Maisie got ridden back-to-back yesterday. My daughter was riding her in the indoor when I got there, and she was doing a lovely relaxed trot all the way around the ring - if she starts to go a bit too fast, she slows immediately in response to very slight pressure on the reins. When my daughter got off, I immediately took her to the outdoor arena and got on to continue our softening work at the walk. The goal was to work until we got 13 soft steps in each direction without her dropping her head too low and going behind the vertical. We started our work in her harder direction - to the right. She quickly got what I wanted, although I think it was harder work for her - when her head is very low and she's curled up, she doesn't have to engage her hindquarters. To carry her head in the proper position - somewhat higher and without going behind the vertical - while being soft and not braced requires her to engage her core and use her hindquarters while relaxing her top line from nose to tail. I could feel the difference. Whenever she went too low, I would slightly raise my outside hand so that she would feel zero pressure only when her head came up and forward - I didn't put her head in the position I wanted by pulling on it, but she got an immediate release as soon as she found the spot. Pretty soon we could repeatedly get our 3, then 5, then 7 and up to 13 steps to the right, and then we did it to the left.
Today, my daughter reported that they had their best trotting session so far. She's doing so well that they're ready to start on trotting sets to build her fitness. I rode in the indoor this afternoon (luckily - it poured briefly while I was riding - yeah, indoor!) and we did more work at the walk - almost an hour's worth. I wanted to give her a break from the intensive softening work, and also wanted to work on getting her to engage her right hind, which seems to be a bit weak. Before I got on, I did some massage and pressure work on her crest and the right side of her neck - as I suspected, she had some crampy areas. I'll work on them every day to help the muscles relax and release. After she has her teeth done, we'll do some more chiropractic - the jaw and TMJs are connected to everything else and getting the teeth and chiro done close together in time can really make a difference.
We did some energetic walking on a loose rein - I really wanted her to step under herself behind. Then we did a variety of lateral work - Maisie knows how to do these things, but getting her to step under herself with the right hind was part of my plan. We did some leg-yielding - particularly moving to the left where the right hind had to engage and cross over - and some turns on the forehand and haunches. We also did some sidepassing - she did this very well, I think the best she's ever done it, very soft and engaged. We'll work up to doing the "lateral floating" exercise - which really puts it all together.
Then we moved on to working on her backing. The objective here was for her to listen to me and not just start moving backwards without stopping, and for her not to drop her head down or overbend - just to take one slow soft step at a time backwards and wait for my cues. I started each bit of backing with her already soft - otherwise the backing just becomes a brace. She was a bit worried about this, but gradually relaxed enough to give me several sets of slow back steps - we only did two steps, one at a time.
We started some work on her halts from the walk - she tends to brace in downwards transitions, but part of that is her lack of fitness in her hindquarters. I ask for the downwards transition to halt by riding forward into it, feeling each footfall and cueing with my seat and energy level, and only then using just the slightest bit of hand and "planting the feet" as each foot comes down into the halt - works like a charm for getting that perfect square halt. Maisie tends to stay soft until the last step, when she braces just a bit against the hand - it's almost like she's using my hands for balance in that last step, or perhaps it's just a habit. To interrupt this brace, as it was starting, I would turn her slightly as we halted, and then take two steps back.
She was beginning to get tired and a bit frustrated. We got two improved halts and stopped - we need to work more on this and get the softness to really come through, which it will. Next ride I may start on this so she's a bit fresher both mentally and physically. I was really impressed with how good her concentration is - even when the rain came pouring down on the metal roof she only startled briefly then went right back to work. I'm really pleased with her progress in both her trot work and our daily walking sessions - it's only been a week since we moved!
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There's a fun video of our Lily running on the Paradigm Farms blog - the Lil can still haul it!