I rode Gigi outside yesterday and had the interesting opportunity to work on everything we’ve been schooling this week by myself; my trainer has been away teaching a clinic. Gigi started out feeling forward in the walk, and I encouraged her to keep up the energy as we moved into our trot work. I concentrated on riding her poll up, imagining her pushing energy up through her topline from her engaged hind legs. Gigi didn’t quite share my vision at first, however, and did a bit of running and head-shaking. I used transitions to get her to come back under herself when she got too quick. As the quality of the trot improved, I used one of my favorite patterns to improve Gigi’s rhythm and elasticity:circle, half-circle in reverse, repeat. This pattern is flowing and as endless as you want it to be, and I love the way it allows the horse to change bend in what, to them, becomes a predictable and relaxing way.
I moved Gigi out of this pattern and into more difficult figures: serpentines and figure eights of varying circle size. I interspersed transitions throughout and then added some canter work and leg-yield. I really wanted the ride to flow, and even though it was studded with moments of unattractive resistance or misunderstanding on Gigi’s part, I was satisfied. I felt like I was able to use my core effectively to stabilize and communicate with Gigi and I never got drawn into the conflict like I do all too often with her. I was content to stay consistent and emotionless and to carry a balance of peace and goal-oriented hard work through the ride.
Gigi goes out with two other chestnut mares now. The one behind her in this picture is a four-year-old that belongs to my trainer; she’s a resale project. She and Gigi make a nice pair because they both have blazes and white hind legs!
One if the hardest things to know as a trainer is when to cross those invisible lines that are inherent in working with horses. It’s hard to know, sometimes, when to push an issue or when to give in and let it slide. And I think that it’s even more difficult when the horse in question belongs to the trainer; that emotional burden compromises our decision-making sometimes. It all comes down to feel and judgement, and I’m just starting to trust mine again, I think. I had a really eye-opening ride on Gigi today!
She started out her trot work by running downhill, as is her custom. I still get sucked into accepting “good enough” far too easily from her; basically, if she relaxed and doesn’t pull or run too quickly, I stay quiet in my aids and let her go that way. This is mostly due to the fact that Gigi reacts with violent head-shaking and back-wrenching pulls on the reins when I ask her to come uphill and work more correctly. However, according to my trainer, enough is enough and it’s time for Gigi to work a little harder at this. I agree! So the goal for now is not to let Gigi pull me around any more, and not to accept work that is not good work.
We went about this by doing lots of transitions in which Gigi was not allowed to pull me out of the saddle (and pull herself onto the forehand). She was quite angry at this newly-enforced, unyielding leg and hand combination. My trainer said that, as placid as Gigi is to handle, she’s really quite an alpha mare and she will fight back when told what to do. My job is to convince her that, while we are partners in this, that I am in charge and what I say must go. The end result was Gigi finally giving in and doing some of the best, most beautiful trot work that she’s ever done! She was working honestly for one of the first times and it felt great.
I also had a really fun ride on my trainer’s four-year-old gelding in the afternoon. He’s such a lovely, unspoiled young horse; he’s so light but steady in the bridle and so responsive to the aids. He started out a bit tight in his back because he’s only very recently transitioned to not being lunged before he’s ridden. Once he warmed up, though, he lost the “tranter” steps that he kept trying to put in in the beginning and smoothed out into a stretchy trot. I think he’s a great example of what a well-started young dressage horse should be like, and I’ve learned a lot about young horses in the few times I’ve ridden him.
