The first week of winter term is over, and my life has begun to settle back into the busy little routine I love. I'm taking a very heavy course load this term (though hopefully, if I get some paperwork submitted properly in the next week, I can drop one class that I absolutely despise but currently must take), and without Kiki my time at the barn feels very light, but I'm still enjoying myself. I get to the barn every morning at around 7, feed Rachel's horses, ride Ringo, and then head back to my room to read until class starts. It's not the most exciting life, but I'm not complaining =)
With Ringo, I'v been taking my time bringing him back from his vacation. I'm not planning on showing until later in the spring, so I don't see the rush in bringing him back to full work, especially when this is such a good chance to reestablish a great base and go back to basics for a while.
(ahh the best view in the house - I've missed that two-tone mane!)
So, we've been walking, on a straight line, for progressively longer every day (this week we went from 20 up to 40, adding 5 minutes a day). And, surprisingly, I've found it really clarifying. Ringo is not the straightest horse, and I am definitely not the straightest rider, so the two of us tend to get pretty radically twisted off to one side or another without really realizing it. By sticking to long straight lines I have to think solely about sitting squarely in the saddle and having his body stacked up squarely beneath me, which is something that I find easy to cheat on when we're doing lots of curves and figures.
I've also been experimenting with playing with Ringo's outline a lot more. I was rereading the blogs the Chronicle puts up on their website (which I am addicted to), and one of the dressage writers, either Lauren Sprieser or Catherine Haddad, was talking about how your horse has an infinite range of outlines, and you should be able to access any one of them at any given moment to best address what you're trying to achieve. A very collected competition frame, for example, is not as useful in warming up or suppling. A very long and low frame is not as useful for canter pirouettes.
This is pretty obvious, I guess, but the idea of range really struck home with me. I think I generally ride with two frames: stretchy, and 'up,' with very little range between. I think part of the reason I've had such a hard time building Ringo's (to my credit, naturally predisposed to be miserable) topline is because, in order to really work that base of the neck muscle, I've needed to find a middle frame where his neck is long but carried more outwards rather then up, but his balance is more cadenced and rocked back then in my stretchy work (obviously, when done correctly, the more 'up' frame will use those base of neck muscles too, but Ringo and I have had a tendency to cheat there in the past). This was a big revelation I had in one of my lessons this fall, and I think accounts for why his topline suddenly got much better very quickly at the end of the year.
So, on my straight line walks, I've been trying to widen the range of frames and outlines in Ringo's and my vocabulary: super collected to the point almost of half steps, big free and swinging with as much overstride as possible, neck up, neck out, neck down, nose on the vertical, nose in front of the vertical (no behind the vertical - that's a bad habit that needs no reinforcing!), super slow and cadenced, super jaunty and brisk, and on and on. I've been finding it very fun, and so despite the rather boring look of my rides of the past week on the surface, the time has been flying. Of course, any time spent with Ringo is the best part of the day, so I guess it's not much of a surprise =)
We'll keep walking until we've gone a week at 60 minutes, then start to add trotting, cantering, and other fun stuff back in. Our first 'competition' of the year will be doing the CIC*** test ride at Galway at the end of March (which I'm so excited to do! Shadbelly, baby!!), which will be a good low pressure marking point to see how our homework is coming along for 3rd Level, as the three star test is, I think, a hair more difficult than the third level tests. But until then, it's back for a little more straight line love.