January 27, 2011

Like a Toaster

I was tired.

Tired of being told that what I was doing was "good".  I wouldn't have even called it "good enough" let alone "good."

I was tired of figuring out different ways to contort my body to do what I thought was right, and not getting corrected.

And now, all of that has changed.

My trainer has the keenest eye of any equestrian I've ridden with.  Nothing gets past her, not even the slightest turn of the foot or the the tiniest misalignment between hip and shoulder.  The best part is, though, that she'll explain why correcting my body in this way matters and what it does to the horse, both at that point in my ride and in future rides.  She's never harsh, she says she wants her students to have positive associations with their riding, but she points everything out without failure, and I thrive on that.

As a result of that teaching style, I'm seeing big improvements already in my third lesson.  By "big improvements" I mean she only has to remind me not to brace through my ankles every five strides instead of every stride.  But it's progress!

Today was primarily a lunge line lesson, on Dillan in a French-made Dressage saddle (with no keepers, how weird is that?).  Now that she's gotten to know me a bit better, she had a couple of specific goals in mind for me.  First, she entirely took my reins away and worked with me on my position, and then posting trot.  She worked on getting me to feel like my hips were pushing the horse forward instead of coming down on his back, and on feeling as if my hips were a piece of toast popping out of a toaster, and they were doing all the work instead of my shoulders.  I quickly learned that if I didn't stay in the correct position with my hips underneath me and my shoulders up, I couldn't post from my hips.  Ding!  Lesson learned.  Hips, heel shoulder in a straight line, but not in a bent over straight line like in hunt seat.  Sitting back so far feels like I'm making fun of a western rider, but it's really sitting up straight - it just feels odd to me.

My ankles/feet have been a primary source of concern with how they point out all the time, and when they point out, I'm bracing.  Today I rode in tall boots, which gave me much more ankle flexibility, and I really focused on letting them relax and swing like in the videos of upper level Dressage riders I've seen.  I made significant progress here as a result.

Next we worked on sitting trot, and on feeling like my hips were driving him forward with each step rather than coming down on his back.  It made sense, especially in the context of Dillan's swinging trot.  I can tell we're not moving on from this until I get it totally right, and that makes me happy.  More than anything else, my sitting trot has been a terrible case of using my body in all the wrong ways to get something sort of passable, and I'm happy to finally be working hard at it and picking it apart like this.

We also did some canter work, which felt really wonderful, and drove home the idea of the position change.  When I got it right, the saddle felt better and the motion was so easy to sit.  It just made sense.

The final portion of the lesson was spent driving home the idea that we ride with our outside reins to inside legs.  Yes, the old Dressage mantra.  To over-emphasize this, she had me take up my outside rein, then tied my inside rein in a knot.  She took a short crop and had me hook both thumbs over it so I would get the feeling of the outside hand doing more than the inside, but both of them working together.  Then she had me move him in and out on the lunge circle using only my inside leg and outside rein, even if we were moving in.  It was amazing how something we both worked so hard on but didn't really get last time became so crystal clear in this exercise.

I'm tired and having a hard time keeping this short and coherant, but it was a fantastic lesson with great progress and I'm so excited for next week now.

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