pony jump big big

I wanted to take my first jump lesson since Murray’s hock injections easy(ish), but also prep for my Novice debut in ten days.  I told B that we should warm up, then start at Novice height and just build up to the course.  My goal for this was manifold.

  1. Avoid jumping every fence 3-6 times at varying heights
  2. Start out at the New Scary Height (2’11” in case you’re wondering)
  3. Ride “easy” lines to prevent stops before they could happen

Importantly, I wanted to focus on my position and see if I could find that magic “spot” again over fences, as well as keep riding correctly and insisting on correctness from Murray.  Pertinent to the second point, Alli said something to me that has totally revolutionized my rides this week: she realized that when she feels Dino get light in the bridle, she pulls to get the feel back, instead of kicking the pony up to it.  I realized that this is exactly what I do, especially when jumping: I feel Murray duck behind the bridle, and I take up more reins to get a feel of his mouth back, instead of pushing him forward to the contact and the fences.

Um. Duh.

we have walked over this tarp ditch every day for the last two weeks.
murray still stopped when we first cantered it today.
sigh

So for my last two rides I’ve been thinking about squeezing Murray forward into the bridle when I feel him duck behind it.  Not kicking or bullying, and definitely not pulling, but just squeeeezing him with my whole leg until I feel him come back into my hands.  It worked and got us a really fabulous trot toward the end of my (short) ride yesterday, and I thought “if I could trot like this up to a vertical, it would be pretty fucking awesome”.

Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to achieve the beautiful trot up to our warmup fences, but I kept squeezing and pushing and Murray softened to the idea.  It’s not his favourite idea — being told what to do OR being told to move forward into contact — but it’s probably the least offensive way I’ve ever asked him for this, so  he was willing to accept a bit.

We started with a simple, long bending line of vertical to oxer.  When B was setting the oxer I remember thinking “gee that’s big! Murray doesn’t even barely have to put his nose down to touch it.”  That’s what you get when you don’t jump  height for a while.  I felt Murray hesitate as we approached the green oxer, that kind of shrinking-stride check in he sometimes does.  I knew it was an opportunity for him to sit down and stop if he chose, so I squeezed him into the bridle — not too aggressively — and he went right over.  I was very, very proud.

good pony

Next up, we built up the combination. The kids had put together a barrels-two strides-quarter round skinny-one stride-quarter round skinny combo across the long diagonal.  I didn’t want to fight with Murray about it, so B had me come in to the barrels like I was on a big circle and just turn left before we got to the skinny.  Murray actually locked on to the skinnies in the combination and I felt him pull me to the right.  But I was committed to going left, so I made the turn happen.  Our next go through he eagerly jumped through the whole combo, though we did jam three in the two stride.


we got the striding later though!

Our attempts at the barrel line were not without fuckups, however.  After one successful go through, I leaned as we approached the barrels in a backward attempt to push Murray toward the fence and encourage him to get the striding.  Murray was like “girl, you cannot lay on my neck like that” and stopped.  I, of course, lay all over his neck.  Like, straight lesson kid laying on the neck posture.  (I would have a picture, but google photos won’t give me the high resolution version of my video!!!!)

shenanigans

Next we came in to the oxer to liverpool.  Murray and I have walked over the liverpool every. single. day. and yet we still had trouble with it during the lesson.  The first time I was coming off of some shenanigans so Murray was flustered and disorganized and I tried to commit to the oxer anyway.  It was the wrong choice.  The next go through Murray went over the oxer and then spooked hard at the liverpool.  I was like “Nope! Nope! You have to do it, Murray!” and pointed him back at the liverpool.  After a moment’s thought he jumped over.  Subsequent attempts were slightly less awkward.

The last few fences on course included a series of rollbacks that were a little more challenging upon execution than I expected!  We overshot the turn both times we took it, but Murray was game to take the second fence at an angle, which made up for my poor navigation.

In our last course, Murray arrived at the big green oxer on a fantastic open stride and at just a hint of a long spot.  I squeezed him a few strides out as encouragement, and he launched himself over — I mean, really launched himself.  Sadly B was very far from the oxer at the time, but we FLEW!

