I'm finally starting to feel like Opie has some reliable buttons on him. They're still fairly remedial in the grand scheme of dressage horse knowledge, but at the very least the concept of "leg can mean more than go" is firmly installed. The problem I run into here is that he's learned all these different ways to use his body, and sometimes he uses those powers for evil.
If he doesn't want to work as hard as I'm asking him to, his evasions are sneaky--his rib cage will subtly pop out, he'll get crooked in his hips so you think you're the one riding crooked, he'll tip his head to the inside ever so slightly, a shoulder will drop just enough to make you think you're doing something else wrong to lose the straightness.
|you would be surprised how many different directions a horse's body can bend|
on one 10m circle
Fortunately, riding alone all the time means I'm mostly proficient at self policing both of us. Also fortunately, that's about the least exciting form of evasion I've ever dealt with in my fucking life and everything else has been drama free.
We've mostly been chugging away at strengthening everything he already knows. Getting his Second level debut out of the way was a massive weight off my shoulders I didn't even know I was carrying. I'd planned for that show to be his debut at the level from the beginning of the year, but there was a lot of doubt right up until we went into the ring that I was going to make a complete fool out of us. With it out of the way, and another show on top of that, it's been good old fashioned basics getting hammered away at again.
Our week usually starts off with one or two short, high intensity, focused schoolings. I ask for the thing, you do the thing, there is no middle ground, sir. We focus a lot on keeping the connection steady, and really stepping under with the hind legs while bending. The butt must follow, no more cheating, sir. But more than anything I've been a complete Nazi about straightness.
I've gotten comments on several tests this year about Opie losing his shoulder, or just lacking straightness in general in a certain movement. I have about ten trillion flaws as a rider, but being straight had never been one of them. My ass sat in the center of the saddle, in the center of the horse, the end. Until I got Opie.
Remember that excruciating pain in my right hip from him travelling crooked? And then one year later my right knee also broke for the same reason? This horse finds being straight very fucking difficult, and he's very fucking good at knocking me out of alignment right along with him. We've been making square turns ninety percent of the time, and I'm constantly checking my own body to make sure I'm straight--and then therefore Dopie is also straight.
It is fucking hard work. I really don't think there's anything harder than making the simplest things absolutely perfect. But, unsurprisingly, it's paying off. The connection is so much steadier, and each ride he comes out working correctly that much faster and finding things just a little bit easier.
After a couple tough as balls works, Wednesdays are mandatory stretchy days.
We've lost our good stretchy trot circle in tests, and I know it's because I've been neglecting them at home. We still take lots of breaks on a long rein, but they've gone from "This is a stretch break" to "Take the reins and do what you want, I'm fucking whooped." I've tried to be more conscientious lately about not loafing off during breaks, but this is the third week in a row with one day being dedicated solely to stretching and I think I'll keep it like this. It's a good mental and physical break while still working on a much needed skill.
Since we're usually gearing up for a show or some sort of outing every weekend, Thursday or Friday he gets off and then he gets a super light ride the day before adventure time. We hack out after almost every ride, and he's been happy in his work.
Last week, he worked one whole day--a long stretchy warm up before popping over some tiny jumps where we worked on--wait for it!--being straight and landing on the correct lead.
We show Sunday so he'll get Friday off because tomorrow we hit the park with some barn mates for what will for sure be a good time. Running and swimmies and snacking with friends? Still out here advocating for trail riding your way to success, what can I say.