August 16, 2012

Dolphin, Not an Eel

Oh, Nancy.  I swear she can teleport her consciousness into my body in order to know exactly what I'm doing at all times.  She has better body awareness for my own body - even the parts she can't see - than I do.  I know I have quite the contingency of Midwestern readers, every single one of you should take a lesson with her sometime.  She's wonderful.
Wet, Muddy Pony says, "Oh, you wanted me presentable?"

The first time I rode with her, back in February, Connor and I were at square one at the walk/in everything.  I had no feel for keeping him in a "box", and was allowing my hands to move several inches with every step he took at the walk.  He had no topline, we had no connection, and I didn't have the feel to make it right yet.

Fast forward to now.  She used so many of the same comparisons and ideas to teach me essentially the same thing at the canter.  That's not to say tonight wasn't valuable, because it was, but once again she was telling me that I need to be an upright post at the canter, that I need to give him a space in which to work, that I have so much upper body/shoulder movement at the canter that I look like I'm on a rowing machine, and that I need to give him contact that he can run in to, but that contact also has to give.  Last time, I didn't exactly know what she meant because I'd never felt it before.  This time, I feel like I have a vague road map.

"...I had other plans."
One thing she kept going back to is that he needs to move like a dolphin instead of an eel.  My incessant driving him forward with my seat (bad!) into zero contact has made him flat and slithery rather than round and bouncy.  He has no concept of rhythm at the canter because I'm not letting him develop one.  She kept reminding me to give him a little bump with my legs if I felt him about the break, but otherwise to stay "post-like" in the saddle.  She kept telling me, "It's okay for him to break.  He needs to find the end of your reins and realize that's the boundary."  Hmm, sounds familiar!  To that end, she wants me to find a pair of side reins (that fit him, which mine do not) and lunge him in them so that #1: I can watch him move and deal with rein contact and #2: He will learn to feel for the elasticity of the doughnuts and realize that there is a boundary that also has some give there.

In addition to rhythm, we also discussed balance.  Especially to the right, he was two-wheeling it around the 20m circle at the canter.  She pointed out that I am looking to the inside - by a lot - and asked me to look through his ears.  That was so hard!  When she asked me to sit on his outside hind to encourage him to go up instead of launching himself forward, and to stay outside on the circle, she realized that I wasn't sitting enough to be able to communicate with him through my seat at the canter, and chided me about my hunter-y canter.  I need to learn to sit, and sit deeply, or else he'll never learn to sit back and use himself.

Finally, one major theme of the lesson was keeping my arms again at a 90 degree angle and staying soft and relaxed both there and through my thighs.  I keep pulling down with the reins, which tips my upper body forward and puts tension in my bicep, which does often hurt after a ride. I need to use my elbow joint instead, and make sure that I'm pushing him off of my inside leg into my outside rein so that he doesn't schlep around hanging on the inside rein and tricking me into taking even more contact up.

I feel like I got hit with a Mack truck of information, but it's a good feeling.  Love her!


  1. Wow! Thanks for sharing your instructor's insights. I have a couple horses I need to ride tomorrow to start getting their canters to be more beginner-friendly for lessons so the timing of this post was perfect. I still do need to take some more dressage lessons myself because I have a bad habit of scrunching up my leg and getting tense rather than letting my leg wrap around at the canter, but it is always good to read up on these things beforehand.

  2. Do you have contact info for Nancy? Would love to go to one of her clinics - she sounds fantastic! The right lead - two wheeler - canter info was esp helpful for me right now...Riva motorcyles on that lead too.

  3. I need pony side reins too. Great tool to use.