Above. Contigo is getting stronger and feeling more supple and relaxed. He was a little behind the vertical in this ride where I was asking him for a deep, engaged, LLF stretch, but Karen Loshbaugh says that as he gets stronger he will get more in front of the vertical. I'm asking for more leg yielding and it's helping him to soften over his back. After each leg yield he stretches deeper and more out in front of himself and his nose moves forward a bit, less behind the vertical. This is an indication he needs the lateral steps and I need to keep asking for them. I was asking him to listen more to my seat and give me changes within the gait; lengthening the stride and then bringing it back. There was a point toward the last minute and a half or so that I asked for more uphill bounce and he offered that too. Wonderful feeling. He continues to feel better each ride. I have lots to work on in my position and a steadier hand, especially my left hand that is over active and not smooth when trying to supple his jaw. Love him.
Above. Karen Loshbaugh, my trainer, had a minute to review this video clip and she said:
"Over all the work was better to the left, it had more impulsion. Watch the hind legs and compare them from one direction to the other. I didn’t get the impression that the left was easier, it seemed that you asked more of him. The few moments at the end when you stretched him way down allowed the hind end to swing under more evenly, sometimes when you bring him up in the poll you see it reflected in the rhythm of the hind legs. Realize I’m being quite picky here, which of course means you are at a point that I can be. He looks very relaxed and happy! He really does best when he is way, way down. Not that you can’t bring him up occasionally but when you feel the tenseness he starts looking disconnected. Not an unusual problem!"
Above. Karen Loshbaugh offered me feedback on the video and said:
I like the impulsion of the trot tracking right but the length of the stretch tracking left. If you watch the hind end on the circle to the right he is reaching under more than when you slow him down on the left. Don’t be concerned about changing it up, you can ask for a little more impulsion for a bit then see what you get when you slow the tempo and ask for the energy to come upwards more. This is transitions within the gait. This can be very helpful and you may want to start adding in some lengthenings along the long sides (I would do them on the straight line). You want him stretched to do the lengthening of course and be conscious that he doesn’t loose his balance by speeding up. It isn’t about speed but a slower deeper length to the stride. Sometimes horses will get out of rhythm, if this happens bring him to where he can hold it. The little bit of getting behind the vertical isn’t too much to worry about, you are doing the right thing and as he gets stronger it will be out more. I’m not sure if you weren’t asking for as much stretch to the right or the added impulsion made it harder for him or his simply can bend better to the left than right. I don’t know if it is just the way you edited the video but there was more going left than right. What you are experiencing isn’t uncommon with any horse, much less one that has had the issues that Contigo has had."
My personal critique goes like this: To the right, I got loose, swingy hind end, big reaching hind leg strides, nicely open with his throat latch, a decent stretch lower with his pole and forward with his nose. To the left I slowed him down to try to get a lower stretch which I got (nose nearly to the ground) but lost the hind leg reach underneath. I wanted to try to get him to step more into the outside rein and I did when tracking left but it wasn't easy with his right hind/front left issues. I tried sitting more upright and offer a steadier hand to rein to mouth contact and my position was overall better than ever. These are the things we are working on. I've never seen him lengthen his nose that far forward in a decent stretch to the right. And I've never gotten him that low tracking left. These are decent signs of progress. I've never had the slight shoulder fore tracking left with really good balance as I did here as he usually falls on the left shoulder. Watch for when he lets his ears go forward or flop; I feel like that's when feeling good and in a nice state of present body awareness. xoxo Contigo.
Above. Karen Loshbaugh and her husband Will Faerber reviewed this video and said:
"Hi Allie, I asked Will to look at the video also since I wanted to double check what I was seeing and my take on your video. We are both in agreement - AWESOME! He has a very centered, balanced look to his movement and you’re right, more lift pushing off behind. There are times in the video where he reaches under a little more than others and this is better, the nice thing is that he opens his stride more but doesn’t run so keep this in mind. Think deep strides but slow. Sometimes in the beginning we just need to get the horse moving forward but then comes the time for the deeper stride to start taking more weight. You are at this point.
