So many things to love about this quote. Not in a we'll never get it sense, but in a so close but not quite there way. Take Jet's working gaits for instance. Things have been moving along. Relaxation, energy, and balance to make up the Sweet Spot all good with a nice walk, trot, and canter. The flexibility exercises of spirals, serpentines, leg yields, stretches down and back up, and counter bending progressing nicely. But a bit flat.
I started thinking about why I am having to do quite a bit of prep before every transition and came to the conclusion our working gaits aren't quite right. Not wrong, but not absolutely correct, otherwise the transitions would take a little less effort. Karen Rohlf's great definition of the working gaits-they are the gaits you can easily do stuff from-came to mind and I realized we are not quite there. Something was missing in our Sweet Spot.
So, after some Dressage Naturally research I think I finally have my answer and I also found a nifty little exercise to help us out. The theory is that the working gaits are supposed to consist of a poll high posture, combined with a bit of stretching posture, combined with self carriage. The poll high keeps the biomechanics correct, the little bit of stretch keeps the back swinging, and the self carriage ensures the horse is balancing himself. So far, so good. Pretty close to what we are trying to do with the Sweet Spot exercise. But how about just focusing on poll high, slightly stretchable, and in self carriage? What would happen? Let me tell you, some really good stuff.
The exercise is to get on a 20 meter circle at the walk and/or trot and just work on having the horse poll high by looking to verify, stretchable by getting just a smidge of stretch(think 1/2 inch), and in self carriage by confirming with quick gives of one or both hands. As you're circling you keep working those three things while thinking of adjectives like swingy, balanced, energetic, rhythmic and etc.. Whenever the horse feels great and fulfills the three main criteria you scratch right in front of the saddle(also doing a self carriage check!) and go into active neutral thereby rewarding the horse for hitting that yummy working gait. Then rinse and repeat. As you keep doing this cycle of either searching or enjoying, the horse starts to seeking the active neutral and begins to offer those great working gaits closer and closer together, until you have effortless working gaits in active neutral without much work at all.
It's amazing to me how quickly this exercise improved Jet's working gaits in walk, trot, and canter. More swing, more bounce, better balance, and easier transitions up and down. The feeling that lengthens are in there and that just a little slowing of the tempo will give baby collection. Looking back, I think I was hitting everything in the Sweet Spot correctly, but I wasn't getting the connection between poll high yet slightly stretchable and in self carriage that leads to balance AND a swingy back. Just that extra smidge of stretchabilty helps J swing much better, I think, which then makes his movement much bigger. None of this is possible without the relaxation, energy, and balance of the Sweet Spot but is more like a refinement of all the ingredients. Like freaking magic!