The last course was really fantastic — we made all the strides, didn’t get any awkward spots because we had such a good quality canter, and Murray was on fire!  Seriously, I could not have asked for a better jump lesson before Camelot.  Murray is clearly feeling… something, since his hock injections.  (Though honestly, if shenanigans is what I’m going to get when my pony feels good, I’m willing to take it.)  None of the stops were unreasonable.  All basic rider error, things that I ought to know better than to do/try/flub.

Oh, AND I didn’t crumble because of the height!  Murray and I jump 2’11” not infrequently, but we usually work up to it.  We don’t usually just start at that height.  And I didn’t let it get to me in the first few fences, so after that it immediately felt fine.

it felt so, so, so cool to have Murray pulling to these skinnies in the combo!

We will probably jump once more before Camelot, to keep the confidence up.  But now, I really, really, really need to figure out how to ride Novice B dressage test.

Advertisements

bringing bending back

Our dressage trainer/chiro/all around miracle worker Tina came to the barn last week, which was perfect timing for us.  Coming out of Twin I knew I wanted her insight to improve our relaxation and steadiness, but I also wanted to pick her DVM brain about Murray’s physical health and what I might want to focus on to keep him physically healthy too.  I’m not trying to look for trouble, but if there are medical interventions that will keep the horse happy and healthy and extend his competitive life (and thereby his ability to cart me around XC while I’m still in panic mode), I can probably stand to shell out for it.

We started with a quick body check — nothing stood out to Tina as needing adjustment, so away we went for our lesson.  Tina and I briefly discussed Twin and the hangups we had in dressage there — building tension to canter transitions, lack of steadiness and relaxation in general, very stiff behind — and we got to work.  Murray has been way better in our walk work lately, but we walked for just a touch too long before picking up a trot and he started to get slower and stickier and slower and stickier.  Tina immediately caught me nagging with my seat (again. she catches me EVERY LESSON even though I swear I practice not nagging between our lessons), and when Murray offered up fussiness in the bridle instead of a steady connection she had me put him into a shoulder-in right away.

Murray has always been happy to escape from work laterally, mostly by swinging his haunches away from whatever ails him.  So I have been trying to ride him really straight, so that escaping sideways is less of an option, and energy transfer from his hind end becomes a thing.  And it’s definitely been working, but there are times when it doesn’t work, and I’m not quick enough to catch Murray out before he can pull the reins out of my hands and pop up through his neck.  It’s been a while since I asked Murray for a shoulder in on purpose, and he was definitely a bit reluctant to bend and step under his own body, but it did get him to stop fussing and get to work.

It was a similar story in the trot.  We were steadier, for sure, but we didn’t have a great connection and Murray was avoiding the contact by setting his neck in one position.  Tina had us slide into a shoulder in down the long side as we came around the circle, and then straighten out along the next long side.  The long sides definitely got Murray movin forward with more energy, but he was also fairly downhill, so the key here was to slow down the tempo (but try to keep some of the ground cover) to increase the activity behind.  Which, it turns out, is really, really hard for us on a straight line.  Too easy to just plow downhill and into the ground.

When Murray tried to use our renewed lateral work against me by sliding laterally around the circle instead of bending and tracking forward, Tina had me catch him with the outside rein.  If a little more connection to that outside rein didn’t work, I was to counter bend him until he couldn’t spin his haunches out from my inside leg, and then resume the inside bend when we were straight again.  I really only needed this move in its entirety twice (but then again, we did move on to other activities fairly quickly).

Our canter transitions were a little inverted, though fairly reasonable.  Tina noted that Murray was using his neck to get himself through the transition, which he doesn’t really do on the lunge line in side reins, so had me plant my inside fist on the saddle so that Murray couldn’t pop his neck up to use it through the transition.  It’s an old move of ours, but I’d mostly phased it out in an attempt to avoid being so reliant on the inside rein and increase Murray’s evenness through both reins.  Fortunately, I only needed it for a moment through the transition, and then could get Murray back fairly evenly between both reins.  All of the canter transitions were pretty good, Tina was like “I don’t see what the problem is!” and really, neither did I.

But honestly, I can’t blame Murray for being tense at Twin.  The warmup was a madhouse, I didn’t get to our full pre-flight routine (tack up, ground work, lunge in side reins, get on and ride) because of time.  Tina agreed that with exposure and increased relaxation at home, one would expect that to go away.

