I was finally able to have my flatwork trainer up for a private lesson on Sunday morning, which I’ve really been looking forward to as it had been a while since she last saw Paddy and I. I was keen to hear what she thought of his progress since she last saw him, as well as getting some tips from her to get Paddy lighter on his forehand, and working on the beginnings of riding him off my seat and legs, and using my hands less.
We started the lesson by looking at Paddy in the walk, this is where he is softest and I have the most control over his body. I talked her through some of the issues I’ve been having, mostly with him locking against my right hand and leaning on it, particularly in trot. I also wanted to work more on getting him responsive to my seat and leg aids, as I feel sometimes our downward transitions aren’t as refined as I’d like them to be.
Trot Work – Keeping the Focus
We moved into trot work, and immediately he was soft and compliant – however easily distracted! My lesson coincided with the morning turnout of the horses, and so I was often losing the connection to him being nosey throwing his head up and looking at everything that was going on! This is something I struggle with regularly, so we worked on how I could pre-empt it and keep his focus rather than losing it at all. We identified the places or situations where he was losing focus, and before they happened I focused on putting my leg on him and softening the contact to encourage him to come ‘through’, rather than battling with the contact with no energy to back it up. This worked wonders and eventually I was able to keep him focused on me for a few circles.
Trot Work – Softening the Contact
Next we focused on softening him a little more on the right contact. He has a tendency to brace against me, and holding on tighter does nothing but cause him to tense and stop that lovely soft contact that I love so much about him.
To avoid giving him a chance to bear down on my hand and get even more ‘locked’, we played around a bit with moving his body – leg yielding him both directions to soften him up, and transitions within the trot from collected to working. This worked wonders, and I was particularly surprised about how much of an effect leg yielding him right (off my left leg) softened him up, as previously I had avoided doing this when I didn’t want any more of ‘him’ in my right hand than I already had! Really what it was doing was allowing me to place his body and manoeuvre it wherever I wanted, and this enabled me then to ‘get into’ his right ribcage, unlocking the left side first which he finds easier, and then pushing his right side over using my left leg. I’ll be trying lots of this in our warm up work over the next few weeks!
Canter Work – Softening the Back
Next we moved onto the canter. I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve been doing quite a bit of work on this pace, so I was reasonably confident in the improvements we had made. What my trainer really wanted to see was how loose and free we could get Paddy in the canter, so she asked me to start off with a full seat in the canter to get him going, and then to move into a light seat to free up his back and encourage a ‘swing’. I have a tendency to ride the canter a bit deep, so getting off his back and allowing him to stretch and open up made a big difference, particularly on that tricky right rein – he really softened on the right hand as soon as I moved into light seat. Again I’ll be doing a lot of this in the warm up.
So now we are off to work on our homework for the next couple of weeks – mainly:
- Playing around with the leg yield and transitions within the pace to soften him,
- Leg before hand to pre-empt that loss of focus, and
- A light seat in canter to open him up and encourage him to swing.
I’ll also be thinking about using cavaletti to encourage him to lift his back more in the trot as he gets stronger.
Overall a super productive lesson, lots learnt, and we were all done and dusted by 10.30am – not bad going for a Sunday! We’ll both have tomorrow off and then go for a light hack on Tuesday to mind our muscles after working hard for the last few days.