Tarrin came back up our way for private lessons last Friday and Saturday. She does that every few months or so, and I intend to keep taking advantage of this. The lessons are held at an outdoor about half an hour north of me, and weather wasn't looking so promising, but I picked the last lesson of the day (5pm) so as to make sure I was done with work and ready to roll on time. As it turned out, my clients of the day rescheduled, so I had a random day off anyway. The rain was coming our way, but we still loaded up and went, hoping we would outrun the storm.
The sun was just setting as we tacked up and got on. Tarrin was still finishing up with the previous lesson as I warmed up, just doing some walk work, leg yields and half pass. I paid particular attention to lightness and moving him exclusively off my seat aids without using my leg aside from idly placing it where it needed to be. Dylan is so sensitive that he responds to seat aids alone, if I can get my body out of the way and let him do it. The lighter I can be with my leg and my rein, the better he is.
I mentioned this to Tarrin when I went over to start my lesson. I told her about my problem with the canter straight to walk work in the Intermediate tests, and how it dings me hard. We also brainstormed about what to do with the solid gate, and came up with some ideas to build something solid to practice with. From there, she put me on a circle to the left going around her, and we started in on transitions.
Dylan likes to live in a box. He has a little square space that he is certain he needs to be in all the time, and he's always anticipating the next thing to happen within this box. He is quite sure he knows everything there is to know. If whatever he is anticipating doesn't happen, his little box can get to be a kind of wild place. It's like being in a stall with a horse that suddenly gets upset about something and starts to flail around. You just kind of have to get out of that box if you want to resolve the situation, or else you might get squashed. In some ways it reminds me of the time when Hermione the pony got attacked by angry hornets in her stall, and the only thing to be done was to fling her door open and let her gallop out. As Tarrin put it, "his box can be a dangerous place to be if he gets upset." Not physically dangerous in any way... but mentally dangerous. It can be powerfully brain frying to think you know in complete certainty what is about to happen, and then it doesn't.
Louisa said the same thing during out last lesson. "We need to get him to think outside of his box." In a lot of the exercises we have done with her, she has been having me change up some things to shake up his world a little bit - exaggerated overbends in our leg yields, pinging back and forth between leg yields and half pass, transitions within gaits as slowly as possible, taking six or seven strides to move from collected or working gaits to medium gaits, and back again. Things he doesn't expect. Things that make him wait, instead of anticipate. The more he realizes he has to wait and see what I'm going to ask for instead, the better the work will be.
This is very different from the last few horses I've had longterm rides on. You could never do this with O. You couldn't do it with Gogo either. Both of those mares needed very, very, very simple work in order to relax them, and only once they were relaxed in that work could they be asked for more. Other horses I've ridden needed a lot of energizing in order to get them forward and working. With Dylan, he's waiting every second to do the next thing, and he gets stuck inside his head. You don't need to add ANY energy, because he has is in excess. So, you have to do what you would do with the lazy horses in order to energize them, but in reverse. You're not using the transitions and changes to create energy, you're using them to create relaxation and the ability to wait for direction. It's so different to me, but so interesting and it works. The types of transitions are different as well - to energize, you might do a lot of upward transitions. To relax, we did a lot of downward transitions, and a LOT of stretching.
And it worked. Every couple of strides, we would do two half halts and a release, and make it a dramatic release - let my inside rein almost get a loop in it. We did lots of transitions, within gaits and between gaits. We did tons of walk stretching too. Every time he would get a little hot, we would stretch. Over the course of the lesson, he got more and more mellow, and the last few flying changes we did were so quiet that Tarrin had to squint in the dark to see if we had done them. They were so smooth she didn't even see them happen. After each change, we would walk and stretch, to keep him thinking about being quiet instead of zooming ahead for the next change.
There is something kind of magical about taking a lesson in a lighted outdoor arena at night. Only part of the arena was lit, so we were in semi-darkness. You can't see the outside of the arena, and nothing else is in the arena except for you, your horse, and your instructor. As I spent much of my lesson going in a small circle around Tarrin while she talked, the world spun around a little, and everything else fell out of focus. Upward transition, downward transition. Upward, downward. Stretch, pick him up, stretch, pick him up. Canter, halt. Canter, walk, stretch. Stretch, walk, canter, change, walk, stretch. Over and over, up and down. Round and round.
As we finished the lesson, the rain started to fall. Despite that, I had a big smile on my face. I feel like being able to unlock this horse's tension is the key to everything in the future. When the tension is gone, when the horse is relaxed.... everything else can flow outward from there.
Now, if only I had media to show it every once in awhile....!