As you can tell from my previous posts, flatwork has played a really significant role in improving May’s rideability over fences. She’s always going to be the kind of ride that takes you to the fences, but she is starting to stay more tuned into my feedback. Amanda posted this week about her flatwork routing, and I loved reading the responses. Since it’s relevant to what we are doing lately, I figured I would share mine:
oh gosh. Right now our flat rides ping pong between increasing suppleness and increasing power. We typically start with a good stretchy walk, getting her to move off of both legs through her rib cage. Open and close the walk steps through some different sized circles and bending lines, keeping her really over her back and into the contact but on a longer rein.
Then move into the trot. Lots of figures, true bend, counter bend. Once the bend is well established and she’s giving through her rib cage, we move into some square work. At this point, we alternate between the hind end and the front end moving around in the corners with a deeper, more stretch connection between corners. She isn’t quite strong enough to do canter squares, so at the canter, we work on true bend and counter bend and have started throwing in some shallow counter canter and leg yield exercises.
If we get things well established in all three gaits with good suppleness and connection (doesn’t always happen), then we open and close the length of the canter. Most of the time, these will need to be done with lots of circles to keep that suppleness without getting into a fight about it.
Obviously, all of this is mostly being done to make May easier to ride over fences and stronger in different stride lengths.
Unsurprisingly, our warm up for our jump lesson looked really similar to this. Except, Chloe was really happy with the progress we had made on the trot squares and her willingness to move her haunches away from my leg, so we introduced the canter squares with the haunches moving out in the corners. This was HARD for May. It really requires that inside hind to swing under her body. BUT she tried really hard and did a lot better than I thought she would. (A sentiment I immediately shared with Chloe… who agreed on both accounts)
The jumps set for the day were a combination of a suppling gymnastic, a footwork gymnastic, and a standard jump line. The blue circle on the left side was comprised of slightly raised cavalettis and wasn’t specifically set with any stride length in mind. I mostly got between 4 and 6 strides between obstacles. The idea was to keep your horse supple as you open and closed their body through the exercise. The orange gymnastic, at the bottom, was a set of 1 stride verticals with a ground pole in-between to keep horses rocked back and quick with their feet, and the magenta line was set around 2’9″ and on an open 6 strides or quieter 7 strides.
We started by coming through the blue “circle of love”. At first, I really struggled with it. Like we’d get through 4 or 5 of the cavalettis and then we’d get a big distance and find ourselves off balance and in a tug of war. Chloe was trying to tell me to aim for the inside of the next jump and circle to the inside if we find ourselves off balance. This… did not click.
Luckily, we were in a bit of a group lesson, and I got to watch someone else do it before I went the other way. And that made it click. I needed to ride as if I was going to circle to the inside, but push her out from inside leg to outside rein and over the next cavaletti if she’s in a good balance. For our next attempt, I tried this and it went much better, and we were able to correct issues without getting into an argument about it… which was the whole point.
We then schooled through the orange gymnastic. First we did it with one end of each vertical on the ground, and May basically dragged me through it… because half-up verticals are really just speed bumps in her mind. Since she was dragging me through it a bit, we did the tighter turn after. So jump through on the right lead, then do the left roll back towards the nearest rail and come back to it. Again, the idea was to have her more rideable. We put it all the way up (to about 2’6″) and jumped through it with a bit more success… but still a bit too much enthusiasm.
Then we kind of put the whole thing together. We jumped through the orange gymnastic towards the blue circle. Made the right turn and did a circle through the circle of love. Then changed direction, went back through the circle of love on the left lead to go back through the orange gymnastic. We continued on the left lead through the magenta line in the waiting 7 strides and finished through the blue circle of love again. So a lot of good technical questions.
She was… pretty spicy hahaha. When I went to start my course, she wanted to jig a bit, so we had to do a bit of suppling and stretching before we even began. But it paid off because when we picked up the canter, she was soft and supple and over her back. She jumped through the orange like a boss, but was definitely wanting to turn into a freight train on the back side. The circle of love helped us supple again. We changed directions and she was SUPER rideable to the left through the circle. And that translated really well to going back through the orange gymnastic, towards the barn. Unfortunately, I got a bit long to the first one, so she swapped to the right lead coming into it, so we landed on the right lead at the end.
I did a simple change and had to work a bit to get the suppleness back. She jumped the shiny pink and purple skinny as if she didn’t notice it was bright and shiny and ugly. I could feel that the open 6 strides was 100% available to me, but I was able to half-halt and get the 7 without too much difficulty too. (This is a HUGE victory in the rideability department). She jumped GREAT over the oxer on the out and then landed pretty rideable, and we were able to make an easy lap through the circle of love.
Chloe had a really good point after my round. May is getting more rideable, yes, but she is also getting more rideable more quickly through my schoolings. Before it would have taken an entire lesson to get her as supple as she was before we even did the whole course. And after the first circle of love in that course, she STAYED really rideable, despite some execution issues on my end.
Overall, it was a great lesson, and we have our homework. Keep working on the flatwork (clearly its working) and play with cavaletti exercises outside my lessons.