Clarity

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.


19 comments:

  1. I'm so glad you gained a new perspective on where you are with Connor, and that you guys are in a totally normal place! I also loved the Hilda Gurney article, thanks for sharing that!

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  2. <3 Good luck, and much wine. I hope your journey through this period is filled with far fewer equine temper tantrums than mine. ;)

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    1. Haha thanks, pretty sure it will have much less tantrums. Connor doesn't even know what a tantrum is, besides shaking his head a few times.

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  3. It's really, really hard for one horse ammies like us to get a feel for the relative difficulty level of our horses--that's why I kept Izzy so long. I didn't know any better. It's also why it was so hard for me to quantify why I didn't like jumping Courage. If I'd been riding a lot of other horses, I could have easily said "wow, he doesn't have a half halt from my body and he throws a FIT if I touch his face and he doesn't really steer. This is no fun." But instead, I just rode my difficult horse and said "he never stops. Why am I not enjoying this?"

    Perspective is an amazing thing.

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    1. Agreed on all points. And I don't want to use "my horse is hard to ride" as an excuse for poor work, I mean, if anything, having a horse that is that sensitive about my position is going to make me a better rider. But you have to be aware of it and tuck it into the back of your mind.

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  4. Sometimes we all need to whine! I do it all the time to my bloggers. Its part of the process and all haha

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  5. My coach says Bridget is a complicated ride, which caught me by surprise the first time. Same reasoning though, very sensitive to rider input! (But honestly she feels easy to me after Ginger who has the same sensitivity, but a lot more explosive if you get it wrong). Wonder if it's a cob thing?

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    1. I'm not sure, I don't think across the breed they're like that. But if you're serious about competing, I almost think it's better. My position is going to be rock-solid if I can get it where Connor wants it.

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  6. OOooOoo! Daylight riding-someday I'd like to do that again ;) makes for nice pictures!
    I really liked reading the comments people wrote on your post last week. Lots of food for thought on reproducing that "lesson ride" feeling on solo rides...and lots of good commiseration too.

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    1. Lol, yeah, I get daylight riding 1-2 times a week. It's something! Can't wait for summer...

      Yeah, you're in the same boat I am. It's in no way a bad thing to have a trainer as talented as we do, but we have an uphill battle to become as good as we are without her as we are with her.

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  7. That article Hilda wrote was interesting, although I wonder what she does for her FEI horses, since that was Rico's exact ride at every level and it's how I typically ride in general. Walk, stretch, work on quality of gaits/top of training scale, pick a few movements, stretch again, walk again. Now I wonder if I missed something lol!

    Glad you have a plan! It's a tricky place to be in, but I think it's less a sign of any sort of incompetence on your part and more a sign that you're digging into the tough stuff on a sensitive horse with a great trainer. I'm excited to see where you guys are going this year :)

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  8. A lot of people seem to think that if your horse isn't wild and crazy and bucking you off all the time that he must be an easy ride. While I do think those horses are more difficult or at least a different type of difficult, a well-behaved horse can be difficult to ride. Conner may be a good boy, but that doesn't mean he's a school master to guide you through the levels. You're lucky to have your trainers' support. I saved your linked article to read later. When I go to shows, everyone loves the mule and is all "I'm getting a mule for my next horse" or thinks that because we got blue ribbons she's somehow easy. She's a very difficult animal. At the last event I did a ride made a similar comment and her trainer sort of snorted and just flatly told her no. I actually laughed and talked to the trainer - I wasn't insulted - I was glad to see someone recognize that what I'm doing isn't easy.

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  9. Sensitive horses are more difficult, but it only makes you a better more attuned rider. You guys look awesome, hang in there. Dressage is hard, if it were easy everyone would do it :)

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  10. Sensitive horses are more difficult, but it only makes you a better more attuned rider. You guys look awesome, hang in there. Dressage is hard, if it were easy everyone would do it :)

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  11. Hooray for clarity and a great perspective! Riding really is HARD. I like that bit about it not actually getting easier the more you/the horse learns. Wise words.

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  12. ooh exciting about the tripod! but also, sometimes just talking it out is so helpful for figuring out what's a problem and what's part of the process - yay for using the moment of introspection to come up with a game plan!!

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  13. That tripod is great! I'll need to get one of those for my phone

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  14. I find it imperative to watch video now and again of myself riding, I'm just not always aware enough of myself when I'm actively thinking about the horse beneath me. My mare is overall an easy ride I think. She is wears her emotions on her shoulder and isn't super sensitive. That said, she needs a rider to keep all her parts moving in the right direction, otherwise her head is dragging, butt crooked, neck bent. Its like eating a burrito while driving a stick shift.

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