Dressage lesson with Kirsi Nevalainen-LaCorte: creating straightness and strength

On Monday I was lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to train with Kirsi Nevalainen-LaCorte, a Finnish lady who has lived in America for the last 30 years. She is a classical dressage trainer, and a U.S.D.F Certified Fourth Level Instructor. Kirsi was on a two week holiday in Finland and we were able to have her come over and give me a lesson with Rama.

It was a great lesson because we practiced nearly everything, and Kirsi was able to fix lots of little things with my position and also fill my head up with lots of great ideas and exercises for creating straightness and strength. 
Kirsi Nevalainen-LaCorte riding one of her own horses in USA
Because Kirsi hasn't seen Rama before, it was really interesting to see what she would have to say about how to improve him. Thanks to my work with Karita, Rama has come along tremendously and now is much straighter than before. But since Kirsi hasn't seen the progress and didn't know his background, it was great to get someone else's viewpoint and ideas. To improve Rama's straightness and strength, we began working on a 20m circle in walk where the idea was go along the 20m and have shoulder-in, resulting in Rama's hindquarters on a 20m circle and his front on a 18m circle. This activates the hind legs, and makes Rama actually use his hind legs instead of just running along without activating the muscles.
Blue circle is where the hindlegs are and the maroon circle is where the front legs are
This was done in both directions in walk, trot and canter and was actually a really difficult exercise for Rama and I. Because Rama is still weak from behind, he struggled to let go and push his hind legs underneath him and so kept offering everything from piaffe to canter instead of doing the actual exercise. During a very difficult bit in trot, we moved back down to walk and did a turn on the forehand to get Rama to really move his hind legs across.Although I only got some good steps from Rama during the entire exercise, the feeling was so strong that I know exactly what to work towards.

From this we moved on to some lateral exercises, which again are incredibly important for improving your horses straightness and strength. During our shoulder-in along the long side, Kirsi pointed out that I must remember to give him space with the outside rein, that even though it is important to have a connection on the outside rein, you cannot expect a horse to be able to move laterally if you don't give him enough space! And to improve your shoulder-in, using voltes at the beginning will give you the correct neck bend and activation from behind. Voltes are an excellent training tool, encouraging engagement and power and I really have to start using them more!

My two favorite exercises were both in canter. At first we practiced half pass in canter, which went fabulously well! I was so pleased with Rama, he really started to pick up and cross over his hind legs well! Then the other exercise was to ride as shown in the picture below:
It looks easy, but it's an incredibly difficult exercise for those who have wonky horses who like to show off their flying changes! Luckily the work we had done before this exercise had straightened Rama so that he didn't feel the need to do flying changes. The only way to get these perfect is to have a straight and collected horse who is listening to you.

Lots to think about! Has anyone ever done these exercises before? Do they work for you?

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