“Don’t this the wrong way, you are too vague. Your legs, seat, hands all of it is vague” Those were Mario’s words to me after running though the counter canter exercise during our lesson on Sunday. He went on to tell me that I “leave a lot of money on the table” during my patterns. He is absolutely right; my conversations with Grace go something like this “So maybe if you wanted to pick up the left lead we could do that in a stride or two, or three you know whatever you feel is best”. It should be no surprise that the mare’s answer is to throw her head in the air when she does pick up the lope; I forgot to also ask if maybe she would like to keep her down.
When Sarah and I were warmed up and ready to go Mario asked us to ride a pattern. It was a counter canter exercise that he had been using. One thing I appreciate about his lessons is that he allows you to work the exercise with no input – very judge like. We then talk through what could have been improved and run the exercise again. This exercise was to pick up the left lead on the wall, tear drop into a circle to the right while on the left lead – 3 circles, lead change to the right lead 3 circles to the left, lead change to the left lead one circle to the right, tear drop to the left while still on the left lead, trot halfway down the walk then walk. I had to work hard during the first pattern to keep Grace on the counter leads without my spurs. Her head was in the air for most of the pattern. I was surprised by the quality of lead change from counter lead to counter lead, but still I knew there was a ton of room for improvement. Mario pointed out that I didn’t use the arena like he had told me to, and I transitioned too early into the trot. I fessed up that Grace actually broke at that point.
The second run through of the pattern was much better and I didn’t seem to have to work as hard to keep her on the counter lead, still there was that darn lope transition with Grace’s nose in the air. Mario told me that if he were me he would have spent the time in between pattern runs doing everything to make sure she would have a better lope transition the next time. That really hit me, I don’t do that, I just hope for the best next time which never seems to work out. Before the next exercise I walked and jogged Grace asking her to drive up into the bridle. Mario had me riding on a much shorter rein and explained that if my horse won’t take the contact on a shorter rein it doesn’t make sense for me to ride on a longer rein at this time. When I moved Grace up into the jog she stiffened so I added more leg, I could hear her mouthing the bit and making her snarky noises. This is usually when I back off with a longer rein and less contact. This time I kept pushing her through it, I didn’t back off. It took another minute before I felt a change; Grace relaxed her neck and shoulder and gently pushed into the bit. I was able to soften my hand but keep my leg. The next lope transition was the best one of the day.
Mario repeated a lot of what Sarah tells me, he just used different words. I walked away from the lesson with the realization that I can ask much more of my horse and she might even appreciate the clarity. One of my fears of riding on a shorter rein with more contact is that I will hang on my horse’s face. Sarah assured me that I have the feel now and will know the difference; leg will also make a big impact. I also have some cool new exercises to add into our arena rides. Mario encouraged Sarah and I to find times that we can move our horses out to get them moving forward. We have our next lesson in one month and I have every intention of arriving with a +1 lope departure.