I’ve been working on Ava’s half-steps for about 9 months now. Just short, infrequent, sessions where she gets to quit work if she shows some effort. I have to say, she’s really improved! Last night we did a few and I found I can control whether its more like piaffe or more like passage. (Piaffe – in place; Passage – moves forward;) It’s really bouncy, but in a smooth arcing type of way… Not a jolting up/down. I used to have clinicians ask me to try to recreate the feel of passage while doing a movement. You know how hard it is to recreate something you’ve never felt before? Impossible. I imagined it with less lift. Those upper level riders make it look like its easy. Like its the same bit of bounce from a normal trot… But it’s not. Not really. I found that to be a big eye opener to me. There’s a lot that I’ve found to be real eye openers to me this year. Like forward… It has as many nuances as the term connection has. I assumed it was more black and white. There’s a lot more to “forward”, or “in front of the leg” then I had realized before. I’m not sure I grasp it all very well yet. When I do, I’ll try to write out my understandings of it.
I’m really thrilled with how well Ava’s learning and developing. If you consider that in January 2011 we could barely canter, and struggling at Training level… to now doing good quality 10 meter canter circles… Pretty impressive for a horse that isn’t built for dressage. 🙂 I’ve even been fooling around with canter pirouettes. Nothing serious, but occasionally I ask for an 1/8 – 1/4 of a pirouette just to see what’s under the hood. We even got a couple steps of one, one time. It’s immensely hard for her though.
Our half-pass trot is coming along really well. Most the time its too sucked back, but that’s my fault. I tense and inhibit it. When I’m soft and following then she’s bold and just amazing. I have such a hard time following though. I’m not strong enough to hold myself balanced while staying relaxed, so I tense my seat to stabilize my core. I need more abdominal/back strength. That’s hard to get sitting at a desk 10 hours a day.
Our canter lengthens… I’m not sure they’re much better than last year as far as being longer. However, the return to working canter is better. I heard a clinician say that the key is to think about the butt coming under for the transition into working canter. That you still want forward into the hands, but not only do you want that bunching of the hind end under you during the transition up into lengthen/medium but that same feeling from lengthen into working. That concept has helped me in how I ask for the transition down, and has improved the quality of it.
Our canter right is still stronger than canter left. However, canter left is getting better. The leads are more even then they were – in terms of carrying strength and balance. Our counter canter is leaps and bounds better than it was last year at this time. Last year I could barely do the canter from track to X and back to the track. Now we can do 20 meter counter canter circles. Left lead canter is still weaker, but we no longer swap leads in front when on the right lead. I’m extremely proud of Ava’s improvement with counter canter. It’s helped her normal canter a ton.
I think that’s about it. The trot work is improving. The periods where I can get her back up and have her really swing through get longer and more consistent. Sometimes she’s got this trot that feels like we barely touch the ground. It’s HUGE, light, jumping strides. I was trying to think how to describe it…. Sort of like riding a big bouncy ball (like the exercise balls) but instead of going up and down, it takes big leaping bounces in giant arcs forward. And you barely touch the earth before you’re arcing through the air again. Almost like gravity is diminished. That’s the closest I can come to describing it. It’s not jarring, or jagged, but there’s still a LOT of movement that is hard to stay still on. I have a hard time sitting it. I asked Bern how she does it and she said I have to relax around it. I was able to do that for about three strides before I tensed up again and lost it. Those three strides were like heaven though. So addictive… 🙂
That’s about it I guess. Just wanted to write down my observations on where we’re at right now. Especially since show season is coming up and that usually knocks my self-esteem for a loop. We still have some pretty rough edges for Second level.