My last ride on Harley consisted of twenty minutes of walking and five minutes of trotting with a few more minutes walking in the shady yard before hopping off. I know that adds up to more than twenty, but only twenty of it really consisted of "work", the rest was mounting, dismounting, and getting ourselves situated. My horse has not been ridden since April and I have had very little physical activity since then, so we are taking it slow for reasons other than the hot, humid climate. How did I make twenty minutes of walking productive (and fun) you ask? We focused on the mental rather than the physical game.
As always the first ingredient was "forward". I asked Harley to march along with some pep in his step, not hurried, but with a clear feeling that he was going to continue marching. To me this is what forward means in dressage. I kept the reins long in the beginning and only really shortened them to the fourth-stop. I wanted him to stretch his frame and move freely to the contact with a long neck. We alternated between the buckle and the fourth-stop between exercises.
|happy, happy, happy|
Our exercises were simple. From the walk I asked him to halt with a little aiding from me as possible. I always picked a shady spot to halt and I was not fussy about his head and neck position. I was more interested in if he was listening to my seat. Before long, he was stopping in response to me drawing up tall, stilling my seat, and pressing into each stirrup as I felt him taking his final steps in walk before the halt. These light presses in the stirrup really seem to make a difference for us. With repetition he also started keeping "at attention" ready for the next transition and with his neck straight.
Then I added "rein-backs". My goal was the same. Get the backward steps with as little aiding as possible. These were not quite as good as the halts, as I did have to resist with my hands several times to send the energy back, but they were pretty straight and obedient otherwise. I cue the rein-back by lightening the back of my seat to "open the door" and cuing him with my legs farther behind the girth than I ask for forward steps. Usually he moves into my hand and feels the resistance from my position before stepping back. I like this because he is thinking forward even as we move backward.
Next, we rode some deliberate corner-turns, not at the corners of the riding ring. I focused on turning from my outside leg and my weight to the inside over my inside stirrup, which I carry at the girth. I wanted to feel Harley initiating the turn from his outside hind. This starts to get him carrying his frontend more and usually leads to him bending naturally into the turn. A little squeeze with my inside ring finger was all that was necessary to encourage inside flexion if he wasn't already there.
After several nice, honest corners in each direction, we went to shoulder-in in walk. I wanted to see Harley's neck straight even as he carried his inside shoulder on the inside track. I felt for his inside hind stepping under his weight. I encouraged gently since he is limbering up after a long vacation. He is easier to (over)bend left and straighten to the right, so I rode each direction accordingly. This is still challenging work even if it does not leave my horse sweating buckets. He felt like butter by the time I asked for trot.
Our trot work was very, very simple. Move forward, straight, and in a regular tempo. I let him chose the length of neck that was comfortable for him and he chose to stretch (Good Boy!). He was very eager to trot, so forward was not a problem and his tempo erred on the side of too fast, but that is typical Harley, so I just enjoyed it. He powered down the long side a couple times with some big, beautiful strides. It felt amazing and those five minutes were up way to soon!
Now if I could just learn to squeeze a hoof trim into twenty minutes...
How do you make the most of twenty minutes?