No Resting on Laurels Allowed

After the heady excitement of Sunday (my best ever score, won my section of the test and placed fifth overall in Test 14, behind two really good professional riders on really classy horses), it was back to work day today.  I wanted to squeeze in one lesson before I go away next week, preferably on Aero, but unfortunately, with his lameness, that wasn’t going to happen, so Flurry got to do even more dressage.

Frank greeted us with “Well, if you can score 65% at Preliminary, it’s time to start working on the Novice movements.  Today we’ll work on test 30 (one of the high-end Novice tests, so therefore one of the harder ones).”

Humph.  No easy ride for me or Flurry today, then.

Once we had walked around “long & low” a couple of times, we started work on changes of pace within walk.  Free walk to Medium to Collected (well, as collected as we can manage, anyway) and back again.  It was a very useful thing for me to do in front of Frank, is it’s something I struggle with on both horses – keeping them round throughout all of these transitions within the walk.

Warm-up continued with trot work, once again thinking “collected” and then forward to working trot, doing our “collected” bits on the short ends of the arena and pushing forward down the long sides.

Canter was our usual slightly sprawly galumph around the arena, but Frank wasn’t too concerned, saying we were just warming up and we’d come back to it later.  He had a quick look at test 30 and said the first thing we’d work on was two half ten-metre circles in trot, ridden from B to E.  He emphasised the importance of the bit in the middle, when you are changing direction and the horse has to change bend, and he told me to be sure to achieve straightness before asking the horse to bend again for the second half-circle, even if it takes three or four strides.  The danger is that the horse might learn to just throw his shoulder in the new direction, so by giving me & Flurry time to figure it out, he’ll learn to do it right and we will quite quickly be able to change bend correctly in just a stride or two.

Riding it actually went quite well initially.  Flurry finds it easier to go from right bend to left bend, but even so the left to right half circles weren’t too bad.  Then we worked on improving the trot, got a more active trot going and suddenly the two-half-tens weren’t so easy anymore!  To get his back end more engaged, we worked on a twelve metre circle around Frank, looking for a more collected trot while Frank encouraged him to step under more with a lunge whip.  It worked, apart from a major wobbly on Flurry’s part when someone dropped something outside the arena and made a huge clatter!  His trot suddenly became much more active after that, though, and we ran through the two-half-tens one more time and it went pretty well.

Then we were on to canter.  I know damn well that Flurry’s canter is not “Novice level” yet, it’s barely even Prelim level, so I wasn’t expecting this to be easy, and I wasn’t disappointed!  The exercise we had to do was pick up canter over X on a 20M trot circle, then canter across the diagonal with a change of leg through trot over X.

The transition from trot to canter was above the bit, so I cantered an extra circle just to get him to soften in to my hands a bit, then we came across the diagonal from K to M, wobbled to a sprawled-out trot somewhere near X, hurtled on as far as the quarter line, I asked him to canter again and he had pretty much fallen back into some sort of a canter somewhere between M and C.  Not great then!

So the next time (we were going from left canter to right canter), Frank asked me to to position him for right canter before we made the downward transition, then do shoulder-in for a couple of trot strides, then ask for right canter after that.  This worked so well (NOT!) that we ended up on the wrong leg.  I made a dogs dinner out of the shoulder-in – I don’t think I’ve ever had to do it without a wall for support before – so the canter transition afterwards was totally muddled.

We dropped it down a gear and just worked on shoulder-in, in trot, across the diagonal, which we once again struggled with, so Frank made it even easier for us and we worked on shoulder-in down the long side, with a transition to canter between the mid-marker and the corner marker.  Eventually, we managed this reasonably well, so puffing and sweating (me, not Flurry) we took a break and had a stretch (Flurry, not me).

The next piece of test 30 that we worked on was Give/Retake in trot on a circle.  I do a lot of scribing, and I’ve seen a lot of variations of G/R, and I’ve also seen a wide variation in what judges deem acceptable.  Frank is a list five judge, and he keeps very much up to date,  attending all of the judges training that is organised in the region, so I trust his opinion implicitly.  He advised me to prepare for the G/R by first giving and retaking with the inside hand, then repeating with the outside hand, and finally doing it with both hands together.

For my first attempt, I tipped forward when I gave with both hands and Flurry stretched down.  Tipping forward is a big no-no, as it encourages the horse to stretch down AND go on the forehand.  On the second attempt, I didn’t tip forward, but Flurry once again stretched down, taking a few strides to work correctly in an outline again.  Stretching down is preferable to coming above the bit, but ideally, the horse’s frame should not change, he should be starting to show self-carriage for a couple of steps at a time.  We tried a couple more times, with me using more leg to keep his back end engaged so he wouldn’t feel the need to stretch forward, but it still wasn’t working.

“Think Collected Trot” was the advice from Frank – “Imagine you’re doing Piaffe just before you do the Give & Retake” so we did, and it worked!  This is something we will have to build on, so that gradually Flurry will be able to maintain his balance while in his big working trot, but it’s a great start.

Finally, all we had left was Medium trot – we’re clearly not ready for Medium canter yet!  This time, we didn’t even attempt to do it á la test 30 first time.  We went on a 20M circle at C and worked on “collected” trot  as we passed the short end of the school and “medium” trot on the open side of the circle, through X.  To really emphasise the difference in what I was asking, I did sitting trot for the “collected” side and rising trot for the “medium” side.  Flurry seemed to get the idea after a couple of attempts, so it was time to try it across the diagonal!

Frank’s advice was “collected” trot through the short side of the arena, turn across the diagonal line, make sure he was straight, and then ask him for “medium”.  I’d love to have had it on video, because it felt like he was making a fair attempt at it.  He ran rather than lengthened once or twice, but a couple of times it felt ok, and I could really feel his hind legs coming in under him.  I’ll try to video it in the arena at home, so I can see what it looks like.

All in all, it was a great final lesson before I go away.  My Laurels were well and truly crushed, but it was worth it!

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