First, I apologize for not posting sooner. The days just get so long up here and with working five and a half days there never seems to be enough time to really sit down and write a blog post up. I sort of just live in a perpetual state of exhaustion so that is why it can be difficult to sit down at the end of the day after coming home and write. I am taking lots of notes though so I am keeping up with it all to write about when I do get the moment!
This past week Scott has been riding Val quite a bit. This is so he can really feel and dig down into Val’s training, that way he can help me. Sometimes Val rides and feels different than he actually is, and the time Scott is spending in the saddle will only further his ability to explain and understand what I am feeling that way he can help us through it. Our big obstacle in the St. George right now is the half pass zig-zag. Val’s issues come from the right shoulder mostly and the exercises Scott has been riding and then explaining to me all deal with how to ride the right shoulder up into the body in a way that his straightness improves. With the improved straightness, his cadence and bend can improve. Lateral suppleness within a small channel just between the point of both shoulders – that is the name of the game. The closer I can keep him to true center the better and more through he will become. Our favorite exercise right now is a few steps or meters of leg yielding to true straight back to steps of leg yield back to straight and so forth – as many times as I can fit it in. This is making his honesty to the aids very present in the work and he really has to respect the channel and my intentions that way. The more in control I can be of straight to sideways, the better the half pass becomes. I am starting to really be able to ride each stride and step within the movement and be very in control of the line.
However, up until today I had not yet ridden the full Prix St. George test as a whole. I was inspired after our wonderful clinic (which I will get to in a moment) today at the barn though and with the regulation arena, complete with letters, still set up in our indoor, I decided that I needed to woman up and run it through. I was really hesitant and worried about it but overall I am pleased. The trot work is really shining right now and felt spot on today. Taking the advice from Linda about the half passes really improved their quality. The medium and extended trot have become a wonderful highlight for him as well finally – his improved balance and cadence really shine. The walk work was rough to start with but it got much more through towards the end. After doing a bit of half step work after the test the clarity of the steps and rhythm improved. That is not something I would suggest to anyone else since half steps can really ruin the natural beauty of the walk, but for Val it helps him understand the collection better and lean less towards his lateral tendency – his walk is just too big for his own good! The walk pirouettes were okay, better to the left than the right (stuck a little). The extended walk was very free and had great overstep and rhythm. The canter depart itself was good but the collection after was a little rough. The canter half pass didn’t quite make it to X but it was correct with clean changes so it was a good start as well. The canter pirouette to the left was a little stuck behind and we swung into it, but the right one was spot on. Both counter canter changes were right on. After the pirouettes he was a little frazzled and so I opted for only three four tempi’s. The five three’s were spot on although I had to over ride for the correct count and they climbed a little. The extended canter started well, but the transition back was rushed and worried so he took the flying change early. Both halts were great and square and prompt down center line. It was a good trial run putting it together.
The real reason for this post and the title comes from the Linda Zang clinic Riveredge hosted today! I am looking forward to her return so I can ride with her. Everything she said was beyond helpful and I gained so much just auditing. The first rides were training level and four-year olds, so it gave Linda a great chance to talk about gaits and overall impression. As a judge, to determine clarity and correctness she always looks for the V – in all three gaits. She said that most judges and clinicians don’t want to talk about the walk enough and so she spent ample time really going into depth about it. In the walk we, as riders, must allow the head to move and don’t ride the head still, otherwise we are riding front to back instead of back to front. In a walk the ideal track up is 3 to 4 hoof prints. If it is barely tracking up the highest score you can get would be a 5, if it is lateral on one side a 4, and lateral on both sides a 3. For a free walk the height of the poll does not matter. However, for an extended walk the eyes should be at the height of the withers. In all gaits when the shoulders come up, or when the rider is trying to ride the shoulders up, the issue is directly related to the straightness to the hand. Two thirds of the horse (energy) should feel in front of you, and one-third behind. To correct a horse for straightness we must move the shoulders rather than the hind legs. The hind legs are the power while the front legs are stilts. Because the front legs are connected to the horses body not on a joint (they are connected by the shoulder) there is no true power in them. We must bring the shoulder into the body and place it in front of the hind leg to create freedom, expression, and eventually collection. When talking about collection in a young horse the term is only used as a description of the ability of the hind legs bending and the joints articulating. As a side note she mentioned that she often sees that short backed horses can develop tightness and problems if the saddle sits too far back laying on the ribs. This issue is something to be very aware of if you own a shorter backed horse, like one of the horses in the clinic.
She was also a big stickler on rider position. She says that if a rider comes in and does a lateral movement with the inside rein the judge cannot give more than a 6 on overall rider score. Every lateral movement must be ridden from the outside rein. The lateral movements serve to strengthen and develop the guarding aids. When working on this kind of work the head and neck can start to leave that ideal but she cautioned against riding the head rather than the hind legs of the horse. “Don’t fix the result – fix the cause.” No matter what we have to sit square in the middle of the horse and ride the bend up and through inside to outside. Our hips must push down and our ribcage up. Her example was to imagine sitting on a swing and creating the feeling of pushing when you want to swing higher. That is what our seat should feel like. When the position is good the horse will begin to wait for the rider and that is when the true harmony will show up. To tuck and engage in transitions the rider should imagine sitting on the edge of a bed with their feet flat on the ground. Then imagine laying backwards on the bed with your feet remaining on the ground. When you do this your tummy and back will engage – the same muscles you need to use in correct transitions. A rider needs to get their hands away from their body to create a space for the energy and throughness to live in as well. This is why riding with your hands in your crotch is wrong. There is no space between your hands and your body for the horse to fill up.
With the remaining horses that were farther along she began to get into true lateral work and the idea of collection, the half halt, and engagement. A shoulder in should be on three tracks, and everything else should be on four. This is why the shoulder in to renvers in second level trips up so many riders – the transition from three to four tracks. In a shoulder in the hind legs must stay straight – if they cross the movement instead becomes a leg yield. She cautioned that collection does not mean slow but that it refers to the bend of the hind legs and the lifting of the body. If you are holding with both reins for the half halt then you are doing it wrong. You must always ride forward to the hand – even in that half halt moment. To develop that feeling Linda says she likes to do trot/halt and walk/halt transitions. This gets the body and back to come up and lets the rider feel the idea of the growing of the back and the energy coming under and over a round body. Without impulsion a horse cannot have suspension and a rider cannot get either of these without engagement.
This post is getting far too long and I have a ton more notes since these were only from the first couple of riders. I will finish this up tomorrow and talk about her explanation of the half pass, flying changes, and test riding. Until tomorrow!