I had a very exciting weekend. The lovely Alyse Newton came out to BlueBear on Saturday morning with her beautiful Dominus jumping saddle. It is very well stuffed and sits very level on Moe’s back. I girthed him up and hopped on. Shelley Hallick – Westgate’s new saddle fitter extraordinaire – was able to swing by and evaluate the fit. She liked the way Moe moved in it, she liked the way it fit him and she liked way I sat in it – provided I stop sticking my toes out like a cowboy and roll my thigh in. The cure for my cowboy toes is no-stirrup work. Lucky me!
I caught a few jumps in the Dominus and gave Moe a less-than-stellar ride. He was a champ and went over them even though I should have been supporting him at the base of the fence. The jumps were messy but still I felt very secure in the saddle, so Alyse followed me to the bank and I took the Dominus off her hands.
On Sunday, I had a rigorous private lesson with Sheryl. I warmed him up and Sheryl had me concentrate on rolling my thigh so that my toes point forward. She also broke down the levels of leg pressure with me, where level 1 is increasing pressure through your calf, level 2 in touching the horse with the inside of your stirrup and level 3 is applying your heel and/or spur. I have gotten into the habit of riding with a lot of heel, and I need to diligently stick to the levels. I want Moe to move off the lightest leg pressure (level 1), and I am not giving him the opportunity to do so my always nagging him with my heels.
Sheryl hopped on Moe next and did some leg-yielding, haunches-in and shoulders-in exercises. She rode him in a mild roller-ball spur and a shorter rein and was able to get him to step up into a lovely frame. Moe is definitely the kind of horse who prefers to shuffle along with his nose poked out, but boy does he look stunning when he works in that shorter, more energetic frame.
I can continue to warm Moe up on a long rein, but when it’s time to get to work, I need make him step up into that shorter frame. I have to shorten up my reins, ride with my hands a little higher, sit up taller and really, REALLY push him to move off his hind end. He will probably resist this new posture and more rigorous workload initially, but in the end he will be a healthier horse. If I let him truck around on his forehand all the time, we are going to end up with a mess of back problems.
To keep Moe happy and engaged, I need to reward every effort he makes toward the movement I want. So when he steps up the pace and reaches his hind legs under himself, I soften my leg. When he drops his poll or tips his nose in, I open my fingers to give him a release on the bit.
I also need to continue to work on exercises that will improve Moe’s suppleness and balance, so lots of leg-yielding, haunches-in and shoulders-in.
Sheryl sent me over a few jumps on Sunday. She said I canter up to jumps with about a 6 leg pressure out of 10, and then two strides before the fence, I need to increase that leg support to an 8 out of 10. When I did this, Moe found beautiful distances to take off from and landed nice and balanced on the other side.
I am going to switch to private/semi-private lessons with Sheryl for the time being. The girls I normally ride with on Tuesday nights are further along than Moe and I. Having our own lesson time with Sheryl will allow us to focus on the key areas where we need to improve.