Classical Dressage = Magic

I'm currently reading a book called "Riding in the Moment - Discover the Hidden Language of Dressage" by Michael Shaffer.  I bought it because it's one of few equestrian books available on my Kindle that aren't Harlequin novels involving ripped cowboys - not that there's anything wrong with ripped cowboys.  One of the main ideas of the book is that classical Dressage is taught from the top down, so concepts are introduced in terms of how a finished horse reacts to the aids, and that's hard for both a young horse to interpret and a beginning Dressage rider to understand.  He's an advocate of teaching from the bottom up - from the most basic concepts of, for example, stop instead of halt.

Even looking right when I'm trying to take a conformation photo.  Geez!

It's been an interesting read, and one I can relate to with this current left bend predicament.  I love Dressage, almost more than jumping.  Connor is the furthest educated horse I've ever ridden, so since I'm doing all of the riding on him, you can see why we get in these sticky situations.  I've always read that horses go on the bit when ridden "correctly" and "from back to front."  As a neophyte to Dressage, that sounds a lot like "it's magic".  I've gotten close before, but learning how to teach him to go on the bit/through his back overall has been such a long, stumbly process, full of progress and setbacks.  I'm only just now learning what these concepts mean, and why classical Dressage teaches them the way it does.

There's no other way to teach it, because you have to stumble into it by feel, hopefully with some good coaching.  Riding correctly is riding the horse between your inside leg and outside rein, which I keep discovering again and again through different problems, always with the same solution.  Riding back to front is learning to use your legs to engage the hind end and ride that energy into your hands.  Sounds like complete made up sunshine and rainbows to a practical person, new to Dressage, riding a horse that isn't a schoolmaster.  Makes perfect sense on a schoolmaster.  Makes perfect sense once you finally get it, once you hear something like "It takes so much leg to put him together!" And that's Michael Shaffer's argument, and that's why it takes us adult amateurs so long to work up the ranks.  And that's okay.

Today I had a fantastic ride, because I'm continuing to explore the left-bend issue by firmly, but fairly, insisting that he bend around my inside leg, within the outside rein.  I learned that when I remember to use my left leg, I often don't have enough outside rein for him to come into, so he pops his shoulder out as yet another evasion to working correctly.  This is because it's difficult for him, not because he's a bad pony.  It took about a half hour of work at the walk and trot, not moving on from anything until he bent correctly, in order to get him really "on the bit" in a way I normally can't get on my own.

We're getting there.  Slowly and steadily, we're getting there.

6 comments:

  1. I'll have to check out that book!

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    1. Definitely, I think anyone with a green horse would benefit from hearing what he has to say. I wish I'd read it when I first started with Connor.

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  2. It does = magic when it all comes together...

    You might like Mary Wanless too. She approaches dressage through the biomechanics of the rider. When we aren't giving conflicting signals with our bodies, the aides can be much subtler and smaller which = happier horses. :D

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    1. I have always heard her name but never checked out her books. I will have to do that, thanks for the recommendation!

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  3. I was going to say the same thing about Mary Wanless. You can come to audit one of her clinics (or ride in it for that matter) in November. She comes to a barn near Cincinnati which is not that far for you. I would love to ride with her but two day clinic is $600. So I take lessons from a student of hers. But there is an instructor near Cincy that is one of her Protege students and teaches her methods. I always feel like it is not that the method teaches anything different than what all the amazing instructors I have worked with teach. It is just that it breaks down each thing into tiny little bits of understandable information so that my mind and body and grasp it. She really breaks it down into the most simple information. Into specific muscles and movements. I have tried many times to blog about what it has done for me and Steady but it is so hard to describe that I always just resort to that we have both made leaps and bounds in progress. I never really truely 'got' how to get a horse on the bit with NO use of the hands until my lessons in Mary's methods. Now I can get my tense, rushy horse to relax, move over his back and seek contact with truely only the use of my legs. And that is just one step in the process of many that I have learned and still need to learn. I do think there are some that are just "naturals" and it does not have to be broken down so miniscule but I am not one of those naturals. The difficulty in learning dressage is that there are so many ways to misinterpret and understand. You have a good/great rider/instructor who has the 'feel' who then has to take that feeling and find words to describe it. Then explain that to another rider who has to take those words and try to turn them into the same 'feel' the instructor has. I mean what could possibly go wrong?? Anyways it sounds like you are on a great track. Mary Wanless is definitely worth looking into. BTW she now allows her videos to be rented out, via internet for like $5 each.

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    1. Wow, thanks for the awesome comment, Amy! I am not one of those naturals either, I have to struggle for each new bit of information. You guys have made so much progress this year, I can really see it, and if that's one thing that helped I will definitely check it out. The clinic is out of my price range, but renting the videos sounds like a really great idea. You're totally right, and the things I am struggling with right now are not necessarily teachable by any trainer, anyone who isn't me.

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