Dressage lately has been incredibly frustrating for May and me. For quite a while, our Dressage work was more like basic flatwork. I wanted her to be rhythmic, go where I point her, and change gaits when I asked without getting too terribly heavy in my hands. When I first got her, she was convinced that she was incapable of holding one trot speed, couldn’t turn left, and couldn’t change gaits without falling on her forehand and into my hand.
At this point however, we have achieved the first three goals fairly reliably. I mean even before I got her hocks done, we could have a Dressage school (and even tests) where May was soft and obedient and it looks mostly lovely.
Now, we need to go forward into real contact, travel completely straight, and reliably push off a hind foot into upward transitions and rock back in downward transitions. This is very, very hard for my horse. Mostly, because of her conformation. As a quick reminder, the below is what I am working with:
What do I see? A big shoulder with a weak and slightly camped out and pretty weak hind end. Also, short legs… The hind end and topline development has actually come along nicely since we took this photo thanks to a lot of shoulder in work and the hock injections. As a result, during our lesson on Tuesday we dug into the hard stuff.
Immediately, my trainer got after me for letting her be “good enough” in the bridle. Oh you’re kind of giving and lifting and coming round? Great, here’s your release. This habit comes from many years of riding tense or green (or both) horses. May is at the point where she is really neither of those things, so I need to ask for more. More connection, more straightness, more thoroughness. So we did. And it was HARD. We set up a ~15M circle with two cones or blocks to form a path between the four points of the circle.
Going to the left, we worked in between the circle pretty consistently. We added in counter flexion whenever she lost her rhythm and balance and we mostly worked on asking her to bend and connect into my right hand without losing her shoulder and rhythm. This went fairly well until we went to canter. Then I couldn’t get the left canter lead. We weren’t getting the right lead either. We were getting the right in the front and the left in the back… Stellar. What is that on a Dressage test? A two or a zero? It happened about 3 times before my trainer stopped me and explained that I kept losing her shoulder to the right through the transition (not shocking). So we tried again, taking a more collected canter and getting her entirely straight before asking for the transition. And Voila! Wonderful transition to a really nice canter.
Again, the goal was to get her to bend, then straight and counterbid if I lost the shoulder or lost her balance. This VERY hard for May at the canter still, so it’s not something we are asking for with true connection yet. It’s more introducing the idea of her holding herself up and being flexible through her body. Hard Hard stuff for May May. (and me, but ssshhhh).
Then we changed directions, and it all fell apart. I love to pull with my right hand. I mean I LOVE it. When the covers get pulled off of my fiancé in the middle of the night, you can guarantee my right hand did it. So what do I do to try and get my horse off my right leg and into my left hand? I pull with my right hand and twist my left wrist around. This is not good. Ever. At all. So my trainer gave me a very advanced piece of training equipment. A crop. To put under my thumbs and ride with. Why? So that my hands have to stay straight and even and in front of me. Damn.
Then, we started working on May’s propensity to through herself through my right leg and not bend or take up contact at all. Basically, our circle exercise turned into this (on purpose):
The first, and most logical question, is what this is. This is what is looks like when you repeatedly start with a very small (~10M circle) and leg yield out to the 15M circle for a rotation. Then out to 20M. Then move back into the smaller circle without losing the bend and repeating. May HATED this. My right hand HATED this. However, May did start to take contact with the left rein and move off my right leg. We cantered and did the 15M and 20M rotation a couple of times. It was… ok. There were great moments interspersed between moments of me trying not to drop the crop while shortening my reins and leaning over my hands.
Both May and I left the lesson sweaty and sore and I think a bit frustrated. Dressage can be really fun, and I do love it, but sometimes I wish it wasn’t so hard.