Monday, October 20, 2008

Bad connection

My training with Kaswyn has been coming along slowly but surely. I've been careful not to push too hard because I don't want to have an injury or make him sore. Everything was going as expected until a few weeks ago. He warmed up very nicely, but then after the warm up he would not make a good connection at the trot. He would pick up the trot fine, but after two or three strides he would back off the bit and jiggle his nose in an out, making it impossible for me to establish a connection. Since Dr. Tooth was just out, I know it's not his teeth!

When he did this he would also hollow his back ever so slightly. I knew he wasn't working over his back, so I went back to the basics to try and fix this. I tried lots of transitions first. This worked for a day or two, but then he returned to the "back off and jiggle". Next I tried lots of changes of bend, starting with serpentines then expanding to heading down the centerline and doing a half circle to change direction. When that stopped working I tried some lateral schooling, doing shoulder-in to haunches-in on the 20 meter circle. During all of these exercises I was able to get him to connect and work nicely, but the moment I asked him to just go straight at the trot he would always back off and jiggle after four or five strides. There were none of these issues at the canter at all.

I was starting to get really frustrated. I had gone back to the basics, worked on releasing and making sure my hands were soft and not constricting, and Kaswyn felt stronger than ever. I was beginning to think that I'd need a lesson ASAP.

Yesterday I finally had enough. As soon as he started the back off and jiggle, I said "No.", quietly but sternly and tapped him firmly with the whip. He leaped forward into my hand with a renewed connection, and I said "Good boy." He took a second to process this development, and then backed off again. Before he had a chance to jiggle his head, I said "No." and tapped again.

Now, Kaswyn is not a horse that likes to be in trouble. If he thinks he's in trouble for something he will try his hardest to get himself out of it and back into my good graces. Sure, he's lazy if he can get away with it, and he'll always try to take the easy way out if possible, because if I'm okay with it and it's easy for him, then everyone wins! So he was confused about what was going on. We were just trotting forward. I wasn't asking for anything - no changes in bend, no half halts (until he leaped forward in response to the whip), no lateral work or transitions. So what was going on here? What was with all the whipping??!!

He started to get himself a little uptight, so we went to the canter, and I praised him for making such a nice connection and working over his back, then it was back to the trot. Of course, out of habit, he backed off after a few strides and got another whip tap. After a few more cycles of trot-canter-trot I think he finally got the idea, so we called it a day.

Today when I rode him I only had to remind him twice not to back off and break the connection. I'm hoping that this trend continues and that we can get back on track. Ah, so nice to have a thinking, learning horse!

Albert has been steadily coming along also. His main issue is still his tendency to raise his head up and tighten his back if he feels pressured or scared in any way. He's really doing much better with that and today we were able to do some very nice leg yields at the trot. They were so nice in fact that I thought I'd try some half-pass, which he did with no problem. We also did some beginning collected canter work, but it's still challenging for him. He tends to have a quick tempo at the canter and gets a little bullish about the half halts, running through them and bearing down in front instead of lightening the forehand. Now that I can put pressure on him without him coming above the bit and blocking in the neck I'm able to get some lightness in the front end and more weight behind with my half halts at the canter. He gets fatigued quickly so we can't do much of it, but I can certainly see improvement.

Now I just need a lesson on each of them, and some kind of plan for a show. It's so much more enjoyable for me to ride with a specific goal in mind, such as "Gotta get ready for the show in Janauary!" or something like that.


Katee said...

I've been taking some dressage lessons and have learned that I am not straight. I lean to my left. I feel like a contortionist up there on my horse trying to follow my instructors "right shoulder back, right leg long, right shoulder down, feeeeel that right hip" instructions. Sitting straight is hard.

dressagemom said...

Oh, yeah, sitting straight is hard. Ever since watching the videos from our Boot Camp experience I have to keep in the back of my mind "right shoulder down, right hand down, left leg long.." It's even worse that Kaswyn is crooked!

Katee said...

My horse is crooked too! We'd both like to lean left. We're happy on the left. Comfortable. It's hard to learn where straight is because when I'm straight, my horse is not happy. He's constantly trying to push me left and I want to go left and Good Grief we're a bit of a mess. It's getting better every day, though and I know we'll both be stronger in the end.

Gina said...

I've been reading this blog for a LONG time and haven't really commented on anything... so here goes! :)
I ride a 8yo Thoroughbred in dressage (nearly 2 1/2 years now), and I have an extensive background in huntseat (9 years....yeeeeah). Naturally, when I had a lesson with a Paralympic rider (Robin Brueckmann), she called me out on "perching." Now, I thought I didn't perch, but apparently I did. Considering that I had fixed my seat to what it was before the lesson, I was surprised! Now I have to consciously think, "Sit on your pockets, no hunters!" over and over again. Impulsion is also an issue, so I'm glad to read someone else's dressage woes :). We can all sympathize together!

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