Science and horseback riding are really quite similar: each question answered leads to more questions and the more you learn about any topic the more you realize how much you don't know. They are lifelong pursuits.
Anyway, my Oct 23 lesson involved lots of different exercises. Nothing specific had happened in the week so this was a lesson of the general goals of good riding: hide quarter engagement, rhythm, straightness, balance, impulsion, wee bits of collection (appropriate for my horse's current development), etc
The exercise with all the circles (1.) is one of my favorites and Bailey likes it too. This gets us both relaxed, in rhythm, with good balance. I think it really warms up and loosens Bailey's shoulders. During any ride if I'm having trouble with anything this is my go to exercise to get us connected with each other and relaxed. This lesson was almost a month ago now and I'm happy to say on this first exercise I am no longer crossing the left rein over the withers and a weight distribution issue I was having is almost completely solved. Bailey is so happy about these developments.
Going over the poles on the long side of the rectangle (2.) was very helpful for illustrating to me how I'm dropping Bailey's support at times when I'm really asking him to gather himself. Rather than keeping the support on I drop it between the two sets of poles and then he gets strung out over the second set. After doing that for a while I switched to making a turn about halfway down the short side and then leg yielding to between the poles and going over them (3.). When leg yielding towards the right (that would be cuing with left rein and leg) it was very difficult. That's my weak side for cues anyway and I was still having the rein cross-over issue. Also, my weight was falling in which blocked his movement. When I finally got myself sorted he did this beautifully (basically I spend most of my time learning how to get out of my horse's way so he can do what I ask). I'd like to try this exercise again now that I feel I've worked out a few of these issues.
The last exercise (4.) was at a canter (all previous were at trot or walk). We warmed up to the pattern at a trot and then went to canter. These were large figure 8/circles with poles to go over at about 4 and 8 o'clock and 2 and 10 o'clock. Simple lead changes where indicated. The difficulty here ended up being keeping him on the circle. On the right lead he kept drifting out and on the left lead he kept drifting in. Obviously that would lead to not coming up to the poles correctly and breaking the gait, losing the circle. We never did get this done really well so it would be nice to come back to it.
My Oct 30th lesson ended up being a saddle fit day. Bailey had been giving me signs of a sore back so I saddled him up but told my instructor that I thought his back hurt. We immediately took his saddle off and did some exploration of pressure points along his back and hindquarters. Yep, sore back (right behind the withers/shoulders). :( Needless to say we did not ride but added some shims to my saddle and tried out some different pads. Since he couldn't be ridden that day we did what we could at a standstill (horse's backs are not the same shape at a standstill as in movement - that seems such an obvious statement but many people, even horse people, don't seem to realize this). I gave him a couple days off and then tried out the new arrangements. The pressure point he was getting was gone and we were good to go (well, actually I observed him closely all week and then had my instructor, at my next lesson, double check everything because I don't want my baby in any pain).
Speaking of the next lesson, my Nov 6 lesson focused a lot on getting Bailey to increase his stride length at the trot. I have such a hard time getting him to do that (and, also, he had probably got a little short-strided due to the sore back). I should point out here that we switched bits, too. He was in a French-link snaffle (unknown metal) but he wasn't keeping a very wet mouth. I switched to a German silver snaffle (the German silver bits contain nickel and silver) and it has seriously increased his salivation. Plus, he responds better to it and seems to like it more. Yay!
To start we worked on a square (1.) with two poles on one side and one pole on the next side. Half the square was collected trot and the other half (with poles) was extended. The set of two poles was really helpful because I was able to easily keep track of his stride length by counting the number of strides between the poles. If I got three strides I knew he'd extended as I wanted. If he slipped in a fourth step, then he hadn't truly extended. Having the next pole right around the corner kept my focus on keeping the extension around the corner. What I learned on this exercise is that my hips are not moving as freely as they should while posting. I really need to almost feel like they are heading between my hands on the upward movement. This way I am cuing and following the extension rather than blocking it.
Ok, wowzah! Exercise 2. was one of those super challenging exercises that my instructor likes to throw at me sometimes. They are so helpful and illuminating but I usually feel like a disastrous slob for most of the time I'm doing them. Anyway, the up side was that it really helped Bailey rock back onto his hindquarters which resulted in excellent corners and a nice bouncy long side. However, from B to A and all the business around the poles was comically spastic. Problems for me, poor balance at the gait changes and not keeping weight to the outside. Super big problem is that when make the turn to the right at A I am keeping his left rein too short so when I cue for the canter my signals are totally mixed. Unfortunately I could never feel the problem. I eventually just completely dropped my left rein at the point, cuing only with legs and right rein. Boom, perfect transition. So, kudos to Bailey because he was spot on when I wasn't screwing him up. Something to work on with me.
I was out of town on Nov 13 so my instructor rode Bailey. I'm looking forward to hearing about the ride during my lesson tomorrow. In an email she briefly commented "He was good. He's picked up some lazy tricks." This translates to "Rachel can't tell he's evading" and so I'm not correcting the mistake. I look forward to figuring out what I'm missing.