I Learned The Value of Hard Work...

...by working hard. 
~Margaret Mead

This weekend was again one full of hard work. After having survived week 2 of our bootcamp at my trainer's barn and having had three lessons before Friday already, on Saturday and Sunday we rode at a clinic. The clinician is a well known trainer and judge and we rode with him before, somewhat back in late 2013 - see my clinic report from back then here: http://www.dressagehafl.com/2013/11/there-are-no-shortcutsrecap-of-my-last.html

Before we started, he once again asked where our problems were and I started with an extensive list of things that I thought go wrong. He stopped me and said: Listening to you sounds you are not capable of anything! So give it a try and show me serpentines in trot. So far so good, after a few strides he just said that it wasn't as bad as I had told him. After a short warm up we started to canter - the gait we love most - remember? So he literally let me canter until I almost dropped of my horse, my chest was aching, I was sweating like hell and still he let us canter, just because "you will not get better in something when not doing it". For sure, it is easier for us now to trot (though there is a small drawback here as well, let me tell you later). So he gave us a pretty easy to follow order of how our canter work should look like. It will be longer than we cantered before and it will not be cantering on a circle and waiting for the canter to improve. Indeed, we will start on a circle, with a bit of more tempo - not running but seeing that we get the rhythm right before we start anything else. After having a good rhythm, let's find the connection. And here is the tricky part. Hafl has learned over the last years that it is easy for him to canter on his forehands and being above the bit. So now, we need to reverse that urgently as we want to move up the levels. First exercise to make him sit more is spiral in. Sure, it is difficult to make smaller and smaller circles AND work on the connection, but as soon as we have that we can rest a bit while spiraling out before coming back in onto the smallest circle possible. After a few rounds, Hafl will see no other choice than starting to carry more wait on his hindlegs. With that canter, we will leave the circle and try to ride on straight lines shoulder in. That should give him the carrying power he needs. Small circles every now and then ensure that he comes back to his haunches again. Several long sides and he should be supple enough to change to counter canter. There, the biggest issues are that he speeds up and the above the bit part becomes even more evident. I should now canter as long as needed until he starts to drop his neck and come back onto the bit. It is not that he is physically not able, it is just that he has greater stamina to not follow my aids than I have to make him follow the aids (let's also consider rider's fitness at this point!). After having done this on one hand, of course, the other hand has to follow. With these order of movements, it should be easy to be busy for a couple of minutes in canter - and believe it or not, what was a nightmare on Saturday was already getting better on Sunday. 


For the trot work, Hafl and I need to work on longitudinal flexion. He is doing fine with this shoulder ins and stuff but he is sometimes cheating - also, when he comes above the bit during these movements. So I need to make sure to get him rounder from the beginning and add some sort of reserve to his full neck such that he can come a bit higher without being above the bit during certain movements. And it worked! Of course, he is not too happy about having to work harder now. But he gave me an easy to follow rule: rhythm - connection - track - movement. What does that mean?`First, we need to seek the perfect rhythm meaning no sewing machine trot but nice and long strides. After that, we take a look at our connection. How do the aids flow and does he really accept the bit? He needs to step actively from behind, arch his neck, accept the bit. With that we are almost there. Third comes what I translate as track - where do we want to go? Straight line? Then ride a straight line! Curves? Do them. There is no corner in a curved line, there is no curve in a straight line. And last but not least ride the movement. Here is an example of how we followed this principle. Exercise was to ride half pass on the diagonal.

So before leaving the track, we made a nice and tiny circle - really tiny in order to get the bending and the correct rhythm - not too fast but still with enough pushing energy from behind. Then we left onto the diagonal and all that I had to concentrate on was to ride that straight line. I needed to make sure that my outer leg worked on the haunches to make them turn in and with sturdily following the track it was easy to ask for this movement. And yes, it is difficult to put all four things together - once we started good but then almost died because we lost impulsion, or the bending was simply too much or the straight line was not straight or we decided to try this demanding exercise above the bit thus without the back and thus without functional hindlegs.


The medium trot was another exercise we were working on. Bringing more tension into the horse in a circle in the corner makes him go: thank you that you release me such that the medium trot really becomes a medium trot and not just a super fast sewing machine trot - I also like the comparison of having the horse being a rubber band that is stretched and stretched and all of a sudden released.

The lessons only lasted for 30mins but I was almost dead after them. Also Stephan said that OMG he had never seen such intense workout before (he was even claiming that we cantered for almost half an hour which was of course not true).

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