Since Poplar, Dante and I have been getting back in the groove. The first week, we didn't jump, just did trot sets, flat work, and then galloped on Sunday.
This week, we were back to our full schedule. Dante jumped and did a 1 x 25 trot set on Tuesday and did dressage on Wednesday, both of which were okay. Then, Thursday we did a 2 x 25 trot set, which was extremely boring, but we worked on some lateral work during the trot sets, and went up and down the tiny hill in the field.
Friday we jumped again, and Dante was quite wonderful. He's come a long way from the horse who was a bit of a nutball in show jumping. It used to be very difficult to have a calm, thinking horse between the jumps in the ring. Dante liked to rush to and away the jumps, canter in a teacup instead of half halting, and generally all I could do was guide his path and try and get out of his way over the fence. Luckily, he jumped clear, even while doing this, at prelim. In 2010, he matured a bit, and I was able to ride him between the fences. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that, so I had a lot of rails trying to be calm when I actually needed more pace. This year, I've been trying to learn to actually ride my now ride-able horse. It's been a big adjustment for me, like going from a motorbike to a Porsche. Cross country he's the same horse, but show jumping he has improved leaps and bounds, so now it's my turn to improve for him.
So on Friday, we really worked on my pace coming out of a turn, and that I should balance up just as we came out of the turn, then be able to send him a little to the jump, instead of continuously trying to balance him all the way up to the jump. I seemed to be getting it by the end, and then we went into the field and did a 1 x 25 trot set. Again, I worked on some lateral work. I think it helps Dante a lot when trying to understand exactly where I want his body during lateral movements to use a jump saddle and his jump bit. I concentrated on shoulder in left and half pass each direction, both of which improved quite a bit.
On Saturday, I decided to begin a new philosophy in regards to dressage. I was watching videos from the Fork, and Jessica Phoenix's video on Exploring caught my eye. (Or Exponential? One of them.) I saw that the horse, while very nice, didn't have super spectacular movement, rather like Dante. However, Jessica Phoenix was extremely steady with her hands and the horse seemed to be very steady in his frame as a result. I decided that I would set my hands and my body and remain steady, using my legs ONLY to communicate to Dante that I wanted him to remain steady in his frame.
Well, it worked extremely well. Occasionally my hands wandered slightly, but for the most part they remained much steadier than before. And surprise, surprise, so did Dante! He was super through and steady, we did lots of trot and canter work, doing transitions both within the gaits and between the gaits. And then we started some lateral work, and it was significantly better. Shoulder in left was much more obedient, shoulder in right had more angle, both haunches in had more angle and were more relaxed as well. So after that, I decided to try some half pass. I began at the canter, and started with half pass to the right. Dante was a bit squiggly with this one, trying to lead with his haunches at first, then straightening out too much when I tried to correct it. We came around and tried it again, and it was a lot better. There is definitely a lot more lateral motion than when I last tried it last summer.
Next, we tried half pass canter to the left, and it was very nice! Positioning of the shoulders slightly ahead of the haunches, bend to the left, and plenty of lateral jump. It felt really, really good. We then did half pass at the trot both directions, and they both felt excellent. I was very proud of Dante, and was even tempted to attempt some lead changes, but decided to hold off until after Jersey Fresh. Dante knows how to do changes very well, and I always do them in warm up for jumping. I've gotten him to the point that he will not change until I ask for the change, and so we'll counter canter around the short end before I ask, so he doesn't think it's every time we change rein. He's quite good at them, but I don't want him to think he's allowed to do them under the dressage saddle yet.
This morning, Mike and I headed off to the track, Mike riding Maisie for Heather. Maisie is quite a bit larger (Irish Sporthorse, I think), and has a huge stride at the trot and at the canter. During our trot sets, Dante had to work quite hard to keep up with Maisie's huge trot. At the gallop though, he was pretty insistent that he needed to be at least a head in front of Maisie, and even though Maisie had a huge stride, Dante never tired of 'racing' her. He finished up his gallop sets fighting for rein to go faster and faster, and cooled out quite quickly. I was very pleased with him.
On a feeding note, I've changed his diet because he still seems too under weight. Dante is now getting 1 flake of alfalfa/day, 1 lb of Amplify weight gain supplement am + pm, and 6 qts of beet pulp soaked am + pm. Hopefully, we can bring up his weight before Jersey.
So hopefully, we can translate awesome Dante/Maggie over to the horse shows, particularly in the dressage and show jumping. Fingers crossed, t-minus 2 weeks until Holly Hill!