- He tends to fall constantly behind the leg, and evade work by loafing
- He has good gaits but no real concept of connection or throughness
- He can be a bit of a twerp if confronted about (1) or (2)
The past few lessons I've had with Kim, however, had thrown a lot of these assumptions into question for me. Kim kept urging me to slow him down and resist the urge to hustle him along when I felt like he was constantly diving behind my leg. It also appeared that, while he did have some nascent connection problems, a big problem in our relationship was also that I wasn't able to hold up my half of the bargain and actually carry my hands in a way that encouraged a proper connection. These two factors gave the overall impression that what I perceived as him being a jerk was actually me being too harsh on him.
So, the past few weeks have been a total reevaluation of my ride: I took my spurs off, rode him consciously slower and quieter than I wanted (and shut off the little voice in my head that was constantly SCREAMING that he was behind my leg all. the. freaking. time), and went to town revamping my own hand position. And I learned a lot! I feel like my hands are better than ever, and that improving there has had a positive trickle down effect on my posture and general balance.
(Woohoo! Actual straight line contact from elbow to bit! Something that, for the supposed accomplishment of rider that I am, I see far too rarely in my own riding)
But still, something wasn't quite right. I was struggling with how to progress with him, because my confidence in being able to assess what the right plan of attack was with him had been pretty badly shaken. After all, my instincts had been to drive him forward and get after him for what I considered 'naughty' behavior, and Kim's assessment had been to slow down and be soft on him to control his anxiety. If I had been so wrong about that, surely I wasn't going to be right going forward?
When I started warming Ky up at my yesterday, he was... good. In fact, I was quite pleased. But he wasn't great, and was still struggling with taking a more active loading step behind. Kim suggested we try a small version of half steps--though they're also the first steps towards schooling piaffe (which Ky is obviously pretty far from at the moment), they're also apparently good for horses like Ky who don't really get the concept of folding their hind legs underneath them.
And Ky. Was. VERY. NAUGHTY. Not only did he not get it, but he responded with a very big 'Screw You' to any of my attempts to show him the way. Now, since I'd never done half steps before, I was a little nervous that I was causing the problem by being indecisive or sending him the wrong signal. So Kim offered to get on.
And Ky. Was. VERY. NAUGHTY. For the first time, Kim saw and experienced firsthand the absolute TWERP side of Ky that he brings to our rides at home whenever I really try to push his buttons. Suddenly, Kim realized the extent to which he loafed behind the leg, truly didn't understand the contact, and could be a real dick about trying to improve either of those weaknesses. Aha! Eureka!
So now we have a new game plan for Ky. Even though I wasn't planning on having most of my lesson be to watch my instructor ride my horse, I was actually deeply relieved by the outcome. I felt vindicated at last in my initial assessment of this horse--I actually had gotten it right!
Now, I can also see why Kim gave the evaluation that she did. Though my instincts were right on Ky's problems, the execution of my plan to solve those problems was deeply flawed. I was trying to get him forward all right, but my inconsistent hands were letting him sprawl forward onto his forehand, which wasn't really teaching him much about responsiveness to the leg OR good contact in the long run.
So in the end, I did need these past few weeks, even if it sort of feels right now like I'm right back at the beginning again. Now I can go back to my original plan of attack with the new skills I've acquired, and hopefully make a better go of it.
Sorry, Ky! Perhaps you should have been better behaved for Kim, and the ruse could have gone on a little longer! Now, the jig is most definitely up.
(Also, it looked like this when I was feeding this morning - winter, you may be a cruel mistress, but you are a beautiful one as well)