Fleck and I had so much fun today! We ended up not riding Wednesday as it was raining on and off and I wanted to nap. I don't think Fleck minded not going the 8th day in a row. ;) Then Saturday I promised Mike would be a no horse day... and ended up mowing the pastures for 3 hours, but at least that got done. So Sunday was a Fleck day. We had signed up for the Kelly Eaton clinic at Wishing Tree Farm and headed out fairly early for our rides. We started with dressage in the morning, had a break, and then jumped. I'm so glad we did both. Kelly is super helpful and super fun.
We started out at the walk in a circle around Kelly. She pointed out that Fleck was very supple and obediant longitudinally, but not so much laterally. She said that in the circle he was almost walking out with his hips. He was stepping wide and around (almost sashaying his hips) rather than stepping over and under with his inside leg. That was due to lack of bend and outside rein connection. She said that many times we underestimate the weight that we want to feel in our hands to get the connection. I was definitely doing too much wiggling and suppling with my fingers. FIRST I had to get the connection. THEN I could supple it with the wiggles. But until I had that connection, my wiggling was just that... So... at the walk, inside leg to get him to bend around me. I had to keep a firm connection in both reins and leg him into that connection. If he fussed or got hollow or inverted that just meant we were on the verge and I wasn't to give up or let go or soften. Just keep asking him to step up into it. Then once he was in the connection, I could wiggle a bit and soften a bit to get him to take that last step of true connection and drop his head a bit, softening into it. And it was awesome!!! His back came up, his withers came up and the muscles on the side of his neck were bulging... the right muscles too! And sure, it was only seconds at first, before he would throw his shoulders out or counter bend out of it. The big key was legging him into it and not wiggling. It was easier going to the left and I got an explanation of why. It makes perfect sense. Fleck prefers the right rein. He will go into that rein. So when we track left, it's easy enough for him to go from my left leg into my right rein. But when we track to the right... he doesn't want to go into the left rein but instead still wants to go to the right. So he throws his shoulders to the inside and counter bends to get the weight on that right rein. Aha!! I knew he was coming in but it's not that he's leaning.. it's that he's throwing those shoulders around and counter bending. Aha. So she had me do an indirect rein with the right rein and slide both hands to the outside, but making sure they stayed low. This would help put his shoulders back where they belong. The other key factor to getting him connected was to get the bend. And that was so much easier when my body cooperated. I had to focus on having an independent upper body from my lower body. So when I want right bend, I need to turn my shoulders in to the right. But my hips and seat need to stay the same. That was hard for me and while Kelly kept saying "Now you are straight" I kept thinking holy smokes I'm so over turned! I also kept pulling my left shoulder up and tensing it, no matter which direction I was going. By turning my shoulders/upper body, but maintaining my hips and seat and legging him into the connection, I got true bend!! His back was curved and I saw the proverbial "Nostril and eyelashes" of the inside. Whoo hooo. It was great.
Then we moved on to the trot. Oh dear. Ha!! Of course, especially going to the right, Fleck kept cantering. Kelly wants me to really focus on NOT using my right leg as a canter aid because I felt Fleck was somewhat justified in cantering when I closed my right leg. Though thinking back on it... I think it's just his excuse. He doesn't canter when I close my right leg and ask him to leg yield or bend and he's not really working hard. And when we canter, it's more from me scooping my right hip. BUT... I do remember having to get the right lead back when I first got him by asking that way, so perhaps it is a confusing aid to him. So I will focus on not using it for the next few months and seeing what happens. We were able to get the nice roundness and throughness and connection at the trot much easier going to the left so we did that and then came back to the right. We did manage to get it eventually but it took longer and didn't last as long. But we DID get it. Yay! And holy smokes!!! That trot... jeepers creepers that pony can move!!! It was AWESOME. He had hang time and was floating. And when I just relaxed my core and allowed it, his trot opened up and got bigger. And then to bring it back down to a working trot, I just tightened up my core and slowed my seat a hair and viola! No rein changes. It was great.
We did a little bit at the canter too and surprisingly, that was even harder than the trot. I wasn't expecting that. He's easier to bend, but harder to keep the connection with. It may be me. Or maybe we were both getting tired. But it's all the same principles. Legging him into the connection, which is a solid and somewhat heavy rein connection without any wiggling. Then once he's there, I can wiggle to supple and soften when he's obedient and allow him to drop/hang his head just a hair. I have to turn my inside shoulder in to allow the bend and give just a hair with the outside rein. When he tries to fall in to the right...sit up back on my seatbones, half halt and use an indirect rein to get his shoulders back in line. My upwards were still a bit off but my downward transitions were getting lovely. Whoo hooo... Lots of homework.
Fleck and I had a short break and we cooled off before jumping. We were jumping with Stephanie and Beth and it was a blast. It was so neat to see the changes Kelly was making with them and how they and their ponies responded to those changes. Very cool. We started with a grid that ended up being a one stride to a bounce to a one stride. Kelly was focusing on straightness and getting the horse between your aids (Ie.. between your leg aids and hand aids). We were actually pretty darn straight! Whoo hoo. Kelly wanted us all to do more of an automatic release. She said it saves us time by not having to do the crest release and then regroup. I asked about preventing myself from catching him in the mouth and having him as my seatbelt. In my last lesson.. I wasn't getting left behind necessarily, but he was almost having to pull me out of the tack. She said it was related to my lower leg and once my lower leg was secure and underneath me, it wouldn't be an issue. So she wanted me to almost kick my leg out in front of me over the jumps. Then she wanted me to do the same motion with my legs as I was doing with my hands. So as my hands came forward and down his neck, my legs were to kick forward the same amount. Bigger release equaled bigger reach forward with my feet. So I did that. Or tried. And was somewhat successful. I need to remember to sit back up in between fences and there were times when I forgot one or the other, but overall, an improvement I think. So then we added the barrels. We had wings on them and they started out down on their sides. The "In" had wings funneling us in, but the out had wings going the opposite way. It was another test of straightness. All the same concepts applied. Though Kelly had to tell me that she would prefer to see me more back and waiting with wide hands. She said that Fleck was obviously a big ol' bad ass ready to rock and roll and I didn't need it with him as he was taking me to them. BUT... on another horse that wasn't so confident or brave, I would appreciate the wide hands and slightly behind seat. And you know... I actually liked it on Fleck too. It made it a bit easier to control his shoulders and I know he likes to wiggle those all over the place. And I didn't feel likely to get left behind but was more likely to wait and not launch myself at them. So after we did that a few times she raised the barrels upright, one at a time. And same thing. At this point we were both getting a little tired as it was VERY hot so we never quite got the big bold gallop in jump, but we managed to big bold gallop out jump and decided to quit there. He was still jumping in and wasn't saying no, so rather than punish him for trying and going while I was trying to correct myself, we rewarded him for trying and being good. I can work on myself later, when it's not at his expense.
So a really really good day!!! Super fun and Kelly is funny. We had a good time. I'm very proud of my beast!
I think the camera was overheated so the pictures are rather.... ghostly! And for the record.. the dressage photo was from when we first started... and does NOT in any way shape or form, depict the final gorgeous outcome!!!