The Bounce – part deux

Yesterday, I set up a gymnastic based on the following diagram:

Slide1The gymnastic was adjusted to reflect the actual size of our sand ring, and I eliminated the final vertical. I also shortened the distances slightly – 18′ to the first cross rail after the bounce pole, 42′ to the three stride cross rail.

To start, I set up a low cross rail (about 18″) followed by a pole on the ground (9′ or three steps distance), followed by another 18″ cross rail 18′ (six strides) past the bounce pole. The final fence in the lines was another cross rail, about 2′ high, set up to develop into an oxer.

Dayo and I trotted into the gymnastic, cantering out. To begin, we started in one direction (left rein) and got used to the gymnastic. Dayo’s first attempt was stellar. I think she was not sure what had hit her and had to solve problems through. The second she approached with a great deal more trepidation, and required significantly more support through the leg. The third attempt, she refused to pick up a canter after the first cross rail, but corrected herself with encouragement, and finished well.

The fourth time through Dayo was confident, and I gave her a fifth time just for additional confidence. After each attempt, I asked her to hold her canter and cantered her in a circle, alternating left and right.

We then switched approach direction to the right rein. There is a new mare in the pasture, and Dayo had a hard time focusing (to the right, she can look directly into her paddock and watch the new intruder eating her hay!). It was a bit of a cluster, but we finished with a flourish and circled at the canter, working on a successful and smooth downward transition.

My goal had originally been to increase the difficulty of the gymnastic, but I decided yesterday to leave the learning at a success. Through the last two times, Dayo got increasingly fast as she got super confident. Once she got it, she loved solving the puzzle of it. To make her think, I asked her to shorten her stride toward the final element, putting in four strides rather than three. She did it like a champ.

I did notice that I had a tendency to look down over the first two elements of the gymnastic, which did not give Dayo the support she needed. She also has an ongoing tendency to drift to the left and this came into play for us between the second and the final cross rail.

Although I don’t like to repeat exercises two days in a row, we are going to incorporate a part of the gymnastic into our school today, with a one stride in and out to a three stride oxer. We may start with a refresher over the gymnastic before I adjust it. Our focus will be improved straightness (Dayo) and looking up (me). The two are likely related 🙂

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The suppling of Dayo

For the past few months, Dayo and I have struggled with straightness, particularly to the left. Dayo likes to bulge her shoulder out and resist the bit. When I teach, I teach my students that a horse that the way to correct the bulge is to open across the shoulders, lift the inside shoulder, sponge with the inside hand while keeping the outside rein steady and supporting, and apply the inside leg at the girth. The key to this is the lifted shoulder, which prevents the rider from dropping weight onto the inside leg while applying the inside leg aid. It’s sophisticated, and for riders who do not have an independent seat, difficult to achieve. Dayo falls apart completely to the left, falling to the inside, and because she is not respecting the left leg, I have committed the cardinal sin of applying pressure with the right rein for balance, something she now relies on.

Realizing this is delaying our progress, I enlisted the help of a dressage coach to sort us out. Yesterday was our first session, and it involved walking, trotting, then cantering in a circle. Dayo is exceptional to the right, and an absolute frustration to the left.

We started the lesson by asking Dayo to respond to leg aids by first asking her to turn off the outside leg. This was a new experience for me, and one that required a surprising amount of concentration, particularly to the left (see tendency to balance off the right hand above). To achieve it, I had to take my feet out of the stirrups and really apply my leg until Dayo listened. What was remarkable was how it felt when it started to work. It felt like I could turn her with my knee.

Once we had established a basic respect for leg, we incorporated rein use to encourage her to stop resisting with her neck and give to the bit. First to the outside, then to the inside. Each time, the opposite rein was used as a supporting rein, and I stabilized that hand by holding on to the edge of my saddle pad. When Dayo gave to the rein, pressure was released. A full give meant a full release, a slight give meant a slight release.

As I worked on this, I discovered a lot about my own riding. I realized that I tend to ride almost completely off the right, regardless of direction, and a great deal of Dayo’s weakness to the left is also mine. I tend to balance off my right hand as well, and had a habit of letting the right rein, when it was the supporting rein, slide through my fingers. This was because I had a hard time holding the support to the right – it was so much more work on the left than I was used to.

We worked on circles, small to large, then large to small, largely using the leg to reduce or expand the circle’s circumference. Dayo has mastered several evasive tactics – one of them is a tendency to lean on the reins so they slide through my hands. This is a huge issue for us in the jumper ring, because that slide means I have less control and my hands have difficulty maintaining contact through the release over fences. Attempts to correct it are met with a dramatic and immediate increase in speed, followed by an argument as I try to slow her down. To counter this, I was told to squeeze my hands until they felt “white-knuckled” but to avoid bracing against the bit by making sure my elbows remained elastic. Once Dayo understood that the reins remained elastic and the contact steady, she began to stop leaning on the bit, relaxing into it instead. We ended with a beautiful canter, and the best downward transition we have ever had.