Murray brought his A game to our last three rides, which means that I could really focus on exactly what I’m doing and fixing/refining that instead of flailing around just trying to stay on. Our rides have really started to take on a familiar shape. I think the routine is helping us both, though it does mean that I fairly frequently trick myself and use Murray up too much before we get to the canter work. Since the canter is where we really need work right now, this is not great, but I’m working on it.
All of this cooperation means that both my and Murray’s little problems are being brought to the fore. For example, our walk-trot transitions are utterly atrocious. Both in May and October (was it October?) with Megan I got the “I know you’re working on that on your own,” comment, with the implicit “So I trust that garbage will be fixed ASAP”, and there were plenty of ugly transitions for Hawley in March, Yves in April, and JM this Fall. So, a full year later and the walk-trot transitions are still pretty much garbage. Which proves that I, apparently, have not been working on them. At least, not correctly.
Mostly, it feels like the same old problem as always — Murray wants to transition using his neck, not his hind. But now the old solution (just hold on to his face) isn’t going to cut it. But without the face-holding, he still gets to fling his neck around and invert — even when my reins are the correct length, because it turns out that you can make a really short line between his mouth and your hands if his face is waaay up. Part of this problem is that our walk is chronically underpowered and Murray doesn’t step under during it, so there’s nothing to push off from in the up transition. But when I power up the walk, it leads to a lot of anticipation of coming trot transitions at every single possible change of anything — moving the outside leg, squeezing with both legs, squeezing with one leg, pushing with my seat. It has really opened my eyes to how busy my leg and seat aids could be, so I’m working hard to quiet them down and only aid what I really want.
Another subtle, yet pervasive, problem is our right-shoulder drift. Murray almost always steps short with his right front, which I imagine has something to do with his teeny weeny upright right front hoof and his whole right front leg being a little shorter than the left front*. This means that no matter what we are doing we are always drifting sliiiightly to the right. It used to be a lot worse, and for a while it “seemed” like it was gone, but it’s clearly still there. And I know it is because I find my right fore-arm spontaneously flexing when we are tracking right. Because I’m holding Murray up with my inside rein.
I do it even without thinking now — I feel Murray drifting to the right and I just grab on to that rein to stop the drift. Which is bad, because it means I’m not pushing him over with my leg and/or he’s not listening to that leg. Really both, because when I do make a concerted effort to push him over with my leg — and not just my heel, but really my whole calf, knee, and thigh — I get next to nothing. I’ve been backing it up with a light shoulder tap from the crop, and that does seem to work for a step or two. Tracking left I’m practically crossing my right hand over the withers to get that shoulder to come around, and I know I’m not supposed to be doing that.
(* I think this also has a lot to do with our other troubles as well. If you’re always stepping a little short on one leg and consequently walking in a bit of a circle, the easiest way to go where you want is obviously not to just take even steps with your two front legs — no, that would be too reasonable. The easiest way is obviously to re-orient your body slightly to the left of where you want to go, thus putting the short inside step on a shorter track to the thing you want. Voila! Problem solved. And while you’re at it, you can trail your hind end and never have to bother stepping under with that right hind either.)
The only reason I even can complain about these problems is that everything else is going so WELL. Murray is listening and forward(ish) and responsive. I mean, we’re even getting FOAM. And he’s willing to try new things and doesn’t overreact when I get a little snippy about transitions or drifting. We’re not fighting about working on the quality of gaits or turning right or energy. He’s been so great that I can start to pick on these little things that I hadn’t thought about in a while and really refine the way we work.
I’m butting right up against the limit of how long I can go without a dressage lesson though. All of the stuff above? I’m not really sure how to fix it. I have some ideas, but based on my past history of “ideas that fix Murray” they are bound to be wrong. So it’s a good thing that we get to have our first lesson with Tina next week and there’s a clinic with JM in early January. Time to put some more tools in my kit!