Despite my efforts to appear otherwise, Murray and I have totally been in a riding slump. I’m not totally out of my not-really-riding mode, and with the batshit schedule I’ve been juggling lately, the quickly rising darkness, and Murray’s level 10 filth at all times thanks to advanced fluff it’s been easy to default to not riding. So we’ve not made exceptional progress in the fitness or muscle building department (though the fluff is certainly making Murray look more muscular).
The other day I had the pleasure of Megan coming up to visit and, while she was watching me ride, she made a very interesting comment. Paraphrased: while Murray has made progress in accepting and moving into the contact, he still isn’t totally there and has just found a new place to “fake it” and set his head. But when he actually moves up (or down) in to the contact he moves better and more correctly, and actually uses his body.
I have known for
a long time ever that Murray is not comfortable with contact or (honestly) submission, and that our dressage relationship was a tenuous compromise. For a million reasons — he doesn’t like it, he doesn’t wanna, he doesn’t think he should have to, it’s a little uncomfortable, it’s a lot uncomfortable, dressage is stupid, etc. — Murray is naturally tense. But that tension isn’t going to work for us if we want to do real derpssage, so we have to get past it.
So one more thing I need to do to get Murray working more correctly is to convince him to not just accept the contact but to lean in to it. When he is practically “leaning” on my hands is when he is using himself the best, so that is the place I need to get him to. Easier said than done, sometimes.
If Murray’s in an incredibly compliant mood, like he was at the JM clinic, then I can put a fair bit of pressure on him and get some really good results. He’ll connect to both reins (helped by the counter flexing that JM had me using in that exercise), understand the half halts, and push from behind for not insignificant periods of time. If he’s feeling a little sassier, he might give me the old middle finger in that special kind of way he does.
On Sunday he gave me forty seven flavors of tiny, shitty trot before connecting to either rein or moving out into anything resembling a working trot. I worked at keeping my body really correct after reading a piece about laterality and handedness, and predominantly worked Murray’s stiff side (with lots of walk breaks). Murray did not appreciate my positional overcorrection and avoided the connection to the right. Once we switched to the left though he was in full denial, throwing his body all kinds of sideways to avoid the connection. At one point his trot was so tiny and stilted I didn’t even know why I was bothering to post.
Eventually he worked out of it, and I got some good connection in both directions. It took nearly 40 minutes, and I was filled with equal parts despair and joy. On the one hand, goodie for me, building the connection. On the other, how will I ever warm up for a dressage test if it takes us an unknowable number of minutes between 10 and 40 to get to a functional working connection?!
This ridiculousness is truly infuriating, because I know that the good trot is in there and it probably takes less effort than crazy sideways garbage. But (for once) I did not lose my temper, and that helped me come to another realization: when Murray is tense, bullying him “out of it” is not going to mad productive, long term changes.
(wait for it)
So even though this is annoying, it’s actually given me a much more concrete goal and rejuvenated my dressage feelz! Now I have a new thing to focus on in both the short and the long term! Every ride I need to get Murray moving in to that contact, while staying straight, and then pushing his trot out. I can’t let him trick me into thinking too much about his face either, because if I’m having connection problems it probably has more to do with what’s going on behind us than up front.
New goals. They are the spice of my life.