Funny how things come up right at the time you need them, huh?
The last week or so I have been thinking about going back to some counter canter work, this time though with the intention to strengthen the lope rather then focusing on the benefits of helping the lead change. Wouldn't you know there would be an article in Horse & Rider magazine that was all on counter canter.
Now, I have worked on the counter canter with Sarah many times as an aid to strengthen and build the lead change. But what struck out to me in the article was the mention on using the counter canter to open the shoulder. I'm sure Sarah has worked with me on this before too, but I always seemed to associate the counter canter with the hip. I have always used it as an exercise to gain control over the hip, to counter arc the body, and get a lead change. I had never focused on it in terms of opening the shoulder. But it makes sense as I too clearly still hear Sarah saying, "You've got the hip all day", I need the shoulder.
The shoulders are what are sticking me in a lot of our reining maneuvers too. I've got the hip all day, but the shoulder are what is stuck in turnarounds, rollbacks, freer stops, and in circles too. Why, look at that - shoulders are a part of everything!
So I went into my ride today with the goal of finding how the counter canter helped open the shoulder. The article described how he uses the inside (outside on the arc) rein as the wall (of course) to hold the shoulder, and the outside rein (inside arc) to keep the proper bend.
I started the ride at the walk and trot, naturally, but also to solidify my "walls" and body control before going into the counter canter. Outfitted in the snaffle, Milo was doing well and I was nicely in my body today. I tried something new: normally I work the counter canter from the regular canter, then cross the arena into the counter. I guess I use the first lope work to get Milo in mind for the lope. But today I decided I would send him right into the counter canter. I sure had to think about which rein was actually going to be my outside rein, haha.
The first few strides in the counter canter were a little sloppy, but after a few circles, Milo found his rhythm and I figured out what the feel was that I was shooting for, and how to hold my body in a way that would allow for it. When I felt the correct slight arc and the farther reach in the shoulder, I either released my drive, or went onto the rail as a break/reward. When he felt really correct and straight, lead change, lope a few circles on the correct lead, and give him a break.
As always, I not only found the opening of the shoulder I was looking for, but the counter canter work sure helped clean up the regular lope, if only for a few strides before we would lose the shoulder again. But at least it is fresh in my mind again the kind of lope we are shooting for. And I wonder again, why is it that I dont utilize this tool more often then just a once-in-a-while thing, or for cleaning the lead change?