Great Lesson - February 20, 2010

February 20, 2010
Today's lesson went really well and I have lots to think about and work on. First I longed him and used side reins for only the second time. The first time was a couple of days ago. The reason for side reins is that I want to encourage him to trust contact with the bit. Being inexperienced with starting a young horse, I'm not sure I have the best feel for getting the right contact and keeping it really steady. Joan, one of my teachers, would have preferred that I not need them, but she understands why I wanted to try them at this point. They are set with just enough contact so that they don't droop / form loops, and I only use them for a few minutes.
Next I thought it would be a good idea to be longed at the canter to the left (me riding, no side reins), since he doesn't seem to be confident in corners to the left. He can do them, but doesn't seem to believe he can - he goes deep into the corner at the canter and turns smoothly, but somewhat sharply. At this stage we should be doing wide turns with bend. Anyway, he didn't like my longing plan and it was not working well - too much work to hold him in the canter and our thought had been to get him cantering more happily to the left. He's done this before on the longe. So, we took the longe off and I cantered first to the right. It was the best he's done - picked it up easily and held a nice forward canter for about 4 rounds of the arena before I asked for a trot. He would have kept going but I thought I'd stop there as it was the most he's done and he did it really nicely. Then I changed directions (left) and just as I was thinking I'd ask for the canter he started to canter on his own. Maybe I subconsciously gave the aid? It's the first time he's volunteered a canter on his own, so I didn't correct it, just let him go. He went by the door he didn't want to go by before and was going well; didn't hold it as well as he did to the right, but he did a good job. I asked several more times, got a full circle and then some, and he didn't even notice the door that has been our nemesis for the last month. What's up with that? He was also clearly recognizing the leg aid to pick up the canter much better than before (I still accompany the leg aid with voice). His last circle of the arena to the left was forward, happy and strong so I asked for the trot again on that note. For the last two times I've ridden him I stopped trying to push him by the door in the canter. I'm not sure if that has any bearing on it, but for whatever reason today it wasn't an issue. I'm very happy with him!
Now to me - not so happy with my riding, but nothing I can't work on. I wasn't doing a good job of keeping him straight and bent correctly in the corners at the walk and trot. I got sloppy at first asking for the canter (too willing to go into the canter any old which way as long as he picked it up and this isn't necessary). I got sloppy again after the canter because I was so happy at how well he'd done and the good transition to the trot, that I forgot to keep him in a good trot. Yikes! Okay, one week left in Feb., so next ride:

* rein on / off quickly (and support with legs) to keep him on the rail and to bend in corners; don't keep a steady pull on the side I want to bend to
* engagement at the trot; a good working trot
* pick up, ride, and transition out of canter as cleanly and correctly as with any other gait
* generally ride with clarity and thinking at all times!