I <3 my OTTB

I am beyond thrilled to report that yesterday’s ride was pretty dang awesome. Since we can’t ride on the beach (aka, the sand-filled arena) because Johnny’s delicate bare hooves can’t stand it, I set up a ghetto-fabulous makeshift dressage arena in the grassy area. It’s not a necessity, but I definitely found the frame of reference (pun intended) to be quite handy. We always start off with a long walk for warm-up, but these days I’m making sure it’s a minimum of 15 minutes on a loose rein before we even start any lateral or stretching work. I’ve found he needs that lack of restriction to mentally prepare him to relax.
Our first rounds of trot would have earned us 3s or 4s had we been scored. He was either poking along, or when I asked him to move forward, flying at full-tilt. I worried perhaps the injections hadn’t done any good at all. Then, I started using my brain. I forced myself to recall the dressage pyramid and asked what element I was missing. We had relaxation & rhythm at the walk, but was I truly connected before I asked for the upward transition? It took two full laps around the arena at the walk to get him straight between my legs and into the bridle before I could ask for trot, but I considered it a lesson in patience. I was then rewarded for said patience, because he stepped right UP into that trot without falling to pieces. Now. For the impulsion.
As I squeezed my legs together, I concentrated on maintaining my balance and posting rhythm. HA! I got the ferrari response. Okay. Think, Courtney… He’s evading by driving his head up and inverting. First, we need to get that connection back. So, I opened my inside rein while maintaining the outside. I made it more difficult for him to raise his head while I activated his inside hind around turns. And I drove him into a semi shoulder-in (I’m sure it was NOT correct). And, ba-bam! For a few strides at a time, I was able to hold him together, and he soon realized it didn’t hurt. Once he realized he could do the work, it got much easier. And, I got smarter about correcting him when he tried his giraffe technique.
Soon, it was time to try the canter. The right lead, as usual, was nice. Not brilliant, but nice. Maybe a 5 or a 6. I mentally crossed my fingers as I asked for the left lead canter, but anticipating pain, he gave me right lead. I patted his neck and gave him the “no, buddy, good try, but that’s not what I want,” sound and let him canter a few strides before I brought him back to trot and asked again. It took a few tries, but I wish I could’ve seen the look on his face when he finally picked up that left lead and realized it didn’t hurt. It was by no means perfect. But for the first time in weeks, he cantered instead of running away from the pain. I was able to canter him in nice ovals, rebalancing him in the smaller turns and relaxing in the longer lines. And he was far less exhausted after several laps of canter. He still tried to fall into the trot (our transition would’ve been a generous 4), but it wasn’t a complete fall. I was able to push him forward into the trot and keep going.
I didn’t ride him very long, but I was thoroughly pleased to see he had a sweaty butt for the first time in ages! He was still using his body incorrectly enough and inverting frequently enough that his neck sweat was in the wrong place, but I saw the correct muscles being used often enough that I know we’re making progress. There was even the slightest bit of foam on his lips! I generously soaked his hocks in liniment, gave him a thorough rub-down and did his carrot stretches to finish up. Which reminds me. I’m nearly out of carrots. I think it’s time to buy the industrial bag…

My ghetto-fabulous dressage ring

My ghetto-fabulous dressage ring

Progress!

Progress!

See that??

See that??

Ok, we'll work on that

Ok, we’ll work on that

He's always so delicate--using his lips to take a carrot

He’s always so delicate–using his lips to take a carrot

This one's getting framed

This one’s getting framed

Oh hey, you has treats? (Meanwhile, pony in the back goes, "HEY! Does she has treats??")

Oh hey, you has treats? (Meanwhile, pony in the back goes, “HEY! Does she has treats??”)

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