When I’m there, he’s there

Within the last month or so, I feel like I’ve finally started to really, truly, legitimately have moments in which I’m riding a connected horse, back to front, in good balance – for the first time, ever. While still fleeting, I can recreate these moments fairly consistently on my own, without Christy micromanaging my every move which is what it took to get me to this point.

Well, that and a lot of riding – five to six days a week, for four years.  Along the way, I also read a variety of books, educated myself going to clinics and shows, and (most importantly) am getting myself into better, stronger physical shape.   Despite these efforts, I am still schooling training level, meaning that I’m probably lacking in the natural talent department (though Christy does note that I’ve started over three times, twice with horses that were very green to dressage, so I guess I feel marginally better.)

That said, I have progressed from simply godawful (no steering, no seat and no clue) to being able to put together a correct Intro level test, and over the last year (with Maddie) starting to delve into some more interesting things, like trot lengthenings and leg yields. I’ve also developed better feel, timing and a certain degree of instinctive responsiveness.

However, that work on Maddie – despite the fact it represents what was technically my most “advanced” work – pales in comparison to the awakening I’ve had over the last month.  And after attending the Dressage Through the Levels symposium with Steffen Peters and Janet Foy this weekend, I think I can finally elucidate what I’ve experienced.

Simply put, generating correct gaits and (at my level at least) movements is easy – dead easy – when the rider is the correct, balanced position, and the horse is connected.

Mind you, getting to that point of correct balance is a bitch, at least for me.  But during those fleeting moments when I’ve been properly aligned, I’ve felt some amazing things.  I’ve felt Derby’s walk transform from a pokey shuffle into a fluid, rolling, swingy walk with overstep.  It feels unlike any walk I experienced on Jag or Mads, and Maddie was a much fancier horse.  I’ve felt him pushing from his hind, over his back, and into my hands at the trot, and I’ve felt that trot come uphill.  I’ve had the odd lovely, quiet, prompt, balanced canter depart, and a couple days ago I felt his back come up when we were cantering, and almost fell off from surprise.  I’ve done a leg yield that felt like floating, with the horse moving away from a quiet aid.

When I’m in that sweet spot, I don’t have to even think about muscling the horse into a movement.  I don’t need to kick kick kick to get the work done – I can whisper, and he hears me. When I’m there, he’s there.   Once I’m there, it’s easy.

When I’m not there, it’s hard.  I struggle to keep the horse going and bending, and invariably, as I’m trying to muscle him into one thing, something else goes wrong – a haunch drifts in, a shoulder pops out.  I’m getting better at recognizing those moments and responding correctly by fixing what’s wrong with me, rather than trying to correct the horse.  Because when I’m out of whack, I can’t blame the horse when impulsion slows or a haunch drifts.  What he does is in response to the ride I’m giving him at the moment.

At the Foy/Peters symposium, the second day started with a session on rider biomechanics. It wasn’t quite what I expected, but was marvelously illustrative nonetheless.  Two lovely riders on lovely, well trained horses were the “victims” for this session.  I say ‘victims’ because Janet Foy instructed the riders to adopt a variety of poor postures, enabling us to see the effect unsteady hands or uneven weights in the stirrups or posting with all your weight on your toes had on their horses.   She emphasized the point that in most cases, the problem with the movement in the test was the direct result of a rider inadequacy – not the willful behavior of the horse.

So now I’m doubly aware of those easy moments that signal I’ve found the sweet spot. Challenge is to figure out how to live there, not visit infrequently.

About Sarah Skerik
Sarah Skerik is an experienced digital marketing executive and strategist with a long track record of success in content marketing, social media, demand generation, event marketing, sales enablement, product management and business development.

6 Responses to When I’m there, he’s there

  1. Net says:

    Have you only been riding for four years? Or only doing dressage for four years? Because if it’s riding at all, you’re doing REALLY well! And if not, well, that means you’re like the rest of us with habits to break that want to kick our butts! 🙂

    I had my mom take photos while I rode yesterday (I’m hoping the video camera I’ve been promised happens this holiday season…), and one thing I saw was that my position isn’t staying where I want it outside of lessons. My pelvis is still tipping forward more, and in my case it happens when I don’t think enough on pushing my rib cage back.

    The other thing I saw was the horses were doing better than I thought! Checking out photos with a much improved position on my part showed me that both horses move FAR better with less effort than they did with my previous position. My TB was trying to contain his brain because of the screaming, trampoline-jumping, bike-racing, goat-chasing kids next door, and doing admirably well… but I was just trying to keep him with me mentally and not trying for spectacular. Mom got a photo of a trot lengthening which was just me asking for more forward, not trying to lengthen – but which would have made me crow with glee if I had gotten it not too long ago!

    I can’t find the picture as no images are showing up for me on flickr… but it’s in the first several here if you care: http://www.flickr.com/photos/netg15 (The other horse, Bella, is Mom’s Friesian-cross trail horse who is surprising me with her ability to develop as a dressage horse. Very nice surprise!)

    • Sarah Skerik says:

      Annette, you are too kind. I didn’t ride much as a kid – the most I rode was one semester in college, when I took riding for a gym credit. Basic w-t-c stuff. I’ll do a retrospective post one of these days and will dig up some old pix and video.

      I’m fond of saying that I didn’t realize how badly I rode until I had been riding pretty seriously for a couple years. I wasn’t able to appreciate the depths of my incompetence until I developed more understanding! So, even though I have yet to get into the ring at training level, I’m pleased with my progress. Robert Dover, Janet Foy and Steffen Peters all emphasized the importance of good fundamentals, and I am still working on the basics.

      Regarding your pics – wow, that’s some uphill trot! That hind end engagement in the first is fantastic! Well done! I wonder if we could entice you to start your own riding journal online! 🙂

      • Net says:

        I actually want to get around to starting a blog. I’d like to be able to look back at challenges/things I learned as I go!

        I especially would like to now that I have exciting things going on with Mom’s trail horse. I knew my horse had potential when I got him, which is why I got him. Mom’s Friesian cross trail horse is cute, but not ideally built for dressage, and super lazy. Well, until I started riding her regularly that is! She keeps surprising me as she shows me she has some talent after all, and as she has become far more forward than my TB. Our rides now consist of her repeatedly asking me if it’s time for another upward transition – which makes for a pretty fun ride!

  2. Net says:

    Oh, and look. I posted that flickr wouldn’t work, and it decided to work!
    Tucson trot

    What gets me is how low his haunches are in comparison to his withers! He’s not using himself as well as he can, either. You can tell a difference between that and, say, the lack of bend in hind end joints in this one:
    Tucson trot

  3. I’m totally in awe of your dedication to riding-I wish my butt could get in the saddle that much (and, um, it COULD…I just don’t). Seriously, that and having Derby as a partner is going to make alllll the difference…like you don’t know this:) I also love that you used the word “elucidate”. I’ve always wanted to! 🙂 It’s been a pleasure reading about your journey.

    • Sarah Skerik says:

      Sarah, I think it’s less about dedication and more about obession. Wanting a horse for 40 years and then finally getting one is a powerful motivator. I’m excited about riding every night – even on those really cold winter nights. I know. Crazy. At least I’m among people who understand!

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