What a beautiful weekend!!
I thoroughly enjoyed not having plans and time to play with both horses all 3 days. I am always amazed at how consistency really makes for fast progress! Also, interestingly enough I am working on the same tasks with both horses right now. The contrast between Rogan and Sunny is educational. Rogan understands all the movements I am asking for (through our previous training) but physically struggles - he is built very downhill and has very low set neck -almost a ewe neck; he is very stiff and heavy in his movement. He also has some anxiety from my previous attempts to teach him things (thank you Rogan for helping me learn and improve!). Sunny is much more athletic and fluid, but is still learning what I am asking for and how to do the movements. The increased fluidity, relaxation, and understanding for both horses over 3 days is wonderful.
I love riding bareback for fine-tuned arena work. I am using a Equi-Pedic saddle pad underneath a Parelli bareback for a little protection for the horse's back and a little grip for me. I can really feel if the back is lifting or if the horse has a little tension or brace that we need to work out; this is much harder for me to feel in the saddle at this point in my learning. Rogan tends to 'cheat' and visually put his head/neck in a 'frame' but not actually have a relaxed and lifted back. When I ride him bareback I can feel this instantly and then ask him to release his tension and lift. Rogan isn't very strong yet and can only really lift his back when his neck is around the horizontal position, when he tenses he typically raises his neck so I can gently ask him to lower it down again and then think 'lift' with my body and it works!! Sunny is getting really strong and seems to vascillate between an excellent lifted back and then a REALLY lifted back during certain movements which is fantastic, but also makes it hard to tell if he is always lifting as I am losing contrast, LOL! It is good to ride multiple horses!
I am starting out both horses with neck stretches in hand and when mounted. Then with Sunny we are still playing with Spanish Walk, but at this point it is Spanish-Stand, LOL. He is continuously improving and we get 4 leg lifts in a row consistently under saddle but we are struggling with walking forward between. I am hopeful more practice and loads of praise will sort this out from Spanish-Stand to Spanish-Walk. Then I have been warming up with alternating between shoulder-in and haunches-in along the rail both directions; today I added in more half-pass. I used a barrel as an end-point to the half-pass; both horses quickly figured out the target and aimed themselves to it, half-passing over for a rest and treat at the barrel. I find horses are much more motivated and offer so much more when you give them a purpose such as 'we are going to that barrel with a cookie' rather than aimlessly repeating a movement along the rail. Today I also added in walk-pirouettes. Rogan really surprised me, he did several really nice 1/2 - 3/4 pirouettes -- this is where he shines because he understands what I am asking and since I had warmed him up well and his body was loosening he gave me some awesome relaxed and beautiful movements. Sunny doesn't understand this very well yet and accordingly I have to be very precise in my direction. However, when I do my job and prepare him correctly Sunny will consistently offer really nice 1/2 walk pirouettes. If I don't prepare him well he will do what just comes easier and step out with his hind end (a coke-bottle turn, rather than a pirouette). Today we got 3 really nice 1/2 walk pirouettes each direction (yay!!) What I love about this is both horses are so relaxed and on really light contact -- just enough to communicate, everything is so easy and smooth! The horses are relaxed, understand the communication, are physically capable and 'it' (the really cool fancy movement) just easily happens! No more "driving the horse into the bit"-- bleh, never ever again!!!! Thank you Theresa McManus and the many horses that have helped me learn!
Next, I played with trot/walk (or gait with Sunny) transitions. Each horse needs a slightly different focus. Rogan has done a million transitions (and knows his job), but wants to tense his neck and thrust forward (this is my fault too from previous riding/training mistakes). I have to help him relax his neck and lift into the transition. I find this is easier if he does the transition from a shoulder-fore position, it breaks up the bad habit and every day he is getting softer with more of a lift-transition. He also tends to fall-in on his right shoulder when on the right-rein/direction and starting him in a shoulder-in on the circle helps him stay even on his shoulders when this happens; accordingly he drifts out on left hand circles... Sunny still will get emotionally nervous about transitions and just needs practice and repetition that they are ok; he still needs his million transitions! He truly hasn't done a lot of arena/practice transitions, it is very different on the trail where it is very obvious to go/slow. We just walked, then gaited for about 20 feet, then walked, then gaited, etc. At the beginning he would vacillate between a mild balking and a nervous-go, the balking equaled a light tap with the stick and then nervous-go equaled relaxation and repetition. Today he really understood and we had forward transitions without nervousness, balking, or the stick!. Downward transitions are really easy in the arena (ie I think stop), LOL!
I am also adding-in shoulder-in at the trot for Rogan and gait for Sunny. Both horse's think it is hard (me too!!!), but both horse's were really getting a few good steps by today. Rogan struggles more going to the right and Sunny to the left. I think this will really come soon for both, but I find it hard to push both the horse's and myself to the next level (versus stay in our comfort zone). I have to just keep practicing and praising the wonderful horses for every good step they offer, and then the next session they just offer more -- each step they take increases their mental understanding and physical ability to do another the next day! And today I was amazed by the improvement in Sunny's gait after practicing this -- he was really moving, while maintaining relaxation and a hugely lifted back, Wow!! And I also learned throughout the weekend of riding that I am dropping my left shoulder as my bra strap falls down on that side-- Now that's a good reminder, LOL! If I remember to keep my hands level in turns, etc (ie "serving tea to the queen") then my bra strap stays up-- imagine that 😉
Finally, we added on the canter. Once again both horses are practicing the exact same thing -- a relaxed upward lift into the canter (pushing off with the outside hind, rather than falling onto this inside front leg). Both horses initially tend to raise their necks and fall forward into the canter. Rogan physically is having trouble cantering so I just ask for a nice lift into the canter, about 2-3 strides then walk. I am not sure if he is just that stiff, anxious about previous mistakes I made in the canter (ie flying lead change training trying Parelli methods -- that didn't work at all for us!!), or a little footsore too. Regardless we are taking it slow and building up with all the walk/trot/lateral work, using hoof-boots, and he also has an osteopath visit in a few weeks. Sunny is doing amazing -- he is just having to figure out that horses can canter in a small arena (instead of a 14 mph hand-gallop on the trail!!) and is offering a delightful back-lifted balanced and relaxed canter. I also only ask Sunny for a few strides as he is just learning, and when he lifts into the canter and offers a few lovely strides I let him know he has the 'right' answer by stopping and praising. Not every transition is lovely (of course) but we are making huge improvement. I CAN'T WAIT until we can flow down the trail alternating between his amazingly smooth gait and this lovely little canter! That is my goal (or one of my goals!). My next conditioning ride (next week after 3 weeks off from conditioning) will just be a short 7-8 mile loop where we, hopefully, practice maintaining a gait or lovely little canter most of the time.