I’ve been working really hard with Phil to get him to relax with me riding with a dressage whip. It’s very difficult because I know he’s scared, and I don’t want to cause him undue stress. However I really feel like this is something that he has got to accept eventually. As my trainer has told me before, “If you’re not going to do it now, then when? In a year? Two years?” So it’s got to be now, because sometimes I feel like I need just a little tap on the haunches to help me out now and then with leg yields.
Last week we had a pretty bad day so I decided that we’d stay on the 20 meter circle and work on shortening and lengthening his stride. I figured that could help him concentrate and give him less distractions as we worked. I found out that, at some point along the way, he got very confused as to what the aide for “canter” was.
Turns out that he got the impression that if I used my “driving seat” across the diagonal at the trot, I meant “lengthen the stride”. But “driving seat” at the trot anywhere else meant “canter” regardless of if my outside leg was there or not. Of course, this is a problem.
We’ve spent the last few sessions sorting this out. He was making errors, and he knew that he was wrong, and I had the whip, so he got himself all upset that he was going to get a punishment instead of a correction. This was exhausting for both of us. I took walk breaks and gave him a chances to settle down and think, but at times he just completely came off the rails and would bolt wildly when he realized that I really meant “lengthen” and he accidentally cantered. I never even so much as tapped him with the whip, but the combination of me holding the whip and him being confused and making errors was very difficult for him.
As of our last ride he has gotten the idea that “seat and outside leg back” meant canter, and “seat plus light leg at the girth” meant lengthen the stride at the trot. However our canter transitions are quite bad. He LEAPS forward with his head in the air, as if to say “I’M DOING IT DON”T HIT ME”. He doesn't always get it right, bit he's really trying. I know that eventually he’ll get over this, but I’ve had him for three years now. I was hoping that he’d trust me by now. It’s just taking much longer than I thought. To give him credit, he is much, much better when I use just the short jumping bat. We just need more time I guess.