Feeling my flatwork

Listen, I love hunters and jumpers and equitation. I am one of those people who can sit ringside at a horse show and watch a hundred children’s hunter rounds and want to take all those cuties home (rather than gouge my eyes out because let’s be real, the 3′ hunter ring, it is not where the excitement tends to happen.) My sport of choice has major aesthetic appeal to me: I love the tack, the clothes, the way the horses are muscled and turned out. More importantly, I love the questions the sport asks, and that we as riders have to answer: seeing that beautiful spot in to the line, feeling a back-cracking jump, putting together a flowing pattern. (There is a lot I don’t love, as well, but let’s set that aside for the moment.)

I’ve gotta admit though, as a card-carrying detail-oriented type-A perfectionist, flatwork kind of makes my heart sing.

I’m a pretty average amateur rider over fences, but if I say so myself, I’ve always had a flair for the flatwork. I cut my teeth riding a lot of different school horse types at an eventing-centric riding camp before making the jump to h/j world, so I learned the importance of dressage early and often. I’m not one of those hunter-jumpers who flats around a couple times each direction at each gait and calls it a day. I try to put a lot of thought (A LOT. Too much?) into my horses’ flat schooling plans, so part of the appeal of this blog, to me, is the ability to record the results of my efforts for posterity and, hopefully, improvement.

In other words, apologies in advance for the many forthcoming posts wherein I will do nothing but chip away at the continuous flatwork improvement project.

Schmoodle is an athletic, well put-together sort, with comfortable gaits, good knowledge of basic lateral work, and a general understanding of where his various parts are supposed to go. I tend to struggle with two things with him:

  1. Body control: it’s hard to keep your body parts harmoniously aligned when your eyes are bulging out at the pile of jumps that has sat next to the ring since the dawn of time. I need to be able to put the various parts of Schmoodle where I want them laterally despite his frequent air of distraction.
  2. Relaxing the topline: on a related note, tension in Schmoodle = a short neck, rigid back and locked jaw. I need to be able to lengthen his neck and get his stride moving out instead of up and down (especially in canter).

He was actually quite excellent on both those fronts tonight. A bit behind the leg but nothing a little leg-stick (i.e., a good tap with the whip after applying light leg at the walk, to fine-tune the leg aid) couldn’t fix. We continue to experience falling-off-our-canter lead issues when the shoulder bulges to the outside, usually towards the barn. I fixed it tonight by lengthening and shortening the canter in shoulder-fore on long straight lines, so Monsieur had to actually balance uphill rather than swinging his bum willy-nilly.

Usually Schmoodle is a bit tough on the left to bend through his body, but today I had trouble getting him through on the left rein tracking right. Hmm. In canter, I tried to fix this by doing a poor man’s version of a pirouette (in other words a tiny circle out of a tiny canter) while holding the outside rein and sitting to the outside, then spiraling back out to get the butt moving. Seemed to work pretty well.

Homework: Work on maintaining uphill balance in canter, even while keeping the neck long and the back relaxed. Life is hard, man. More shoulder-fore and shoulder-in, and more counter-canter on smaller figures.

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One thought on “Feeling my flatwork

  1. When I first got my horse, he was very straight — he didn’t really like to bend at all through the ribcage. In the last (nearly) two years, I’ve worked a lot on that and it’s been super rewarding to see it pay off!

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