. No counter canter in sight. He felt back to normal. The "stoppy's" were gone.
Doing nothing is hard.
But what would be a ride without a couple flying changes? I mean, he loves those. They are not work. I am treating them as play. So we came down the diagonal, I supported with my outside, left leg, released the leg and he switched from the right to the left lead. We cantered one circle, then headed down the next diagonal. No attempts at collection. No attempts at asking for a frame. We went forward and free. I put my current outside leg on for about three strides, released the leg and he swapped from the left to the right lead, his more difficult side. One more canter circle with lots of praise and then we were finished.
Now here is the part that makes me curious and I know that many of my readers will pick up on this and probably already have. What was my aid for the flying change?
He switched before my new outside leg was in place. It was the release of my current, outside leg, that allowed him to change leads. The changes were so smooth, that I had to circle to check that all his legs were in place. I did not feel a big leap or a pop up of his hind end. I could tell that he knew what we were doing as soon as he felt my supporting, current, outside leg. I clumsily put my outside leg on after the change and wondered why I did not feel him react. Then I had to look down, because I did not trust what I was feeling, and see that he had, in fact, already changed leads.
Nothing is looking like a wonderful something,
but practicing nothing is impossible!
What is a horse girl to do?
I'll just enjoy it.