Lesson Wrap-Up: We Got 99 Problems and I Am All of Them

When I last left off writing about actual riding, I confessed that this has been a mentally tough summer for me when it comes to riding, and that post was my breaking point.  I needed to do something, anything, differently in order to snap out of it.

Like take Bitsy to the dog beach in Chicago while visiting Connor's Aunt Mary last weekend.

So I took a lesson with NK yesterday, first one in three months.  I'm going to deviate from my usual post style to really chronicle this one, because I'm suffering from lesson amnesia pretty badly lately.  So, this one's for the die-hard Dressage and/or biomechanics nuts, sorry about the rest of you!  😂

TL;DR: We are on the right track, but my position and my lack of half halt is making it impossible for him to do what I think I'm asking him to do.  AKA, I once again got to hear NK's constant tough love refrain of  "Your horse is fine, your saddle is fine, your trainer is fine, YOU are the problem!  But that's okay, because Dressage is hard and takes a lifetime to learn so let's get to work!"

Sunset by the barn last night

First part of the lesson: She zeroed in on the fact that I was so tense in my seat, I was standing in the saddle.  It felt like sitting to me, until I followed her instructions to relax and sit deeply, and Connor immediately softened in response.  Hmm.

Media ended up being basically non-existent, but I did get a minute or two of video.

Next part of the lesson: the position of my seat is encouraging him onto his forehand.  She quoted Kyra Kyrklund saying "Feel like you're plugging your seatbones into the pommel".  I did that, and Connor responded so well.  Things that normally took a lot of leg took a "bump bump" instead, I actually had an effective half halt (NK's words, not mine!) and the contact felt amazing.

We'll fluff this post out with more Bitsy in the Big City photos.

But then it got interesting.  My glute cramped up, because I was using those muscles to maintain that pelvic position.  When I stopped to massage the cramp out, she was like "No wonder your seat is tense, that's absolutely the wrong muscle to use to maintain that.  It means your hip flexors are too tight to be able to sit properly.  You need to stretch them, every day.  I ride 4-5 horses a day and I still stretch mine every day."

You can practically see my hip flexors screaming.

For the rest of the lesson, I kept going back to her shortcut to find the right seatbone position, which was to put my legs over the knee rolls momentarily and then bring them back and maintain that pelvis position.  (Spoiler alert: practically could not do this because my hip flexors are so tight)  I also kept going back to her "bring your knees up a bit" to sit around him more and to neutralize my tendency to stand in the saddle and brace.

Bitsy hates Wrigley...hahaha

A couple of times, she had me come into the center of the ring and do a turn on the forehand - WITHOUT pulling.  And she did not let it slide for a single second if I did try to pull.  I was totally stumped by this at first, but eventually did it right (which involved not letting him dump me to the inside, thinking about sitting to the outside, and not giving up with my bumping inside leg when he tried to weasel his way out of the movement).  When I did it right, I felt his front end come up in front of me, his back level, his body get totally straight, and the contact get light.

She said "Don't be afraid to use that.  If he's pulling on you and you're pulling on him, this is a tool to break that cycle.  I don't care if you have to do it sixteen times in a ride, you do it.  This is important!"

If you live near Chicago, this dog beach is AMAZING

After we were done, she spent a long time talking to me about everything as she saw it, even though I didn't give her any backstory besides joking that Second Level was making me strongly consider taking up Professional Trail Riding (TM).  She had no idea what she was doing, but she really set me straight during this monologue.

"You what, ride with [regular trainer] once a week?  So you're doing things correctly with her one hour a week of course.  But then what, four other times a week, you ride by yourself?  So 1/5 of the time, you and him are both working the right muscles, but 4/5 of the time, you're working the wrong ones.  This position and this way of riding have to become your default if you're going to progress.

LOOK AT HOW SHORT MY REINS ARE #finally #slowlearner #smallvictories

"This is just what happens when you start to teach a horse like this collection, it's hard.  Think of him as a teeter totter.  Right now we're asking him to lower [the butt end] of the teeter totter.  But YOU are the middle of the teeter totter, and if YOU let your center of gravity get pulled forward, HE'S going to respond by making the [front end] of the teeter totter the low end because you're making him do that.  You have to plug your seat in and resist him like you're playing tug of war."

Overall, I'm feeling a lot better about the direction things are going after this lesson, and I have a clear idea of what I need to do in order to stop sabotaging my own forward progress.  Let's do this thing.

14 comments:

  1. Sounds like a great lesson and your dressage trainer seems like she is on the money about where you guys are right now. The teeter-totter analogy is a great! Also, I really like Dressage Rider Training's free videos on YouTube for stretching and strength fwiw. I usually do a video every day and it has helped my flexibility, balance, and strength a lot.

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  2. I love this. Solid things to work on and great tools to help you find the
    right feel!

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    1. Yes, definitely! I got some good concrete things to work on.

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  3. This is the best and worst thing, all at once. Because you can FIX YOU... but damn, is it really fucking hard and takes forever.

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  4. My hip flexors are also so tight. Ugh. Dressage is just really stupid hard, but you are on the right track! Porkchop is waiting for you! :)

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    1. Yes! I can't wait!! I gotta figure out a time to get down there, it's so hard with my sister getting married in September.

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  5. I really like the tip about putting your legs infront of the knee rolls first and then moving them back. Just thinking about it makes me think of stretching my hip flexors!

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    1. Yeah, doesn't it? I have to get stretching!

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  6. NK gut punch FTW! Thanks for posting your take-aways, I have had some glute cramping trouble lately too and I'm pretty sure it's the same problem... harrumph. Did you get caught in the rain on the way home?

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    1. Sure did! Although the worst of it was during my lesson so that worked out pretty well. More than anything else I got caught in TRAFFIC! Good lord. Multiple complete stops for 10+ minutes on 46 on the way there, and then got caught by some roads that are closed in B'Town that Google didn't know about. Poor Connor went through a residential area with a ton of speedbumps :(

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  7. Thanks for getting nitty gritty on this post. Even though I don't ride Dressage it resonates heavily with me since I'm trying to work on collection without pulling. I'm definitely going to try the turn on the forehand if I feel like either of us is pulling.

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  8. I'm having similar issues (different but the same idea) - all my issues are finally catching up with me and holding us back. This shit is hard, and it's so hard to keep all the pieces together. I'm glad you have a coach who can really help you with what to focus on!

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