The next step in the canter was to get Murray to take some bigger steps and use his body some more, so back came the shallow counter-canter loops and shoulder-in at the canter.  Murray really surprised me here: as soon as I asked for a little bend down the long side in the canter, all this energy came out of nowhere and his canter got huge and marginally uncontrollable.  Suddenly he was right there in my hands and really listening to what I had to ask him. His back was somewhat tense, but he wasn’t disobedient and the quality of his canter got better as we went.  The key was to really slow him down through the short sides, then keep half halting and asking for a slower step through the shoulder in and counter canter.  And even though we haven’t done it in ages, he didn’t try breaking once in the right counter canter.

yes we are sooooooooo good at trot poles

The best work, though, came after our next walk break.  We talked more about the best way to tackle Murray’s stiffness behind, and some ideas of what to do next (more on that later).  Tina said she wanted to see how he did over poles, so she set up five poles at about 4′ apart.  Murray and I do trot poles all the time, so we trotted in and he bumbled his way through them without much help from me — as we often do the first time.  So Tina brought the poles in a little more, to about 3’3″, and had us slow down to tackle them.  The next go through was still a bit messy, but the spacing was right and Murray didn’t hit any or scare himself.  She had us go even slower, and Murray really picked his feet up and even pushed a little from behind.  She pushed for an even slower tempo, and after several more repetitions Murray came around the corner quite slowly and as soon as he saw the poles started picking up his feet, bending his hocks, and pushing more from behind.

It was a lot to think about, and a great lesson in that it addressed a lot of questions and issues without overloading us.  Even though I have been given homework of things I already “know” how to do, the application of them is getting different results — and one would hope I can apply the techniques with a little more subtlety now.

back at it

My 2017 of goal of ride more write more rapidly turned into ride-hardly-ever-write-less.  I definitely got bitten by the saddle fit fear bug for a minute there, worried that putting any saddle that didn’t fit perfectly on Murray’s back would result in severe and permanent physical and psychological damage.  It took me about a week of shopping around for saddles and waiting for the fitter to squeeze me into her very busy schedule for me to decide that fuck it, I could borrow something that fit well enough and/or Murray would be just fine for a few more rides.

So I rode.

jumps01
oh yeah, we actually like to do this…

I had a jump lesson on Tuesday with a friend, and it was definitely the right choice.  One of the barn staff was moving the tractor around trying to clear and dispose of trees that had fallen down during the storms a few weeks ago, and the running tractor and cracking tree limbs and absolute MONSTER that was created when the backhoe picked up tree limbs was just FAR TOO MUCH for both pony brains.  Murray couldn’t go into any corner without violently flinging himself in the other direction (walk, trot, and canter!), and our lessonmate wasn’t faring much better.  Fortunately for us, the backhoe hit a snag about five minutes in to our ride so we all got to settle down.

Murray, of course, was still offended by all the corners.  This made life difficult as we were working on a grid up one of the long sides.  I couldn’t even trot with correct bend around the corner, all I could do was counter-bend Murray and hope that he wouldn’t fling himself too far to the inside.  Every time we would turn to face the grid, Murray would throw all of his pent-up rage regarding the Scary Corner into galloping toward the fences, so we ended up with some… creative use of the poles.

sillypolesyou know it’s bad when even the other horses are laughing at you

I was walking the tightrope of “too much brakes” when I so much as touched Murray’s face with my hands and “no control” if I did nothing.  I guess I could have added leg and really pushed him into my hands, but of course that option didn’t occur to me.  It never does.  (Add leg? Who adds leg. Absurd. That’s totally not always the answer.)  So I just tried to keep the half halts coming with my seat and core, and let the whatever happen.

We built up the bounce and Murray made it happen with some fancy footwork and only a few super awkward moments.  The corners continued to be a bit of a problem — going to or from them — but Murray settled into a pretty consistent and even canter.  Weirdly we struggled to make the strides in odd ways.  Coming down the line straight we would get five, but had no problem getting four on the bending line.  B changed the bounce to a square oxer and vertical one stride apart and Murray never once tried to add in the one stride, but couldn’t help but chip in to the square.  I probably could have put my leg on for a better ride, but I was a little hesitant to ask for more since Murray had already settled into rationality.  I didn’t want to break him, after all.

awks
best form for bounces

I also put in a dressage ride in a borrowed saddle on Thursday, which actually turned out to be very productive.  Nothing groundbreaking, just setting clear expectations and working on the exercises that my many coaches have given me.  But after setting some very clear guidelines (no, you cannot get sticky by the gate and refuse to turn for no reason) and not backing down when Murray offered his standard protest (buck + leap), we put in some good work.

