Friday, April 7, 2017

Back in action with Dom

Like all the other pros, Dom leaves every winter to go south and continue training. That means all winter without lessons which worked out for us since we took most of the winter off anyway. Last Saturday was our first lesson back with Dom since before he left and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't slightly nervous.

Tillie really helped me out by being caked in mud before the lesson

My fitness is not where it was at the end of the season. Tillie's fitness is not up to par either. We have just been back into work maybe a month. It is one of those things you want your trainer to be proud of you and be able to notice some improvement or change for the better after such a long time away right? Normally I am fine with things being a shit show because that is why my trainer is there: to fix it! But for whatever reason, I felt a bit apprehensive and worried we would be a disappointment.

She is so excited
I was pleasantly surprised at how Tillie felt. Dom gave us some pointers for warming up and said he liked what he was seeing. His goal for this warm up was to start installing soft buttons and be able to push Tillie around a little...bring the shoulders in then her haunches without it being a big deal.

Starting to be a bit more through in the bridle

Dom gave us this as homework since it worked well to keep Tillie waiting for me rather than try to take over herself. It also helped alleviate and unwanted weight or tension in the reins. The goal is to gently use leg and thigh to maneuver her and the reins simply supplement. The haunches in was asking for a bit more while shoulder fore was the relief part of the exercise and where the reins should feel lighter.

He also had us add in some counter flexion as well to really ensure the connection was confirmed and she could be pushed in and out of her "box" without too much resistance. He had us spiral in and out using the circle size to increase the difficulty.

After that he asked me what my goals were for this season and the question initially took me off guard. I honestly spent the last month getting on and enjoying my calm, quiet horse and having fun with her. I hadnt really thought much ahead to when our first show would be or even what we would be doing!

She is tracking up superbly well here! Ignore my poor position!

I answered that I hadnt thought too much about it but was hoping to really get confirmed at Training and figure out how to gallop and make time without the adjustability in the gallop /canter being such a huge issue for Tillie. Last season, any half halt once I let her out or gallop a bit would result in a meltdown or straight up zero response and her jaw locked so tight I feared we might never stop at times.
Miss fancy pants

So Dom laughed and said not to worry that starting out the season late April or even May is perfect for us since our season runs later into the fall. He said he would tell us what he thought after the lesson, but so far was much happier with her flat work. We both agreed her hock injections and time off really worked wonders for her and supplied us with a much more agreeable horse.

and quite the overachiever
Naturally, the next exercise he had us do was focused on adjustability in the canter. He set two ground poles 5 strides apart (Well what is a 5 stride 12ft canter). He said this is also homework for us so I can keep my "feel" and eye in check. It will also help me start developing that 12ft canter stride we will need when we compete again without it feeling so foreign. 

I think we were both shocked at how well Tillie handled this exercise. Especially after we pushed for the 12ft stride then asked her to compress and go smaller. I even got a "I am impressed" from Dom when we were able to get 8 strides in there!

Workin that small canter
Dom also commented at this point he was happy with the saddle and how it helped my position, most particularly my lower leg. He said I wasnt nearly as defensive with it. Over fences, same thing. I am now able to stay up on landing and not getting so defensive on the landing side of fences. 

So next Dom wanted to challenge Tillie and keep her thinking a bit with a trot pole to jump grid-like exercise. 

I was really shocked at how well this made Tillie lift and use her own balance. Dom kept saying to not help her and let the poles do the work. Just stay patient with my body at the jump. We started with a low x then bumped it up to a vertical. Dom wanted to sharpen her front end so added a low vertical to the front and instructed me to do this on a few jumps when schooling at home. This would help prevent when we get deeper to a fence and Tillie dropping over her shoulder. 

So we started doing it off the shorter right hand turn as well. Dom really pre-warned to ride the turn very tall and not to lean. He also kept repeating it was important to ensure I rode Tillie very straight through the exercise to make sure she was pushing off evenly.

Finally when she was going through to his satisfaction and stopping straight enough, he let us string the exercise together a bit asking us to think about our lead changes over the fences:

All in all it was a wonderfully education lesson for us both. I got some really great tools and homework and Tillie definitely got a tune up from it. Dom LOVED how she finished up and was excited to see my half halt releasing create a more soft reaction rather than a running reaction we used to get. 

To my surprise Dom said he thought Prelim was a good goal to aim for late fall! I laughed and said maybe I would let him do it on her first...but I was happy hanging at Training and seeing where the season goes. If we get there to Prelim, cool. If not, maybe one day!

Work that booty!! Who'd thought trotting a 3ft fence would be so ok...and not die?!

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