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Suppling and Transitions

August 9, 2010

I have been struggling with getting Carly round and on the bit for the past few weeks. In a previous lesson, we had discussed moving shoulders and using the inside rein to ask her to move her shoulders up and over, while coming on to the bit. But it recent rides, when I asked her to be round, she ran around with her nose in the air and hollow backed instead of coming down on to the bit and using her back. With much patience, I did eventually get her in to the shape I wanted, but it was a slow process with many ugly moments in between.

I of course had this problem during warm up, so when Barbie asked me what I wanted to work on, I told her that I couldn’t keep Carly on the bit and get her shoulders up.

“Show me,” she said.
We went around and she quickly pinpointed our problems. “She’s not straight and she’s not supple. So get her straight -her right hind is leaking out, so take up a little more contact on that right rein. Ok, now supple her down.”

Oh, suppling! I had somehow gotten into my head that I was not supposed to do that … Barbie clarified that you need to do this when warming up to soften your horse. Once theyare softand supple, though,you keep them on the bit with a half halt on the reins.

It took a lot of work to supple her down. I had to use a lot more hand than I like to use (I just want everything to be soft and flowy all the time and am learning to be firmer when needed so I can be softer later on. I also needed to spread my hands wide and low, down by my knees while suppling. She slowly softened to where I could put my hands back in neutral and get her round with just a half halt on one rein. Once we got the straightaways, we finessed our corners. I needed to make sure that I conntinued keep her forwards with my legs and maintain contact with my outside rein to keep her round through the corners. I love the feeling of when she is balanced and through with her body – we are together, fluid, and beautiful.

We weren’t done yet, though, and our lesson kept getting better. Barbie next challenged us with transitions. “When making an upward transition, think about keeping the body still, but making the legs move. When making a downward transition, slow down the body, then slow the legs, so it’s still active.”. Thinking about which body parts needed to move or slow down helped our transitions enormously.

Then she asked us to canter. Sigh. This rarely goes the way I envision. She doesn’t go forward when I ask, I start squirming around to try and ask for the canter with a firmer aid. Then we do get the canter, it’s not forward enough and when I tap with the whip, we go slower and we break. Yuk.  The canter did start off par for course with the wrong lead.  “Her right hip is flying out! Don’t let go of your right rein.  Do a little shoulder fore … ok, ask now.”

We got our sticky lead, hurrah! Barbie noted here that I am used to letting go to get Carly to go forward and I need to learn to keep my contact while getting her to go.  I suppose that is the “keeping her body still and making her legs move” part of the upward transition.

“Okay, make her round, on the bit!”

We got that, hurrah!  I think we broke to a trot in there somewhere, but quite honestly, I have blocked it out of my memory, because what happened next was so wonderful.

“Slow her down!” (I always get her going a bit too much).  “Think of a little shoulder fore!” “I love your seat right now!” “That’s wonderful!”

When we started dressage lessons 9 months ago, I could NOT sit the canter.  I couldn’t get her round, and I couldn’t keep the canter.  We changed reins, and went on to our right lead, the easy side.  We got a nice trot, stayed on the bit in the upwards transition … But about halfway around the ring, she felt slow.  I was determined that we would not break.  So I added more leg. “Stop! Why did you do that? You had a lovely canter, and then she went flat.”

“I thought she was going to break.”

“No, that is the canter you want.  That springy canter that you get right before she breaks is the perfect canter.  When you put too much leg, she just falls flat. When she is round like that, you don’t need to worry about her breaking. Do it again.”

So we did. We got our slow springy canter and I really really wanted to use some leg and get her going a bit faster.  But I didn’t. If she breaks, well then, I can tell Barbie that she is wrong.  I did an occasional teeny tiny shoulder fore to keep her shoulders up.  As we gently sprung around the ring, Barbie asked me to collect her a bit more.  I very gently put a little more leg on and very cautiously squeezed the reins. I got an equally cautious, but adequate response.

“I’ve never seen her canter like that before! That was great!”

My instructor and I just beamed at each other, and I am still on Cloud 9 from that canter.  I couldn’t reproduce it in my jumping class the next day, but that’s okay, I know we can do that and we can keep working on it.  And thank goodness for barn friends, who all came up and complimented me on how far Carly and I have come.  It’s so nice to know that people are noticing our progress!

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