Because I have a well-documented inability to multitask when it comes to riding, now that my show season is over I am back on the dressage bootcamp train. This isn’t dressage bootcamp like “let’s make our circles really circular and exactly 20 meters in diameter!” or “deep cornerz biatchezz!” but more like “how about we really bend around that inside leg, eh?” and “let’s stop holding our body crooked so we don’t have to use that right hind” or “for godsake lets get a consistent half halt button on this horse pleaaaaaazzzeeeeeeeeeeeeee”.
To this end my “weekly” dressage lessons have been very helpful, except that the first week I could schedule one I was so hot that I nearly puked on Murray in the middle of it and called it quits. And since then either B or I have been out of town during any time I could have scheduled another dressage lesson. CURSES.
However, in that first lesson we started working on something important that I have so far neglected: the outside rein. Tina’s training method for young horses encourages longitudinal stretch through lateral flexion, and I really grabbed on to that idea — it worked well with Murray. Unfortunately I mostly grabbed on to the idea with my right hand… and my left hand is a pretty pathetic player in the game even when it is on the inside. I tend to keep my left hand a little wider and lower with a looser grip, which means that Murray can do essentially whatever he wants when we are going left. To compensate for my pathetic left hand I started “catching” him with my right hand, but that just increased my reliance on my right hand. Fucking handedness ruining my life here.
Murray also evades a lot going left. He doesn’t really bend to the left, just kinda cracks his neck and his shoulders and travels around all cock-eyed. This probably helps him avoid engaging his right hind.
He is less consistent in the contact, wants to fling himself off my left leg (Oh please don’t ask me to do a leg yield, Nicole! Whatever you do, not leg yields!), so when I do try to engage him by adding inside leg and inside flexion he’s like “GOT WHAT I WANTED!”
I have also been struggling with transitions and response vs. reaction. Murray seems to waver between being thoughtful and lazy off my aids, sometimes making an honest effort to respond to my aids on a schedule that makes sense for him (“just give me three more steps to prep for this transition!”) and just ignoring them (“oh did you just put your leg on? had no idea.”)
Okay so struggles. We has them. (And bad mistakes. I’ve made a few.)
I’m starting with the transitions. Tina suggested I get back to some streeeetchy lunging and do lots of transitions on the lunge line to get Murray really responsive to the verbal cues and have him really just stepping into those transitions. Sometimes he’s quite responsive, but the response is rather more enthusiastic than needed for a dressage test.
(What stretchy lunging cannot address is Murray falling through his left shoulder to avoid using his right hind, and sometimes I even think it makes it worse. Buuuut sometimes I suck at addressing that too, so whatever. Stretchy lunging will be fine.)
I’m also working on making my cues really, really clear. Sometimes I ask for the canter a different way. Sometimes I try to emphasize a really big half halt before hand (because I want to actually rebalance my stupid horse but whatever). I can hardly expect Murray to respond cleanly to my requests if they aren’t clean themselves. So there’s that too. I will aspire to ask him to trot or canter at a good/reasonable time to do so, and he will aspire to respond promptly when I ask. I have decreed it thusly.
We will also work on getting Murray nice and deep and round and using his neck and topline going to the left as well as to the right. Instead of dropping the base of his neck, I’ll encourage him to engage it, even if it is in a really low, relaxed frame. That’s just fine.
And the half halt. Oh half halts. How elusive thine beautiful rebalancing powers are to my walnut-brained equine partner.
At the bottom of it, a half halt is not a complicated aid. In fact, it’s not even something that needs to be learned independently of the cues that are given. It’s a bunch of cues together that all already have meanings! Leg (more power) + core (hold a bit) + hand (give) = REBALANCE. I mean, those three things encourage a rebalance even without a horse knowing the meaning of a subtle half halt. SO WHY ARE THEY SO HARD TO UNDERSTAND.
So you know, just a few small things. Get that right hind back under us. Even up the weight and use of my hands. Install a half halt. Ain’t no big. Good thing we have all the time in the world.