I've started this post... oh... about 5 different times. I have a lot to unpack from Yoshi's week with JT. I'll divide it into separate sections because I can't make all of this cohesive. And I am mostly blogging to chronicle this for my own reference and memory.
I lessoned Monday and Friday; Monday she warmed him up, Friday it was all me. She did training rides on him Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday I took him for a hack around the neighborhood. He was FANTASTIC for his hack, horses ran up to the fence to see him, a whole herd of cows moseyed around, a school bus passed us... biggest deal was actually crossing the white line on the road, kiddo is very aware of changes in color of the ground.
When JT started introducing the idea of softening through his neck and body and lifting his shoulder and withers, he looked MAD and stressed a lot of the time. His stress is incredibly visible, he opens his lips and sometimes his teeth and chomps on the bit. Now, this is something he's always done:
Even though he's always done it, it doesn't mean watching it makes me feel any better about what it says about his stress levels. But every ride JT had on him she was fair and quick to praise for the right answer. Monday was much improved from the two rides the week before. And when I lessoned again on Friday, it was even better. He was more consistent but also softer. JT described it as him realizing that going this way felt good to him - he is more comfortable when he is soft and relaxed.
I did have to let go a bit to make this week successful though. My internal mom felt for him every time he chomped and gnashed and hopped. But he's ended the week a much better horse with the tools to be more comfortable and sound in the long run.This actually does kind of tie in to my next set of baggage to unpack...
Sending a horse to a trainer
When JT suggested Yoshi coming to stay with her for a few days I accepted without hesitation. And I have the blogging community to thank for part of that. Reading several accounts of bloggers sending their horses to a trainer or having trainer rides really helped normalize it in my head. I have actually not personally known anyone who has sent their horse to a trainer other than to be started under saddle. So ever since I was a teenager, it was always this vague kind of thing that people who couldn't figure out how to ride their own horse did. But watching several bloggers, who are far better and more educated riders than I am, greatly benefit from the professional rides and training, made it much easier to know that this was the right thing to do.
And helped eliminate the pride part of it. I suspect that with JT's instruction I could get Yoshi to the point she did.... in many months or years. With lots of unneeded frustration on his part and my part. But since I am in the admittedly privileged position of being able to send him to her for a week? Heck yes, this benefitted both of us. He was able to understand much more quickly and more fairly what he was being asked to do and what the right answer was.
I am not, and never will be, a professional. I'm not sure why 10 years ago that wouldn't have been obvious to me, but I know at that point I would have felt like I could just get it done myself and that there was a benefit to doing it myself. In reality, there is not. I put all the rides on Leila myself, a testament to her sweet, willing personality. But she did not have an understanding of contact or bend AT ALL. Yoshi ended this week with a new way to move his body. He actually does have an understanding of how to bend now, and I have an understanding of how to ask for that and where he is most likely to struggle. As JT instructed me on him, she was quick to note when he was really trying and to be patient vs. when he was tuning me out and needed a bump with the leg. The feel of those two different things is so subtle to me at this point that I can't imagine trying to teach him while not being able to clearly tell the difference between those two things. To say nothing about the million other subtly timed rewards, aids, and corrections that helped him along this process more smoothly.
Our ride this morning was not quite magical the way Friday was. I am trying to keep in mind all the rules that I was given:
- The rhythm is mine. I dictate the rhythm of the trot and canter with my body. His tendency is to get quick at the trot, so if that happens I post the rhythm of the trot I want. "Drag your butt out of the saddle like its stuck in molasses". A half-halt with my knee/thigh can be useful too.
- Every aid means something. Don't nag at the walk. He is responsible for maintaining the pace. He doesn't quite fully understand that yet, so reminders are gentle. I don't want to get after him so much with my leg that he drops his back. But the leg is gently on his side, not aiding, unless he slows down. Then I squeeze with my leg, closing it more firmly, and release. 90% of the time he responds appropriately. If he doesn't, it's a quick double squeeze and then a tap tap with the dressage whip.
- He is sensitive to the whip. He does not want to be tapped and he is generally trying very hard to respond to leg aids. So if I go to use it, it's a light flick flick, nothing more firm than that or all I'll do will be make him tense and quick.
- Inside hand UP to aid the bend and speak to the corner of his mouth, NEVER back.
The canter is still incredibly hard. It was hard on Friday and it was hard today. In order to maintain a steady connection, I have to feel like I'm pumping my arms/upper body at him. Looking at the video, this is clearly not happening. I had my husband practice being the horse's mouth with me last night while sitting on the couch and he said my connection felt "jerky". Oye. So much work to do there.