Monday 26 March 2018

Kachina the Genius

I am so ready for it to be spring! The snow is finally melting here and it got up to a balmy +8C (46F) yesterday which is the warmest so far this year. Of course it is supposed to snow and go down to -17C (1F) later this week so we're not really done with winter yet.

The first time I've ever caught Kachina napping at her current barn

I am also so ready to move barns. I really think that this will be a positive move and so I'm excited for Friday. Unfortunately, the whole decision process put all the negative parts of where I'm at front and center in my mind so it makes me impatient to move. The combination of that plus craziness at work (I worked 28 hours of overtime just last week) have meant not a lot of riding. Luckily I have a genius saint of a horse.

Yesterday I had a lesson with Elaine. Despite it being my first ride in almost two weeks, Kachina came ready to work and started relaxing and blowing as soon as I mounted up. After a warmup and some work on getting Kachina on the bit, we started a new exercise of square corners at the walk. I've done this before but not recently. However after a few repetitions Kachina started to catch on nicely. The exercise then progressed to doing square corners at the trot, and then square corners alternating with leg yielding (so turn a square turn to the right, then leg yield out to the left, then immediately turn another square corner to the right and repeat). This exercise was done in the area of a 20m circle so it involved quick changes between the different parts of the exercise.

Crappy paint depiction of exercise

This progression was an entirely new exercise to both Kachina and I and it was a mental workout for us both. Elaine was reminding me to keep my upper body straight and side muscles engaged while I switched from using outside aids for the square turn to inside aids for the leg yield, instead of collapsing from one side to the other. It took a lot of concentration but I could tell that Kachina understood my aids better and responded more easily when I did it correctly.

The other thing I had to work on was using the correct aids for getting her shoulder to move over. I first mentioned this way back in this post about riding the dressage simulator, but for years I used to move the shoulder by moving my outside leg in front of girth and using that aid instead of using my outside rein to turn the shoulder. Ever since the simulator I've learned that that is incorrect, but I still default to it when I've got too many things to think about (in case anyone else struggles with this, remember that legs control the ribcage and back half of the horse, reins control the shoulders and front). Part of why correcting my aids has been slow is because frequently I can get Kachina to do what I want her to with the incorrect aids so my instructors don't pick up on the fact that I am doing it wrong. However, this exercise highlighted the reason for why the correct aids are what they are: I couldn't coordinate my legs fast enough to use only leg aids in this exercise and it was making my aids too busy and my body was twisting and getting unbalanced. As soon as I figured myself out and used outside rein for the square turn (supporting with pressure from outside thigh, but keeping outside lower leg back and passive), and then inside leg for the leg yield, Kachina got in a great roll of doing the exercise. Another reason that this is such a good exercise for us is because it automatically had Kachina slow down and rock back while she thought her way through the turns (a nice side affect for a generally speedy horse).

I was already really impressed with Kachina for so quickly picking up on the new exercise while I was struggling my way through it. However Kachina went one step further and showed me why she is such a great horse to learn dressage on: After a few really nice square corners, I got disorganized and moved my outside lower leg forward to ask for the square corner without thinking. The second I did that Kachina dropped down to a walk and it was like she was saying "Come on Mom, I've got this figured out, but that didn't seem right, I'll just give you a minute to figure yourself out". Her response immediately clued me in to what I had done wrong and I was able to correct my aids again for the next corner.

I am so lucky to have such a smart horse with such a good work ethic. Kachina really is a great dressage partner. She's always been good at letting me know when I'm right or wrong, but I love that she's now responding to wrong by slowing down and letting me fix it rather than shooting off.


  1. sounds like a great ride!!! my trainer has had me do a lot of square turns with charlie and it's such a great exercise for him

    1. Have you ever done the square turns alternating with leg yields? I was surprised at the level of difficulty it added to the exercise, definitely one for me to add to my arsenal!

  2. Square turns are awesome. I love riding horses that reward you when it's correct and let you know when it's not.

  3. hi kachina..
    greetings from jakarta

  4. That exercise looks really cool!