Jet has had three good seasons happily showing Intro through First on our local dressage circuit. Much farther than I thought I would ever get with my spooky, reactive pony. Reality is he is seventeen this year and a slightly downhill quarter horse pony. He is sound though, happy in his work, and getting a lot of the concepts for Second Level. The question is whether to push things to keep making progress or happily take what he has given so far and call it good. My feeling is that Second Level is attainable but Third might be a push since I have only seen him do flying changes in the field 5-10 times over 10+ years(though all those times have been recently as he learns to “sit” more in ridden work).
So, since Second seems possible but I only want to keep going if Jet is happy in his work, I have been approaching this in a slightly sideways(see my pun there!) fashion. Bareback work to refine my seat and balance which helps me in turn with helping Jet balance over his hind legs. Bit less work to make sure I am using my seat to maximum effect. Starting out each ride with working gaits to warm up, some stretches and flexibility work, but then thinking of getting to Second being less about showing something that sort of looks like collected work and more about something like deep knee bends that need gradually improved strength over time to get a more powerful jump. After warm up we’ve been doing frequent walk trot transitions (think 4-5 steps)in lateral work to keep the inside hind leg engaged and the energy up, walk canter 5 steps walk transitions, and trot to almost halt to rein back to trot. Treating these exercises more like bodybuilding and adding reps each ride. Starting with 1 rep, not expecting the exercise to be perfect but to improve strength over time. And with lots of praise and treats it has been working.
Jet has gone from uncertain about these harder exercises in very small doses, to happily doing them in larger doses. Easily. His collected trot has got a nice bounce now, his transitions are effortless, and his canter is much improved. The interesting thing as well is that his working gaits are better, with more energy and cadence, and his stretches have a more shoulders lifted posture with his nose out to vertical like the picture above. By not working specifically on the movements in Second Test 1 but on the essence of collection in tiny tiny increasing increments, the movements from Second 1 seem possible in the future with a bit of quality. Our rides are short, the vibe is positive, and Jet is happy. We will see what the future holds, but the work is fun and it is great to see his improved posture and carriage.
Have you ever improved a riding problem or challenge by working on something else or approaching it in a sideways fashion? Details?