October 27, 2011 1 Comment
Man plans, God laughs, and horses are in cahoots. After our breakthrough rides last week, it appears that Derby might be re-abscessing in his left hind. He’s sound walking but he’s really protecting that foot when trotting. I’ve recommenced soaking and wrapping. This hiccup is a real disappointment, but things happen for a reason. The horse needs to keep moving. So we’re walking.
This is a perfect opportunity for me to practice something I heard Robert Dover say over and over and over again in the clinic. “Walk perfectly,” he insisted, adding, “Everything is related back to walking well. You have to get the basics of being correct in the bridle. You have to be on the aids at the walk in order to be on the aids everywhere else.”
Christy often asks me “Is this the walk that has a canter in it?” and often my answer is no. Most of the time, frankly, I phone in walking. And that’s a bad habit. I’m letting the horse relax fully when walking, often dropping the reins.
Dover took the idea of the-walk-that-has-a-canter-in-it further, describing collected walk as being a state in which anything – any gait, any movement – is possible. He spoke frequently about how collection is additive – you add energy, rather than taking it away. While collection is absolutely months and months away for Derby and me, building energy isn’t. Listening to Robert, I became more fully aware of how important creating that energy is. Without forward energy, you don’t have contact, engagement and roundness. Without forward energy, you don’t have dressage. Period.
So I decided to spend this time when we’re in walk only mode working on walking perfectly.
As I warmed up last night, I made a point (as I always do) to find my seatbones, and balance myself from there. I know I”m doing it right when Derby abandons his shuffle and strides out properly. After I found that moment, I next asked him to stretch into a free walk. It didn’t happen, due to the fact that I had no real contact. I regrouped, balancing myself, picking up contact, encouraging the horse to stay forward, and then getting a little stretch. Just a little.
I decided to try an exercise Christy had me do with Maddie that helped me get the mare onto the bit. Walking, I flexed Derby left, and then right, from my seat, holding the reins quietly. This was better but still not great.
While I thought I stood up in my stirrups, practicing balancing myself standing straight up. Derby plodded on, I held myself in balance standing with loop in the rein, and thought and thought.
As we walked around the arena, I could feel Derby’s walk changing. His back started to swing, he was pushing from his back end, and I could feel his stride really lengthening. This was a niiice walk. Really nice.
Gently, breathlessly, I sat back into the saddle. Derby’s stride immediately shortened, losing energy. Okay, I had an idea what was causing this – my hip angle. I had worked on this before. Taking my legs off the horse, I felt my seatbones. Keeping my legs off the horse, I followed his motion, and the stride started to lengthen. All right. Progress. I picked up the reins, closed my legs …. and lost the energy again.
Dang. I decided to seek professional help. After I dismounted, I told Christy that I wanted lessons after all, and that we were going to work on the walk.
So tonight we did just that. I told Christy all about last night. She reminded me of one key thing I had forgotten to do – to emphasize keeping my hip angle open while in the saddle. How to achieve this? We repeated an exercise she had me do previously – after finding my seatbones, she has me lengthen from the hip, being sure to unclench my knees, and with my calves softly against the horse. This is Christy’s way of getting me – sore knees, tight hips, weak ankles and toes that want to point straight out to the sides – to relax and soften my legs so they can drape around the horse.
From there, she reminded me to open my hip angle, by making a point of sitting tall, lifting my chest. It felt like I was leaning way, way too far back. But no, despite the exaggerated feel, Christy assured me I was sitting straight.
The change underneath me was instant and significant. With my hip angles open, Derby strode forward nicely. This was progress. Christy had me pick up contact and close my legs, encouraging him to go even more forward. He trotted off (though his back was up and it felt pretty nice!) but that wasn’t the result we we intended. Christy had spotted the problem, however. In that moment, I hunched my shoulders forward (I’m told) which totally weakened my position, causing me to lean my body forward. We tried it again, this time with emphasis on holding the reins (like side reins, Christy suggested) and keeping my shoulders still and back.
At that point, I had an ah-ha moment. Derby was striding forward and pulling strongly into the contact. This is what I had been seeking! This was the nice, connected walk I had admired in others. This was the sort of walk that had a canter in it. Or a halt. Or, for that matter, anything.
I worked on developing that feel and memory during my lesson. I lost the nice walk, and regained it, over and over. Tomorrow night I hope we’ll add some lateral work. We made some real progress tonight.