Two super lessons today. I had been hoping to ride Don Daly again, so I could practice the ones again. And today I got my wish. I started with him on my own, as Olli was finishing up with Floriscount and taking him outside. Don Daly is so strong in the contact, but I think I am figuring out the best way to ride him. I would like to ride him a bit long and low to begin with and let him stretch way down, but he is 13 and very savvy, and used to being ridden VERY round, so he treats me like a little girl on a pony if I try to ride him like that. (Picture me being literally pulled out of the saddle, and I’m not a lightweight…) Maybe if I had him to ride everyday, I could try to eventually start him a different way. I also have to remember that he will become WAY better with the collected work. And he is not dull, so there is no need to activate him a great deal to get him off the hand, he just needs some time to get supple through his body and back, and then he needs to sit and collect in order to become lighter. Once this happens, he is SUCH an amazing horse. I rode some changes on my own, and I was very happy with them. I’m trying to sit TOTALLY still and in the middle and not move around with my upper body and have very small leg aids. He is such a good teacher for this. He does extremely straight changes and is very sensitive to the seat. The ones felt easy and good, although twice he did two more than I asked for – extra credit!
We then did some trot work. He is the most comfortable to sit, and I even found myself thinking the saddle was comfortable! I am always really happy with the feel of the trot, and then Olli wants me to activate them more behind, especially in the corners. It’s amazing to feel how much trot is really in there. I am always settling for a 7ish, and Olli is expecting a 9+ quality trot. The difference in power and activity is not really that much, and it’s very easy to access, but it’s impressive to feel what a “real trot” is like. This is no Sunday stroll, people. I am out of breath after these sessions! We did some nice half passes and then piaffe and passage. I hadn’t done the piaffe & passage on Don Daly yet. He has a very nice passage, as you might expect, because the natural trot has lots of suspension. His piaffe is a bit small and not so much off the ground, but very reliable.
It’s really invaluable to feel the transitions with these horses, who know their jobs so well. I tend to want to over-do in the piaffe and when my aids get too loud it shuts them down. Especially with a horse like Don Daly, I need to just LET him piaffe, with an occasional quick reminder with one leg to activate one hind leg more. For the passage, Olli wanted me to think of medium trot, then half halt (mostly with outside rein and seat) and use my leg forward at the girth to think of lifting the front legs of the horse. We did a few piaffes that were really on the spot and super. I then finally got to stretch him down the way I wish I could in the beginning. He was still strong but much softer over all.
All of this work is done with no whip in hand. They pick up a whip only when they need one. I haven’t felt like I needed one, except a couple times. And I tend to always ride with a whip at home, so it is good practice to not have one.
Next up was Four Seasons. We rode him in the double again with pads all the way around his nose. Picture a chin pad (neoprene), now picture one under the jaw, one over the bridge of the nose, and one on each side. Yes, that’s four pads, so that the entire noseband is very padded. And then he doesn’t want the noseband too tight with him or the bits too high. He only had the tongue out a couple times at the end today.I think he likes the Neue Schule bit. We started with a normal warm up. Olli was watching in the canter, and he said, “You watched many of the German riders at Verden, yes?” Yes, I told him. “You are now riding like a German,” he said. I think that’s a compliment…
We did some super pirouette work in canter and a few changes. Again, I was to think more of my seat and less with my leg in the changes. In the pirouettes, he wanted me to really bend him to the inside, without letting him fall down in front. He wants me to use my inside leg to get him more up, but my outside leg to activate him, so that the canter doesn’t get too slow. My outside leg should quicken the outside hind leg and really make him bring that leg under, so that he sits. My inside leg should stay very near the girth (Olli is always telling me it’s too far back, but I’m getting better) so that I can lift his shoulders up, but not push the hind legs OUT at all.
We then did some trot work, and this is feeling MUCH better. This horse has such a huge trot, in the beginning, I felt like I was just getting run away with in a very fancy way. But now I can activate him in the corners to keep the trot really good behind, not just huge and pulling in front. He gives me a good feeling for how to use the curb in a helpful way. I’ve not ridden too many horses in the double where I really used the curb much. I was always just trying to be light with it. But there is a reason it’s in their mouth, and Four Seasons is a perfect example of how a well timed half halt with (mostly) seat but some serious curb can really engage his hind legs, and then you can do an uberstreichen afterwards and shorten the snaffles and have a lasting (at least for a long side or two) effect. Certainly better than riding half halt after half halt with only the snaffle that doesn’t go through his body and doesn’t make much difference.
We did some passage and then some piaffe transitions. With him we did the transitions first on a circle, so that I could bend him and keep his topline softer. My friend Dan was videoing, and he promises to send me the video. It felt really amazing, so I am hoping to be able to post it soon. He has a much bigger but slower piaffe than Don Daly, almost more like passage on the spot. He can really sit down, but he can also keep his hind legs out behind him. The difference is whether you have his back up and with you or if he is pulling against you. This is, of course, true for any horse, but I have never seen a horse that can go from such extremes. I mean, this horse can SIT like a Spanish horse in the piaffe, or he can do it with his hocks completely up and out behind him. It’s really quite remarkable. And while visually, it’s obvious, it’s even more obvious when you’re starting to get it from on top, because he becomes so soft in the back, light in the hand and laterally supple. We did many, many transitions. This guy is such a hard worker, always willing, always eager to please. It was quite warm today, so he got really sweaty, and I took him for a long walk afterwards and a nice bath. I bring him an apple everyday, and he is so excited to see me now. He’s gotten very affectionate, and quite obnoxious. I’m sure the grooms do not think this is cute, but I love it.
Olli is coaching a U25 quadrille ride of 8 riders at Aachen, which will happen Sunday. So he is working with them this week to prepare in Warendorf. Tomorrow we will have a later start, since he will be busy with that. But hopefully I will get lessons every day this week.