Pat your head, rub your tummy

Putting it together - still leg, bending, round horse.

I squeezed in a lesson tonight, because we’re slated to have temperatures so cold tomorrow that riding will be questionable at best, and working the horses would be a bad idea.

As I mounted up, I told Christy that I had done my homework last night, posting laps keeping my feet light in the stirrup, while feeling my inner thighs burn.  While things were easier last night, I admitted to Christy that I had found putting it together – getting the horse round and bending, for example, was tough for me while I was also thinking about carrying myself correctly.  I know the muscles aren’t there yet, but I told her I wanted to start working on adding aids as I develop strength.  Multitasking, I said, was tough.

“Like pat your tummy, rub your head,” said Christy.  “Okay, then! ”

She put us on a circle, asking me to spiral in and out at the trot.  Keeping good rhythm was non-negotiable.  Off we went, and I am happy to report that I’m finding it easier and easier to carry myself correctly in the saddle.   We set up the bend by softening the inside rein, and pushing the horse into the outside rein from my inside leg.  However, I was so fixated on my position that I forgot some other essentials.  Christy reminded me that when bending, to move my outside leg back a bit. Duh! I couldn’t believe I had forgotten that, but that’s what I do when I’m focusing on one thing – it’s often to the exclusion of everything else.  Slowly, she put the pieces back together, stopping every now and then to have me stand a couple beats to realign myself.

With Christy’s help, we were able to produce nice circles with respectable quality, and best of all, I was maintaining my steady lower leg and carrying myself correctly. Definite progress.

I think he's man enough to wear pink!

 

Managing details

Today Derby and I worked for about 40 minutes, still focusing on trot work, and still sticking to the compacted footing on the rail.   That limited my ability to do much, so I focused on doing quality work, as simple as it was.  This meant good upward transitions that were crisp while keeping the horse on the bit, working in a quality trot, with the horse round and forward, and solid downward transitions, at the letter and maintaining quality. Essentially, I worked on managing the details, which is a crucial aspect of riding a good test.

I also focused on another important detail, which was steadying my lower legs, by keeping the majority of my weight on my thighs – not on the balls of my feet, or on my butt.   Until I keep that lower leg steady, I’m not allowing myself to wear spurs – when my leg is loose, I inadvertently spur the horse, and even though I use short, rounded, gentle spurs, the last thing I want to do is deaden the horse to my aids.  Even more importantly, I need to have control over my lower leg if I’m going to deliver aids with any sort of precision. I started out in two-point, did some stand-stand-post-post to feel my leg steadying, and then paid attention to where my weight was resting while I posted. I was rewarded with an easy, forward trot from Derby, who is very inclined to peter out as soon as I fall out of my balanced seat.

We get to recommence lessons tomorrow night. I’m glad we’re back to work!

We’re back!

I hopped on Derbs for our first ride since late December, and he felt great. I took it easy – he’s had more than two weeks off, which followed a really spotty riding schedule during the holidays.  We worked for about 25 minutes, but had a good ride nonetheless.

As we warmed up walking, I tested whether or not Derby was still responding to my seat.  As we worked some serpentines and shoulders-in, the contact got stronger and steadier, and we had nice walk cadence.

Moving into the trot I stayed on the rail, where the footing is more compacted.  Derby’s heel bulb is still tender, and  deep footing puts pressure on the sore spot.  I wrapped the heel before riding, and he didn’t take a bad step – but still, I was careful.

I woke up my riding muscles with a couple laps in two-point, and then alternated standing two beats, and posting two beats.  That exercise reinforces my balance and helps steady my lower leg.  Because we weren’t doing anything off the rail, I simply did some half halts into a smaller gait, and then asked for more trot down the long sides. I wasn’t wearing spurs or carrying a whip, but Derby complied willingly.

As we finished up, I dropped my stirrups and worked on transitions to halt, half halting and holding my core as we halted to invite Derby to stay on the bit and round.

His back was up and the contact felt really good.  We’ll do a bit more work tomorrow, and will have a lesson on Monday. Yay!

The end of the week

After three great rides, I was hoping to keep the momentum going but Derby was feeling the effects of the stepped up work ( at least that’s what I’ve concluded, and I had overdone things in a workout earlier that day and had almost zero in the tank.  Our work was OK, and we got the canter both ways, but Derby was resistant and registered his discontent with a little buck.   Friday the horses were back outside (the icky weather kept them inside for a couple days earlier in the week) and he had the day off.

We started today with a set of new shoes, but Derby was still a bit uncomfortable for the farrier, and I had to free longe him to loosen up his back end so he’d tolerate getting his hind feet trimmed.

Our ride – my first on my own since the clinic – was pretty good.  I worked on lateral work, especially leg yielding the trot, and did some canter work both ways, and his attitude was much improved compared to Thursday’s as well.  Overall the contact was pretty good, as were the quality of the gaits.

