Bad habits…

I showed Grace how to do Flying Lead Changes (skipping) exactly two years ago. Looking back over those videos of all her early training sessions is just wonderful.
It didn’t take Grace long to understand what I wanted her to with her front feet and neither did it take long to perfect the move. Grace then put her own spin on it – deciding she wanted to do the movement with her left leg in a much more exaggerated fashion than with her right, and this really spoiled the balance and made it difficult to see that she was truly skipping.
Along with that little problem came another – Grace tended to straighten her left leg rather than flexing at the knee while her leg was lifted (mid skip!), which meant although she was definitely landing one foot then the other as the movement requires, it wasn’t as clear and obvious as I would have liked.

More intricate movements seem to be the ones that an audience will miss, unless they are presented perfectly. I adore teaching these moves and weaving them into routines, even though they can take so long to get right.
If I were teaching this most beautiful of dressage movements – Flying Lead Changes/One Tempi to a horse, I would not be doing it with the horse at liberty. I would be controlling and giving aids using the metal bit in the horse’s mouth, with my seat and legs(and most likely using spurs as well).

Grace, on the other hand, is free to leave my side at any time she chooses. I never train any movement with Grace attached to me by a lead. The only attachment between us is the one that matters the most: our love for each other.

When we’re out on one of our walks, I only have to shout over to Grace who is most likely digging a hole or got her head down a rabbit hole “Do you want to do this?”, and Grace comes charging over to me and having noticed which movement I’m doing, joins in with exuberance.
Grace is quite amazing, which is why I named her Amazing Grace, but it never fails to impress me that when she runs over to join in with a quick burst of skipping, that not only does she notice which movement I am doing, but when she gets to my left side, she also joins in on the correct leg. If she starts too soon and gets it slightly out of time, she throws in an extra hop so our movements match and we are both ‘on the same leg’. Pretty impressive? Absolutely.

For the past nine weeks I have been working on re-training the skipping , helping Grace to understand that I don’t want her to ‘try so hard’ on her left leg movement, along with getting her flex her knee while her left leg is off the ground. We have worked endlessly and trying to stop her trying so hard has been a tough lesson for her to understand!

I did wonder if Grace was going to be able to get out of her bad habit. It was entirely my fault, not hers. I should have nipped it in the bud the moment she started bouncing too high on her left leg, but honestly, skipping next to her and matching our movements, it felt as though we were flying as we bounced so high! It wasn’t until I shot some video footage of her skipping that it dawned on me, I’d let her get into a habit, that while fun, was spoiling the movement.

The past three weeks have seen us able to skip perfectly…. until Grace puts too much effort in, and then I have to remind her that less, is very definitely more, as far as skipping is concerned.
When I first performed ‘skipping’ with Pepper back at the very first competition I entered, in 1998, I wondered if anyone even realized that she was indeed skipping. It wasn’t really until Chandi’s Dressage video was posted by another Freestyler, on YouTube that things started to change. Many of the comments complimented the skipping …. and when I discovered the video was being talked about on a Dressage forum, I did feel so proud of my dogs and the incredible things they have been able to learn, perfect and perform.

So today, on my day off from work, Grace and I went to our favourite place and as well as having fun and walking for two and a half hours, we also did a little skipping – simply because it’s fun!
We were on the path just by the car park and as it was straight and level, I asked Grace if she wanted to skip – she did! We only did about eight strides, but she did it so well! We also added the instant halt we’ve perfected over the last few weeks – we both land at the same time, front feet together and stay stationary for a second or two. Grace takes her cue from my body movements, I don’t say a word to her, and I can decide to ‘halt’ at any time while we’re skipping and Grace just matches me.

Anyway we were skipping on the path by the car park and after praising Grace and playing with her, we headed towards our car. I only then realised that there was another car parked next to ours with two people stood by it, watching us. They commented on the incredible control Grace had just shown and they then said it was amazing seeing her skip and matching her movements to mine! That comment totally made my day. They had no difficulty in seeing what Grace was doing and they loved it! Job done, eh Gracie?!

I continue to work with Grace for one reason: I love it. So does she. So we busy ourselves with being the best version of ourselves we can be on every level, the rest will fall into place.
I certainly hope so.




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2 Responses to Bad habits…

  1. Nancy Hansen says:

    I love reading about your adventures with Grace. Thank you for sharing.

  2. sue says:

    You are doing so well with Grace and she does look amazing! x

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