A Non-Instant Recipe for On The Bit

"When I got on him last week, he just felt unbendable.  We have to get him back to where he was, soft and between your leg and hand."  This was an incredible lesson.  Holy cow.


Our flatwork has been on a generally downward slide since our jumping boot camp started after GDHT, and on Thursday I had a great lesson in which we reestablished him as a light, self-carrying Dressage pony.  He has learned all this stuff slowly over the past couple of years, but we slowly lost it and we both needed a refresher.  He's been pretty frustrating to ride lately.

Establishing on the Bit (as it happened last night, over the course of an hour)
1. Unlock the jaw
2. Establish the bend on a circle
3. Lengthen the neck
4. More of the same with shoulder-in on a straight line
5. Lengthen/shorten the trot while maintaining softness/jaw/bend

It's like a five step plan for getting Connor, a horse who knows how to be on the bit but isn't confirmed there, on the bit.  (And his rider to remember how to ride a horse well enough to do it)  But it's not like making a 3 minute cup of Ramen Noodles.  It's like spending a couple of hours chopping vegetables, boiling stock, searing meat and then putting it all together into a delicious soup.  It doesn't take days because you've done it before, but it isn't instant, either.

She had me keep the reins longer than I wanted to, and my hands low.  I have a habit of pulling them up sharply when he gets hollow, which, she pointed out, gets his nose back down but it's nothing more than that.  It's the wrong reaction.  I need to change my default reaction from "hands" to "leg."  She first had me play with bend, to ask for some serious bend and not give up until he gave me his jaw.  Not his neck, not his nose, his jaw.  This required me to bring me elbow behind my waist.  I needed her permission to be persistent like that, and to use my arm like that.  Eventually I didn't need to be so persistent as he got lighter through the lesson.

After I started to get his jaw, she had me do lots of circles of varying sizes, focusing on getting that same bend, pushing him out with my inside leg, then releasing and letting him lengthen his neck.  "Bend, then release, bend, then release."  Once I had that, she threw in some shoulder in on the long side, but got after me because I still needed to ride him like I was on a circle, and I "gave up" when I let him go straight.  Once we had success with that, she had us lengthen down the long side, letting his neck go long, and then do our baby collection into a small circle.

By this point he was going really well, better than he'd gone in a month.  The last thing we did was turn on the haunches work, with a quarter turn for each corner of a square.  But she REALLY wanted me to get his haunches in on the sides of the square before the turn, and I struggled with that at first.  But then I asked more firmly and felt a big change all of a sudden.  It just felt more compact as his front end pivoted around his hind end, where his legs were crossing over.  

Finally, we ended in free walk, but still doing the bend/soften/inside leg thing, and for the first time, he was still on the bit in the free walk.  I'd never felt that before.

Dressage folks, am I on the right track with the way I'm processing this lesson?

10 comments:

  1. With Super Ki she likes to lock her jaw, stop using her back and revert into pony trot, not allowed. I usually stop, mKe her back up, to get her to focus, then ask for a collected walk, bending on a circle, switching from counter bending to bending the right way. This usually unlocks her jaw then I ask her to go ahead and trot, but she has to trot long and low, so I put my hands where they would be if she was wearing side reins. After she starts using her back I brib my hands back up and ask for regular collection. As for Rhyme, he has no problem collecting in his head and neck, but using his back is hard, and he has natully no idea of what long an low is, so again I put my hands down like side reins and just keep playing with his mouth, eventually he will come around, it's the first time that is the hardest then after that it's easier. What you described doing with Connor seems like it would work, I would try also a lot of change in bends, helps a ton!

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    1. Oh yeah, the first ten minutes of this lesson were spent on a straight line changing the bend back and forth, or trying to. Lots of changes!

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  2. Great description and I think this is a really accurate portrayal of things to work through after you've done your 10 gazillion hours of background work (generic you). I've only started, this year, to realize how much leg and how much forward energy I should be using. And how HARD it is to resist going to the hand when they get heavy or resist and instead go LEG LEG LEG!

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    1. Thank you! I feel the same, I've never before thought about not just creating forward energy in general, but what type of forward energy I'm trying to create. It's a whole new way of riding for me.

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  3. I'm not a dressage person, so I can't comment on the details...but, it does sound like you made some good progress.

    I noticed 2 interesting things in this post that I can really relate to - 1) just pulling the reins has a short-term effect, but leg is really where it's at and 2)like me, you needed someone to guide you to ask more firmly and demand a bit more of him and you got good results! I'm trying to consistently get to that point with my gelding as well...

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    1. Your first point is a really good summary - quick fix, short-term effect. Here's to the people that push us for more!

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  4. I think you totally nailed it! Leg is really where it's at. It's difficult to get that giving and following hand without allowing them to run through or pulling, isn't it?

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    1. It is when I forget about my core. When I start to use my core and sit up, he stops running. Sort of amazing.

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  5. Haunches-in and exercises that work the horse behind the saddle like the corner work you described have helped my horse. Sometimes they cannot unstick the frontend until they can mobilize the backend more and vice versa. I really enjoyed your descriptions!

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    1. Thank you! I have always enjoyed your descriptions of this type of work on your blog too. I think that's probably true for Connor, a horse that would rather drag himself by his front end than push with the hind.

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