After we rode, I put him on the longe, for the prescribed longe work.  He was swapping leads pretty badly earlier in the week, but today I got good quality work both ways.  I do hope we’re well along the road to recovery and loosening (and strengthening) those big muscles.

One week, redux.

My improved poster lets Derby move more freely

I’m continuing to pick at my position and posture with Christy, but the quality of our rides continues to improve. On Monday, Derby and I unveiled the “new us” to Christy, and she was very happy with the significant progress she saw.  The improvement in forward and energy is evident when compared to my work prior to the show last month (“One Week.)

I still have a ton of work to do, but I’m struck by how my position influences the horse.  Really, it’s probably no surprise.  These animals can feel flies land on their hides.  The shifts in weight and balance that we riders think are subtle probably aren’t, in reality.

Now that I’m better balanced, Derby is moving forward much more freely.  And without a lot of help from me, he’s also moving uphill.  I tell you, once I get my act together, I’m going to have some fun with this sweet, lovely horse.

Christy shot some video so I could see how we’re doing, and one thing really jumped out at me.  While I sit fairly nicely circling left, the same cannot be said going right.  I am reverting back to the tendencies I exhibited earlier on Maddie – weighting one rein more heavily (the left one) and sitting crookedly (and unevenly) in the saddle.  This video doesn’t lie.  You can see me start to lean forward and close my hip when I change directions.

This unfortunate shot sums up what we started to tackle in tonight’s lesson, in which we worked on overall balance and took aim specifically on correcting my crookedness.  I have my homework for the weekend, and I hope to report good progress within a few days.

I'm starting to collapse.

Puzzle pieces

He *can* stretch down and out.

Finally.  Finally finally finally.  We had a really decent ride today, following a nice effort yesterday.   Things are starting to come back together, and I’m relieved.

When we started picking at my position a couple weeks ago, one of the things I was struggling with was getting Derby to move forward beyond a sluggish trot.  Christy theorized that my closed hip angle was actually sending Derby “whoa” signals, even as I was asking for “go.”   As we worked on my position, Derby started moving out when the situation up on his back improved.  That was great but those moments were fleeting.

The good news is that things are definitely better.  Yesterday we had a very nice ride.  Derby was a lot more forward and I worked hard on staying balanced, especially as I circle to the right, since I’ve noticed that I tend to collapse to the right, causing Derby to lean inward.  I rode lots of patterns. paying attention to my balance, position and aids going left, and then maintaining those going to the right.   The quality of Derby’s trot and our balance through the turns improved.

Losgelassenheit

This long German dressage term doesn’t have an exact English translation.  It means looseness, but with suppleness, energy and throughness.  It’s hard to describe in words, but I see it now when I watch Christy ride Remy, or when she lets Liam stretch after they’ve been working.  The horses go forward with enthusiasm, but with balance.  They are on Christy’s aids, and work beautifully over their backs.  I want to do that.  And today, we came close.

With images of Christy’s recent beautiful rides on Remy fixed in my mind, I mounted up today, determined to build on my good ride yesterday.  Right off the bat, I had a really nice, swingy walk.  Derby was marching along with purpose and energy.  After walking around on the buckle, I  gathered up the reins and started to work on suppling.  We flexed left, flexed right and did some shallow serpentines. The contact improved, at least it felt like it did, so I decided to check.  Turning onto a long diagonal, I fed Derby some additional rein, and he stretched nicely.  I sponged the outside rein, and pushed with my inside seatbone.  He stretched a bit more.  This was a real improvement.

Circling right, I asked Derby to trot, and got a prompt response, and a decent trot. I repeated some of the suppling exercises we did at the walk.  The contact improved even more,  as did Derby’s trot.   Taking advantage of the much-improved and steady contact, I decided to work on adjustablity within the trot.  Heading into a turn on the short side, I half halted, and asked Derby to hold a smaller trot, and he did.  Turning onto the long side, I kept the contact, and increased my my post. Derby responded hugely, stepping out into a really solid, forward, ground-covering trot, pushing from behind.  I half halted into the next corner, and felt his back really come up.  Down the next long side, his trot increased in power.    For fun, we did some nice shoulder in, and Derby responded easily and willingly.

I was thrilled. Around we went, changing directions, getting quality and power both ways.  We repeated the shoulder in.  Derby’s back was up, and it felt great. so I fed him a bit more rein produce a stretch as we trotted.  I did dump him onto his forehand, but I sat up, half-halted, and we recovered.

This was, by far, the best ride I’ve had on Derby to date.  I think Christy really nailed it when she spotted the fact that my old position was blocking Derby’s forward gears.  I’m excited for my lesson tomorrow night to show the boss what we’ve found!

One week

Derby and I have been working really hard recently, and we stepped it up this week.  The quality of the work we’re doing has improved almost exponentially.  We have a long way to go, but progress is a great motivator.  I feel like we’re really starting to generate some quality movements, and I’m finally, finally starting to ride.  I’m not saying that we’re there.  Not at all.  But we’re better!

Six days ago:

Last night:

And a special thanks to Christy, who’s been tireless this week!