Of course, now I’m so sore I can barely walk, but that’s what I get for not riding for close to two weeks.

nag less, expect more

I had a dressage lesson with our fantastatrainer Tina on Wednesday, and it was aaaaaah-mazing!  I mentioned last week that we are right in the place where I need a lesson to start to get the next set of tools, and I can always count on Tina to help us problem solve.  (Alas, no relevant media exist.  Maybe next week I will get some new video.)

Murray started out feeling pretty honest, though I promptly forgot everything I’ve learned in the last year about keeping my reins an appropriate length, which was unfortunate.  I told Tina that I had been working on being straight and forward and encouraging Murray to take on bigger and more expressive (and correct) gaits, but also keeping him balanced.  Tina honed in on one of my bad habits immediately, nagging Murray with my seat and legs at the walk.  I recently decided to stop babying Murray about walking — he will never get better at walking with contact if we never do it, right? This was a fight several days in a row until the Tina lesson, and Murray had just started to accept going forward+connection.  So of course I was nagging him every single step to get more forward.  Tina had me give him a kick and then sit quietly when he responded correctly.

img_20161129_191637chubby dressage pony

The problem with this (for me) is that I feel like the response to a kick is an inverted spazzy revolt.  But after a few yucky, sticky, gross responses, Murray figured out that kick = forward.  This was the first lesson in the lesson — reward for the right response. Even if it isn’t the exact response I want at this moment, we want to keep Murray thinking in the right direction.  We can finess later (I hope!!).

We moved on to the trot work and Tina encouraged me to get Murray working a little more over his back by getting his neck a little lower.  I have been trying to avoid letting Murray get his neck tooooo low lately, because he can get really on the forehand and downhill.  But his balance actually felt pretty good during the lesson, and it unlocked a bigger and freer trot.  Tina had me encourage the bigger trot on the diagonals, so that Murray can learn the cue for more/forward/bigger where there is more space (than a circle) and then bring it to other work.  She encouraged me to really get him to fly on the diagonals.

Tracking left we got a couple of good extensions on the diagonal (for him – obviously not real extended work), but tracking right I got almost nothing.  Tina told me to really boot him on that right-ways diagonal, and Murray responded by breaking into the canter – but not, as I later found out, an acceptable canter.  The next time around he did the same thing, so Tina had me kick him into a more forward canter.  Murray bucked twice and suddenly on the next right diagonal, he could move forward!

dress-4moar! bigger!

Tina’s assessment was thus: Murray doesn’t want to trot the big trot. The big trot is hard. The small canter is easier – and it’s more forward! But it isn’t really thinking forward  – it’s thinking just forward enough to not actually have to do real work.

All of the following diagonals got bigger and better trots, and Murray was really willing and compliant.  Tina continued to encourage me to get Murray lower, and every time we did his trot got better and involved more of his body.  We were both breathing quite hard after this.

Next, Tina had me add a little engagement in the trot by starting in a shoulder-in and then shooting across the diagonal from that.  I actually didn’t expect this to work, because Murray loves to use lateral work as a way to waste energy.  Maybe the diagonals earlier in the lesson helped us, because once I got him straightened out he shot right across the diagonal with more hind end engagement.  We only did this twice each way, Murray got it and it worked so well.

In the canter we did similar work.  We started with some shoulder in down the long side – making sure not to drift off the rail tracking right – and an extension down the next long side.  Tina helped me with another thing I have struggled with lately, which is Murray getting tense and inverted when I push him to be straight down the long side.  He’s not quiiiite ready to be really straight cantering just yet, but if I got him to lower his head more he could take MUCH bigger and loftier steps.  Tracking right I got a few more steps of the floating canter, which was awesome.  Left was a bit harder, since we were both so tired.  We ended both of our extended canter stints with a little circle — almost 10 meters — where Tina told me to think about pausing in the upswing of the canter (like Megan did!) to get Murray to sit and hold himself up a little more.  It felt great, almost like the canter-in-place that my MIL had me doing the other day (a coming post).

dress-8moar and better canter than this one!

