Every time I mount up I start our warm-up in a walk at a loose rein and I do a series of exercises to get Kachina thinking and yielding different parts of her body. I get her to move her hindquarters, ribs, shoulders, and neck, each in an individual exercise, and repeated in both directions.
|Moving the shoulders (Sandra on board in February)|
This warm-up was created using input from both Sandra and from a Cowboy Challenge clinic I did. Lateral work seems to be the key to getting Kachina to loosen up longitudinally. Also doing these exercises gives Kachina questions that she knows the answers to which helps her to both relax and focus. I use the exact same warm-up in any new place (shows etc.) and it lets us get to work right away.
After we are done with that lateral warm-up I will pick her up a bit and start working at the walk on a 20m circle or other large figures. I will work on my position and getting Kachina to stay slightly bent to the inside and being soft in the contact. On good days, this is easy. On bad days she will be tense and keep trying to break into trot, counterbend to the outside and/or put her head up like a giraffe. Even on bad days I can always eventually get nice walk work but it may involve smaller figures, shorter reins, and more time getting her yield to my inside leg without running away from it.
Then we move onto trot work. The goal is to be able to get a a few full 20m circles with relaxation, steady rhythm, correct bend, and light contact (I define this as good, and not-this as bad).
On the good days we can achieve this quickly and either quit early or move onto work on my position, transitions, lateral work, changes of direction, other figures, canter, etc.
|February Good Pony|
|February Tense Running Giraffe|
On the bad days Kachina will start running, counterbending, getting tense, and giraffing when we even think about trotting. I have to shorten my reins, really focus on having my position relaxed, and use smaller circles to keep her speed under control. These are the times where I know that using my inside leg to get her wrapped around it and on the correct bend would be beneficial, but she runs away from my leg and I end up holding my reins like my life depends on it. I also do somewhat need to hold the reins because the faster she goes the more unbalanced she gets and then she gets even more tense and even faster. Sometimes she gets so tense that I feel her gait change and then she will sometimes break into a canter. Despite the tension, these canter transitions are actually decent, but the canter itself isn't relaxed and when I transition back down the trot is just as bad. Smaller circles and walk/trot transitions can bring me a modicum of control on bad days, but I generally have to use a few good strides as my good note to end on and even getting to that point is hard. We never get that whole good 20m circle.
On average days, I will be able to get some good moments, but after each one Kachina will suddenly go back to tense counterbent running. The most frequent way this manifests is that she will be good for part of the circle, but every time we hit a certain point of the circle she will fall apart. Sometimes the bad side of the circle will correspond to her going away from the gate, or towards the place cats jump out from, etc, but it's not the same every ride or between directions so I can't find any consistent reason. We will do multiple circles where she is good for part of it and bad for part of it. I will use all the tools in my toolbag to try and get that bad half into a good half. I will half halt, go back to walk, do smaller figures to exaggerate the bend, try to do spiraling exercises, try different leg/seat/rein aids, fix my position, etc. Whenever she goes well I give big releases and heap on the praise. The bad part of the circle will slowly change from being 3/4 of the circle, to being only a couple strides. Eventually I will get that good 20m circle all the way around, but by that time it's usually almost time to start my cool-down.
Right now, the break down is approximately 20% good days, 60% average days, and 20% bad days. We've been working on the same issues for months (as evident in the old media on this post), but we used to be more like 4% good days, 51% average days, 45% bad days so there has been improvement. Also our bad days used to mean that I couldn't get good walk work either. (These numbers not exact, if you asked me at different times I'd probably give you different answers)
Our performance at shows is partially dependent on whether she is having a good, bad or average day. But on average days it is also very dependent on whether things like canter transitions happen on the side of the arena that Kachina has dubbed good or bad.
|June Good Pony (Bad tipping rider, I'm working on that)|
|June Tense Running Giraffe|
To add variety into rides we will sometimes work on different things within the walk, even when it's a day where we can't do a whole lot at the trot.
That's my typical ride. Not terribly exciting I know, you deserve a cookie if you reached it to the end. Next up, what I learned in the clinic about elements of my typical rides and what I'm changing going forwards.