Another big life event, another week off of work for Murray. It’s our pattern, but he doesn’t seem to hate it. That week was actually punctuated with a few days of riding as I evaluate the trial saddle, but none of them were particularly strenuous. We come back from each mini break pretty quickly, and I’ve been very pleased with the progress made in between mini breaks. Maybe this really is just a schedule that works for certain princess ponies? Or maybe our new routine of ground work + lunging –> riding is really working for us.
being cute at Twin
We spent most of last week trying to rebalance Murray from totally on the forehand and dragging himself around, to some semblance of moving uphill. On Monday I felt like we were cantering downhill during our warmup, and that I could slide off of Murray’s neck at any moment. It was supremely unpleasant, not only because I know that’s not how we’re supposed to go, but because it’s really just rather uncomfortable. Murray wasn’t terribly responsive to my half halts, so I took a moment to re-assess and figure out how to attack the problem without picking a fight.
I tried to sit up and use my core, instead of tipping forward into Murray’s downhill-ness, and started to incorporate the lateral work back in to our routine. I’ve generally avoided lateral work since December, since Murray and I both use it as such an out: he is more than happy to go sideways if he doesn’t want to work, and when I get bored/stupid I start to think “porque no los leg yields?” instead of “let’s really shore up your shitty connection, Nicole”.
And slowly but surely, throughout the week, Murray’s balance started to come up. He still wanted to lean on my hand and PLOW down any straight line we did, especially when they were off the wall (uh… will have to fix that before we show FOR SURE). But I found that if I moderated his pace a little more with my seat and core — which I am finally figuring out how to use — that we could maintain a little bit more uphill balance. There is still a lot of work to be done there, but straight lines are hard. (Though, I’ve just realised that is exactly what JM was focusing on with me, so I could probably bring some of the straightness/slight counter flexion exercises to those off-the-wall-straight-lines and potentially achieve the same results. Food for thought.)
We also had a jump lesson where Murray was a super freaking rockstar mashing around a grid and some bigger (for our recent exploits) fences on a much bigger and more forward step. It felt amazing. It wasn’t the same as the pookums usually feels — there was less of that launch off the ground that sometimes accompanies bigger fences — but great nonetheless. And there were only two hiccups, both attributed to me riding an awful, very angled line to an airy oxer that Murray just couldn’t seem to see as a jump. I discovered two new things in that lesson: one, my new phone’s camera is bullshit at taking videos indoors (I mean, thanks a lot you freaking potato), and two, Murray goes around pretty upside-down on that more forward step.
RBF made a very important point, which is that the big, forward step and jump is new to both Murray and I, and we’re still figuring it out. Obviously we weren’t going to figure it out in perfect balance or make it look pretty the first time around. She encouraged me to be patient while we get strong on this new step. Man, RBFs. They are so good to have around.
A big piece of the puzzle is helping Murray to understand how to use his neck while it is in a different position on his body. Right now, he feels like/seems/is convinced that he only has access to his neck muscles (and back muscles) when his neck is pretty low — head below withers. Actually, that’s not true. He is convinced that he can only use his neck the way I want him to use it when his neck is very low. He is happy to use his neck when it’s lifted a little higher — as long as he gets to use his underneck. Which is, of course, the great secret of all dressage: MOAR UNDERNECK.
So my big goal has been taking that underneck access away from Murray in both sets of tack — yup, even on conditioning rides. Add in to that the continued insistence on some kind of communication-connection through the reins (even in the stretchy trot), sitting up and using my core, keeping my aids simple and consistent, and turning my god forsaken toes in (he really has abandoned my lower leg), and it feels like I’m juggling a lot of balls to put together some okay-ish work right now. But we really are making steps in the right direction (I think), and it’s not nearly as hard as it would have been for me to work on even 2 of those things simultaneously two months ago.
We’re getting there. Slowly but surely. Creeping uphill. The only way we know how.
Anyone else feeling their progress creeping along in the good way lately?