As I expected, it was an excellent lesson.  Tina gave us a few more exercises to practice and Murray stood up to the pressure really well.  Tina agreed with my assessment that Murray is mentally ready to take a little more pressure now, so I need to take advantage of this time to impress some important lessons upon his moldable mind.  And I got a solid plan to move forward with – keep encouraging Murray to move forward, but don’t let him get away with not using his body properly.

I was a little worried that my lack of strength and balance was holding us back in the bigger gaits, but Tina said I shouldn’t fret too much.  I wasn’t unbalanced in the extensions we did in the lesson, and only got unseated when Murray went from cross cantering into a really fast, tense trot.  There is, apparently, time for us to grow in strength in the bigger gaits together.

nap 01hey, remember when it was sunny?! yeah me neither.

fake less, expect more

Despite my efforts to appear otherwise, Murray and I have totally been in a riding slump.  I’m not totally out of my not-really-riding mode, and with the batshit schedule I’ve been juggling lately, the quickly rising darkness, and Murray’s level 10 filth at all times thanks to advanced fluff it’s been easy to default to not riding.  So we’ve not made exceptional progress in the fitness or muscle building department (though the fluff is certainly making Murray look more muscular).

The other day I had the pleasure of Megan coming up to visit and, while she was watching me ride, she made a very interesting comment.  Paraphrased: while Murray has made progress in accepting and moving into the contact, he still isn’t totally there and has just found a new place to “fake it” and set his head.  But when he actually moves up (or down) in to the contact he moves better and more correctly, and actually uses his body.

dress-4Ah yes.

I have known for a long time ever that Murray is not comfortable with contact or (honestly) submission, and that our dressage relationship was a tenuous compromise.  For a million reasons — he doesn’t like it, he doesn’t wanna, he doesn’t think he should have to, it’s a little uncomfortable, it’s a lot uncomfortable, dressage is stupid, etc. — Murray is naturally tense.  But that tension isn’t going to work for us if we want to do real derpssage, so we have to get past it.

So one more thing I need to do to get Murray working more correctly is to convince him to not just accept the contact but to lean in to it.  When he is practically “leaning” on my hands is when he is using himself the best, so that is the place I need to get him to.  Easier said than done, sometimes.

If Murray’s in an incredibly compliant mood, like he was at the JM clinic, then I can put a fair bit of pressure on him and get some really good results.  He’ll connect to both reins (helped by the counter flexing that JM had me using in that exercise), understand the half halts, and push from behind for not insignificant periods of time.  If he’s feeling a little sassier, he might give me the old middle finger in that special kind of way he does.

kickslowOn Sunday he gave me forty seven flavors of tiny, shitty trot before connecting to either rein or moving out into anything resembling a working trot.  I worked at keeping my body really correct after reading a piece about laterality and handedness, and predominantly worked Murray’s stiff side (with lots of walk breaks).  Murray did not appreciate my positional overcorrection and avoided the connection to the right.  Once we switched to the left though he was in full denial, throwing his body all kinds of sideways to avoid the connection.  At one point his trot was so tiny and stilted I didn’t even know why I was bothering to post.

Eventually he worked out of it, and I got some good connection in both directions.  It took nearly 40 minutes, and I was filled with equal parts despair and joy.  On the one hand, goodie for me, building the connection.  On the other, how will I ever warm up for a dressage test if it takes us an unknowable number of minutes between 10 and 40 to get to a functional working connection?!

wp-1449989989647.jpgThis ridiculousness is truly infuriating, because I know that the good trot is in there and it probably takes less effort than crazy sideways garbage.  But (for once) I did not lose my temper, and that helped me come to another realization: when Murray is tense, bullying him “out of it” is not going to mad productive, long term changes.

(wait for it)

Duh.

So even though this is annoying, it’s actually given me a much more concrete goal and rejuvenated my dressage feelz!  Now I have a new thing to focus on in both the short and the long term!  Every ride I need to get Murray moving in to that contact, while staying straight, and then pushing his trot out.  I can’t let him trick me into thinking too much about his face either, because if I’m having connection problems it probably has more to do with what’s going on behind us than up front.

