One of the things I love about sharing our barn with another trainer is that we have the opportunity to collaborate when we need too. The other trainer in the barn is a wealth of knowledge, and having her eyes on the ground is amazing.
I scheduled my first lesson with her earlier in the week, and was super excited to get her opinion.
The first thing she did was hand me a pair of spurs. I’d been toying with the idea of putting them on because Eli is pretty dead to my leg. In typical OTTB fashion, they have no clue what a leg aid means… we used little baby spurs and after one particularly exciting moment in which Eli tried to avoid work via murder, he figured it out pretty quickly.
We worked on keeping his attention by lots of changes of direction, and switching between a more active medium rising trot and a collected sitting trot to get his brain more focused on me. Johanna used an ask, tell, demand level of aid strength and Eli got to learn all about it when he decided that the sitting to rising transition was not a thing he felt like doing. After a few “telling” aids with my spur, he decided it was easier to listen and was then pretty snappy to move off my “asking” aid.
Once we had his attention somewhat more focused on me, we moved to introducing a bit of a bend through the rib cage in both directions. I asked with an indirect inside rein, inside leg, and an opening outside rein to help guide him. My outside leg stayed soft and just there. Oddly enough his right side was a lot harder (which is his better canter lead) and I had to resort to a lot of “telling.” He was very good at twisting his body completely like a pretzel. Head upside down to the right right, shoulder left, rib cage right, butt… somewhere back there.
Johanna was super encouraging and patient, and was awesome about reminding me which parts of the pretzel to focus on in a given moment. The main goal was the bend away from my leg.
After we got some good baby bends in both direction, we called it good. I didn’t want to push him much further, since I could tell I was slowly losing his brain power. He probably has the shortest attention span of any young horse I’ve worked with in a while, but I have learned that what I work on for 5 minutes the first time, I can push to 10 the next, then 15, then 20…as long as I end on a high note. He seems to shut down when I ask for more too quickly.
I’m happy to have some homework for this week, and am hoping we can apply it to his canter work in our next lesson!