For the last month I’ve worked on being “less vague” in the saddle. This new focus has allowed me to keep my horse between my legs and my hands consistently. I am able to catch issues like a drifting shoulder or dropped back on the first or second stride that it happens and not halfway across the arena. My new go to aid is my leg with a goal to push my horse up to my hand. The result is a softer, happier, suppler horse that is less prone to take over. I had one of my best horse show patterns earlier in the month, yesterday was the true test of my work when we had our follow up lesson with Mario.
Sarah told me that at the last Mario lesson that I wasn’t really present that I had gone to the place in my head that I go to at horse shows. He had started that lesson with a pattern and watched us ride a like a judge would and yes I more than likely went to the Bahamas. I was determined not to let that happen this time. Mario entered the arena while I was warming up, after a quick hello I ignored him so I could go back to focusing on each step. When the lesson started he asked me to repeat the counter canter pattern we did at our last lesson, he said he was sure I had practiced it at home and he wanted to see it. No pressure or anything! This time I rode each stride of the walk up to the lope transition and had an uneventful departure. From there the pattern was smooth; I made sure to use the arena keeping my circles big, leads changes were clean, counter canter was steady and downward transitions were purposeful. Mario complimented me on the big improvement over last month. He was pleased with how steady Grace was with her head compared to last time when she was all over the place. The only thing he critiqued were my arms which tend to turn inward. It wasn’t the worst case he had seen but it was something I needed to work on.
Sarah brought a different horse to this lesson so instead of working on the pattern Mario worked with her on lope transitions, he told me to pay attention. Again he talked about the importance of riding each stride up to the lope transition, winding up the coil and then releasing it for the transition. He gave Sarah a series of things to do which all involved timing. I have to admit it was great to see her struggle a little as she admitted that she understood what he was asking for but it would take her a try or too to get the timing. This is exactly what I go through when she throws new things at me so it was wonderful to see that my trainer is human after all! By the end of the lesson the horse that Sarah was on not only had a much improved lope transition but his lope over all had improved dramatically.
When Mario asked me what I wanted to work on I told him I wanted to do the same lope transition exercises he was doing with Sarah and that one of my goals it to improve my lope departure on pattern as I know how important it is. Again the focus was riding each stride up to the lope transition, I kept getting this moment where my horse would get fussy and my reaction was to separate my hands. I had no idea I had been doing this until it was pointed out. The new reaction was to keep my hands together and drive Grace up to the bridle. Within in a few transitions I had what Mario called a 0 score lope departure. This was a big improvement over the negative scores I would have received for each previous lope transition. This led to a discussion about scores on a pattern. Mario said that at the amateur level most people receive negative scores on their pattern, that if you think about walking into the show ring with $70 in your pocket and that with each negative score you lose a dollar. He went on to say that if you consistently scored a 70 for the entire show season you would win quite a bit at the amateur level and that people give it away in the negative scores. This changed the focus from working to get a +1 maneuver to focusing on a 0. This made a lot of sense as he talked about the idea of pushing a horse that can consistently score a 0 to score a +1 puts you at greater risk of making a mistake of now going negative. This is why I love riding with Mario; he not only has the trainer perspective but the eye of a multiple carded judge who watches thousands of patterns a year. I have plenty of homework to work on between now and our next lesson. Mario left me with the reminder that from now on each lope transition counts, which of course means I have to ride each and every step to get there.