Days three and four of dressage camp were cold, cold, cold. I had snugged Murray up in his medium weight blanket with a stable sheet underneath because it was supposed to be in the 30s for several hours at night, and in the morning he wasn’t sweating so I figured I had done the right thing.
During lunging we really focused on opening up Murray’s stride and asking him to push and stretch through his SI joint and across his croup*. The neat thing about having a horse who’s a sub-par mover is that you can easily tell when he’s improving, because the change is really, really obvious. For Murray, if he’s not on the forehand it’s hard for him to track up, so all we were looking for was push and stretch behind. At first he could only keep it together for a few steps at a time, and when I asked for a little more he would break into the canter. MIL said to accept these transitions and go with it — but Murray has to canter for at least a couple of circles when he chooses to canter. While it’s not what I’m asking for (therefore less than ideal), the gymnasticizing benefits of good transitions make the good ones worthwhile*. In a month or so if Murray refuses to stretch out his trot and chooses only to canter instead, then we can get firm and insist on trotting.
We also added a new element at the walk — the BIG walk. MIL was like “come on Murray! Thoroughbreds are KNOWN for their big walks!” as he shuffled along all “it’s not actually possible to stretch into the contact and swing my pelvis at the same time, you are mistaken.” Murray was relaxed enough that I could incorporate the whip a little bit, and ask for a bit more walk. I really had to focus on “allowing” the walk with my body, which in my case feels a lot like pushing at the walk*. But I’m a naturally stiff-backed person (British-adjacent upbringing and all) with a stiff seat, so I have to really feel the following to actually be following. All of our walk has to be big, big, big, and forward!!! from now on. Which is true at home, too, but apparently I want it to be even bigger.
We kept our trot work a little shorter, but incorporated a few new exercises. Murray started to pull his patented Murray evasions, which was like “oh hey, you want me in the outside rein? Cool! That must mean sideways! I can go sideways all day! LOOK HOW SIDEWAYS I CAN RUN!” or “oh a little circle? I CAN MAKE THE TINIEST CIRCLE FALLING ALL OVER MYSELF BUT LOOK IT SO TIIINNNYYYY!!!” MIL noticed pretty quickly that I was not actually asking for teeny weeny circles when she asked me to make bigger ones, and gave me a good way to evade the evasions*. When Murray wants to go all sideways, I open the door forward (hands forward, leg on) and are like “nope, remember, straight!”. When Murray wants to make a teeny weeny circle, I treat it like a shoulders in and spiral him out. Ha, Murray! Take that!
During ride three we worked on leg yields to change direction across the diagonal. The mirrors were so amazingly wonderful for the lateral work — I could see everything that was going on and tell when I was on three tracks, what legs were crossing over, and how straight we were. MIRRORS I WANTS THEM. *grabby hands* In the leg yields MIL had me focus on not letting Murray’s haunches lead, and not overbending his neck (shocker that I do that, right?!). While you want the body to be straight, you don’t want one of the hind legs to be the first moving over. And I tend to get a little crazy on the idea of straightness so I actually end up crooked.
We also worked on starting the half pass, which made me pretty super happy! It was a very baby half pass to be sure, but it was the beginning of one! We started with the shoulders in down the long side for 2-3 strides, then I moved my hands over to the inside and put my outside leg on to say “let’s go over that way!” and Murray was like “sure! let’s go that way!” So proud. Instead of half-passing all the way across the arena, MIL had me stop at the centerline (or opposite quarterline if I couldn’t get it together before the centerline), straighten out, and then turn and do it again. The goal, in addition to learning half pass, is to bend and straighten and bend and straighten* — which I understand is better than just locking the body into one shape and drifting across the arena.
In the canter work we focused again on the sitting trot-canter transitions, and Murray was MUCH improved. Clearly the idea that the round trot would meet the round canter at some point has merit, and letting Murray sit on the idea of the transitions without losing my shit on him sent the transitions in the right direction. Nearly every transition got better, and so we started using a bit more leg and less voice to get them. The goal here is for Murray to really understand that you canter off the outside leg only*, so that I can easily put him a counter canter if needed. That in addition to the gymnastic work of the canter-trot-canter transitions*.
So, two more days of take-aways!
- following body at the walk (and all gaits)
- BIG walk
- evade the evasions with clever work!
- lateral work isn’t just about going sideways — it’s also about straightening out!
- canter off the outside leg only
- gymnastic canter-trot-canter transitions (through sitting trot as much as possible), with as few trot steps as needed to be forward and supple
- jelly legs, until I need to add an aid, then jelly legs!
Of course I also have PAGES of notes to keep me riding-inspired for months next year!