So we’ve been doing lots of cantering and galloping on line and at liberty out in the pasture, which has been fabulous for getting her confidence up at the canter. She’s been doing some great cantering now on line in the arena as well as really moving out over some ground poles at the trot.
Riding has been more sporadic lately, though I did ride yesterday. She was about average at the walk but jaw-droppingly unbelievably bracey at the trot, perhaps the worse she’s ever been, even worse than this spring. I was absolutely floored and stopped her and just sat there a minute racking my brains as to what had built this in so strongly in just 3 or so days since I’d last ridden and she was quite soft on that inside rein.
Finally I figured it out—it was the canter. When she canters—especially the gallopy canter—and also a fast trot, she counterbends and braces extremely hard, so hard it really honestly looks uncomfortable for the poor horse. I’m not sure why it’s so strongly rooted in there—like I said, it cannot be comfortable or feel good, it’s so extreme, so it must be something I’ve built in over the years in a lot of ways. Meaning, she must think she is supposed to do it and it's become habit, or else I'm not convinced she would do something that is so uncomfortable for her. Therefore, it should be relatively easy to fix if I can just explain to her the job is a little different than she thought -- it's to bend, not to counterbend.
|Whew! Look at that brace she's got in there at the canter. And look how unhappy she looks, too -- it cannot feel good to her.|
Anyway, with all the cantering I’ve been doing with her, lately, all of that brace got built right back in in a serious way, even in the trot. So that was too bad to see, but the upside is that her canter is definitely coming along, under saddle, too, and she seems quite content in her job that canter=counterbend. Oh dear!
Watching her on the video Catherine took, she does not look clear about bending and that she should keep it all the time. Her muscle memory is to counterbend and she thinks that’s the job, no matter how disgusting it feels to her. So I decided to try and break that today. I did use a sort of pressure, but instead of thinking pressure-release, it was feel-float, so she kept a tremendous expression. I wish there was more I could do with float and not taking such a feel on her head.
So I started her going at a quick trot on line and really “got after” her in a very feel-release way to bend ALL the time, NO counterbend, essentially breaking the muscle memory at every possible step and every possible opportunity. She didn’t seem upset and really started to get it at the trot, giving some nice bending and great roundness (which go together, for her). I tried to focus more on her root of her neck and less on her just “turning her head” which can get into a ridiculous thing of her looking straight at me while popping her outside shoulder and such nastiness. But focusing on the root gets gorgeous collection, though she does have stiff ramener muscle memory that pops in there sometimes.
I wanted to try that in the canter but she started getting very upset—she started breathing hard, and she never breathed hard for a moment in all our fast work over the past few days which were much faster and galloping. So that was wrong… so I went a different way and got her bending really nicely at a fast trot and then did a hard hotspot-core energy canter transition, trying to get the transition right from the bend versus galloping around like a crazy horse first.
It was a rather theatrical transition, she would rock back on her haunches and do some acrobatics, as I think it’s hard for her to change such an ingrained muscle memory of canter = gallop + counterbend. However, she would give me a great try for that single stride and I would immediately give her the float and she’d stop. (So, it was trot+bend --> canter stride --> stop.) She didn’t seem to mind that at all, stopped breathing hard, and had a marvelous expression when she stopped.
I think all that other cantering was needed or she wouldn’t have done the transition at all, but too bad it builds in such brace. I’d like to find a different way of doing that. Maybe I should’ve started right off the bat with just a transition instead of letting her go longer in it.