I've always felt that I do plenty of work on circles and actually need to spend more time on the rail or on straight lines. So when I saw a post from Dressage Mom on her lesson with Phil and they worked on various circling exercises, I didnt think too much of it pertaining to Milo and I. Then I got to thinking that one exercise in particular might help with cleaning up the neck reining, but boy did it open to my eyes to a few other things besides the intended goal.
The exercise is simple; working along the rail, do a ten meter circle to the inside, then continue along the straight-of-way for a stride or two, then circle again, and repeat all along the length of the rail, so in my small arena it was about six or seven circles each direction. I worked in my lifter bit one handed, and still kept in mind (as I have been since my last post) about driving forward with my legs into the bit. And for the circles, using my body, legs and seat, to maintain the correct arc and complete the circle.
I started circling to the right, which I wasnt surprised to find that the circles were really hard to maintain. This is the same direction in our turnarounds where Milo doesnt move around freely. It was really good to work on these circles this direction, at a walk and trot, and to help Milo stay on the contact of the bit, and keep his shoulder up and crossing over in a nice arc - no diving down into the circles, no leaning out and making them larger. I really had to focus on the subliminal cues I was giving him too - just how much seat pressure, keeping my leg in the proper arc position, but not holding him up, and all the while keeping the energy coming from the rear. I felt that the exercise was really good for the both of us.
When we went the other direction (changing across the diagonal, which I have been working on the change of rein coming from the position of the ribcage, something I read about in my new Reining book, but also something Sarah mentioned to me when I last rode Wesley), I was surprised to find that the exercise was not as easy this direction as I assumed it would be. Although Milo turns around more freely to the left, in his circles he didnt have a problem with drifting out the shoulder, but he did have a hard time holding it up and maintaining the arc.
I didnt do this exercise at the lope as the ten meter circles are too small, but when we did get to the lope and make larger twenty meter circles I saw just how important it would be to clean up the exercise at the walk and trot to help with the lope. But before then, we still need to establish what my bumping legs mean at the lope. He wants to interpret it as a speed increase, rather then coming into the bridle from the rear. There are a few tiny moments when he does it, but for the most part at the lope he isnt driving from the rear.
Just another reminder on how much work is still yet to be done! But at least I am now aware of it.