Yesterday before the wind got truly terrible, I decided to sneak a ride in on Ky to try to cheer myself up from the fact that the Eric Smiley clinic got canceled. Pa had the day off from school, so we made a quick scurry over to the indoor together and he very kindly took some video of me riding. I'm in the process of making my riding goals for the winter and next season, so I'm hoping these videos will be a good jumping off point and, come springtime, a good marker to show how far we've (hopefully) come.
My overall impression when reviewing the videos was a twinge of disappointment. He feels a lot better now than he did a month ago, but he still looks sooooo unsteady in the bridle at times. I feel like I'm pushing a lot of his buttons at once (trying to encourage more contact AND more sitting AND more expression AND more elasticity) and the resultant picture is a lot more rugged than I would like.
The upshot is that, by the end of the ride, when I eased off into more basic rising trot work, THAT felt really, really solid and much improved even from the time I got on. So I do think that pushing the envelope is helping to make his baseline level of work stronger, even if it looks a little ghetto at times right now. I just need to toe that line where I'm really testing him and pushing him to improve, without going into a place where he gets frustrated or backed off and the baseline stops getting better.
So here's a little of what I'm talking about. First, the opening sitting trot after warming up W/T/C:
So the problem I'm currently struggling with is that, when I go to sit, Ky's automatic reaction is to suck back a little bit and get even more guarded with the contact than normal. I'm trying to encourage him to keep reaching out without rushing into a quicker trot, which he finds difficult right now. I was pleased though that, in this clip, the second attempt at sitting, after a brief posting break to get him looser again, went significantly better. I think that will be the key to improving the sitting trot overall: using breaks of rising trot to replenish the quality of step and contact that will get shorter and shorter as his strength improves.
This was an exercise that I did with Kim, to great success, to try to get him a little less locked up in his neck and back. I need to keep following with my hand, especially my inside one, which tends to get superglued to my inside thigh in moments like this (whoops). Also, fix that left wrist!!!
Sometimes with the spiral in/spiral out, I feel like I lose my focus and let Ky get crooked in his body in the hopes of getting some looseness in exchange. Doing the leg yield down the longside took away that cheat opportunity, and required me to make him both straight and supple. We struggled. But I do think he trot improved by the end. Definitely something to keep working on!!
In the canter, I'm struggling with two things at the moment: a similar lack of throughness in the neck and shoulders, and a lack of strength in the hind end that currently makes maintaining the canter a bit of a challenge. I will say that his strength has improved a lot even in the past month since I've gotten home from California, so I'm feeling pretty good that we're on the right track and that it's just a matter of continuing to push him a little bit and ask for a more balanced and supple canter. I was really delighted with him in this ride because I really felt like there were moments where he relaxed over his topline and started stepping a lot better. I also chanced a flying change just to see if he would remotely do it, so please ignore its crappy late-behind-ness. I was pleased at the effort but know that he's not really strong or straight enough to be playing with a lot of flying changes, so I'll probably shelf it for now and then come back to it when he's feeling more consistent.
I was really pleased with him here, and thought that the canter at the end of this clip was some of the best we've had so far. We're still lacking any real semblance of sitting power, but the canter was forward, relaxed over the topline, and supple. I'll take it!
It's now brilliantly sunny and warm out--take that, Sandy! Let's just keep our fingers crossed that our barn cat reappears soon...