30 Days to Poplar Place: the puzzle pieces are falling into place

Don’t you love it when all of the pieces start to fall into place? Today’s dressage work was focused on our known weaknesses in the dressage test: trot-canter-trot transitions and picking up the reins after the free walk.
For starters, today’s ride was a testament that my training plan is effective–Johnny had energy but was relaxed and mentally prepared to begin working. It helped that there were no major distractions like 30′ tall tree saws! We started off with our usual walk on the buckle, and now that he knows to stretch during this warm-up phase, our warm-up is dramatically improving. He doesn’t just walk around with his nose dragging the ground: there is an arch to his neck much like a cat stretching over his back. He feels swingier and definitely more relaxed and rhythmic. Our contact today wasn’t 100% at all times, but he had some really fantastic moments where he truly felt over his back and through. Of course, there wasn’t a soul around to see this; people only see him go when his head is up in the air and he is inverted! And, yes, we had some of those moments today, especially since I did a whole lot of dropping the reins and picking them back up again. He still can’t quite accept that even when I take up contact, he can move through and into it instead of treating it like a brick wall. This is what happens when horses are trained “pull back on the reins means whoa.” Seat first, my friends! But, the real highlight today was getting those ‘approaching B, canter’ transitions without Johnny coming unglued. Since he can carry himself at the canter, I focus on just sitting very still and following the movement. Our contact isn’t super at the canter, but his canter quality makes up for it. And, asking for the downward transition is so much easier now that he’s really listening to my seat. I only have to think ‘trot’ and down he goes. He’s struggling with staying round in the downward, but as our contact in the canter improves, that will change, too.
We’re barely over a week away from our first show of this season. There is nothing like preparing for a horse show to really make you step up your game. If you truly want to improve, I believe you must compete. Clinics and lessons give you the knowledge and tools to help train you and your horse, but competition is where you prove your merit–you set goals for yourself and can compare your and your horse’s abilities with your peers. Even if you have no competitive spirit and don’t care to win, the feedback you get from a competition shows you whether or not you’re heading in the right direction. The 97 cent ribbon is just icing on the cake!


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