The Balancing Rein
December 17, 2010 3 Comments
The Rettger Dressage Interactive Dressage & Blogging Team was fully represented last night at the barn. I got to ride with Liz, who pens the Loving Cloud blog, and Steph, who authors Dressage Adventures. And, of course, in the center of it all was Christy, who has been writing the popular TB At X blog for a couple years.
And I finally had a good ride on Maddie last night – one in which fear and trepidation melted away. In fact, I had to check myself – we were doing some good work in the trot including leg yields – and there were a couple times where it seemed like the most natural, logical thing to do would be to lift the mare into a canter – but I didn’t because I really wanted to keep to the task at hand. But the fact that my heart was *there* was significant.
The start to the lesson was not ideal. The arena was full and one of the horses – a spookier sort – was acting up, and some of the others were reacting. I decided to delay my lesson a bit and let the rodeo come to a close. After about 10 minutes, the arena cleared, and I walked Mads out. Just then, however, a horse in the back barn started behaving badly – there were loud banging noises and the owner was loudly correcting the errant critter.
Mads went on red alert – whites of eyes showing. The situation in the back barn had her full attention. We stood for a minute, and I hoped she’d relax. I scratched her neck and picked at her mane – something she loves – and exhaled deeply, blowing air noisily out of my mouth. She did relax – momentarily – dipping her head toward me, softening her eye, and exhaling with a sigh in return. But then there was more banging, and she was back on red alert.
Maddie wasn’t being bad, but she wasn’t paying attention to me, either. I wish she’d take some lessons from Cloud, who seems to always have his attention riveted on Liz. He followers her like a puppy, and when they ride, he always has an ear flicked back, listening to her. Like Christy and Liam, Liz and Cloud have a true partnership that I envy, and hope to emulate.
So I put Mads back on the longe, and we worked on my longing skills, which really means we worked on my ability to read, interpret and influence the horse’s body language. Mads was good. She transitioned neatly up and down, promptly and with no fuss. And soon she had an ear tuned in on me. So I put the stirrups back on my saddle and mounted up.
And I felt great. No trepidation, no ramen-noodle legs. We were relaxed and got to work. Pretty soon we were in a solid working trot – the mare was over her back and tracking up. It was time to work on leg yields, something that I thought I had some problems with.
It turns out my problems are less about the leg yield itself, and more about setting myself and Mads up for the leg yield. You can give flawless cues, but if your horse isn’t through and fully into the outside rein, you aren’t going to get a successful yield. Now, I know this. But I was having trouble feeling it, and, I’ll admit, sometimes trying to cheat and asking for a yield at the wrong time – when we didn’t have good bend or a good connection.
So Christy had us do the spiral in/spiral out exercise at the trot, in which one really controls the turn and the diameter of the circle with the outside rein. I’ve done this before, but for some reason, things clicked tonight. Maybe it was because Christy described that inside rein as a “balancing rein” – that description really made sense to me. I was doing a good job for once of not hanging on that rein. Instead, I played on it, softening, squeezing, and testing my contact and trueness of bend by releasing it altogether here and there. In the process, I produced the. loveliest. trot. as we circled right – which is a much more difficult direction for Mads. She was round and engaged. I asked for the yield on the circle, and felt her step smoothly out. “Good! That’s it! You’ve got it!” Christy affirmed what I was feeling from her spot in the middle of our circle. We changed direction, and it only got better.
What was my breakthrough tonight? Really, it was another lesson in educating my seat, and learning to really feel throughness – that magical combination of bend, and roundness, and tracking up and on-the-bit that results in the most spectacular feeling of connected nimbleness.
Another great lesson, brought to me by Christy — with an able assist from my very good mare.