Paddy and I popped out to Sandra’s for another flatwork lesson today, this time my friend (and jumping coach) came along to share our lesson, which was nice to have some company! It was a cold and windy day, and Paddy has been feeling fresher and a bit ‘peppy’ lately – I put this down to being clipped, colder weather, and the Baileys Topline Conditioning Cubes he’s on. So I was hoping we’d be able to keep his concentration long enough to get some good work from him!
… Not quite. He was distracted by the wind, the jumps in the arena, having my friend’s horse in the lesson, the horse in the field next door – basically, everything. I recently found this video online and feel like it summarises Paddy in 14 seconds:
However, this was really a blessing in disguise. Most of the time, Paddy is compliant and behaves really well at Sandra’s – it was nice to have him throw a couple of challenges at me, so I can get some ideas on how to deal with them when they happen again.
More focus, less bracing against my hand
Something Sandra noticed when we were warming up was how distracted Paddy was, and when I was asking for flexion he was bracing against me. The more I asked for flexion, the more he braced, and the higher his head got. Sandra advised that to encourage him to flex and step into the contact, I needed to give him something to flex into, i.e. his outside shoulder – and I was currently blocking his shoulder by keeping a firm contact on the outside rein. When Paddy braced against my hand or raised his head above the bit, she had me lift my inside hand to counteract this, and then open my outside rein to give the bend somewhere to go. I honestly couldn’t believe how immediate and noticeable the difference was – it only took a couple of strides for him to come round, and the tension soon went away. I’ll definitely be using this in all my schooling sessions.
Getting him more responsive & forward
I really struggle with keeping Paddy going in our flatwork sessions (no issues jumping!) and will openly admit that I’m probably a victim of my own doing – I have a habit of ‘nagging’ with my legs, and working much harder than the horse to keep him going. Ultimately, it’s the horse’s job to maintain the energy, and my job to set/control it – and currently the second I take my leg off he stops working! Sandra had me do two things to get him more responsive off my leg – first, start with the leg aid, and if he doesn’t respond, then back it up with my schooling whip. When he responds I then ensure to take my legs off (let them hang) and pat/scratch his withers. The idea is to avoid nagging with my leg and ensure Paddy is aware that he must respond to my leg – it actually only took a couple of goes of this for him to start responding. My homework is now to ensure I am 100% diligent in this and not let myself fall into the habit of nagging.
Tidying up transitions
We worked on transitions quite a bit throughout the session too, both between and within the paces. Something I need to ensure I work on is correctness (I didn’t think this was a word, but I Googled it and yes, yes it is) in all my transitions. If I don’t ensure I have correct bend, through-ness and forward (up and down) in all my transitions, I target the wrong muscles which is not good! Sandra gave me some ideas on how to improve my transitions, and one (which I really like) was if I run the risk of losing the right setup into a transition, then I should change the tempo so that the next logical step for the horse is to come up or down into the pace. For example, if I have a nice frame in trot, instead of sitting and asking for canter, I can encourage a more forward rising trot until Paddy naturally canters, and keeps his frame. This is a great exercise and I’m going to try this in up and downward transitions.
Overall, a positive lessons with lots of learnings, and lots of homework! Looking forward to getting stuck in and working on this for the next few weeks before our next lesson.