think, then do

I have this little problem with Murray wherein we’ll be cantering (or trotting) along happily, and I’ll think “I’ll transition to trot¬†at A” and suddenly at K I’m already trotting (or walking) and I wonder exactly how I got there. ¬†This really isn’t the world’s worst problem, to have a horse so sensitive that he can read my mind, but sometimes I really wish he would just stop¬†reading my mind. ¬†Doesn’t he¬†know that I have to think through the test a little ahead to prepare for the movements?!

When I was riding MIL’s big mare this weekend, I encountered a very similar problem. ¬†I would think about half halting to get her more round, and suddenly I’d be pitched forward and we were walking. ¬†Same thing in the canter to walk transitions. ¬†I’d think about walking, and suddenly we were trotting and¬†not where I wanted to do my transition!

This revealed one thing immediately about my riding: my legs are sissy nimby pimbies that should be more effective communicators (my upper thigh-lower butt region is screaming today!). ¬†The second thing, which MIL pointed out to me, is that when I think about doing something, my body weight shifts in anticipation of that thing.¬†So it’s really the sign of a good horse that Murray (and of course her impeccably trained mare) is responding to those minor changes in body weight. ¬†But to get what I want — which is a clean, forward down transition at a specific point — I must think first but keep my leg on,¬†and then¬†do.

This was much harder said than done. We practiced by working on some walk-canter-walk figure eights¬†with Tiny, aiming for a single stride of walk between the circles. ¬†As I would come around the corner and look at the center line, I started to think about walking and boom — Tiny was trotting (also not the goal!). ¬†MIL coached me literally step by step, telling me to sit tall and keep my leg on and half halt and try again! ¬†It was hard, really hard. ¬†To the point where I was literally saying under my breath¬†“walk, walk, walk” as I stretched tall but kept my leg on. ¬†I could feel Tiny shift her weight back to her hindquarters under me in preparation for the transition, and then would come the inevitable trotting that meant I had to try again.

The problem at this point wasn’t thinking and then doing, it was committing to what I was doing! ¬†I was so caught up with preparing for and keeping my leg on before the walk transition that I was failing to actually commit to the walk transition, so Tiny was doing exactly what I told her to, which was not what I actually wanted. ¬†Commitment. ¬†It’s important. ¬†I finally figured it out, muttering under my breath and with some rather graceless half halts to get the “commitment” part down. ¬†Thank goodness for schoolmasters!!

The wonderful thing about¬†“think, then do”¬†is that it is a natural half halt — you don’t even need more rein than a steady contact! ¬†Your body tells your horse to prepare for a down transition, but your leg says “not just yet”. ¬†Your horse naturally collects himself, shortens his stride, and (ideally) transfers some weight back to the haunches. ¬†Then, if you are quick and clever (quicker and cleverer than I) you can send your horse forward again with improved collection. ¬†This is the badassery of dressage.