Sorry I haven’t written more regularly. Things have been a bit crazy since Christmas. We now officially have 3 more full days left – we leave on Saturday morning – and so we are a blur of packing, family down here visiting, trying to meet up with friends, trying to squeeze in as many lessons as possible, more packing, etc.
I was able to work 3 mares – Frieda, Lily and Flow – with Claudio Oliveira. Claudio specializes in work in hand, and I was very impressed. He is just the nicest guy, and he was sweet and playful with the girls and had no ego but was very skillful. Since this was his first time working with any of my horses, he showed me his “system” and took a little extra time to get to know each mare. He worked with them on the ground first, just moving them around him in a big turn on the forehand each way. He was testing their sensitivity, their reactions of moving away from pressure on the left and the right. How do they react with their hind leg – big slow step, quick and tight, easier one hind leg or the other?
He then took them straight on the longside and asked them to pick up each hind leg from a touch with the whip. I have taught all my horses this, but Claudio wanted a bit different reaction. He wants them to pick the hind leg up and hold it up, so they really put weight down into the other hind leg. He rests the whip on the leg in the air when it is in the right spot – held up off the ground and underneath the body. He then uses the cluck noise to mean switch legs, so he’ll cluck and then ask the other hind leg to pick up and stay up. He wants them to do it back and forth enough times that they start expecting that they will have to hold each leg in the air for a few seconds. And because they know they will have to do that, they have to think about where they set the other leg down. Wouldn’t make any sense to put it out behind them, because they won’t be able to stand on it back there. They have to set it under their center of gravity so they’re ready to really put weight down into it. This was pretty confusing at first for my girls because I’ve taught them to pick the leg up from a cluck and touch with the whip, but I don’t make them hold it up. So it took a little while for them to understand what he wanted, but he was very patient, and they all got it pretty well.
All three of these mares have had some work in hand done before with piaffe work, so Claudio then moved on to asking for some piaffe steps down the longside. He attaches one side rein on the outside, so the horses have to stay a little round and can’t wrap their neck around him too much on the inside. He then takes the reins up over poll and through the inside ring of the snaffle, the way some people attach a lunge line. This gives him a little leverage if they start barging too much.
They all did quite well, and it was so interesting to see him figure each mare out, because they are quite different. Frieda is sensitive but gets very strong in the hand and a bit nervous. She tends to make big slow steps behind or sit too much and levade. He was very patient with her but would occasionally stop her and back her up a couple steps to get her off her forehand and lighter in the bridle. Lily knows the piaffe quite well, and he was playing around with different whips – bamboo, more whippy, stiffer – to see what helped her to find a little more lift, so that she didn’t just do a shuffle-y piaffe. Flow was the most confused by holding her leg up, and she is the most sensitive to the whip, so he just kept asking her again and not getting upset if she kicked out or bucked. He noticed that she had much more trouble grounding her LH and holding her RH up. She much prefers to stand on the RH. So we can work on that at home. He found with her that if he used a stiff whip at the base of her tail, it makes her sit nicely and then the bamboo on her hind cannon bones to ask for the activity of piaffe. While she is still green in her understanding, especially of his way, he was confident that she can do a world class piaffe, because she has such good mechanics and a lot of lift and expression. And best of all, we found that Lily (who was a circus horse in Belgium when she was young) totally knows Spanish walk!! He just touched her in front and made a different sound and she started striking out with each front leg! Claudio was sure I had taught her this, and I definitely didn’t!! So now we have a new trick to play with!
I’ve had two more super lessons from Jen on Flow, and she feels so confident with the changes 😀👏. We did three on the diagonal today and many more around the arena and never got a late one. 🤸🎉🎈. The other girls have been great in their lessons too. Blush feels so confident in her changes. Lily is back to her normal energy leglvel and Frieda feels fabulous. D’Arcy was the 🌟 yesterday. Jen said she looks a full year older than when she first saw her when we got down here. She just feels so grown up and is understanding the connection much better and keeping more engagement in everything.
Happy New Year to all of you out there! I’ll have one more update before we head home. 😫