Counter-Canter Pretzel

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For those of us in the Middle Atlantic area, Fall happened this week.? Overnight.? The Hi?s/Low?s on Wednesday were 80s/60s, and on Thursday they were 60s/40s.? We're now in the midst of that delicious perfect Fall riding weather, sunny and crisp.? Windy was covered with foam at the end of our ride on Wednesday. while on Thursday there wasn?t any sweat at all even though she worked just as hard.? Of course, this means digging out the medium-weight blankies for nighttime (and, yes, I was naughty and didn't them properly cleaned in May like I intended, but fortunately the new barn has a front-load washing machine). Since I was away four days last weekend, my trainer Jessie Rizzi took pity on me and had me working mostly at the canter rather than the sitting trot.? The project for this week was renvers at counter-canter.? Try saying that five times fast.? Try riding it five times fast.? Talk about a tongue-, mind-, leg-twister!? The object is to get the horse straighter in the canter for tempi changes and other good things that come from straightness.? The first time Jess sprung this one on me was several months ago, but she worded it differently:? We were in counter-canter and she asked me to change the bend without changing the lead.? Piece of cake. The renvers in counter-canter takes the exercise a big leap forward (sometimes literally).? First you have to be comfortable in counter-canter on straight lines and curves.? A lot of people remember fondly the old Prix St. Georges test with the ?Niggli squiggles.? where you do a two-loop serpentine the width of the arena, which means the first 10-meter loop is in true canter and the second 10-meter loop is in counter-canter.? Piece of cake for Windy and me.? Okay, so take that counter canter down the long side (or across the diagonal) in shoulder-in, which means the haunches are to the inside of the arena and the horse's cleavage is pointing out.? Then you change the bend so that the cleavage is pointing down the line of the arena wall but without losing the lead.? You do it with a slight turn of the wrist and an increased emphasis with the seat bones but without letting your weight slip to one side.? There were some moments of doing it first in walk and trot before returning to canter and then counter-canter.? This exercise is sort of like rubbing your tummy with one hand, patting your head with the other hand, while rolling your eyes and licking your nose with your tongue all at the same time. If renvers in counter-canter sounds hard to figure out, well it's not that easy for many people at normal sitting trot.? The one place it appears in the regular dressage tests is in Second Level Test 3.? It really is a very simple concept ? from shoulder-in, just change the bend while staying on the same line.? I'd ?guesstimate that only a quarter of the riders I see get it right.? They do amazing contortions, and the horses simply get confused and stay in shoulder-in or fall to the inside track and go straight.? it's important to figure this one out, though, because the ability to change the bend on any line and curve, at any gait or lead, ?is vital to moving forward to the FEI levels.