I’ll take six pounds, please.

My list of things I must do in order to ride effectively is getting longer with each lesson.  But, happily, my riding is getting better so I’m not complaining.

Derbs and I have been busting our butts despite the heat.  Tonight we got a little relief, riding outside as a storm was blowing in. The temps were dropping and the strong breeze felt great.

At the outset, though, we were a bit stuck.  Derby was strung out, on his forehand, with his nose poking determinedly out. Like a cute little hunter.   See?

Looking like a hunter. Not a dressager. (Trashy pink outfit notwithstanding.)

After watching us go around ineffectually, unable to really change our way of going, Christy zeroed in on the problem du jour.  “Feather light contact is for finished Grand Prix horses and finished Grand Prix riders.  At the lower levels, you need a lot more contact.  If it feels like you have 2 lbs on the reins right now, increase it.  Take 6 lbs of contact.”

So I did.  Yes, I shortened the reins, but no, I didn’t crank Derby’s head in.  That’s not the way we roll at Rettger Dressage.  With my reins the appropriate length (over the withers, and not in my lap, for a change), I closed my fingers, and resolved to keep them closed. Moving off into a trot, I kept my elbows softly by my sides, not allowing them to creep forward.  At the same time, I checked my position to ensure I wasn’t blocking Derby’s movement, and I used my inside leg to get the back legs to really move.  The effect was immediate and profound.

The contact was steady, Derby rounded nicely and and was responsive, bending very nicely and correctly when asked.  The improvement was night and day.  Here’s a video clip Christy grabbed right after I made the change to taking more contact on the reins:

So, without further ado, here is my revised riding checklist:

  • Use the inside rein.  If he doesn’t respond to a softening of the inside rein, and continues to hang, get busy with the inside leg while insisting with the inside rein (e.g. a direct rein).  My desire to not hang on the inside rein has gone a bit too far.  I am allowed to use it.
  • When Derby feels “stuck” and braced against me, I need to mix it up.  Flex him, do serpentines and leg yields – anything to get that neck unbraced and softer.
  • Do as little as you can do but as much as you need to do to get the response you want – but be mindful.  If the horse doesn’t respond when I ask nicely, I have to next ask not-so-nicely.  Accepting no response results in a dull horse that’s dead to the aids.
  • Ride with my core engaged, and my leg long and draping around Derby’s sides.
  • Take – and hold – plenty of contact.  And don’t give it away by riding with loose elbows.

About Sarah Skerik
Sarah Skerik is an experienced digital business executive and strategist with a long track record of success in team leadership, employee development, marketing and business development.

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