June 17, 2012

This is why we homework.

I like Dressage.  I do a lot of it, so that's good.  I'd say I have 10 Dressage rides for every fences ride right now, and a lot of this is because of the emphasis my trainer places on having good, adjustable horses on the flat, which translates to good, adjustable horses over fences.  It's been a weird switch, though, going from hunters to Dressage, and every once in a while, I realize that learning Dressage for me is one big lightbulb moment after another over the exact same thing: inside leg to outside rein.

"Hola, I am ostrich!  Enjoying my ostrich trot?" (April 2012)

Today was one such day, when I took Connor out into our blindingly bright outdoor to work on what Nancy talked about on Friday.  As we went along, it became clear to me that when I had my good pony, I was focused keeping him straight through the outside rein and having a lot of technical Dressage lessons with my trainer, and I lost my good pony after I didn't ride consistently for a couple weeks and forgot to focus on my newfound aids.

Same ride after some trainer tweaking, notice the change in hand and elbow position.  This is what Nancy re-inforced on Friday.

It's funny, because Cathy in the XC clinic helped me with it by telling me to use the inside leg to push him out and catch him with the outside rein.  That was half of the equation, and it improved a bit, but not a lot.  The problem was how I was using my outside rein, which Nancy fixed on Friday.  So if you combine my last two rides with (sorry to borrow such a hunter-y term here) BNT's, you have: inside leg + outside rein. What I have been doing is pulling him around with the inside, but giving him nothing on the outside.

Every time he got hollow today, I touched the outside rein to straighten him and bumped him with my inside leg to bend his ribcage, and he was instantly round, stepping under himself, and tossing me out of the saddle with that lovely, powerful trot of his.  My outside rein felt like it was describing a straight line from the bit to my hand to my hip to his hip, instead of feeling like it was curving with the circle, and I understood once again how to take up contact with it and ride his shoulders instead of his body.  When I started focusing on his shoulders, I realized just how much of a "diagonal" his body was tracing with his shoulder to the outside (thank you, Nancy!), and was able to feel how to fix it.

It's fascinating like this, Dressage, because it's so technical.  One miniscule change in how I hold my hands and one shift in theory regarding where I direct my energy through the reins, and it makes such a huge difference.  It really is all about feel, and learning to feel things like where his shoulders are and what his hind feet are doing, and how I affect changes in those body parts.


  1. It took me awhile to appreciate the nuances of Dressage, now I love it.
    In eventing, a lot of people focus on the jumping sections and not the dressage which kills me since Dressage scores can make or break your show. Plus the dressage is great for jumping preparation.
    I can't wait for your show recap. You have done great training.

  2. You are absolutely correct that Dressage can make or break your show. The two people that have won their divisions on our eventing team this season led start to finish based on excellent Dressage scores. Since Connor's build and breed are more appropriate for that than jumping, it's even more incentive to focus heavily on it.

  3. Yep, the times I won with Barry I led or tied from Dressage. The jumping was icing on the cake. And to break the tie once they went to collective marks on the Dressage test. So even more incentive for you :)