May 15, 2013 1 Comment
I finished last season a more than a little frustrated with myself. Despite managing to qualify for my local GMO’s championships, we didn’t make it to the ring – Derbs had a meltdown that I couldn’t manage. There were some other failures – let’s just go ahead and use this word – too, including my inability to get Derby past a couple culverts on the way to the forest preserve trails near the barn.
There’s a common element in these failures, and it was this – I was abdicating most of the ride to Derby. I wasn’t riding him forward, round, into contact and on the bit. I wasn’t using a shoulder-in strategically, I wasn’t keeping control of the inside hind leg.
On paper, I knew all of this but for any combination of reasons I had never executed the theories in a real-life situation.
At the same time, I’ve continued to observe lots of Christy’s rides, and (since she’s the cerebral sort) we’ve talked through these issues as well. Numerous times I’ve heard her how she can feel when the horse she’s riding is going to spook, and instead of simply riding it, she manages it – and capitalizes it, channeling the energy into even more powerful forward movement.
Tonight – at the end of a ride that I was planning on shortening due to my still painful knee, I had the unexpected (aren’t they always) opportunity to test my learning.
I had given up on really riding and hopped up into two point to get a bit more work into Derby while also working a bit on my lower leg. We were in the outdoor ring, and as we came around the short side closest to the barn, Derby spooked and took off across the arena. Secure in my two-point, I went right with him, almost effortlessly.
Instead of being discombobulated by the abrupt change of course, I was able to ride it. I kept him cantering and then put him on a trot circle.
“Wow,” said Christy as we looped around her. It was a nice trot – he was through and connected. I pushed him off the circle and headed toward the other end, keeping him connected. He spooked again, and I caught sight of the source of his willies – a fly sheet left on the ground by another friend who was off hand grazing her horse. Sheesh.
I kept him at that end of the arena, and put him on another circle, insisting on bend and that he step under himself with his hind leg. Going back around, he tried to spook again but I was able to catch him and manage it. On the next go-round, he didn’t bat an eye. on the next go round, we stopped near the offending fly sheet, and Derbs stood nicely as I treated him to all manner of scritches up and down his neck. Then we walked off, turn around the other way, and I put him into a shoulder-in. Sure enough, he wanted to give the sheet the hairy eyeball but I was able to keep that inside hind where I wanted it. We maintained the bend, and walked by with little fuss. I asked for the trot, and we went by the sheet in an energetic shoulder in. I was holding him together, and helping him keep his marbles in their bag. We went by again. No problem this time. On the next pass, I stopped him again, and again he stood sensibly, and was the recipient of more scritches.
There was a time when I could ride the spook, but I wasn’t managing it. Tonight, finally, I felt effective. Derby was connected nicely, and I could feel the behavior coming and I could do something other than just let it happen. Which is kind of the whole point of dressage, when you get down to brass tacks. Those war horses of old had to gallop headlong into some scary situations.
As we walked a bit, Christy and I chatted. She said – and I agreed – that this was the best riding I’ve produced in terms of effectiveness. I was able to use the tools she’s given me, and apply them correctly to the situation. My instincts – and reactions – were correct.
“Now, we just have to get that kind of riding from you all the time,” Christy said as I dismounted. Which means she has some ideas brewing…