I was originally going to skip writing much about this lesson because, let’s be honest, I am not super adept at writing Dressage posts. We went, we did it, it was hard, it got better, yay! But riding with a new trainer meant kind of a different approach to the lesson, and I thought it was worth talking about. If you are not into long Dressage write ups with minimal and reused pictures, this isn’t the post for you, but I do think it is interesting how we moved from exercise to exercise to achieve a goal without drilling any one set.
First of all, shout out to online calendar systems for scheduling lessons. This was a GENIOUS way to get a lesson scheduled without a ton of back and forth texting. 10/10 would recommend.
So back to the lesson. May and I had done one ride in an arena, but for the most part, our rides have been either on the track doing fitness work or out hacking for those long and slow miles. So being in an arena and doing Dressage work was a big change of pace for both of us.
We started with a lot of stretch work, really asking May to open up along the outside of her body and give through her rib cage. Stretchy work is pretty hard for May. As one trainer once put it, it’s a bit like asking a body builder to do yoga.
Interestingly, I found a lot more issue to the left than the right. Historically, the right has been May’s tougher direction, but it seems like we have just been better at faking it to the left. So asking for a true bend, stretch, and connect to the left was harder to achieve. May just wanted to stay in her bubble of “my head is down but I am not really connecting” vs. pushing through her body into the contact.
So probably the first 10 minutes of the lesson was spent stretching one way on a 20M circle, changing directions, and repeating the other way. C felt like May wasn’t being as responsive to my lateral leg aids as she should be, so she started us on some leg yields. As we are talking about the leg yields, I am specifically instructed that it should feel like she’s totally supple in the leg yield, that I could easily bend her either way. I was also told to take my leg on and off while leg yielding, to shuffle her hind end over, vs just trying to shove her whole body over with my leg. The intent here is to make her more sensitive to the lateral leg aid vs. making her dull to it.
Things I now know about my horse? She can’t leg yield and remain supple through her body. Well ok. Great. Also, I have zero timing with this leg on, leg off idea. Yielding off the right leg, I could MOSTLY get there. Despite the stiffness on this side, in general, she is flexible enough that I can get moments of her loosening and becoming supple.
Off the left leg… it was mostly a nightmare. How much of a nightmare? When I put my left leg on to ask her to leg yield right, she did it, but when I asked for some bend while leg yielding…. she threw on the brakes and swung her hip left. Yes left. So INTO my leg and my spur. Cute. Sent her forward and repeat. Damn. Ok.
Luckily, my new trainer realized that we needed a different approach to the concept. So we transitioned into a 20M square with traveling turns on the forehand. Yeah this sounds weird… We started at the walk. Walk a straight line with a marching walk. Then half halt, ask for the turn, but in the turn ask for the hind legs to keep moving in the opposite direction we are turning without losing the bend.
Typically, you ask the opposite. You are asking the hind end to remain somewhat stationary while the shoulders pivot around, like a mini pirouette. But since C really wanted me to get access to the mobility of the hind end and improve how she laterally moves off my leg, we focused on getting the hind end to move around the corner of each square.
Once we made the 90 degree turn, we were to go forward and straight. This gives May a reward and keeps her thinking forward so we don’t get stuck and ornery, like we were getting in the leg yield.
At first, this was wildly hard for both me and May. I couldn’t get the timing down, and she wanted to come up above the bit and just sewing machine her legs around in a circle. UGH. C had me really engage my seat and suction cup her back to keep her loose through there and moving properly. After a while… we could do it at the walk.
So we moved into the trot. Again to the right, things were somewhat easier. After a few corners, I felt her REALLY come through her back after the turn and push into a more forward trot, but she stayed supple enough to listen to my half halt and come back for the next turn.
To the left, however, it was a complete mess. May really wanted to just lock up her back and move her legs vs. her whole body. I ended up having to sacrifice the exercise a bit, so instead of a square, we were making more of a football shape. Half a circle, 60 degree turn, another half a circle. I needed to maintain the forward to keep the hind end moving.
I also got chastised for my hands being too high. The truth is, May is too green in the movements to keep my hands high and super together. I am not giving her enough guidance, so she either A) gets crooked through her head by tilting it. Or B) she comes up above the bit and I lose the connection and can’t correct the evasion. With a lower and wider hand, I could make the correction without losing the connection. This actually allowed the correction to come more from my leg and seat then trying to fix it with my hands once she’s already off the aids.
By the end though, May stepped out of the turn SUPER connected and supple. She was really pushing through her hind end, but I could easily bend her in either direction. She got lots of pats and a break. The break got lots of huffs and snorts… May clearly wanted to show us how hard that was.
We didn’t want to drill that exercise to death. She seemed to get the idea, and I had enough tools in my pocket to work on it on my own. We also didn’t think that May was ready to attempt the same thing at the canter, so we moved into an exercise that I am actually familiar with. On a 20M circle, we asked May to open and close her stride at the canter. Big, ground covering canter, then shorter, more collected canter. Rinse and repeat.
The idea here was to really ride her hind legs up underneath her body to use my seat and legs to keep the hind end engaged and carrying, even on the smaller step. At the same time, she needed to stay supple through her topline.
To the left, this was actually easier than expected. May was happy to go forward and then really sat and pushed for me in the collected work. After, I actually said to C, “That went better than I thought it would.” and she went “Yeah, honestly, I was expecting her to struggle a bit more with it.”
We took a walk break so
May could catch her breath I could catch my breath. Then we went to the right! Now remember, the right had been better all day. This time, it was worse.
When I asked her to open up her canter, she kind of shoved that right shoulder at me and got stiff. As a result, when I asked her to collect, she just fell into the trot. Cute. So we tried again. More bend, more leg. At first, she just locked up through her shoulders and shuffled her feet around, but on the 2nd or 3rd ask, she released that tension and really softened through her body without losing the active hind end. Woo!
She got pats and got to be done for the day. And then got lots of cookies. Overall, it was great to get back to basics, and I really feel like I have some serious homework. Oh and don’t worry, I already scheduled a jump lesson for next week. You know… a solid 2 months after my last jump lesson.