Last night, we had our first Dressage lesson in a while. In all honesty, the purpose of this lesson was two-fold, I felt like May had kind of been blowing through me a lot lately, and I wanted to see if the magnawave/massage session had any effect on the flat, where it would be easier to assess than over fences.
When it comes to the blowing off thing, it’s not (usually) a blatant throwing of the head and running off with me. Although, it can be. It’s more that she sort of gives me something, I ask for a little more, and she… doesn’t give me any more. Or I make a correction, and she goes “Nah, I got this.” The correct response is typically to ask more firmly (Ask, Tell, Demand sequence).
However, I have a tendency to back off and blame myself. Oh she must not be moving off my leg because I am sitting wrong, or blocking her, or whatever. So by myself, I might back down. This hasn’t been an issue for the last 4 years because we were securely in the position of “things I know.”
I am fairly comfortable in my ability to get a horse to bend, move through its body, connect into the bridle, etc etc etc. At least through a training level frame. When it comes to First Level stuff, I have gotten enough training to generally know how to put those most of those moves on a horse.
Now though, I am asking for more. I am asking for better leg yields, true shoulder in, and the beginnings of real counter canter work. And truly, I don’t really know what I am doing.
Case and point: Last night, my trainer asked me to do a 20M circle at the trot. Cool. Simple. Got it. We played around with my lack of geometry a bit (oops), and then she asked me to do a shoulder in along the circle. Our shoulder ins down the long side are solid enough that we should be able to do this exercise, and it is a great way to add flexibility through the rib cage (one of our issues) and encourage the hind end to come under the horse (another issue).
I tried for about half a circle before doing a walk transition and walking over to Mandy, “yeah, what am I supposed to be doing?”
I realized that I was trying to pull her around the circle with my inside rein (not helpful), while trying to shove her haunches out with my inside leg (also… not helpful). A shoulder-in can originally be guided with the inside aids, but it really is an outside aid exercise. So… I knew I was doing it wrong, but I Could Not wrap my head around what I SHOULD be doing. If I was riding by myself, I would drop the exercise and go back to something I definitely know how to do.
Mandy, bless her, did not miss a beat. She started drawing diagrams in the sand about the 20 cm circle, the angle I was looking for and what May’s body should be doing. I nodded along, that all made sense. Then, she broke down the aids for me. Showing me the “extreme” versions of what my aids should be doing and then connecting that back to how that will influence May’s body to engage in the shoulder-in move.
A few more nods, and I headed back out to my 20M circle. This time? It only took me about 1/4 of the circle to get it. At that point, Mandy starts yelling at me about what I should be feeling, “Feel her coming off that inside rein? Feel the inside hind coming under her body more?” These little tidbits of feel become my way of checking in when I do this on my own. My aids are doing X, so am I getting Y?
(off topic, but I found this after my lessons, and I thought it was pretty helpful: Random French Dude’s Advice on Shoulder-In)
Going in the other direction (tracking right), the exercise was substantially more difficult for us, so when we got a couple of good steps, I let May move forward into a straighter contact. However, this time, I was able to more effectively tackle the more difficult side because I had gotten the “Feel” cues from my trainer already.
To me, these are the building blocks of good instruction. My trainer has given me the tools to continue my horse’s training beyond my lessons. As for the magnawave, I am not sure I really felt any change in May’s way of going after it. It clearly felt good, but I don’t think the right shoulder issue is a pain thing, as much as it is a training thing. As a result, a pain management tool didn’t fix our training. Oh well. 😉