I laughed out loud when I read that at the Spanish Riding School riding around arbitrarily is forbidden, meaning that you’re supposed to ride your horse on a circle or in a straight line. I laugh because when I’m riding in the arena and really, really concentrating, sometimes I forget to steer. At my last lesson Baron started coming off the rail into the middle of the arena and I didn’t correct him because I was so focused on keeping him on the bit and moving nicely at the trot. Well, he trotted aimlessly right into a jump standard, stopping just short of hitting it. My trainer and I cracked up and I said, “I didn’t think he would run me into a pole!” Mary said, “You have to be the leader! He’s looking to you to tell him where to go!” Lesson learned.
I’ve had two lessons since the show, both have gone really, really well. In fact, I could not be happier. We’ve been working Baron in the German martingale and at first I was skeptical that it was a shortcut training method. I’m kind of a purist about training, and I don’t like a lot of gadgets. But I must say I was wrong about the martingale. We put it at the lowest setting, giving him the most possible freedom to move his head. We’re not cranking his neck into a curve and forcing him to hold that position. On the lowest setting the martingale keeps him from tossing his head in the air, as he tends to do during transitions. Most importantly, it puts pressure on him when he sticks his nose in the air and rewards him with a release when he curves his neck and finds contact with the bit.
The difference in his movement is amazing. When his head comes down and his neck curves, he rounds his back and his whole trot changes. He becomes lighter and he tends to hold a more consistent speed. From my perspective it was like riding a different horse.
At my most recent lesson, yesterday, we were working on getting Baron to accept contact with the bit and to hold his head in the correct position. At previous lessons, he was perfect at the walk, and he would have stretches at the trot where everything clicked and his head came down and he rounded his back. But I couldn’t hold him in during the walk/trot transition. When I asked him to trot he would stick his nose up again. Yesterday he finally got it! He stayed on the bit through the transitions!!! I know, I know, that’s incredibly dull if you’re a more experienced rider than me, but for me and Baron this is big stuff. The communication is improving and he’s trying to figure out what I’m asking him. He tries hard!
The next hurdle in our training is (surprise, surprise) my lack of skill in keeping my hands quiet. My trainer, Mary, said that when he gets on the bit and he’s doing his part, I need to keep my hands quiet so that I’m not jangling the reins around and giving him a bunch of “static.” Basically, if my hands are quiet I’m rewarding him by leaving his mouth alone.
I love my trainer because she is very into details and fine tuning my riding. She gives me really good mental images and helps me visualize what’s supposed to be happening in my body and in Baron’s body. Like yesterday she said I should lift my chest and shoulders and at the same time lift Baron up to me and ask him to round up. Just by lifting my posture and energy, I’m encouraging him to come into the correct position. I find visualizing so helpful. I have in my mind what’s supposed to happen and when it happens it’s the “Aha! moment.” Sometimes Baron and I get in sync and, even if it’s just a few strides, I’m like, “That was it! That’s what it’s supposed to feel like!” And then I work on finding that synchronicity again and holding it longer the next time.