I had a riding lesson with Trainer K. for the first time in over two months and I didn't do as badly as I expected to. One of the things I've been struggling with is getting Maiden motivated to actually get some exercise and walk and trot faster than a slow crawl. It's easier under saddle to get her going but apparently we are not going fast enough to really get the work-out she needs. Which I find incredibly ironic considering that my last two horses were always going too fast and when I rode Misty I was always told "If you're both having fun you're going too fast". So, it's a brand new learning curve for me!
So, we addressed me pushing Maiden harder to work-out more and to be firmer with her. I've been so worried about her discomfort with the bit and fear of someone hurting her with it that I've been riding with a much too loose rein/contact and it takes a good fifteen minutes before she'll finally start stretching her neck and engaging her back. And then when she does she slows down because it's work to keep walking and trotting at a fast pace with your back engaged if you've been doing it wrong this whole time. But she needs to do that to get in better shape and learn to use her body correctly. Just like me going to pilates - I hate it while it's happening but I always feel proud of myself afterward and I can see results now a year after starting it - mild results but results still. I catch glimpses of myself in the mirror and my posture does seem better a lot of the time.
Anyway, today was an exercise in learning to have contact and not giving in when Maiden balks and stops. If she starts to get angry I automatically loosen the rein and she's learned now that all she has to do is throw her head and I'll loosen the rein. But it's now to the point where she is taking advantage of that. What Trainer K. had started to teach her was that contact was the signal to stretch her neck and engage her back and as soon as she did that she got praise. But I've been riding her for a couple months without doing that so she's been getting away with not engaging her back and when she does slowing down. So today's lesson was a big "get back with the program" that ended up with at least four arguments that ended up with Trainer K. saying "Don't let go of contact until she stretches! Keep her moving though!" and Maiden getting angry to the point that she'd piaffe in place while throwing her head for a couple minutes and then finally move forward. Except for the last time where she piaffed and started to quickly back up and my only solace was I was pretty sure she's not strong enough to rear with a rider on her back, but I wanted to panic and let go of the contact but Trainer K. said that would teach her all she has to do is threaten to rear and I'd give in, so I kept it up with the contact, some leg and a smack with the dressage whip and she finally said "Fine! I'll stretch my neck, engage my back and go forward!" and then she did quite lovely and I gave her lots of praises and pats. Once I got the hang of increasing contact the moment she started to lift her head, she would start to lift her head - increase contact - stretch her neck and drop her head and all was well. Then a minute later she'd start to lift her head and if I was on it and increased contact she'd stretch again and keep going and we wouldn't get into a piaffing fight.
I don't mind when she piaffes as a tantrum, but it did scare me when she started to go backward. Trainer K. said that wouldn't happen if I'd followed through asking her to go forward as soon as she started her piaffe tantrum. But it's become a bad habit that as soon as she does that, I let go of contact to appease her and that is teaching her a very bad habit. So, a lot to think about and focus on in my practice rides from now on.
I still can't believe the crappy trainer she was with for a year between getting out of the rescue and the girl before me buying her - I still can't believe he taught her to piaffe and passage but didn't teach her to go forward or use her body correctly. And people actually respect this guy! It blows my mind what idiots are out there claiming to be trainers who do things that really hurt horses. Of course, there are people like that who claim to be coaches in kid/teen sports who hurt them too. I wish there was some way to oversee careers like coaches and horse trainers and anyone who trains kids or animals for sport so that you could weed out the stupid bozos who do more harm than good. But as long as you have people who want fast, quick results without real substance and who don't care if it hurts their child or their pet - you will have stupid bozo trainers and coaches. Grumble.