February 15, 2013

An Easier Way to Ride

Poor missing mane.
My instructor recently implemented a new policy for Intermediate level riders and above that lessons will now be 45 minutes long, but that we are expected to be in the ring 15 minutes before our lesson warming up.  I really like that. She's worked extensively with all of us on what our horses need in a warmup, and I'm finding that we get more done when we can jump right in to the lesson rather than her watching the 15 minutes it takes for Connor and I to get on the same page.

This worked perfectly on Thursday, as he was as big of a jerk as he was on Sunday during our warmup, but I got his body and brain where they needed to be right when my trainer turned to me.  "I want to work on you letting go of him," she said.  "We want him to open his throatlatch and carry himself, not be held there by you."  Cardinal sin, I am guilty as charged and Connor loves being held by me.  "Look how far back your elbows are and how close in you left hand is.  You're blocking his shoulder with it.  Bring your elbows a bit forward and relax through your shoulders.  Let the reins out...there."  As soon as I did that, I felt his whole body relax and his neck got long and much lower.  We don't have mirrors (yet), and I told her that in my brain, compared to what we normally go like, this felt like: 

No offense, western pleasure guys.

But he was moving so awesome and he was so LIGHT in my hands and so FORWARD with good, driving impulsion that she assured me he was giving me what the Dressage judge meant last month when she said "Tense" and "needs to reach more", and we actually looked like:

Okay, she did not say we looked like Charlotte and Valegro, but it felt like this.  In my head.
"This is a much easier way to ride..." I guiltily said.

"Yeah," she replied, "When you're working hard, you get so tense in your body, and you don't even notice it."

"I do notice it, but only after my arm and shoulder muscles have been 'turned on' for so long they fatigue and it hurts."  How's that for a moment of brutal self-honesty!

So, the lesson involved lots of really big trot, posting with my hips through the space between my elbows, and some gorgeous canter that certainly was a result of him feeling like he could balance and use his head.  Poor guy.  He's ready for more educated contact and I just wasn't giving him the chance.  I know better now. 

We ended with four ground poles, then cavaletti, on one side of a 20m circle.  First a long trot through, then a canter.  I could pick up the canter anywhere, and didn't have to hold him.  Sometimes I got us to a good spot and it was awesome, sometimes I held him too much and he couldn't get his feet in front of him like last time, and sometimes I screwed up the distance and he had to figure out how to get us out of it.  That's not a bad thing, and I've got a post brewing on that.

It felt like jumping, though, and we worked on the parts of jumping that we need work on, (adjustability and striding) without actually jumping.  All in all, it was a very fun lesson. :)


  1. this sounds like a really cool idea, I like what your trainer was doing it sounds like a good method and I'll love to hear if it stays working :)