My lesson yesterday with Tina was perfection. Despite Murray having a light week thanks to the saddle terrorist (and he’s getting another day off today thanks to the dentist!) and having a near-mental-breakdown during tacking up (the rain was going soft-HARD-soft-HARD on the roof and being generally annoying), he really went to work when we got in the arena. I haven’t had a lesson with Tina, my trainer’s dressage trainer, since January, just because of timing, money, shows, etc. and I have spent the last ten months working my butt off so I was hoping it would reflect in our ride today.
I set myself up for success by bringing my whip out to the arena with me, a mistake I made on Tuesday that resulted in just a horrible behind-the-leg ride, and having clean tack. I rode with a good friend of mine and her more experienced horse, and Tina just had us work on slightly different things while the other took walk breaks. I had a quick warm up: a few brisk walk laps around the arena, some long-rein trot laps with transitions made only with my seat, canter both directions, and then into the working trot. Tina always warms us up a bit with some really basic trot work in both directions, and asks riders to get their horses really over their backs with a loose, rhythmical pace that is comfortable for both of you, but also ahead of the leg. There’s no nagging for more pace with Tina, she expects horses to keep up with things all by themselves, and not for riders to constantly be pushing or asking for a little more trot with the seat. Also, if Tina doesn’t like your way of going or your horse’s throughness, the lesson doesn’t continue until you’ve gotten closer to her working ideal. Her main tool with inexperienced horses is to encourage more longitudinal flexion through lateral flexion, so overbending your horse to the inside, straightening, a little bend to the outside, and always giving and praising for getting what you want.
Even in the beginning, Tina commented on Murray’s improvement this year. He is super light and really sensitive and responsive, and after ten months of working on leg yield, shoulder in, a spiraling in and out he’s finally gotten with the program and really moves through his back and off both of my legs (to some degree, anyway). Tina had me deepen his frame a little, because “he wants to drop the base of his neck,” and had me shorten and plant the inside rein a little and give with the outside. When Murray yielded to the inside rein by both flexing his neck inwards and lowering it, I could soften my hands, and I could feel him lift his back a little more. Murray didn’t love love this, and his head would come up a bit every so often, so I just half halted a tiny bit, and would plant again with the inside if he really objected. Tina also had me flex him to the outside on one side of the circle, then return to the normal circle track, and this helped Murray flex too. I have felt for a little while that he is falling out when we are circling right, so I kept a strong hold of my right rein tracking right, but as we’ll see in a moment, it’s more a problem with my body.
We moved from the warm up circle to leg yields from the quarter line to the wall. We tracked left first, which is the direction Murray leg yields better. He was perfectly straight to the wall, and his shoulders didn’t drift ahead on any of them, which was awesome. Another compliment from Tina, and a walk break. When we leg yielded left on the right track, Murray’s left shoulder kept falling towards the wall and so Tina had me ride it in a little shoulder in and then push him over. She stopped me after my second attempt at this, to point out that my upper body was twisted a left and I was leaning left, essentially trying to “pull” him over to the wall with my weight, which was causing him to fall through his shoulder. This is something I have suspected is happening for a few weeks, but haven’t had the forthwith to change on my own!! So coming down the next long side I over-exaggerated my own “bend” to the right and twisted my shoulders in, kept my weight in my right seat bone, and really pushed Murray off my inside leg. The right hind is harder for him to flex and reach under with, as it’s weaker, so it wasn’t as good as it had been in the other direction but we got a much straighter leg yield that way. Homework for next time!
After leg yields and a walk break came some counter canter work. I have just barely started working with M on counter canter, as all of my attempts to counter canter right are met with a lead change. I explained this to Tina, that when I try to keep a right bend but push him over he just changes clean. Instead of holding his bend, Tina suggested I let him pick his bend a bit more himself, keep a firm inside leg at the girth, and a firm outside leg behind the girth to encourage him to keep the canter on the right lead. We did a shallow loop on the long side, coming in to the quarter line and then cantering back out again, after establishing a quality canter, and to my great surprise, Murray counter cantered perfectly without trying to change leads! It felt very odd at first, as he reached over with his left leg and swept my hips from right to left, but that was right and now I know how it should feel for the future.
Left counter canter was a bit more difficult, as Murray’s weaker right-hind makes that canter more of a struggle in general. Cantering left I have the opposite problem – I lean to the right to try to compensate for him falling left. So once again, I had to put my weight on my inside seat bone, lengthen my left leg, and push him over to the wall. This worked moderately well, so once more, homework!
Finally, we did a little shoulder in at my request. I like to set up for shoulder in by doing a little circle – not quite a volte – and then just sliding up the wall. This worked very well left, and Tina said we looked great. Going right, I started by setting up my own inside bend again, and Murray immediately responded with a little shoulder-fore. That is one of the amazingly cool things about this horse: he is so sensitive! Oh, you turned your shoulders a little? Let me just turn mine to match you. When I went for the real shoulder-in though, Murray was overbent in his neck to the right and not bending enough with his body. Much as before I was asking for too much neck flexion and not controlling his outside shoulder well enough; Tina said that if I asked for less neck flexion and instead kept my left rein on his neck, and instead asked for more bend in the body we would get there.
I was ecstatically happy after the lesson. Murray did everything really well, and our hard work was really showing. Tina then iced the cake by saying that he was a star today, looking phenomenal, and I’d done some really good work with him this year.
Tina and my friends were laughing at me when I said “OH MY GOD THANK YOU I’VE BEEN WAITING SO LONG TO HEAR YOU SAY THAT!!!”
I told Tina that I have just been working my butt off with Murray and it is so great to know that we’ve been doing it correctly and are making the right type of progress. Especially because it never shows when we go away from home, it’s really great to hear an outside opinion tell me he is looking wonderful. She assured me that he is working very correctly, moving better than before, and that he really has been making progress.
“You were such a little shit before, and now you’re such a good horse!” Tina commented as Murray came over to her for some post-lesson appreciation. “It’s a miracle!”