Yesterday was a photo shoot day. My sister Rain came along to photograph the horses under saddle; I love having pictures taken regularly under saddle, snapshots in time of their stage of training, to compare later on and see how we’re doing.
First up is Arwen in walk.
In this photo from nearly a year ago, she actually looks pretty good. She’s stepping under herself, her head is down and her nose just slightly ahead of the vertical. Although she doesn’t look soft, her neck isn’t squashed, she’s not resisting the bit and her poll is nearly the highest point.
I also look okay; I’m relatively upright, my lower back looks soft and my hands are in the right spot. My leg needs to be longer, though, my toe is turned out and I’m looking down.
This photo was taken yesterday. Arwen looks softer; while her nose is now on the vertical, her neck is still nice and long. Her poll can come up a bit but her head isn’t way too low, so I feel her head carriage is a bit better. Her hindquarters aren’t as engaged as in the photo above, though.
While my back is slightly arched, my leg is a lot longer, toe more relaxed and elbows closer to my sides instead of stretching forward. My lower back isn’t sort enough, though, and my lower leg could come back a bit more.
Here she is in (theoretically) a working trot, back in May. Yeah, we sucked. We really did. I like her long strides and how far underneath her back legs are coming, but that’s about it. Her nose is poked out and she’s resisting my hands, which are fixed to her withers. My shoulders are forward, my lower leg is much too far forward and even my saddle has slipped forward – always an issue with Arwen. While the angle of my knee is more open, I’m sitting in a chair.
And this is probably my favourite photo of Arwen under saddle, ever. I love this pic. Her head carriage is almost perfect: her neck is still stretched along the top, but shortened into a good frame; her nose is almost on the vertical and she looks lovely and soft. The poll is closer to the highest point. She’s also engaging her hindlegs well and picking her feet up, although she seems ever so slightly on the forehand – her forelegs are taking a slightly larger step than her hindlegs. She looks a far cry from the rushing, resistant horse above.
My seat also shows something of an improvement; while my lower leg still needs to come back a little, I look balanced and upright; my ear, shoulder, elbow and hip are all in line and my elbows and hands are soft. If we always looked like this, we would be awesome. Sadly, we don’t, but I still love this photo.
And here we are in the canter. We had a massive fight about this on Thursday; she had two weeks off while I was away and she was injured, and when I got back on she decided to run, lean on my hands, and refuse to do a working canter at all. Yesterday she finally settled down and started to canter better, but still not quite where she should be.
This is an older photo. Yeah, we sucked in a canter, too. It doesn’t help that she wobbled off course and up the bank in this shot. Again, I’m hunched forward, lower leg too far forward, hands fixed. She has her nose poked out and her ears laid back, showing that this canter probably feels just as awkward as it looks.
This pic from yesterday shows some improvement, but unfortunately not much. She looks rather more in control and I’m sitting a little straighter and more comfortably, but she still has her head up and nose out. My lower leg is still a bit too far forward, but my elbows are in a slightly better position and I’m looking up. Her hindlegs seem nicely engaged but her incorrect frame shows that she’s still resisting the contact.
And now for the jumping. This picture is only from about six months ago, back in August. I love how she’s picking up her knees in this photo over a 90cm upright, and she also seems to have taken off at a good spot. My hands, however, aren’t helping her. My elbows and shoulders are locked and my hands are resting on her neck for balance, not allowing her any freedom of her head and neck.
In this photo from yesterday, my position shows some improvement. While I’m still too far out of the saddle and too far away from her neck, my hands are following her head and on top of her mane instead of nailed to her withers. Maybe for this reason, she’s jumping higher (and the jump is 1.10m) and has her feet closer to her chest instead of hanging from the knees as in the photo above.
Lastly, Arwen in shoulder-in. I’d post half-pass, leg-yield and haunches-in photos as well, but I don’t have very good ones. This isn’t a good one either, but you can still see all the flaws: she looks uncomfortable, my inside shoulder has dropped way too low, and she’s turned too much to the inside – she’s doing shoulder-in on four tracks instead of two. Her head is also up with the nose poking out.
Here, she looks more correct. Her relaxed head carriage and ears show that she’s happier and more comfortable. My inside shoulder is still dropped, and my inside elbow is turned out, but I’m a little straighter than in the previous photo. Most notably, the angle of her shoulder-in is now correct; her outside foreleg and inside hindleg are in line, so she is travelling along three tracks. She also appears to be moving forward with better suppleness and impulsion than before.
All-in-all, I’m not 100% happy with our progress; our canter in particular could have improved substantially over the past year. We’re definitely going in the right direction, though. Considering yesterday was kind of an off day for Arwen anyway, it’s not too bad. God willing the year ahead of us will be a year of more learning, improvement and progress.