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Reflections on Riding with Connection

Module 1: Holy look at Freckles almost do a passage. I'm dreaming of Aslan just being collected! Also looking forward to his heaviness on contact going away and any other little issues he has.

So far he is really good at the mounting block. (I impressed my stepmom!) This was one of the first things we worked on when I started him, since he was very uncomfortable with someone standing at his saddle area; I was told to never get on as long as they can't even handle you standing there. It took him a long time to get comfortable at the mounting block, and his steps forward were baby steps, it was so funny. Now he pretty much walks and stops right at the saddle area. Every once in a while he will turn or do something wrong, but that is because I need a better reinforcement history under saddle. (I've been using higher value treats and keeping our saddle sessions short.) The only thing he doesn't understand is that the mounting block is supposed to only have one direction (it is a set of plastic stairs). He treats it more like a big square platform. Whatever side of the block you lead him up to, expect to mount from that side. We have so many things to work on, that this small issue hasn't been priority. Later will be fine.

The balance and weight issues are fascinating. I have been trying to teach him to turn with my seat aids and I'm sure some of the problems are due to me. I will pay more attention now and try some of the cone/pole exercises. Sometimes he gets a mind of his own too and I can shift and turn my weight and he will keep walking where he wants to go.....I just hold and wait until I get a response. I can MAKE him turn, but really I'm trying to up the reinforcement history for doing what *I* want to do, not what Aslan wants to do! (Like seriously, one day he just really wanted to look at the decorative flowers at a jump and determine if they were edible, so my cues were ignored until he decided he was done. No treat for that buddy.) But now that I'm more aware of my balance, I will make sure to be careful!

Module 2

Enjoyed the tips here for stretching and relaxing and making sure not to tense in the saddle. It's one of those things where I don't feel like I'm riding wrong but I'm sure if someone else were to critique me they'd point out a few things. I also went to the chiropractor to make some physical corrections. My pelvis does try to tilt one way on it's own, which causes all sorts of other issues.

I don't feel stiff in the lower back or that I inhibit forward movement, but I know I tend to sit on my pockets and go chair seat, as I get TOO relaxed. I've been very careful to make sure I can always feel my seat bones in the saddle. In fact it was quite fun trying to steer Aslan by shifting weight onto my seat bones and stirrup. I over exaggerate a bit to help him and it worked quite well. I probably looked like an idiot leaning so hard lol But I love it when he listens and I don't have to ask with the reins.

Module 3

Love the suggestions in this module, and I have LOVED shaping engagement. I started this a few months ago when I was able to capture him doing it on his own. I was doing this on my own with no guidance really. But these videos have really helped me understand what I need to look for and how to shape it! So now I can go somewhere with it and we are doing even better! So exciting!!! On the lunge he does it in the walk and trot and at the trot I'm starting to see more bounce with true collection. He can hold it fairly well, so the muscles have built up a bit. He's learning to do it at the canter. He finds it more difficult with me on his back but he is starting to offer it. I really want to get the tummy lifting on cue. I've been attempting the lean back to catch his tummy muscles but I don't know if he's getting it.

The head positions have been much more challenging. He has trouble holding his head down on cue, and even if I withhold the click it is very hard to catch him HOLDING it for longer than 4 seconds down. The target on the ground really helped, but he still bounces his head up right away, especially after the click. So I try to deliver the food in a head down position. I can even squat, and THEN he holds his head down. But squatting is not the cue I was looking for and I don't want him to depend on it or lift his head when I stand back up.

He has also been really sticking his nose up in the air while chewing, especially if he is wearing a bit. I've tried other bits and his teeth were floated in the fall, so I know it isn't a discomfort issue. But I don't know what it *is* exactly. He only does it if I'm standing there or sitting on him, so this has something to do with me :( I will have to video this and put it up on the forum, as he looks horrible sticking his nose up and out like a giraffe.

Module 4

I taught him lateral flexion and turn on the forehand before I ever got on. These are critical to a one rein stop in an emergency. Leg yield came much later and was a disaster the first time I tried to teach him (I'm dumb, not him). I definitely could have used the video back then. That was a few months ago. Today he still feels like he could use a lot more work on it. The good news is that lateral exercises are his absolute favourite thing right now. No joke, he will lead me over to the wall and start offering reverse shoulder in. It is not yet a haunches-in because he cannot get his head wrapped around (pun intended) bending his body towards the movement. We need more work on the bending at the poll and splitting the exercise into chunks. So mostly we just do a reverse-shoulder-in since that is easier.

Under saddle he has issues with his 'bad side' and will try to walk away from the wall. Plus I struggle with not knowing if he is doing it properly. I cannot see if his outside leg and inside hind are lined up and I have no idea how it feels. To me he doesn't seem angled enough, but if we get too angled it becomes a leg yield (4 tracking instead of 3 tracking). I dislike asking for help but I might have to. I also screw up my weight, so trying to focus on what I'm doing AND what he is doing makes for a very interesting lesson LOL!

Vertical flexion is coming on a lot better thanks to shaping engagement, he seems to offer it on his own and it is so exciting to see him doing it for short bursts. I'm not purposely training this right now but if it pops up while I'm riding and I feel the engagement, I sure as hell click it!

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