Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Dressage Milestone: Leg-Yield in Canter

I haven't written much about our dressage work in awhile, not because we haven't been doing it, but because we generally do not have the same type of crazy adventures that I've been having recently out on the trails:)  I've been continuing to take 2 lessons a month and because of the way scheduling worked out recently, I've done a lesson every Sunday for the last 3 weeks.  That frequency is actually what I would prefer, but it would just be too difficult for me to maintain that frequency and still get all the conditioning work in on the trails.

Anyway, Nimo has really been progressing steadily and we hit a milestone two lessons ago:  cantering and leg-yielding at the same time.  I had not realized that the leg-yield could even be done in canter.  In fact, had I spent much time thinking about it, I would have come to the conclusion that leg-yield couldn't be done in canter because it would be too confusing to figure out which leg went where (on the horse and on the rider) and the horse would either fall down or just keep going straight while thinking that his rider was an idiot.

As luck (or rather really good planning on the part of my instructor, Allison Spivey) would have it, I didn't know that we were going to attempt leg-yielding in the canter.  (Allison likes to surprise me with stuff that I would have sworn at the beginning of the lesson we absolutely could not do.  She recognized very quickly that both Nimo and I have a tendency to over think things, so she frequently keeps her goals a secret until the "Ta-da!" moment.)  We'd been working on Nimo's canter quite a bit and a couple of weeks ago, I possibly boosted that I'd been working on walk-to-canter transitions outside of my lessons and the transitions had been going well.  Allison decided to check to see if that was true.  At first, it was an unmitigated disaster (likely because we were in a much better frame than during my practice sessions which made the transition harder), but we did get ourselves straightened out and manage to pull off a few good ones.  In my opinion, the walk-to-canter transition is a nice way to improve the use of the horse's hind end, so I've been excited that we've been able to work on it.

We followed up the transition with more cantering and working on maintaining the gait for longer periods of time.  I was just following Allison's instructions ("Turn on the quarter line and canter down the long side") when she said, "And leg-yield him to the wall."  So I did.  And Nimo did.  We did an honest-to-goodness, real leg-yield from the quarter line to the wall on the right lead.  I couldn't tell you what my aids were except to say that I think they were probably pretty similar to what I use for a leg-yield in trot (and don't ask me what those are, either, because I have no idea - I just sort of think "forward and sideways" and move my legs and arms somehow).  My horse did not get confused and think he needed to switch leads, he didn't try to buck me off, nor did he fall down.  It was, in fact, pretty cool.  Maybe not quite as cool as sliding down a mountain in a rain storm, but I am always amazed when I ask my horse to do something that requires coordination and he does it.

What is the purpose of leg-yielding in the canter?  That's a good question.  I just did some research on leg-yielding in the canter (and by research, I mean that I googled it and looked at the first page of results because I was too impatient to dig out my dressage books from storage where they are safe from prying toddler hands) and there appears to be some disagreement about the movement (which is not necessarily uncommon in the dressage world).  However, it seemed to work well for us.  According to Allison, that type of movement helps Nimo get his hind legs more underneath him and working more effectively.

Which brings me to my next point.  Working with an instructor/trainer who actually knows what he/she is doing makes a big difference in the success of the lessons.  Allison often rides 10 plus horses a day and gives 5-6 lessons on top of that for 6 days a week.  She works with all different levels of riders and horses and has her own horse.  She competes and coaches her students at shows.  While being able to do those things doesn't necessarily mean she's a great riding instructor, it does mean she has the opportunity to see a lot of different variations and be actively involved with a lot of different types of horses and learning styles.  Luckily for me, she uses all that experience as a basis to really think about what works for a horse and she's able to communicate effectively.  By that I mean that she understands that not all techniques and exercises have the same effect on every horse and she adjusts her teaching to suit her students' needs.

For example, she understands that Nimo picks up the canter most effectively when he is moving fairly quick behind, so when we do trot-to-canter transitions, we do not use Nimo's most lengthened trot (even though it is probably super fun to watch).  Instead, she often has me bring him back quite a bit in terms of speed, but keep him moving in an animated way.  As he gets stronger in the canter, we do more transitions from a more forward trot.  I have worked with trainers in the past who believed that if I just kept pushing Nimo at the trot, he would eventually have to sort of fall into the canter.  (I've also read about this technique in books.)  That may work very well with a lot of horses who are learning to canter under saddle, but it doesn't work at all with a horse who has been bred for hundreds of years to trot.  Nimo can trot his little heart out forever and not feel the slightest compulsion to break into a canter.  So working with someone who gets the nuances of my horse makes such a big difference.  Plus, as I mentioned above, I have a way of overthinking things, which can get in the way of accomplishing something, so having an instructor who feels comfortable working around that tendency means I get so much more out of the work we do.

And, our canter leg-yield work continued at our lesson this last Sunday and was expanded to include a hint of zig-zag work.  By that I mean that we cantered down the quarter line and Allison asked me to move Nimo away from the wall just a small amount (we're talking a couple of strides where Nimo came sideways just a few inches while holding a slight flexion in the direction of the sideways movement) before asking him to leg-yield to the wall.  I see more advanced lateral work in the canter in our future!:)

1 comment:

  1. Aaaah! So excited for you!! Allison Spivey sounds an amazing trainer. It's hard to find a trainer that understands different ways of learning, both of the horse and the rider. I'm glad you've been able to find someone who "gets" you and Nimo so well, and that she's been able to help you two progress so quickly!