Yesterday was a great day for Gigi and I! I feel like we’re on another upswing where Gigi’s back to working better and really coming through her back. We warmed up with the same tone that I’ve been working to set: relaxed and with parameters that are gently but consistently enforced. She was being fussy in the contact, however, so my trainer had me do some walk-halt transitions. Whenever Gigi pulled on the reins, I had to close my legs and even give the occasional sharp kick. She always has to think forward now, even in the halt, and has to lean into the contact as if she’s asking to go forward. The halt transitions smoothed out as Gigi realized what I wanted and, more importantly, that I wasn’t going to give in and let her pull and stumble through her transitions. I carried that emotionless consistency through the rest of the ride; as my trainer said, Gigi does her best to pick fights and wants me to give in and argue with her since that changes our focus and gets her out of doing the actual hard work that I’m asking for. If I can just keep my aids steady until she gives in and then soften slightly to reward her, we maintain the peace and get good work accomplished!
This strategy really paid off in the canter work.I had to glue my right elbow to my hip to hold the outside rein completely still and unyielding when we were cantering to the left (which has now suddenly become Gigi’s more difficult side for whatever reason) and use my leg to send up her up to the bit. She tried to shake me loose and pull me out of the saddle, but when she gave in (and she really, fully did!) she came uphill into a really nice canter. The right lead was less difficult from the get-go, and after our canter work we settled into some really nice trot work. Gigi was bouncy and uphill. My trainer had me ride lots of 10-meter circles, shoulder-in, haunches-in, and transitions since that kind of work requires enough collection that Gigi maintains her uphill balance and frame without me having to work hard to do it.
One of the most interesting things my trainer told me during the ride was that, especially with young horses, often the rider has to push the horse forward onto the forehand just a bit before giving a half-halt. This makes sense; a half-halt isn’t effective in bringing the horse back onto its haunches if it’s not forward and active behind to begin with. By pushing the horse into the hands first, the half-halt has a purpose that the horse can understand. This way, the horse learns the correct response to the aid and the half-halt itself is more effective. But most trainers only talk about the half-halt and never suggest the forward push (which is, of course, in part because not all horses need this). It definitely worked well with Gigi, though!
I woke up to pouring rain this morning. The mud meant that the horses wouldn’t be turned out and that we’d be back to riding in the indoor. I have to say that days like today always make me grateful for having one! I remember riding in the rain outside occasionally at the one barn I’ve been at that didn’t have an indoor and being soaked to the skin and stuck to the saddle. Not exactly fun! In spite of the not-so-nice April showers, I had a good stretch ride on Gigi.
She started out feeling tense and fighting my aids in that sort of moody teenager “don’t tell me what to do” way that young horses (particularly young red-headed mares!) seem to have. I didn’t give in and contribute anything to the argument she wanted to instigate. Instead, I did my best to respond slowly and in a relaxed way to her, always reapplying my aids but never being confrontational or giving too-quick corrections. I’ve found that no matter how tempting it is to try to nip Gigi’s resistance in the bud with a swift, almost harsh correction the moment she pulls on the bit or tries to run, it never works in my favor. And today ended up being a really good ride! Gigi softened into the bridle and was really stretching her entire topline by the end. I think that it’s a great way to start the week and I hope that it’s set us up for successful rides for the next few (hopefully rain-free) days.
I was happy with my ride on Gigi today. We were both relaxed and, I think, happy to be out on a ride in the gorgeous spring weather. It was a breezy, sunny day, slightly cooler than it was earlier in the week. Gigi and I started out in a stretchy, forward-but-not-running trot and then started to add transitions. Quick transitions up and down are supposed to help build up Gigi’s hind end and to get her really responsive to my aids. She pulled through the first transition or two, lengthening her topline and letting her hind legs trail behind. When I corrected her by closing my leg more firmly and driving her up into my hand when I asked for the walk, she started to come together a bit better and carry herself.
We also worked on the quality of Gigi’s canter and I was really happy with how light and soft she got. She’d still rather be on the forehand, but she’s now capable of coming uphill and more elastic. Even if we only get it for a couple strides at a time, it’s a great feeling! Overall, Gigi is gradually becoming more and more rideable. She’s able to turn and make transitions when I ask her to and to be more consistent in her rhythms. We’ve definitely come a long way, and it’s good when I remind myself of that!