New goals. They are the spice of my life.

adaptive riding

I had a stellar jump lesson Tuesday, my first jump lesson in close to two months and Murray’s first serious jump school in a month!  I made the tactical decision to do a quick jump school on Monday to get Murray accustomed to the idea of jumping again and let him get acclimated to the fences in the arena, per his insane spookiness lately.  This was the right choice: it took Murray and I a lot of time to get back in sync with jumping and also to remember that not all jumps are pony eating monsters and that even if they are pony eating monsters the best way to avoid them is to jump REALLY HIGH over them.  One of my kid friends, you know just those normal barn rat better than everyone riders, picked up poles for me and reminded me to do the things I am supposed to when jumping like maintain a rhythm and keep my leg on.

The lesson started out very average.  Murray was torn between being happy that we were jumping and really upset that everything in the arena had changed in the last month.  He was squirrely but forward, and was trotting pretty adorably.

july jump 01such engage. much adorbs.

Unfortunately, once we started cantering fences Murray lost his understanding of what leg means and started to get a little lurchy.  When I put my leg on to help him maintain a steady rhythm and reach for the fences it had the absolute opposite effect, and Murray would drop his back and jam another tiny, hideous stride in before the fence.  After six fences in a row of this I pulled Murray out of the line we were in as I desperately needed a reboot.  This was not working.

While I was lamaz breathing to keep my ish together B told me to change my strategy.  Instead of sitting on Murray and driving him to the fences with my seat, she had me go back to the not-quite-half-seat of yesteryear and half halt and rebalance Murray with my thighs while keeping my seat really light.  (I had moved away from this to avoid jumping ahead and be able to use my seat more effectively.  I just do what I’m told.)

july jump 04

And it worked.  DUH.

I am a huge proponent of doing what I’m told by my trainer.  I like to think that I fight back with her the least of all the adults, and sometimes that’s certainly true.  But I can also be a bit of a pain in the ass sometimes.  Fortunately, this was not one of those times, and trainer managed to drag my back from the brink of an absolute meltdown with this strategy.

Oh trainer. How I love you.

The rest of our lesson went really well, especially for a rusty Murray and Nicole.  We jumped through the two stride, getting three every time but one (no groundlines maybe? this line caused us a LOT of trouble), jumped some new(ish) scary filler, and got through the one stride line with ones many times, including with my helmet cover falling off.

july jump 02assistant trainer turned this broken chevron into an adorable watermelon slice!

The big lesson from this lesson was to be adaptable.  If I had been schooling on my own and Murray pulled this there is no way I would have figured out to change my strategy, and I’m sure I would have kept  jamming my bony little ass into his spine and he would have kept jamming four more inches of stride in before the fences.  I am just not that good of a rider yet.  But it’s something I should remember — Murray is teaching me all these different strategies to ride him well, and I need to remember to use them.  But it’s hard when you’re out of practice.  (Let me reiterate: I love my trainer.)

The funniest part of our lesson was when we did just one more course.  My kid friend videographer had put my helmet cover on top of the pole over the barrels and as I came towards it I yelled “Oh you may have doomed us!!!!”  Embarrassingly, Murray did not give two shits about the helmet cover.  I, however, stared it down so hard that I buried Murray to the fence.

july jump 3

So I guess it’s a good thing that Murray is now more educated than me… that means I did my job, right?

always learning

I’ve had a hard time scheduling rides, lessons, and writing since I got back from Australia as I’m living a new work/volunteer/life schedule AND moving houses on top of that.  In short, instead of teaching I’m now going to San Francisco to play at the zoo 2+ days a week (though I luckily have friends to stay with in the area between consecutive days), still managing the ranch office (w/ taxes upcoming and irrigation in full swing), and then trying to finish up my thesis and get my work done around the barn and my horse ridden and my boyfriend visited and suddenly I’m living the Megan and L life out of my car.

so dreamy

Murray loves it though.  He comes in during the day and eats a little, naps a little, eats a little, naps some more, pushes the dirt around in his paddock to make himself a pillow and re-adjusts for his nap… it’s the life.  He’s getting ridden just enough to get himself some attention, and not so much that it feels like work.

