On Tuesday I brought Ky back for our first lesson with Kim in well over a month. I didn't write about my last lesson with him because it was, frankly, very frustrating. I had been working diligently on my homework from the time before and thought that he was going pretty well, only to have Kim pretty much dash that assessment within the first few minutes.
There were, I'm ashamed to admit, some tears involved in this realization. I just felt like I'd been working so hard on this horse for over six months now, and I had absolutely nothing to show for it; in many ways, it felt like he was actually going worse than he had when I took over the ride. Kim, in her great patience, listened to my whining without too much complaint and then put us to work trying to find a system that was going to work for us.
In that lesson, it felt like we tried 15 different things in rapid succession to try to make him more steadily submissive in the contact: being super following with the hand, being a little firmer and making boundaries with the reins, leg yielding, upping the tempo, slowing the tempo down, etc, etc. For the first 50 minutes, nothing felt like it was even remotely working, and Ky got sassier and sassier as we bopped around with him bouncing off the reins and feeling like a disjointed, semi-feral monkey-creature. Not good.
Then, in the last five minutes of the lesson, Kim had me try one last strategy: really exaggerating the bend to the inside on a smaller circle until I felt him release in his jaw, then immediately rewarding him by releasing back to normal bend and circle size, then repeating as soon as I felt him locking up again. And wouldn't you know... it actually sort of worked. We were pretty much out of time at this point and couldn't investigate further, but I left feeling like I might have a good plan going forward.
So for the past few weeks, I've been sticking to that plan, riding softly and steadily when he's going well but pretty aggressively over bending him and making it clear that I was not pleased with the situation when he started to go rogue on me. For about 2 weeks, it was pretty slow going. I felt like I spent more time on the small circles than off them. There were arguments. There were tantrums. There were blow ups. I kept trying to be as zen as possible and not get mad, but stick to my guns.
And then, it got better! About a week ago, the tantrums stopped, and the need for strong overbending became less and less. All of a sudden I could do whole laps of the arena in sitting trot with nary so much as a twitch of correction. The feel I had in the reins changed dramatically, from like trying to keep a leash on a bounding dog that trying to get away from you to, well, like riding a horse! Ky suddenly became more forward, less likely to loaf behind my leg, and more amenable to half-halts. It was like I was riding a new horse.
But... I still had my doubts. After all, I'd gone int my last lesson with Kim feeling good. What if I was just deluding myself all over again? Now that I'm back home and riding outside again, I don't have mirrors to check my progress. For all I knew, I could just be spiraling further and further down a rabbit hole of sketchy pseudo-riding. So when I arrived to my lesson with Kim on Tuesday, it was with mixed confidence at best.
(Ky and I hacking home from our lesson on Tuesday down a pretty springtime country lane... bliss, though I can't wait for there to be leaves on the trees again!)
The lesson itself focused mainly on straightness (now that I've got him unlocked from the overbending, I've got to make sure I don't lose the outside shoulder) and then running through a Training level test to practice what I need to do to make corrections when I don't have the freedom of adding in another circle whenever I need it. I was especially pleased with the test run through, as there were a few ragged moments, but with Kim's advice I was able to manage them and keep the test from falling apart.
This is still a skill I struggle with as a dressage rider; I grew up riding so passively on the flat that, when I ran into trouble in the test, I would invariably either let it snowball into chaos or, in an attempt to 'fix the problem,' turn the test into a tense battle royale between me and my horse (shockingly, neither approach scored very well). So it was extra gratifying to feel like I'm getting better at my test management, even if it's just in a practice test in a lesson.
(Ky says, 'ooh, doing dressage the real way in these new spring temperatures is hard work!!')
(Though it's raining and crappy today, we've actually had the first real spring-like days of the year this week, complete with *gasp* green grass and flowers!! At last!!!)