Sunday, October 11, 2015

Leonie Bramall Clinic - Day 2

The second day of the Leonie clinic brought absolutely stunning sunshine and a perfect 17 degree temperature, which created a bit of a "holiday vibe" and so we sat back and relaxed as we watched the lessons continue.

It was evident that the previous day had just been a warm-up, as it wasn't long until the serious work started in my first lesson with Bertina. We warmed up using my newfound "activating" skills from the day before and they were very effective in getting her quicker and looser. Our work phase consisted of using leg-yield to help introduce half-pass, where she needed more ability to cross and reach out in the sideways movement.

Starting from the corner, we half-passed across the school to just past the centreline and as we neared the end of the diagonal line we did a steep leg-yield the other way off the other leg. So if we half-passed right, then at the end we leg-yielded over to the left off my right leg, then turn right.

The leg-yield needed to be very steep as the aim of it was to increase the flexibility and crossing of the hindquarters. Bettina finds this quite difficult as she is a big mare with a lot of body to move around, but I definitely felt her open up through her body and move with less resistance off my leg after this exercise.

Next was Chad, which was REALLY hard work. Leonie used our white arena boards to create a small square in the corner of the arena, about the size of an 8-10m circle. You know Leonie means business when she gets out any props or equipment!

The exercise was to travel in a circle inside the square, making sure to reach each side. It is actually very difficult to follow the circle line staying on the track of the square, as it requires so much control to not step on or over the poles/arena edging so you tend to do a smaller circle to feel safe. But the point is that you are able to ride the shoulders on that line with a straight head and neck, and be able to push the hindquarters in so you are in travers.

It is too easy and false to create a travers feeling by pulling the head and shoulders in and letting the quarters fall in as well. This makes the horse use its strength incorrectly by falling through its outside shoulder and doesn't challenge its suppleness. We have to focus on keeping the head, neck and shoulders being super straight in front of us, riding forward around the circle (or down the long side or diagonal line for half-pass) and the hindquarters travelling forwards on the inside track of the front feet.

I did this in canter with chad to improve the pace and his ability to sit instead of scrambling along. The temptation to just make the circle smaller is huge, as you hardly trust yourself to keep the horse inside the square if you go so close to the edge, but this is what challenges your control and how much the horse is on your aids. It really helps him use his hind legs to push around the turn, as I couldn't use my reins to make any adjustments as his head would turn in too much and he would fall out through the shoulder and I would lose my precision control. This exercise makes you so aware of how you ride the back end to control the front, as if you even slightly try to correct the front, you lose everything.

We used the same small square for Seb too, but this time in trot. As Seb is a older and tends to be a bit lethargic, I'm always trying to make him quicker and sharper. By doing this traverse exercise in the small square, I had to make sure he stayed really in front of me or I simply couldn't keep him straight. If he fell at any point behind my leg and pulled himself around rather than pushed, I couldn't get the control I needed for the precision of the exercise.

Seb developing his trot after using the "square"
So it was super hard work to get him really active and powering around the small circle, but he was in a position that I was really able to influence his body and actually create something, rather than him just moving in a straight line or in a shoulder-in/travers down a long side where it's so easy for the energy to be lost out through a shoulder or a hind leg.

When I moved out of the circle to continue the activated trot around the arena, he felt absolutely amazing and just powered around with ease. If he started to lapse and fall behind me, I would just go back into the square and pick him back up with the travers on the circle and the engagement would come right back.

I found this such a great exercise for the horses and it is so easy to adjust it to the horse's needs. It fixes so many problems, it just depends what you focus on while you're doing it.

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