One of my goals for this month included changing the way I warmed Izzy up. I got the ideas from an odd amalgamation of sources, really--Cathy (dressage trainer) wanted her relaxed, Susan (backup rider) wanted her moving laterally, and Stephanie (event trainer) wanted her Forward.
All of the methods seemed to have their strong points, but since I'm the one who spends the most time with Izzy, I found a way to put them all together that just works for us.
We start out walking on a long, loose reins. It's no pressure, just easy going. She's forward, but not enough to stress her or make her think about breaking into trot.
Almost immediately, we start leg yielding across the long sides of the arena. Off the right leg, around the corner at a forward walk, off the left leg.
I try to sit squarely in the saddle, use the reins only to keep her straight, and activate my outside (inside?) leg, but reinforce with the whip as needed. If she feels particularly sticky, I'll do a turn on the forehand or haunches to loosen her up.
As this exercise progresses and expands, we start moving gradually more forward and take up a tiny bit more contact.
Then we move into the trot. I keep the reins long and make no attempt to put her together from the front. We just go FORWARD. Big, loose, moving strides, covering a lot of ground. If she starts to run on the forehand a little, I sit up more and ask her to push from behind, but again, keeping it loose.
We start out looking about like this. Forward, ok, nothing special.
We gradually move into this frame as her balance changes and her tempo steadies. She's starting to stretch herself, just a little bit.
Each day I ask her for a little bit more--more from behind, more balance, bigger tempo. This is all seat/leg though--the point is to warm her up and keep the reins loose.
After trotting both directions for a roughly even amount of time, we roll into the canter.
As you can see, the reins are flying in the wind.
I'm staying in a light 3 point seat, really trying to allow her to use her back and reach under herself. The focus remains on forward--big, rolling strides are what I'm looking for.
Gradually, I start to pick up the reins, keeping in mind that before any rein contact, I have to add more leg to avoid just pulling on her mouth. Izzy starts to come up and relax a little bit more.
I develop a good, strong, forward working canter, which is a sign of the end of our warmup and moving into work.
I bring Izzy up in front of my leg, hold a steady contact, and just hold slightly with my seat--and voila! We are trotting.
Because of our methodical warmup, Izzy is now forward into the contact and carrying herself. BOOM.
At this point, I'd say we maybe training-level-schooling-1st, so we don't do anything too complicated, but we work on leg yielding and shoulder in both directions--here's the kicker--without losing any of that lovely forward momentum.
She's definitely sharpening up her leg yields, and when I feel her start to loose steam in the should in, we do a big, forward circle, then come back to it. The quality of the movement is more important than it's duration.
I'm starting to play more with the lengthen/shorten aspect of her gaits to prepare for 1st level, but it's so hard to teach yourself to shorten without altering the contact even a tiny bit. Yikes! We'll get there.
Once I have her established at the trot, we move back into canter, this time to actually work. We don't do a whole lot yet, since I still want to develop our comfort level with bigger, longer, bouncier strides, but I try to throw in the occasional leg yield to remind her that everything is still loose and flexible.
And back to trot again. I absolutely love this picture. At this point, we are so connected that it's ridiculous--I'm finally to the point where I'm starting to feel the difference in my position and how it affects her, not just what it's supposed to look like.
I put a little more leg on, ask her to stay up in front, tighten my core a little...
And we're walking. After she takes a few polite, forward walk strides, we're done. I like to cool her out with a few laps around the arena, then just head out and wander the entire barn area. It's a more interesting view for sure.
So there you go. It's nothing breath-taking or earth-shaking, but it's where we're at and I'm really happy with it.
That said, I would -love- to have a dressage lesson right now. Last time we had one... was maybe April?