This is going to sound really really weird to anyone not familiar with the trials and tribulations of my dressage history with Henry, but last week in my lesson I actually had to KICK him. Like, a big wallop of a kick. And somehow that feels like a big achievement. Let me explain…
The biggest struggle I’ve had with Henry’s dressage is his natural level of tension and over-sensitivity. Most of our tests are a very very delicate balance of trying to keep him calm while still trying to get as many points as we can. Sometimes we’ve been successful at that, other times we haven’t. It’s remarkably easy to push his brain over the edge on the flat.
Last year at the June Texas Rose HT we got “lazy” written on our test TWICE and honestly it felt like I had won. More often we get “tense”. I’ll be honest, I’m pretty freaking thrilled if an onlooker thinks he looks lazy.
I spent all of last year not even cantering him in the dressage warm-up at shows, because in Henry’s mind if you canter once, you’re cantering forever after. My standard MO became 30 minutes of walking, trotting, halting, walking, trotting, halting, over and over. Basically I was trying to lull him to sleep a bit. Of course, that meant our canter work was never particularly great in the test, but it kept him more relaxed in general.
Since the end of last season I’ve been particularly mindful of doing all of his canter work toward the beginning of our dressage rides, with the bulk of the trot work after. I’ve been trying to get him to realize that cantering once doesn’t mean cantering always, and that it’s actually possible to have a normal, relaxed trot after the canter work.
This has slowly gotten better and better. Combine that with the suddenly more rideable horse I’ve had over the past month, and things finally came to a pinnacle in our lesson last week. We had done lots of canter work, including several trot-canter transitions (too many transitions are typically Henry’s undoing), took a walk break, did some trot work, then started working on lengthenings. We did a few at the trot, then picked up the canter again and started canter lengthenings.
Or rather… I TRIED to get a canter lengthening but it was actually taking a lot of squeezing just to keep him cantering in the first place. We came off the short side the first time and trainer says “Okay, BIG lengthening… it’s ok if he gallops!”… and I ask for the lengthening. Normally canter lengthenings are Henry’s favorite. Permission to YEEHAW in dressage? YES! Except this time… nothing happened.
Okay, no big deal, collect him back up on the short side again, come down the long side again, and… GO!
Oh my god. Wait. Is… is Henry… is he dead? Am I in the Twilight Zone? Did I pull the wrong horse out of the field? This must be a parallel universe.
I squeezed harder, then clucked, but nada. Nope. Henny happy to canter like normal, thanks much.
Then Trainer says (after he makes a joke about the racehorse not wanting to gallop) “Ok, on the next long side just give him one BIG KICK out of the corner to wake him up and let’s see what happens.”
In my head I’m thinking “I’ve never written a will… I should really do that…”. Bur I collect him up, ride through the short side, get him straight for the long side, and WHAM! Pony club kick!
In that moment I could feel Henny’s brain thinking “Did she just kick me?”. But you know what happened?
That’s it. He just… lengthened. I’m sitting up there thinking “I have no idea what is happening right now” while he’s powering (like a normal horse) down the long side. And he came right back at the end of the long side, collected through the short side, came down the next long side, and this time it was just a few rhythmical squeezes and some encouragement with my seat and ta-da, there was the lengthening. I was so proud of him I could have burst.
Most people probably wouldn’t be proud of the fact that their horse was behind the leg/dead enough to require a giant kick, but for us its just so polar opposite of our typical struggle. Obviously Henry is either settling down and getting a little more broke, or he’s dying. I’m not sure which one yet. But either way, that’s the story of how a Pony Club Kick somehow became the benchmark of achievement in my world.