Dressage lesson with Karita: creating softness and suppleness

Life is starting to settle back into a normal training and riding routine now that spring is arriving! My weekly lesson with Karita Kotikulma was on Thursday, and once again it was fantastic. I am so fortunate to have found a trainer who can teach me on any horse with no problems and still achieve so much improvement every single lesson no matter which horse I am riding. I had a lesson with Basse, whom I haven't ridden properly for a long time, and my last lesson with Basse must have been over a year ago!!  Luckily I know Basse so well that I had little trouble adjusting to him.

A great thing that I now admire about Karita is her ability to work with any horse. After having been to her lessons with both Vallu and Rama, I was a little apprehensive on whether she would be able to help me on a less advanced horse, but once again Karita showed how well she can teach any level horse. Those who have read Basse's page know that he is working at elementary level (HeA) whereas Vallu is working at Inter I and Rama at advanced medium (VaB)

Our lesson started with a basic warm up of trotting around the arena with Basse in a relaxed long and low frame to get him moving through his back. After several minutes, Karita asked for a slightly quicker from behind and more active trot, which I had to ask for in a very subtle way so that Basse's relaxation wouldn't disappear. Basse, on the other hand, had other ideas! Whenever I lightly tapped him with the whip or slightly used my spurs, he would either sprint off at a quick speed or then suddenly buck! We were not lacking in energy! 

Whilst on a large 20m circle, we then started flexing his neck to get him to be properly through. One of Basse's weaknesses is that he won't come completely through or relax his neck (even though he looks it and has fooled many a trainer and dressage judges with this!!) and thus he is not totally working through his back. This is something that most trainers don't pick up because it is such a exceptionally small difference, even though you can feel it through the reins from his mouth that he isn't completely soft. Karita noticed this straight away in our warm up and thus we began working on it immediately. On the 20m circle, the idea was to just move the inside hand a bit lower and a bit towards the inside in order to help Basse become totally round and soft in the neck. One of my greatest challenges is to keep my hand steady and still when it is in this position because for some reason I have a need to keep releasing the contact constantly, resulting in Basse becoming empty in the contact, and so all of the hard work goes down the drain! Once I got the hang of it and was able to keep my hands still, Basse became much softer and easier to ride.

After a short walk break where Karita and I discussed Basse's conformation and how Basse moves, we started on the canter work. Basse's canter is easily four beat if it is not ridden correctly, and if he is not collected or supported enough he will continuously fall down to trot. I have often felt that canter is Basse's weakest pace, but with Karita's help it started to feel and look really good! We did so many walk canter transitions that I can't remember the last time that anyone has made me do so many transitions during one exercise! At first, the exercise was just to do walk canter transitions on a 20m circle with a low inside hand. However, when the downward transitions from canter to walk were not very good, Karita suggested to do a small 8m circle straight after getting down to walk.

20m circle in canter with three 8m circles in walk
By using these small circles, Basse's walk improved because he didn't have the chance to lift his head up and thus had to carry on working through his back. Also on the small circles I had the chance to check that Basse was keeping his inside hind-leg underneath him and being totally straight through his body instead. Bu having a better walk, I then also got a much better, stronger and more For anyone who struggles to keep their straight and wants to improve their horse's canter, I really recommend this exercise!

After doing this exercise for a while in both directions Basse improved dramatically, and at the end of the lesson he felt so much better than at the beginning! My contact to his mouth was much softer, better and more elastic, Basse wasn't pulling on the left rein like at the beginning and he was much more active from behind. Near the end during our cooling down trot I was able to do small 10m teardrops for changes of direction without any problems, because he was much more through his neck and more responsive to my leg.

Unfortunately our camera ran out of battery right at the start of the lesson and the few photos that mother was able to take were all blurry which is such a shame! Luckily Karita is coming again next Thursday when we will continue to work with Basse, and hopefully someone will be able to come take some photos.

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