Love it, hate it
April 7, 2011 Leave a comment
A key component of rebuilding my seat (and my confidence) involves balance. Christy is focusing on this in our lessons, and I’m spending a lot of time out of the saddle – standing, hovering in a half seat, and working in two-point. And I have a lot more to go. Christy reminded me of an article in last month’s Dressage Connections about the repetitions required to establish new habits and muscle memory. The number is in the tens of thousands.
I had a fun ride last night on an adorable little Quarter Horse named Tucker. He’s an exceptionally fancy QH, with nice gaits and lots of training. Tucker is mirror, reflecting his rider’s aids, and because he’s got so much training, he notices every message his rider sends – intentionally or otherwise. I can feel how off my timing is when I’m late on softening, or when I respond to slowly to one of his lightning quick little evasions – popping a shoulder out here, a hip inward there.
I was sorely, sorely tempted to push all the buttons and ride this fun little horse to the best of my ability. But the ride wasn’t pretty, and Christy pointed out that my aids probably weren’t as clear or well timed as they could be. Oh, and by the way, my leg was curling back again. So instead of pushing the fun buttons, I went back to cultivating a balanced seat.
Christy has me doing three exercises that are brutal, and brutally effective. All tax the squishy muscles I need to develop, none are terribly fun, and all take direct aim at improving my lower leg position and stability.
Post – Stand – Post
The first exercise Christy has me use (and return to immediately if things go south) is posting two beats, and then standing two beats, post two, stand two, rinse and repeat. It’s not terribly fun for me because when I stand for two beats, balance is a real challenge. However, building the feel for balance is one of the key outputs of this exercise. And the fact that as I stand, my leg invariably is in (and remains in) the correct positi0n is also helpful. This is an exercise I’m going to be doing a lot, on every horse I ride.
The next exercise Christy has me do has much the same effect as the first, in that it tests my balance while building a steadier lower leg. She has me ride a posting trot, but doesn’t allow my butt to touch the saddle. I drop into a half-seat instead of sitting all the way down. For extra fun, Christy will have me mix the two exercises. I’m grunting and swearing by the time I complete one lap.
The lower-leg-curling habit is most evident when I want to use my leg. I need to get it through my head that using my leg does not mean trying to reach back and poke the horse in the flank – it means applying pressure (or the spur) with my leg at or near “home” position – at the girth. Using my leg correctly and building muscle memory is something else I need to practice, practice and practice some more.
Stand & Steer
To work on getting the feel of using my leg while keeping it in the correct position, Christy has me stand, and steer the horse from my leg. I can’t curl my legs back when standing – this is a genius little exercise that I can’t evade. As I stand, I experiment with using my inside and outside aids. There’s absolutely no question in my mind that my leg aids are much more clear and distinct when I do this, because I get crisp responses from all the horses I ride – even Oliver, who has no dressage training to speak of. As a bonus, this exercise requires balance, as well.
Riding Tucker was fun, and will only be more so when I recapture my ability to ride with a modicum of balance and precision. In the meantime, I’m practicing, and recalling what George Morris said about building new habits: first it’s hard, then it gets easy, then it becomes habit, and, finally, it’s beautiful. For what it’s worth, I’m firmly in the “hard” stage!