Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Elaboration on Go Button

A reader asked for me to elaborate on the “Go” button I have worked on with Brego. It all started a couple weeks ago during my dressage lesson where my trainer finally had enough of me nagging him around. I was in the habit of just keeping leg pressure on at all times and if I ever released then he would slow immediately. It was making him sullen and not expressive and teaching him to completely ignore my aids. Plus, she wisely made the point that if it was that hard to get him to trot, how could I ever have enough energy to do the fun stuff like Half Pass? Point taken.

So we worked on me being very consistent with my aids. Since Brego is green, I needed to not only cue him distinctly, but also to give him a little warning that a cue is coming. Since he is already not forward, we didn’t want to use a half halt as a “pay attention, something is about to happen” cue, so we worked on my stretching my legs down to get a good calf contact prior to squeezing him forward.

If he ignored the squeeze, which he inevitably did, then I quickly gave him a stiff kick with both legs. I wear tiny little nubbin spurs so he can feel my heel, but it doesn’t hurt him any more than just a naked kick. After the stiff kick, we regrouped, and I very consistently stretched my legs back down and squeezed. If he again ignored me, he got another kick. I think it took three repetitions for him to understand the squeeze means go NOW, you will not get asked again before I kick you. He’s one smart cookie.

After that session, it is just a matter of being very consistent. When we are in the arena, he must maintain a working gait, walk or trot, even if he’s resting on the buckle. If he starts dragging his butt, then he gets the squeeze and he knows to move out. It has taken much less squeezing to reinforce that he is responsible for his own gait. Now I can trot whole laps around the arena with my leg loose, and he does not need to be reminded. The canter is still a work in progress because I honestly don’t canter him as long as I should, so he is always looking to transition to a trot after a few strides.

Each ride starts with me reaffirming the reaction to my leg aids. It is my fault I have not been consistent so a lot of this work is retraining me that when we are working, I have to be fair to him and give him every opportunity to respond correctly. There has been only one or two kicks in the last 5 rides or so. So it’s definitely phasing out.

The other thing that was important was then when I stretch my legs down, to not lean forward and cram my toes down, it was all about opening my hip up and letting my legs grow long. This way, the small stretch did not interfere with his or my balance.

I hope this writeup helps. It’s been very informative for me to work on this and it’s making a huge difference in the enjoyment level of our rides, for both of us.

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