In case you didn’t know already, I love Queen.
I’m having a crush work week and have a little dressage schooling outing at my MIL’s planned for this weekend and didn’t appropriately plan my rides, so Tuesday’s ride turned out to be a lunging session. I’ve always wanted to know what Murray’s trot would look like with a little suspension added to it, pole work is important and a goal for this quarter, so I thought I’d lunge the kid over some poles. I put down one to start because, you know, starting slow and giving him a chance to get used to things and all that, and Murray was like “uhh wut is dis obstakle…?”
Almost every approach to the pole he threw in a tiny step or launched himself over it or did that weird young-horse-freeze-frame gait where he kinda paused over the fence with his feet in the air — but NOT in a cute way. I’m not talented enough to lunge and video so we see no evidence of this. He did settle down into the exercise, and so I started cantering him over it which actually went much better. But first I had to convince Murray that I actually meant canter, not just keep trotting at the same pace like nobody every asked you to do anything. I gave him a whole circle (far too generous) to get his shit together, asked him to canter one more time, and when he didn’t respond within three trot steps I reminded him why lunge whips have poppers. (Aside: the canter is progressing magnificently, but you can see from this picture and the ones tracking left at the bottom that his right hind really is still weak.)
Murray’s response on the lunge line pretty much any time you scare him is to go straight sideways. It’s actually a thing to behold, he just increases the diameter of the circle by like 3-6 meters and if he needs to bust outta there, he’s usually ripped the lunge line out of your hands in the process so he’s free to do what he wants. Murray did two of these little double takes in a row — the second one just for good measure I guess? — and was prompt off my vocal aids for the rest of the session. After cantering both directions over the pole (which he actually didn’t suck at), I paused, added a second trot pole, and asked him to re-negotiate the “question”
The additional trot pole was actually really helpful in encouraging Murray to keep a consistent pace and actually lift up all his legs. Shocker. Although, we definitely are not trot pole experts just yet. Or even very good at it.
One of Murray’s body work people (the masseuse, actually) suggested lots of poles to encourage him to lift up the forehand and loosen his shoulders. Unfortunately, they don’t really seem to do that. He certainly articulates his joints more, but has a strong tendency to just drag himself through the poles on the forehand. I’ve tried putting them closer together, but then Murray gets bamboozled and just smashes through them. It seems like the standard 4.5 foot distance is the best one for Murray, but it’s not the best way to achieve our goal. At least if I’m up there I can rebalance firmly beforehand and then push Murray through the poles for a little bit more balanced attempt.
However, trotting Murray through the poles is getting him to lift through the withers, even if he is a little on the forehand (I don’t think these two things are mutually exclusive?). Murray is really reluctant to lift through the withers when I ask (aka half halt), he just is like “that’s not a thing, nitwit”, but if I can trick him into doing it himself first, then I suspect I can tap into that during our rides. Also, poles mean more back lift and good use of body, and that is always helpful.
I took my new rule (aid = response) and goal for more correct use of his body to my dressage ride with Murray on Thursday. First, I dressed him in my brand new white polos and a clean white dressage pad because polos are only ever white once.
After I lunged Murray over trot poles again (pics are from this ride), I worked on unlocking Murray’s right shoulder a bit. At some point in the last three weeks Murray decided that left bend is not a thing, and even going left he is sooooooo stiff and jerky and sad. So I counter-bend him on the circle and push him forward, and let him “fall” back to the left bend. I probably spent about ten minutes just circling left encouraging Murray to trot at a reasonable pace, use his whole back, and not shrink the circle down to nothing. This reluctance to the left is very apparent during transitions, and some combination of stiffness to the left + general crankiness meant that when I put my leg on at the walk I got nothing out of Murray. More leg just pushed him sideways, which is a well-known evasion of his (go anywhere but forward). So at the walk I gave Murray one more chance to pick up the pace based on my leg, and then gave him one solid thwap on the rump with my dressage whip. Murray responded with his patented “buck and scream” but moved off my leg very promptly after that.
Ah yes, of course. Demand responsiveness, get responses.
I worked on a simple pattern of haunches in to shoulder in at the trot down the long side, small canter circle on the short side, and a shallow counter-canter loop down the next long side. The idea here was that I would access Murray’s weak right hind with the trot work, encourage him to set some weight back with the small canter circle, and then work the counter canter. Down the short side before I would transition to trot, I tried to really collect and relax Murray’s canter so that I could prep for the canter-walk. Honestly, I can feel that transition in there. I know exactly how it should feel, I almost even know how I should be able to ask for it. I know we have it in there. But when I ask Murray to down transition from the counter he’s like “OH SHIT DISORGANIZATION COMING” and just cannot really sit down for it. I get it. It’s hard. It’s hard for me too, knowing that the transition is in there, and I just can’t bring it out.
(The gangsta lean is strong in this one.)
Murray was shockingly mature for the entire ride. Even though I asked him to work hard beyond what he wanted to do, he did keep working. I had to keep working too — when I slacked off for a minute during some left canter at the end of our ride, he immediately broke to the trot. I growled at him, rebalanced, and kicked him back into a canter, and I got a good transition and only minor reluctance to pick up where we left off. Who is this reasonable and mature horse that can buckle down and get work done?!