Our lesson this week was all about square turns or in our case, squarish turns. It was all about moving the shoulders by using effective and appropriate leg, seat, and hand aids – code for half halting at the right time before getting a close up view of the fence. This is one of those exercises that Ms. C told me can be done from the halt, walk, trot, or canter.
When executed correctly, it would help Ike stand up in his shoulders rather than falling in or out and leaning on my thigh. Ms. C decided that indeed I would try it at all gaits during this lesson. Say what? Did she really think that Ike and I could successfully execute a square turn at the canter?! I had visions of crashing into the fence and black-and-blue knees, but agreed to try.
Our turns on the haunches, as well as the square turns at the walk and trot, were not half bad. Did I really just say that? Who would have thought that Ike and I would be proficient with this? I could believe that Ike is fully capable of performing the exercise. I cannot believe that I was able to correctly give a half halt more often than not and make the square-like turns. I still have to be careful not to overuse that inside rein that I cling to like a security blanket. But given the progress we have made, there is hope for us yet to escape the purgatory of the lower levels and make it to Second Level where you can’t hide from your inability to perform a half halt to influence the horse’s movement.
And then it was time to try the canter…I have to say I was a bit intimidated by this exercise at the canter. To date, most of our canter work has been on circles and riding the short ends more like half of a circle. To date, we’ve been lucky not to run into the fence as we careen around the short end. That turn onto centerline at the canter in Training Level Test 3 at H? We are lucky to turn in the vicinity of H and not topple the rails of the dressage arena. We’ve spent the past year trying to avoid hitting the fence with my knee and now we were going to canter a straight line directly to the fence, execute a square turn, and then canter another straight line. Um, sure, why not. What is life if you don’t live on the edge sometimes…good thing my health insurance is paid up and covers knee surgery.
We let Ike have a break with some free walk and then I gathered the reins to restart the exercise. Picked up a trot tracking left and executed a few square turns to remind Ike what we were doing. Asked for canter right after one of the turns. Ike’s stride is big and the fence was quickly approaching….half halt, sit tall, step into my inside stirrup, press right thigh to saddle and right rein to neck, let go a little inside rein (no, no, I don’t want to) and ta da! We made the turn and were now cantering along the fence. My knee was still intact, but no time to gloat since the fence on the short end was coming up. Repeat aids and make another square turn. And then Ike said that is all I can do and we transitioned back to trot. We then attempted and successfully performed the exercise with the right lead canter.
What was amazing to feel was, by riding truly straight lines rather then bending lines, how uphill Ike’s canter felt. There was no leaking out or falling in, just pure, straight, upright movement. Yes, yes, I know that is what the canter should be even on a bending line, but big boy and I are still a work in progress. I would never have imagined us doing this exercise a year ago. So that leads me to wonder, what will we be able to do a year from now? Stay tuned to find out.