Sunday, March 16, 2014

First Lessons with Leslie, or Damn, It's Hot Here!

We got started early this morning as the high was supposed to top 90 degrees. I'm trying very hard not to complain about the heat but it got harder today. My first lesson was set for 7:30am with Majek (I figured he needed to get worked first to get some of that energy out), then she would ride a couple horses, then we'd do Victor mid-morning about 10. Both horses are stabled at a barn up the road (and up the hill) from W Farms, so we had to do a little hike down the hill and down the road to get to W Farms, where we tacked up the boys and I rode in their arena.

The road is generally pretty quiet, despite being not far from (one of many) major shopping centers in Chino Hills. So that means not too many cars, but we did get treated to joggers, bicyclists, and various dogs and horses hiding amongst the bushes. The area here is just jam-packed with animals and people. I did get a motorcycle passing when I was leading Victor.

Majek was pretty wild in the beginning and it took him a little while to settle down. I was thinking it may have been smart to lunge him first, but then again he tends to rip around like an idiot and often it just winds him up. Once he settled some we got to work dealing with some basic suppleness and contact problems. She had me start on a 20m circle in working trot, starting straight then going to haunches in then back to straight. It was a challenge in the beginning, as when he gets tense he holds against the outside leg and then locks up his neck. As we repeated the exercise, staying mindful to keep the same trot stride and ride him a bit lower in the neck and get him more supple on the inside rein, he started to relax and become more ridable. The interesting thing about her exercises with Majek is that she wanted to go in and out of straight, so restart the haunches-in again and again. Later we did something similar with shoulder-in, and reminded me to keep my outside leg on (particularly on left rein) so he had to bend and not just throw his haunches out in leg yield.

She also wanted the canter a little more strongly forward and ground covering, and had me do an interesting exercise going shoulder-in down the long side, then half-pass across the short diagonal, to counter canter on a big circle, then a flying change and repeat the exercise on the opposite side. By the end he was very good and felt much more supple in the body (and less explosive LOL).

By the time I got going with Victor it was getting pretty warm out. We started with some basic walk-trot-walk transitions, which are a little challenging on Victor anyway because of the size of his gaits and his slightly slow hind leg. She wanted him much lower in the neck as well, and particularly wanted me to keep him lower and more supple on the left rein where he tends to block. She felt that Victor tends to get too high and bracing (which is true), and rather than thinking of it as a laziness in the hind leg (which is what I tend to do), to think of it more as a suppleness issue over the back. I'm constantly trying to make him quicker or get him more on the leg, but she felt that he tended to just climb and brace more when I do that. She wanted to see that I could ride his trot flatter and shorter ("pony trot") to work on the suppleness issues instead of riding him so big all the time.

Even in the walk she wanted me to connect him lower in the neck on both reins and not let him bounce on and off the contact (which he loves to do), then if he blocks or stops, to deal with that rather than putting a bandaid on it. That alone improved his overall acceptance of the contact and once he accepted that he felt much better on the leg (also the walk-trot-walk transitions worked much more easily). Then we moved to the same canter exercise as she had me do with Majek. We started with dealing with some suppleness issues in the canter on the 20m circle, and she also wanted the canter much more strongly forward and ground covering (more so than I normally ride it). I particularly had to get him better off the left leg in the half-pass/counter canter exercise.

We finished the ride with a little bit of piaffe and passage work. The passage she thought looked good, again, just needed to be a little lower in the neck. Overall though he felt much more active on his own after the previous work. In the piaffe Victor wants to pedestal (bring his front legs too far backwards), so she wanted me to ride the piaffe slightly more forward. That was a little bit of a challenge, as he wanted to go passage every time I tried to ride forward. We worked through that, and also worked on getting a little better suppleness on the right rein, because he tended to block on the right hind leg in the piaffe. When I tried to deal with that, he wanted to stop but she didn't think that was a big deal. She advised me to just keep working on the right rein suppleness and restart the piaffe. Overall he felt much more active and willing though, which was nice!

Thankfully we were done by 11am and by then it was already 85 degrees out! Tomorrow no lessons, so I will ride on my own in the morning and work on some of these ideas. I liked the feel I had with both horses by the end of my lessons, Majek became much more ridable and less rigid, while Victor became much rounder over the back and more active on his own. I'll do another couple lessons with Leslie Tuesday afternoon; it's supposed to cool off a little by then. Fingers crossed!

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