I have, it turns out, been pretty extremely bad about following my MIL’s generously given lesson and training advice for my horse since getting back from dressage camp. Though in my defense, January was a wash of weird jumping shit, February I rode less and less as we approached March: Month of No Fun, and since April started I’ve been cramming for Camelot. With no shows on the horizon for a few months, it’s time to get back to the everyday grind of improving myself and my horse in the long run, and that means it’s back to the MIL lunging system and some old riding goals (hello, sitting trot!).
The MIL lunging system is a lot like the Tina lunging system, demonstrated above as my horse fails over trot poles. MIL added loose side reins on either side to encourage Murray to flex his poll and lower his neck, which he does beautifully. The side reins never even have any tension on them, he’s just like “okay”. I start with lunging both directions asking Murray to push from behind and letting him loosen his sacroiliac region with trot-canter-trot-canter transitions, as many as he can reasonably stand without giving me the evil eye.
Another MIL directive was to start strengthening both myself and Murray by sitting more trot, which I have dutifully been doing. It turns out that your back is waaaay more connected with you sit the trot (who knew? definitely not all the greats or anything) and you can feel your horse’s body waaaay better. It’s not perfect, but I can sit for just about a whole 20 meter circle, and Murray is giving me a place to sit, so that’s rather nice. I’d like to think I’m approaching position four on the handy dandy Evolution of the Rider scale, but in reality I’m probably closer to a 3 still.
And then there’s that right hind. I read through Megan’s pushing vs. carrying post a few times and I’m pretty sure Murray wants to neither push nor carry with that right hind. Quite frankly we could probably cut it off and get as good of results as we have now. (Oh fine, we couldn’t, but only because Megan hasn’t invented leg transplants yet.) But in reality, what I feel when I ask Murray to put his right hind under and bend through his ribcage is this slow whine of noooooooo
Thanks to sitting the trot, not only can I feel Murray get glued to the wall when we are trying to circle, but I can feel him trail his haunches to the inside, then fishtail them wide when I finally kick him around so that he’s never truly bent on a circle, just traveling in some level of straight-ish leg yield-y thing. I got pretty cheesed about it in our last right, as not only was this no-right-bend bullshit happening, but it was accompanied by Murray trying to evade the left rein totally by flexing his neck to the left as I tried to keep a steady contact and push him around the circle with his shoulder. So down to the walk we went, and I focused on getting Murray to walk in a 15 meter circle with bend the whole way through, haunches tracking up in the line of his shoulders, without any fishtailing or booty tooching, all while I had a soft and steady contact on the left rein. I had to add in some gentle and not-so-gentle reminders to bend to the right, both with some steady leg pressure and a couple of big old thumps (leg is sacred, after all!). But in the end we really did get the whole inside rein-outside leg = bend thing, and then I could start pushing him to fill the outside rein.
I directly asked Tina how she approaches the weaker side of a horse the last time I saw her, and she said more reps with more breaks. So I took the time to give Murray a walk break after some good 15 meter circles right, and then switched to some first position and shoulder in, with big circles in the middle of the long side, and let me get the bend back (usually with another smaller circle). I’ve been ultra-sensitive to Murray’s neck position in our shoulder-in and lateral work, as I tend to have too much neck bend and not enough body bend. Unfortunately, it’s making me kinda fussy on the lateral work so it’s getting less steady. But I think we’ve almost figured out how to have just a leeeeetle bend in the body without a looooot of bend in the neck, so hopefully we will be able to renew the steadiness soon.
Murray’s unwillingness to “push” with his right hind is also very evident when we do both trot poles and canter poles — if we hit a funny stride to them Murray will jam or stretch a stride so that his LH is the one that has to work hard. If we hit a funny stride at the canter when tracking right Murray will always break to trot, I really have to boot him through to get him to push from behind and actually make the strides. And we drift more. And it’s even more evident in the right counter canter, where he is more inclined to switch in front but not behind (okay thank sa lot, weirdo). I would really, really like him to even out and strengthen up a bit more, so that he feels more confident on both leads.
So the plan is moar strength. I’m down with that. For me, this means more poles (ALL THE POLES, but actually not too many because they can be more tiring than you think, per Hawley), and a little bit more lateral work on both straight lines and circles. I am trying not to enforce the haunches-in too much at the moment, as Murray has been using this particular power against me recently. Somehow, I’m not such a fan of that. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do plenty of shoulders in and leg yields, and I’m going to bring the diagonal leg yield (head into the wall) back into rotation so that we can enforce the aids for the half pass again.
What are your favourite exercises for strengthening a hind leg’s ability to carry and push? If you say “hills” I will slap you. There are no hills, I live in a valley that is 300 miles wide and flat and hills are not an easy possibility. But I’m willing to put my legs and hands all over the baby horse to get him fitter and stronger! So have at it — give me your exercises!!!