Confession: I’ve been meaning to write this post for quite a long time. Back before Easter (wow, that feels like a long time ago, am I right?) I was asked to ride Max, who is owned by some friends at the barn. I was so pumped because in my opinion, Max is one of the most talented horses at the barn. He’s a big seal brown/dark bay guy, apparently with a barrel racing background. When he moves properly and is balanced, he looks like he was just born for the hunter ring.
But. (There is always a but.) He is not balanced, and he likes to race around at the trot. I mean really race. His owners have been trying to stay out of his mouth and use strategies like serpentines and circles to slow him down and keep him under control. This seems like a sound plan of attack.
The first time I got on Max, I had this plan in mind. Honestly, it didn’t really work. Those old barrel racing days served him well, and he would just drop his shoulder and zoom around a curve without really slowing down. Soon, I found myself asking, “how on Earth am I supposed to stay out of this horse’s mouth?” I changed the game plan and started doing transitions. Walk-halt transitions. Walk-trot transitions. Trot-halt transitions. All the transitions. It kind of worked. He did start listening to my seat more but the consistency in the gaits just wasn’t coming.
A couple of days later, I rode him again. This time I had a different plan in mind. Back in the fall when I was taking lessons with Mr. K, we had done plenty of work in a pattern. Using poles, I set up what I like to call “the flower pattern” (even though I am aware that it doesn’t look anything like a pattern, okay guys geez).
Here is the setup. Each black dot is a pole, and you start at the star. I changed colors when you switch directions to come back through the poles to make it easier to see where you should be going.
You can loop around and and around this pattern. You never have to stop. You can do it at the walk and the trot. Do it in both directions. Make up a different pattern around the poles. The possibilities are endless.
I started with Max at the walk for quite a long time to ingrain the pattern in his mind and get him really steering off my legs and seat. Then we would trot for maybe 6 steps and then walk again for full pattern. Trot 6 steps, walk a full pattern. My thought here was to get him in the right headspace from the moment I asked for the trot. He came to understand that we were only trotting a few steps and that I would be asking him to come down again almost immediately. This translated into quieter, softer walk-trot transitions and prompt trot-walk transitions. I slowly worked up to trotting through the whole pattern, and then up to trotting through the pattern several times without a walk break. He was so great! He was listening to my seat and legs, moving relaxed and balanced (mostly) and not rushing around. I could stay out of his mouth, stay quiet and support his balance around each turn.
Check it out for yourself – my mom was in town that night and I roped her into coming out to the barn to be my official videographer. As you’ll hear partway through, she is a good one.
So I was feeling pretty good about adding “whoa” to the “go” after that ride, and was eager to get back out and do some more work with him in my allotted week of subbing for his owners. Sadly, I got a migraine the next day and it sort of devolved into some kind of virus/bug that lasted through Easter.
But don’t worry, guys! That’s not the end of the story! I know you were worried that this story wouldn’t have a happy ending. However, to prevent this post from becoming a small novel, I’m going to make you wait for Part II. (Muahahaha!) Sidenote: The real reason is that I’ve been trying to get this post done and published for like a week and I just want it done, for goodness sake. To pique your interest in Part II even more, it will feature the singular Brad Hall, dressage/eventing clinician extraordinaire.
In the meantime…
What are your strategies for working on consistency in the gaits without dragging on your horse’s mouth?
What is a better name for the pattern that looks nothing like a flower?