Last week I had a dressage lesson with Tina which was really wonderful. In fact, I got the chance to watch Tina give a couple of lessons before mine which was incredibly educational. First up was Q, with her big red quarterhorse gelding. Q and her pony, Big, converted early this year from reining (I think) and Big loooooves jumping. What Big does not loooooove is dressaging. He thinks it is silly and hard and he would rather not, thanks.
Anyway, Big’s favourite trick is the constant threat of hanging whenever anyone tries to ask him to accept some contact. He’s like “oh, you want a feel of my mouth? That’s cool, here, have my whole neck too!” Tina straight off the bat was like “aha he has trained you!!” and had Q try to soften Big by over-flexing his neck and bending him around her inside leg. When Big wanted to hang, Q was to drop her outside rein and let him try to hang on just the one rein. I found this very fascinating, as I had assumed that Big’s non-traditional start to dressage (i.e. western for five years, then a year of english) might mean that Tina had to employ some more creative tactics to get him to soften and come over his back. Instead, her standard tactic to encourage longitudinal stretch by first encouraging lateral stretch worked, given enough time. Big just had to realize that the inside rein and inside leg would be there no matter what, and it was easier to just go with the flow. I’m very fascinated to see where this goes.
Tina also used a metronome app during one of her other lessons! The horse in question has an under-tempo walk so she pulled out a metronome and had the rider try to keep up with that pace. I am thinking I will need to buy myself one of those (especially as I now have a fanny pack with which to ride! MWAHAHAH!) and use it to get this other pony I know to bring his under-tempo walk up to speed.
My lesson centered around my main goal for the last few months, starting to get Murray to really understand the half-halt aid and begin to shift some weight behind. It was a dreamy, muggy, dusty day, so Tina opted to start us working at the canter first so that Murray wouldn’t be too tired for it. Last lesson Tina had me start to think about really slowing down the swing of my hips at the canter, “pausing” with my pelvis at the top/front of the arc, and holding Murray there, but also driving him forward. When I tried to practice this outside of our lesson, I found that Murray was just as likely to invert and lose all connection as he was to start slowing down his post. Instead of driving with my seat I developed a technique of lightening my seat while also quieting it to ask for the collection. Tina thought this was fine, but wanted me to make sure I didn’t “perch” going right, and didn’t lean going left.
Yep this old thing again
In addition, to help Murray collect and balance under himself, Tina had me shrink the circle down from 20 meters to 10 meters. As I was moving in on the circle Tina was like “That’s great! That’s about 18 meters. Smaller. Okay that’s about 15. Now about twelve. THERE’S TEN.” and I was like “JAAAEESSUS CAN THIS CIRCLE GET ANY SMALLER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” But it DID really help Murray sit his weight back onto his haunches, he just couldn’t drag himself around on the forehand on such a small circle.
I was really, really interested to see that Murray was more successful going left than right. I have always thought that his left canter is weaker than his right canter, but he showed me several times during my Tina lesson that the right canter was the weaker one. I’m not sure when this switch happened, or if it is to do with soreness/out of whack/current muscling imbalance, but color me shocked. To the right Murray wanted to drag himself along on the forehand and break to the trot, but to the left he was more than capable of the 10 meter circle. To accomplish the circle successfully, Tina had me lean back and really rotate my body in the direction of the circle, and keep repeating the right canter aid when Murray thought he might break (but not chase him).
So to summarize: don’t lean left, don’t perch right. Don’t chase, sit up tall, repeat the canter aid. Smaller circle. Not too much to do there.
The next thing we worked on was the haunches-in. I thought Murray was really getting the haunches in a few months ago, but he likes to do it for a few steps and then give up, and I can’t seem to encourage his haunches back off the track when he does that. I also hadn’t figured out how to hold his haunches in to prevent him from straightening out. Tina had me turn him to the wall but not complete the corner — so that we were three-tracking with his haunches in. Then, when Murray would try to “complete the corner”, rotating his ribcage around my inside leg such that he maintained the bend but was no longer holding his haunches in, Tina had me hold the outside rein. And damn if it didn’t work. So simple! We did this at the walk and trot in both directions, and Tina proclaimed the exercise good. With practice, we will be shoulder-in and haunches-in-ing quite successfully.
Since my lesson I’ve been thinking a lot about how to structure Murray’s work week to get the best use of his body, but also in such a way that avoids overloading his brain. Thinking about this has made me think a lot about the general trend of our progress together.
A year ago, I couldn’t have gotten through an entire Tina lesson where I asked Murray to challenge his body so much without at least one buck. Usually he would have protested either the amount of work (tired! can’t!) or the strenuousness of the work (hard! can’t!). These days I don’t get too many bucks out of him, even when I have to really get after him. Usually he only objects when I really offend him — like when I have to kick him with my spur — even if he will then get to the work I was asking him to. Even six months ago I don’t think I could have gotten through an entire schooling ride where Murray listened to me the whole time and stretched down or worked. It makes me proud of him. He has come a long way my little fluffernutter.
Also, just so you all know, it turns out that when you take nearly a two week vacation from blog reading you will have a nearly impossible time catching up with your Feedly queue. It’s just not happening. My blog friends are too loquacious! So yeah I missed out on some things.