Makes All the Difference in the World
I rode in a clinic with Patrice Edwards on Tuesday. I was an eye-opening experience.
First and foremost, Tucker was an angel. This may not seem significant, but to me, it was tremendous. So far, in his life, Tucker has been at two showgrounds, one indoor arena, and home with me. Yes, he did spend several weeks with Kenny Harlow in Virginia, but that was not the cure-all for his bad behavior in strange places. Frankly, he could get quite scary, and I was worried as to how he would behave in a new place with only minimal preparation.
While my friend Stacie was still having her lesson, I was able to lead him around the arena a few times. He only startled at a door with a window in one corner, but otherwise seemed more curious than afraid. I mounted up and began to ride him a bit. Twice he made his head tossing, front leg strike, little squeally buck threat but he also let me quickly correct him. Then he was fine. After about five minutes I tried trotting and aside from trying to join Stacie's horse on his circle by running a little into the outside rein, he settled in nicely.
By the time Patrice was ready for me, he was a perfect gentleman.
Here's where the real fun begins. Patrice complimented me for working with Thoroughbreds. Apparently many people just don't want to bother. I told her about Tucker's wicked buck and she had an interesting insight.
Because Tucker has a short back, bucking is very easy for him--something my trainer Chris had told me before. Then Patrice pointed out how the saddle was just nearing his 18th vertebra--where the ribcage ends--and how pressure at that point can jam the horse's back and create, as she termed it, "a pretty vicious buck." Furthermore, when the horse is tense, his muscles contract, shortening the back more, so that it is even more likely that his rider will end up sitting close to or on to that sensitive spot. So, a tendency to sit back when he is tightening his back will only exacerbate his desire to buck. I laughed and said, "I guess that's all the more reason to sit in the front of the saddle."
Once that was established, Patrice began working on my position. I haven't had a lesson in months and even then, Chris does not work much on my position, concentrating instead on the horse. I knew I had gotten sloppy, but I did not know how making some subtle corrections would make so much difference in Tucker's way of going.
Patrice explained that he needed to stretch his back muscles. I have always asked him to go down and round, but apparently, his conformation will do much better with a more stretched out, foreward and not so low posture. Luckily, all the training I've done with him paid off here, because I was able to easily put him in the frame Patrice suggested and just as easily keep him there.
I wish fixing my own posture was a similar piece of cake. Again, I am not far off correct, but just enough so that I have to keep reminding myself of just where all my body pieces have to be.
A gifted teacher, Patrice does have all kinds of simple, clear ways of explaining what's correct as well as ways to help the rider remember when she is not there. My leg needs to be stretched longer and more foreward in the thigh. I need to focus on keeping my shoulders up and back. And I need to close my elbows at my side. Absorbing the horse's movement through a flexible pelvis was not too much of an issue once I corrected my leg. I do need to think a bit of more lateral movement at the trot and a kind of "oval" rotation at the canter. Otherwise, all is well.
One of the more interesting concepts I haven't quite grasped yet is "feeling the horse's lips" at the top of my hand instead of his bars at the bottom. While I do understand the concept, I'm not yet sure I have a handle on the execution. If the ground is thawed tonight, I need to get on and think about this one a bit until I can actually feel what's happening.
Because she knew I had a lot of riding/training experience under my belt, Patrice finished us up with the "canter plie" exercise. Once more, I was absolutely delighted with Tucker's responsiveness to my aids.
The idea here is to canter in a circle. Then, ride up the center line and ask for a leg yield movement. Since the horse can't acutally leg yield at the canter, he should step under a bit more with the leading hind leg and then, you push him foreward, increasing the hind end engagement.
So, canter on the right lead. Leg yield to the left, and when the right hind steps over a little, engage forward.
We worked both reins at this, and even though Patrice thought Tucker would be more difficult on the left lead, he picked it up very quickly and in short order, we were done schooling.
Patrice also said that since Thoroughbreds muscle up very quickly, it was important that I not drill him too much on exercises. She does not want him to develop too much bulky, inflexible muscle but rather more elastic muscling created by variation.
I was delightful to find Tucker moving more freely when I made adjustments to my seat and posture. I was also revealing to find how much better he was at going softly forward when the stretch was modifed to a more level elevation.
But best of all, it was marvelous to have him so well behaved, attentive, and utterly responsive to my slightest aids. It made everything so easy.
Could I be more pleased? Unlikely. The kid was a star!!