I did manage to get in a dressage lesson on Tuesday morning, both to get my trainer’s assessment on yet another dressage saddle that I’ve been riding in, and to keep working on that elusive outside rein contact.  I borrowed a barn kids’ JRD one weekend day and Murray felt amazing.  I have always maintained that he’s not a super fussy guy about saddle fit, but he was so forward and into the contact that day that I thought it was worth another test.  I also didn’t hate how it made me feel, so I wanted some trainer evaluation.  (The verdict on the saddle: it was a bit wide, but Murray definitely did seem to move better in it.  I’ll give it another go, but obviously this exactly saddle is not the ticket, though something like it may work well.)

IMG_1963 Change averse right here

The lesson itself focused on encouraging Murray to accept that outside rein contact and get him to bend around my inside leg instead of my inside rein.  It’s a hard concept for him because he has relied so heavily upon that inside rein for balance and connection for so long.  (This was a crutch, yes, but also a valuable training tool.  I think I will write more about it later, as I’ve had some interesting discussions with my friends about this in the last few days.)  Murray is averse to change and gets claustrophobic easily, and responds to that by shortening his stride and tensing his neck and back, i.e. the anti-dressage.  I can get mean and kick him into the outside rein, sure, but the result of that is that he slowly pulls me out of the tack and then goes from a true bend to a counter bend and suddenly — hooray! — he’s on his beloved inside rein again.

IMG_1985Which rein do you think has more contact?!  Can hardly tell if there’s contact on either here.

We worked on the beloved 20 meter circle.  After warming up with some stretchy work as soon as I picked up the outside rein and asked for a bit of connection to it Murray’s gait got stiffer, his back stopped swinging, and he got tenser overall.  To ease him into it, trainer had me push Murray into the outside rein for a little bit and then relax the outside rein so he could resume stretching.  I worked hard on not pulling Murray into the connection with the inside rein and instead pushing him into the outside rein with my inside leg, and also keeping him well aligned on the circle and not letting his haunches drift around.  The benefits of this strategy were multi-fold:  Murray slowly got more comfortable with the outside rein connection and became much steadier for longer periods of time, I gained a better understanding of how to lighten the contact without giving away the reins, and we reinforced the request for the stretchy trot.

megandressage2Very interestingly, Murray struggled less with this tracking right (with my weak hand on the outside, and his weak hind on the inside), but I suspect it was because we went that way second.  As he got more comfortable, I could feel his back swinging more and his gait opening up even with the outside rein contact, which is huge progress for him.  Even better, he was really moving his outside foreleg around the circle, instead of pivoting his haunches around his front leg a little with each step, which is the influence of that outside rein.

We worked on the same thing in the canter, with a slightly different strategy.  Tracking left Murray wanted to counter-flex again, but just pushing him into that rein didn’t really work, so I gently massaged the inside in conjunction with my inside leg to help him keep the inside bend and flexion.  To the right he actually wanted to drift to the inside circle while maintaining his right bend, so I worked extra hard on pushing him to the outside.  Good progress overall.

The last thing we worked on were lengthenings, which are probably the weakest part of our repertoire of first-level movements.  Murray has never had a firm grasp on the concept, and usually offers to trot spastically or canter or just do nothing.  Now that I had this really solid outside rein connection though I could balance him in a circle on the short side, half halt through the corner, and then let him open his frame up a little bit as we came out of the corner and then ask for the lengthening.  This setup got fantastic lengthenings going left and okay ones to the right — once again that weak right hind not wanting to push.  The outside rein connection was crucial here: in the past even with a steady contact to both reins an attempt to lengthen his frame was typically an invitation to hollow, and then the “big trot” ask just resulted in “jazz toezz!!”  Now I could lengthen his frame with just a softening of the outside rein and he did so in a balanced way, and then the big trot ask was just MOAR TROT.  It was cool.

IMG_8864Can reach with legs if properly motivated…

This lesson was particularly good because it solidifed a lot of the concepts that have been pretty half-baked for me and Murray.  We both got a better understanding of the connection to the outside rein and a better way to manage that connection (when I’m sucking or when Murray is feeling confined).  It was one of those lessons heavy on the learning, my favourite type of lesson!