I want to thank every single one of you for commenting on my somewhat whiny and very lost post last week. I'm glad I posted it, and I'm glad you all responded, because I've learned a lot in the past week and have a totally different perspective on things now.
|Perspective: Make sure you take as much time for pre-lesson selfies as you do practicing shoulder-in.|
I've come to understand two things:
1. Where we are is normal.
2. Connor is not an easy ride.
Second one first: I've had two professionals ride him over the years, my trainer and semi-local Dressage trainer Nancy K, and both have said that he is a difficult ride. I never really understood that, because I didn't know any better, but I'm starting to understand it. It was never clearer than in last week's lesson.
My lesson was mind-blowingly good, in large part because there were a ton of distractions that he kept spooking at, and he was high as a kite. He was not only genuinely on my aids, he had that extra sparkle in everything he did. (This is why he goes better at shows than at home, too!)
My trainer asked me to close my hip angle slightly to slow him down; he did, immediately. Then he pulled me out of the saddle ever so slightly, and my hip angle changed a millimeter, and he sped up again.
|I got a remote controlled Android tripod, look, it's a non-crossties picture!|
She basically said that that's the crux of the issue: when I am still and then he goes well, it's not the fact that I'm still that makes him go well, it's that my position is consistent. And for Connor, the margin of consistency is tiny, which makes him a tough ride. It's extreme, and it's the difference between him looking like an up-down lesson horse and a Dressage horse. Either as a result of his small size relative to the rider's or his sensitive, worried and easily overwhelmed nature, he requires an absolute consistency to an extent that other horses don't.
|"What, me worry?"|
And as far as this being normal - Megan's post helped me understand that riding doesn't get easier as the horse improves. Things become possible with a well-trained horse, but they don't become automatic and riding doesn't become easy. In fact, in many ways riding gets harder as you go up the levels, and this stage that I'm in is where you either figure it out in such a way that you're left with the tools to deal with the complexity that comes later on, or where you decide Dressage beyond this point isn't for you.
|Things become possible, but not automatic. Skills aren't buttons, they're collections of aids that still have to be applied in the right cadence/in the right sequence.|
Re-reading Hilda Gurney's article "The Six Phases of a Second Level Ride" helped me realize that some/many/all? horses start out feeling like a bus with a flat tire. The feelings she talks about developing in her warmup are the things I work through in mine too, I'm just not as good at dealing with it. Yet.
Finally, Austen called us 'second level', which at first I was like "We're not second level." Then I looked at the second level tests and realized oh wow, our lessons are spent almost entirely schooling second level movements right now, and we can perform all of the required movements for second level. Are we ready to put them together in a test? Not yet. I'd call us "showing first, schooling second" right now.
All that said, I have a game plan going forward now,but that's a post for another day.