March Training

March is over, so I thought I would do a recap of our improvements and stumbling blocks.

Canter Transitions:
We’re still having issues with our canter departs and Ava throwing her head around.The walk/canter departs still create an immense amount of stress, and anxiety, for Ava. I’ve been trying everything I can think of to get her to relax, but nothing has worked. She had this same issue with the trot/canter departs last June, and the only thing that really helped was repetition. Repetition until she was so bored with it that she didn’t care anymore. Until now, I haven’t felt that Ava was really strong enough to do a lot of walk/canter departs so I’ve been fairly judicious about asking her for them.

Weeeeeee!

Yesterday I weighed out the pro’s and con’s and decided she’s at the point where she can step up the engagement. I spent a majority of yesterday’s lesson drilling walk/canter departs until she could do a few without making a big deal out of it. I then let her rest for a while, and we worked on the other side. And yet again, it was a big deal for several minutes until she got into the swing of things. Overall, by the end of the ride, she was a bit more relaxed and stepping under herself better then before. I’m planning on taking one, or possibly two rides, per week and working on this until she’s bored of it.

The added benefit is that I get to practice my canter depart aids. Half of the issue is my upper body getting in the way of Ava’s balance. Improving my seat and the timing of the canter depart aids will help both of us.

Haunches In:

The other obstacle we’ve been facing is the dreaded haunches-in (Travers). If I so much as hint at the fact that we may do a canter depart sometime in the near future, then the haunches-in become a huge struggle. I’ve been working on making that outside rein more effective with a lighter touch, but so far I just feel like a big noob about the whole thing. In the past couple of weeks though, Ava has really been relaxing into the haunches-in, and allowing me to adjust her more easily with the outside rein. Part of this is that I’m sitting better, with my weight on the correct seat bone instead of off in la-la land. Part of it, I think, is that Ava’s getting stronger and the exercise isn’t as hard as it used to be for her.

Introducing Haunches in or Travers by Lilo Fore:

Straightness:
Our other big hurdle is getting Ava’s shoulders correctly in front of her. I read an article the other day talking about aligning the shoulders, and they mentioned something that really made the whole thing click for me. They were stating that since the haunches are wider than the shoulders, then in order to get the shoulders directly in front of the haunches the rider needs to offset the shoulders slightly (either left or right). When Ava and I are going to the right it appears to me as though Ava is straight. However, her shoulders are actually leading just slightly, which allows Ava to put more weight on that front right foot and kind of power her way through a corner on her forehand. This decreases my ability to half-halt and re-balance her, it decreases Ava’s engagement, and allows her to get lazy with that right hind leg (not bring it as far under as she should to carry herself). By moving Ava’s shoulders further to the left when circling right, she is more solidly on my outside rein, and she can bring that inside hind up and under her further.

One of the indicators that she’s falling in on the right shoulder is that she gets very tough on the right rein. When this happens I have to move Ava’s shoulders over with my inside knee. It’s really important that I don’t get stronger on that right rein (which is my instinctive response to her getting tough).  I have to fix her body before Ava can soften at the poll. Sometimes she utterly refuses to listen to my thigh/knee aid to move the shoulders over, and I have to tap her with the whip on the right shoulder. After that, it’s usually enough to just add some knee during corners (or when she starts to fall in) to remind her to stand up straight. Amazingly, once her shoulders are aligned with her hips, she’s very malleable with the right rein. Until then though… ugh. The whole thing can be so frustrating sometimes. One day we spent the entire ride with Ava throwing her right shoulder in, me kicking it back out, two steps of straight, and Ava’s diving back on the right shoulder again… on and on. I don’t think we had more than 4 good steps the entire ride. Since then though, it’s progressively gotten better the stronger Ava gets. I have to remind myself that it just takes time.

Lengthens:
Our trot lengthens are coming along very well. The one’s in the video (below) aren’t very good. I was having issues with straightness. You can see in the video (2:30) that just after I come out of the corner and attempt to straighten her before the diagonal, that I’m fighting with her because she blew through my outside rein.

I also didn’t allow her to stretch forward through her neck enough during the lengthen. Which, in my opinion, was a result of her being a bit on her forehand an a little crooked so even if I had allowed her to stretch out more, it would’ve exacerbated the issue. I should’ve transitioned at “X” to a working trot, corrected the straightness issue and re-balanced her, and then asked for the lengthen again. Some day’s you just don’t get it right though….

Our canter lengthens are great. However, we have absolutely no half-halt at the end. She blows right through my seat and reins, and joyously romps through the corner like a freight train. You can see what I’m talking about in the video below. At 3:16, we’re coming into the corner after a half-hearted lengthen and I’m attempting to half-halt back to a working canter. There isn’t any change in the canter as we blow through the corner. I finally get her down to a trot (which was off balance and too fast) and it took me the entire corner to get her re-balanced. This is a major issue that I need to have fixed before we can successfully compete at First, or Second, Level this year.

Video of Ava taken March 24, 2012: 

That’s the recap on March’s issues. At the end of April we have a clinic with Roz Kinstler, and we have to have our submission for the Lilo Fore clinic in. Hopefully by then we’ll have cleaned up these rough spots.

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