I warmed up Barclay first before Olli got on to do some piaffe and passage. Barclay is a stallion by Bellissimo M who competes with his owner in the U25 Grand Prix. He is awesome. Olli wanted me to warm him up very low in front because he tends to climb in the neck with the half halts. He is very nicely sensitive and super comfortable, partially because the owner's saddle is something other than a Passier! I didn't recognize the brand, but it was so comfortable!
I then rode Four Seasons. Linda brought over my Neue Schule bit when she arrived yesterday, and I wanted to try that with him. Not that I think there's any magic "thing" to fix the tongue problem, but these bits are supposed to be ergonomically designed to be more comfortable in the horse's mouth. I also asked Linda to bring some Gumbits, which Olli had never heard of. They're sort of like chewing gum for horses. They are sweet but last much longer than just giving the horse sugar. I've never used them much at home, but we got some at a show, so I figured it wouldn't hurt to try both the Gumbits and the different bit. Four Seasons (or Fritzi as I've taken to calling him, since I can't bear to not have a nickname for him) is mostly bad with the tongue in the canter. In the beginning of the ride, it felt the same, but by the end he was much better in the mouth, so Olli said we'll keep trying this bit for a while and see.
I did a normal warm up and then did some canter work and a few changes. They were good mostly but Olli wanted me to activate him enough on the short side and corners before the diagonal that I didn't need to activate him in between the changes. Otherwise the aids get too busy and he starts to ignore my leg. He's a horse that is incredibly forward but not always quick in his reaction. His huge gaits are beautiful but sometimes too big and too slow. But he does have the ability to be quick and really has a super ability to sit. But it's a little tricky for him (or me) to put it all together. And when I don't have it together he can be surprisingly slow behind and keep his hind legs out behind him a bit.
We then did a little trot work, and I'm getting a much better feeling for sitting into his trot. The weekend was good for my thigh muscles to recover! Olli wanted me to do some transitions from collected trot (but it would be any other horse's medium trot!) to passage, but really keep him active behind and through and soft in front. He wanted me to bend him as I collected him so that he couldn't pull with the under neck too much. I felt the trot was really good, but I couldn't get him quick enough behind for Olli's taste in the passage steps.
We then did some walk to piaffe steps. Here too he wanted the first step to be small and quick not slow and huge because it pulls him apart and you lose his back. We would just get the collected walk good (which is hard because he runs away in the walk and then gets very heavy in the hand when you want to collect him) and then ask for a few piaffe steps, still a little forward. When those transitions were good then we rode out to passage and back to piaffe. I had some ok transitions but he was a bit stiff on the right rein. So we rode him in a tiny feeling of haunches in to the R and a tiny feeling of renvers going L. He then got really, really good. It was an incredible feeling to feel him get more and more sensitive, more under, more active and easy in and out of the passage. And he was good with his tongue! Hurray! Now, we have to do it again tomorrow...
Then they asked me to ride Fleur, a four year old Floriscount mare. She is quite big and somewhat heavier in her build than I was expecting. She was really nicely forward and takes A LOT of contact. I didn't push her very forward to begin with, since she was very sensitive, and I was hoping to get her to relax and swing first. But Olli said, "She is a four years old, ride her forward!" So we went more forward. She holds through her back, and once she starts swinging, she has a much different trot. She is one that you would think was a nice mover but not overly special, until she really starts to push and swing. Her canter is still a bit on the forehand but very active behind and good in the rhythm.
One thing that is odd to me is that they don't really do any exercises or transitions. Just work to activate and engage the hind legs in trot, get them to give and be supple through the jaw, neck and back, make them accept the half halts and then do the same in canter. They mostly just go straight with a few 20 m circles. I rode some serpentines and broken lines with Fleur, and I wasn't told not to, but I don't see many real exercises being ridden. I have seen very few circles other than 20 m circles and absolutely no leg yielding or rein back. The horses definitely don't seem to expect leg yielding - shoulder in or haunches in, yes, but every horse I've ridden has been a bit confused when I asked for leg yield.
It's a bit hard for me to ride a 4 year old with such power and such strong contact. But it's interesting to feel how they get them to move with so much expression. I think there are many roads to Rome, and it is good to better understand this road, even if it's not one I want to go down with my own 4 year olds.