Monday, December 14, 2009

The State of my Training - Albert

My previous post was about how Kaswyn's rehab and training is coming along. Since then I've had a lesson with my trainer, and she thinks that he looks very good. She disagrees with my thought that I've never been able to get him engaged behind. She thinks that he never would have been able to do Prix St. Georges if he was never engaged. Maybe it's just been so long - five years! - since my horse has been strong and sound that I've forgotten what he feels like when he's going well.

My trainer also said that Kaswyn looks much more sure footed then before. He used to look very tentative and cautious about where be put his feet, especially going to the left. But now he looks very decisive and strong. She said that it's good to make him push into a big trot and canter, but I should start to introduce some collected strides. Not a lot, but maybe just start with a circle, or half of a circle. She wants to make sure that I also build the sitting and carrying muscles while I'm building the pushing ones.

Before I had my Kaswyn lesson I had an Albert lesson. That little horse is giving me the blues. Here is what is going on.

Since Sport Horse Nationals I've been introducing more difficult movements to him. We've been schooling half-pass at both the trot and the canter, as well as trying the flying change. The problem with Albert is that any time he gets nervous or something gets hard for him he pulls very hard with his neck and runs forward. Then if I can get him calmed down and slow again he begins to bear down on the bit very hard, even if we move to an easier movement. Once he is bearing down, he stays there.

So I tried loosening the neck. That was like trying to bend a steel girder. So then I thought if I could get him light and off the bit he'd relax his neck and I'd have something to work with. I tried half-halts. I tried transitions. Nothing worked. No matter what I did he still had a ton of bricks in his mouth. My arms couldn't take it!

When my trainer saw what was going on, she said that it's not actually in his neck, but in his back. She said that what he's doing is not coming through his back, and he's stopping the motion right behind the saddle. Here I thought that this horse was the one who was coming through his back! Turns out that's not the case. She said he's stopping his back and where I'm feeling it is in my hand.

So she asked to get on Albert. Now this is a quirky little horse, and he doesn't like my trainer all that much. She's never, ever been mean or abusive to him, but she's got his number and he really objects to that. So when she got on him he immediately went to his defence mechanism, which is his neck - exactly what she wanted him to do.

He threw his head in the air, neck inverted, and slammed on the brakes. All my trainer did was hold the reins steady, and ask him to go forward into her hand. He did not want to. But she did not change her request, and eventually he put his head down and walked into the contact. They repeated this dance a few more times at the walk, and then again at the trot and canter.

Then she said "Okay, get on him now. He feels great."

She said I need to have a "waiting hand", which means that I should just take contact, ask him to go forward into that contact, and not move my hands to either to bend the neck sideways or to give the contact at all. The only time I could give the contact is when he put his head down and walked into the contact with a loose neck.

Well Albert did not like this plan very much. He tried the same things with me, but to a lesser degree because he was finally figuring out that he wasn't going to be able to get away with being a bully with his neck anymore. It was tough for him, but he finally submitted and he felt just wonderful. Very light, loose in the neck, and nice soft back. There were moments in each gait where he'd slam on the brakes and jam himself into the bit, or just plain bear down on the bit, and then my trainer would say "Bump him forward, don't give your contact away!" and eventually he'd put his head down and go forward.

My Friday lesson ended on a very high note, so I was excited to get back on Albert on Sunday. However things did not go as well. Again the little horse decided to bear down on the bit and nothing I did, even the things that I was taught and able to do on Friday would work. I tried, and tried, but he would only stay light for a stride or two before jamming his face down onto the bit again.

It was a frustrating ride for both of us, and I wished that I could call my trainer and say "Please come over and fix us like you did on Friday!" This was not an option. Finally I decided that we had both had enough, and went to the walk. Then, and only then, was I able to get him to be light in the bit and soft in his back. I guess this is better than nothing.

It's very hard for me when I have goals in my mind and I just can't make it happen. I know that every ride is not going to be perfect, and it's all about trial and error and learning. I posted to my Facebook page that I was frustrated, and a good friend commented that "It's about the journey." And then my trainer commented "It's not instant soup!"

They are, or course, correct. Dressage is a journey where the destination is always on the horizon.


Mizscarlett said...

Sometimes, you have to go back to go forward. I too am learning this.

Now that I am doing more collected work, I think I have discovered my saddle was fine till I started asking for more lightness, collection and lateral work.

Now, I have a horse who never used to act pissy going to work, becoming girth sour, refusing to let me mount and refusing to walk to the dressage ring. Its disappointing on so many levels (in me, especially.)

And some days, especially when trying to "unlock" a behavior or a blockage that has been there for SO long, often as a coping mechanism, you have to go back back back BACK to the walk and fight for it every step till they "unlearn" it.

Good luck. don't be discouraged - Be glad you're working this NOW rather than finding it to be the reason you can't ask for higher level work. You'd be really frustrated to have to back track then!!!

Foundations are hard to build. Hang in there!

Achieve1dream said...

Sorry you're having problems with Albert. I know how frustrating it is to be able to do something perfectly with your instructor and then turn around and can't recreate it. Very, very frustrating!! At least he did relax in the end, so you ended on a good note. :)

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