Monday, January 13, 2014

Working On A Standardbred’s Trot

Dusty feets for the both of us | A Riding Habit

I’ve been trying some new things with Copper to hunt down that elusive soft trot that I know he has in there somewhere. I know it because just the other day I actually found it for once!

We were out on the trail loop that goes behind our horse paddocks, and he was buzzing – his energy was so high.  I tried a few short trot ‘sprints’, with little success, and then we came to the part of the trail that drops into a ditch.

Well, it’s more like a gulley, where the feet of two hills meet. It’s not altogether that steep or deep, but it’s fair stretch down and we usually walk it on a bit of angle.

Not this time though! Copper charged down it, and when he reached the bottom, snatched the bit and took off up the other side. I had anticipated this, so I stayed with him and when we reached the top, steadied him down to a medium-fast canter.

I didn’t even bother thinking about pulling him up. So not worth it. He dropped back to a trot himself when we reached a rocky part of the trail, and then I asked him to walk which he did quite willingly.  I guess he needed to blow off steam or something…

Gold grass to graze on | A Riding Habit

At any rate, I got the bright idea of making him do some work to combat all that excess energy!

There’s a nice level piece of ground that our trail goes past that is about 150m x 70m (roughly – it’s a natural stretch, so this is just a guesstimate!) and is relatively stone and grass tussock free; great for doing some schooling out on a trail.

I started with lateral work at a walk.  Leg yields, shoulder-fores, and ended with two/three steps of shoulder-in before we moved onto trot circles. He wanted to canter, so I said, “Sure, you can canter Copper, but I’m going to make you work for it!”.  

We did slow, uphill canter circles for a bit and when he finally figured out that that was HARD and a trot was easier, I got the softest trot from him I have ever felt!

What’s more, he was so round, supple, and through, that he felt like he was doing an actual medium trot worth a score. It was powerful and energetic, but so soft. It’s really hard to describe, but it’s like you’ve tapped into this circle of power, and you’re holding it together between your legs and your hands and letting it flow through your seat, into your back and out again.

I was thrilled!

And then, even better – I found it again.  This second time was the ride directly after a not-so-successful ride where I wanted to take it easy, but he wasn’t having any of it. Small, balanced canter circles was the result of that, and it paid off on the very next ride!

I had done a lot of lateral work – we ‘warmed up’ at a walk for close to half an hour. We went through all of our lateral movements, adding some turns on the forehand for fun, halt transitions, backing up, 20m circle spirals with leg yielding in and out, serpentines from the end of the arena to the top and back again - and we had such a good ride I was all like, “Eh, do I want to stop here? If I ask for a trot I might ruin on the relaxed-ness I’ve just spent 30 minutes working for! But I neeed work on his trot… Ugh.  Here goes nothing!”

Hoof Print in the Sand | A Riding Habit

I asked him to trot right before the corner so that once he was trotting, the first thing he needed to do was balance himself for the corner. This was reasonably effective to stop him from just taking off willy-nilly.  Next, I kept my seat super light by leaning forwards slightly in a half-two point position.

Then I tried something I read somewhere, opening my hands wide, but keeping my elbows tucked in and steady. That was the final key to the puzzle – lightening my seat allowed him to come through over his back, and opening my hands unlocked his neck and shoulders and allowed him to work fully from back to front.

Yes, his frame improved almost instantly, but at this stage that is a secondary concern for me – I am really only interested in his looseness (suppleness and relaxation) or Losgelassenheit, his “throughlettingness” of the aids, or Durchlässigkeit and his free flowing movement and energy, or Schwung.*

And I had all the beginnings of that.  I had it twice – once with far more energy and impulsion on the trail and the second time with more relaxation and attentiveness in the arena.

It’s been nice to have this breakthrough – I now know that I can actually achieve a decent trot from Copper, and I have a some new keys on how to go about doing that. 

Boy, he’s a tough ride sometimes, but I am learning a lot!

See ya,


*This page on dressage terms has a more through explanation of these German words.

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