These photos were shot on a numbered cones course, by my dear friend and professional photographer, Tobin Bennett. I think they give a very unique reference for judging my reinsmanship and I thank Tobin for his skill in capturing them. I am driving The Major General, a Morgan and Caddy That Zigs.
Approaching Start/Finish: Good collection, contact, shoulder to hands angle is open and allowing. Major is soft and alert.
This course was mostly short and tight, on the side of a hill. I knew I needed to let Major go long and low as much as I could. I open the angle of my shoulder to hands, and he opens the angle of his nose. He seeks contact, so he lengthens his top line and stride to find it. His cadence is lovely.
I have driven the outside line on the turn through this set of cones very nicely. We are on the side of a hill turning down fairly sharply. Notice we are starting the bend without the wheel completely clear of the cone. It is tight. The gig is high. To keep the wheel on the ground, I am leaning. When the whip drops the shoulder, so doth the horse. You can see this in the photo: horse mirrors whip. One saving grace for me as whip: my hands are still fairly level. In the gig, you must drive the horse and ride the vehicle, or you will end Up. Side. Down.
BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD. When I first saw this photo, I screamed, "NO!" And almost deleted it from record. But then I decided to keep it to remind me NEVER to do this again. This is an epic fail. I misjudged our speed and the distance for the turn. See how far under himself Major is with his inside hind leg. Fail. My shoulders are telling his body to go straight. Fail. My inside hand is bending his head around the shaft. Fail. My outside hand is not supporting him through the bend. Fail. I am bending him front front to back. Fail. Cadence is completely lost. Fail. What I should have done was check his speed two strides before the cones, raise my hands slightly to rock him back on his hindquarters, support him through the turn with the outside rein, while bringing his shoulder back to his properly supported inside hind leg. He then would have pivoted through the turn [two strides sooner] at an angle to get straight through the cones on the left. Only Major's supreme athletic ability got us through this. I beg his forgiveness.
This is more like it. We serpentine right to go left. Notice Major's properly supported right hind leg. He is rocked back on his hindquarters, bending from behind. His cadence is still somewhat compromised: look at how uncertain he appears. My shoulders are somewhat [could be better] open to the direction I want him to bend- right, but I am looking left to judge the change of rein...
..which he does beautifully. Bless him, he has forgiven me already. Again, his inside hind leg is near vertical to support his weight through the turn, he is light on his forehand as a result. If you have been paying attention you will see I have again dropped my weight over the wheel to balance the gig, but my reins are level to balance Major. Cadence is restored.
Asking him to go long and low to the Finish, but gave the contact away too quickly and lost a little cadence in the process. He is more than ready to stretch out, though, after a grisly drive...
And we're done. Asking Major to transition to the walk, I have dropped my center of gravity by my hands are a little too low and I'm applying too much front brake: using too much bit, ergo, throwing him slightly on his forehand [that common front to back problem]. He is trying hard to get his hindquarters under him to transition correctly and if I had lifted my hands to allow him to finish getting underneath himself, he wouldn't be slightly behind the straight pull of my hands on the bit and the transition would have been great. Instead, what probably happened was as his stopping leg [left hind] hit the ground, he hollowed out his back for relief of the bit and popped his nose up. If I realized my mistake, I may have lightened my contact to give him the relief he needed as he stepped on his left leg. I am focused quite intently on his frame, but there is sadly no photo proof of what happened next.
So, there you go, the dynamics of reinsmanship on an obstacle course, where it matters most. Ultimate communication through the reins is achieved by understanding how to use them to support and balance the horse to allow him to be brilliant, instead of solely as a means to control him. If you have photos that you would like me to evaluate for you, let me know. I am also available, in person, for carriage driving lessons, and carriage driving clinics on this very subject. The best way to improve your horse's performance is by improving your own.
Again thanks to Tobin for these great reference photos and to Major for his greatness.
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