The next morning I woke up early and went straight to the indoor (you never know what kind of cool stuff is going in on there!) and I was not disappointed. Imke was riding one of the most fabulous horses I have ever seen (I know I have said this before, but this one actually was), Tineke was schooling Japanese rider Akane Kuroki’s Olympic mount Toots and Japanese FEI rider Kazuki Sado was riding one of his horses as well. My only complaint was that I only had one set of eyes. There was something to learn from all three of them.
Imke’s horse was being a bit naughty. It was a cold, windy morning and he seemed to be feeling very fresh. It was great watching her remain so centered and calm as her talented young horse expressed his excitement in various athletic ways. She used her voice and purposeful circles to help keep the young horses mind with her during the warm-up. It was wonderful watching his energy begin to balance and shift from negative tension into positive energy.
Tineke’s ride was very different. Toots is seventeen years old and well over eighteen hands. He has a very lofty way of going and is full of suspension. It is very obvious that Tineke and Toots are partners. During their warm-up, you could tell that a lot of conversation was going on under the surface… a little flexion left, a little flexion right, a little bit forward, a little more collection… it was so subtle that I really had to watch carefully. It was interesting to watch Tineke correct this horse. It was not a “teaching” style correction, but more of a reminder. It was almost as if she was telling him that she knew that he knew how to do this better and she would like him to give it a little better effort this time and when he did, she smiled and gave him a pat and they moved on to something else. The ride was so structured and although her aids were subtle, it was obvious that she was working towards something. It was a pleasure to watch.
Kazuki’s horse seemed to be very relaxed this morning. Once they were warmed-up, Imke encouraged him to ask for more activity through quick transitions. It was obvious that his stallion preferred to conserve his energy, but Kazuki’s persistence won out and as each transition became more responsive, his self carriage improved and the whole horse became lighter and moved more efficiently.
All three pairs were completely different, yet there was one very important common thread throughout their rides. It didn’t matter if the horse was tense or relaxed, green or experienced… they were all expected to be in front of the leg and working towards balancing themselves. I thought about this a lot as I tacked up Ms B for our ride.
She warmed up very well. Something I noticed right away was that she remembered me and picked up right were we ended yesterday. Our transitions were a little more in sync and I felt like I was able to ride her more today. She is a very sensitive horse with a lot of energy, so when I ask her for something, he first reaction is to rush instead of waiting to see what I want. I don’t mind this, because she is always willing to do something. As long as I remain patient and focused, I can begin to shape her desire to react into something that I can use.
We started in canter with the goal of potentially of riding some flying changes. This mares canter is unique. She is naturally very quick off the ground, which is pretty, but does not give her much time to do a flying change. Like I noted earlier, she is not built uphill, so her balance is more horizontal. This confirmation divides her energy equally over the front and hind legs. This is not ideal for creating an uphill balance, so Imke wanted me to begin shifting more of her energy onto her hind leg, so we could create as much lightness in her front end as possible. We did this several different ways…
First, we had to get her straight. So I alternated between riding full arena along the wall and on the quarterlines. I used the wall to help get her between my inner hip and outside rein and then tested her straightness on the quarterlines. Imke wanted her straight… very straight! She teaches in a chair that sits facing right down one of the long sides and you can feel her analyzing your alignment as you ride towards and away from her (it feels like a combination of walking a runway and walking to the front of the classroom after the teacher calls your name). Not only did we want her footfall to be aligned, but she also had to use both sides of her body the same. We found that she tended to be a little more open in her left shoulder and tight in the right. So once she was traveling straight, we moved onto a circle to addressed the unevenness in her shoulders.
Imke wanted me to develop better flexion in her inner jaw on the circle, but was quick to correct any loss of straightness. This was quite a difficult balancing act. Like most horses, she was happy to bend her neck to the inside, as long as she could fall through her outside shoulder. Every time we lost correct alignment, we returned to straightness for a moment and then added the flexion to that. One of the things that I love about Imke (and have “borrowed” from her) is that she breaks down a big goal into tiny reasonable pieces. Ms B needed much better right flexion, but we started by asking for 2% more and when she achieved this, we asked for 2% more and so on, always checking to make sure that we were keeping the balance between asking more of her and keeping her happy. The fun thing about this mare was that she felt as though we would never get to “too much”. She was always willing to give the next step a try. Now, there were mistakes and we exposed weaknesses within her development, but mentally she was always looking at the chalkboard and ready for the next question.
By this time, she had already worked very hard for the day. We both agreed that today was not the day to work on the changes, so we ended on playing with some adjustability in her canter. Not only does this address something else that we will need for good flying changes, but it also gives us a fun way to finish the ride.
Later that evening, a few of the riders and I went to a fabulous restaurant in Hilvanrenbeek, Taverne Paulus. I ate here several times during my last visit and knew I wanted to go back again. The food is warm and homey and really hit the spot on this cold, rainy evening…