June 2, 2013

Building Blocks

I learned such a huge lesson today about training.

After the show, we switched from "Dressage for the sake of Dressage" to "Dressage for the sake of jumping".  There is an expectation that we maintain the same quality of flatwork that we've finally consistently attained, but he's just felt flat the past couple of weeks, with none of the sparkle, lightness or rocking back on his hocks we had a few weeks ago.  It's apparent in this video Austen took of us at my lesson on Thursday:

The goal of that lesson was keeping the hind legs active while "slowing down" the front legs; in effect, the beginnings of collection.  We both have to learn to slow the rhythm down and take a controlled canter to the base of a fence instead of our usual strung-out-behind canter.  I am also working on sitting up.  These were our best attempts over the jump exercise, complete with many transitions since I have been instructed not to let him give me less-than-his-best transitions into any gait:

Still not great, right?  I worked on the flatwork part yesterday in my Dressage saddle and today tried the jump exercise, but got more of the same lackluster effort.  Something didn't feel right, I was frustrated and we were on the verge of a fight, so I stopped.  I don't fight with my rides.  If I feel the need to fight, either I'm not asking clearly enough, he's not ready for what I'm asking, or I'm missing a step on the training scale.

I brought it back to the walk and analyzed the situation.  I realized that he was popping his shoulder to the outside rather belligerently, not carrying himself, not bending through the ribcage, and generally doing the minimal amount of work necessary - and I was allowing it.  It was a near-identical repeat of January, when my trainer told me that sometimes I was going to have to get tough with him in order to make progress.

So, I repeated the square exercise from January (turns on the forehand at the corners and shoulder-in on the sides), and then once I had his shoulder and neck I did the little circles exercise from April to get him bending.  At first there was much unhappy head-flinging at being asked to work properly/the hard way, and I wasn't unfair to him, but I was unyielding in my demand that he give me his body the way I know he can.  When he did, I once again asked for the baby collected trot and collected canter in the same way I had asked previously, and got a DRAMATICALLY better response - better than we ever got in my lesson on Thursday.

I learned such a big lesson today from all that.  Training him is like building a stack of blocks.  Sometimes I go to put another block on the top of the stack, but I don't notice that one of the supporting blocks is gone from underneath.  I can't just take for granted the fact that the blocks are all there, I have to actively check for them, because without them, we're mediocre, and if I try to go forward without all of them, we'll have another backslide like we did last summer when I wasn't allowed to ride for six weeks.

Building blocks.