You are absolutely right in that feeling of getting more of the horse out in front of you, this is why we use our shoulder weight to the energy “out in front” since it makes the hind legs more responsible.
The length of the neck and how low the poll goes is relevant to how the horse feels. We position the head and neck at the point where the horse can swing through the best and engage the back. If you can keep the exact same feeling as you bring the poll up then he is ready for working gaits. From a full stretch you can also start sitting the trot, as long as you feel supported and his gait doesn’t change.
You can also start bringing him up into a working gait frame, slowly bring his poll up and pay very close attention to how his back feels and his gait. If it changes at all ask him for a lower longer frame so you preserve the swinging, pushing feel. I can’t tell you exactly where the working frame is for him, it varies with each horse, you have to feel what is right. Once you are in the working frame it will vary how long he can hold it, never sacrifice his back/movement and you will never go wrong. The horse will always let you know what they are capable of doing. Can’t wait to see you again! I have a feeling I’m going to be blown away...happy days!"
The day after this video I sat up and back more to help him balance with his hind legs more and the ride felt even softer and slightly more uphill than this. It was such a great two days of riding and I'm so thankful for Karen and Will's coaching!
Above. This most recent video of Contigo shows a lunge session before a short ride. In the lunge he's almost getting the correct engagement and connection from behind and over his back. He's very very close. Tracking left he has a good connection at the end. Tracking right he struggles a bit with letting go of his pole and jaw so I need to support him to supple there more so he can connect. After speaking with Karen Loshbaugh, my classical foundation trainer, I need to help him get there by asking for more push up through his back then to slow him down just a little to see if the energy created by connection (and the stepping under and raised back) begins to assist in the lifting of his front end. In the mounted part, Karen loves how I'm supporting him to keep his nose out in front of him but she needs me to support him more in softening his pole and jaw so he can have a bigger "let go" and swing through his body more and stretch deeper and find the relaxation and strength to work in that deeper stretch. He felt the best he's ever felt in any ride I've ever had with him in all my life. There was a huge shift in his trust of me and his willingness to go more freely forward. His try, after all these years, is humbling. All heart and soul and might. (You must see Karen riding him in below video to see where I'm trying to get with him.)
Above. Skip to 10:00 in the video to watch the mounted session by Karen Loshbaugh from Art2Ride. At 26:00 it's exciting to see how light he gets and Karen let's us know with a big smile and a "oh-ho!" Then at 30:00 we see piaffe with two distinct responses from Contigo where he sits correctly, then he incorrectly pops up, then he correctly sits again. Piaffe is correct when the horse sits by tucking his pelvis under and bending the joints of the hind legs, while lifting his back and remaining relaxed in his pole and jaw. It's incorrect if a horse pops his legs up (like a lot of horses do) and hollows over the back. The piaffe explains to Contigo that he can sit and push off the ground with his hind legs. Later we used piaffe when I was mounted then asked for trot immediately afterwards to help Contigo experience the push we want in the trot. Karen pointed out the power that was built up in his first few steps when he did it.
She is moving her hands to avoid losing the light contact as the horse moves, and she softens the jaw gently with a give-and-take technique and immediately releases again. When you see her lean back to get her weight off her seat bones to help the horse lift his back, she keeps her hands independent of that. No pulling going on here, in my opinion. Just really good technique for a challenging but lovely horse. The reins are in constant contact because it's important to have contact but they are trying to get the horse to work over it's back by asking Contigo to swing, step under with inside hind leg and stretch deep. If Contigo was ridden any differently without trying to soften the jaw and pole he would lean on the inside rein and would avoid stepping under and a rider can't just use her seat on this horse, not yet.
Leah Taylor, my coach from Canada said, " I just love how everything is happening in an environment and with a feel that is so thoughtful and supportive of Contigo's learning. Giving space and time to relax before asking so he is free to offer his best tries. Thoughtful cues with so much feel... Just. so. Good. The basis of this training feels like living support, not requests for compliance."