|Windows and his mom killing it in a clinic last weekend|
Windows is such a wonderful schoolmaster-type ride for me on the flat - if I don't ask correctly, he simply doesn't do. Riding him has been a great tune-up for me! While I, of course, love riding my own pony more than anything, I've essentially trained Dino to my own bad habits and level of inadequacy, so riding something much more well-schooled has been a great education.
Riding in a dressage saddle fit for a person much taller than I am has also been a helpful lesson in lengthening my leg! The front blocks are so long that I can't really adjust the stirrups as short as they need to be, so it's been a crash course in opening my hips and getting my legs LONG. The main advantage that I've seen so far is the newfound ability to properly use my thigh as an aid.
Having ridden mainly in only jumping saddles for the past 7 or 8 years, and not having regular dressage lessons, has taken away my understanding and ability to use my entire leg. While my leg position is quite good and my lower leg is strong, it wasn't until I started riding Windows that I began to re-discover how to use my thigh in a more nuanced fashion.
Lots of little lightbulbs have been going off in my head as I ride around, testing out how to use my thigh, and I've realized that the THIGH is how you move the horse's SHOULDER. Suddenly I have so many more options when it comes to placing the front of the horse where I want it to be, because I can now place my entire upper leg on him to move his shoulder. And since Windows is so obliging, he actually responds to that thigh pressure, as opposed to Dino who I have effectively conditioned to ignore me. Leg yeild? Hey there, thigh, you're awfully helpful here. Shoulder-in? Thigh again! Need to correct a popping outside shoulder? Put some thigh on it! I'm re-discovering so many parts of my upper leg that I didn't even realize were usable.
Windows has also been teaching me a lot about my core, especially in the canter. I could trot around in great balance for ages, but the canter, for whatever reason, has always been more difficult. As a normal-sized TB, Windows has quite a lot more sheer physical size and weight contained in his head and neck, and if I'm not careful to ride UP into the canter, he tends to fling that head and neck about like a porpoising dolphin, pulling me out of the saddle a bit and making for a rushy, unbalanced, ugly affair.
BUT - when I ride the first stride of canter while holding my core strong, and sitting like Windows is performing a lovely collected canter instead of letting him pull me forward, he gives me a lovely canter. In the canter, with Windows at least, it's all about helping him stay in self-carriage by keeping MYSELF in self-carriage. Once I got us both there, the canter was easy instead of awkward.
As far as Dino is concerned, I've actually been choosing to ride him in the jump field or the dressage court lately. Because he's been getting too fast out in the back field.
But it's an interesting development, for sure! Until now, the back field has been my dressage schooling locale of choice for several reasons, including the fact that Dino tends to be much more forward and eager to move off my leg out in the open vs. inside a fence. Having to do as little go-button-re-installation as possible on a daily basis was one of my prime motivations for riding back there. Lately, he's been giving me a little too much Go out there, especially when we are pointed towards home and he can hear his buddies being fed dinner. While generally obedient, Dino has preferred to run around and be silly instead of buckle down and do his work. Working in the arena has been a lot more productive in terms of actually accomplishing things vs fighting with him over not rushing around like a looney.
My main focus has been trying to put him into the outside rein and leave him there! In the walk things are really good, and I am getting more and more moments of super-straight, super-powerful and through walk. When things start to go sideways in the trot and canter, I can reliably bring Dino back down to the walk and put him together again. The trot is getting very close to where I want it! Dino has been very consistent in the contact, and I've been able to leave him alone and let him carry himself for longer and longer periods.
The canter... is hit or miss at this point. The right lead is considerably better than the left, which resembles a runaway llama. Yesterday I spent a lot of time on the left lead canter - I wanted a prompt transition and a canter that was mostly balanced and self-sustaining. Having the fence of the jump field to back Dino off a bit really helped, and I got some good left lead canter out of him! Like when riding Windows, I need to ride for the canter I want, and not let Dino's lack of balance or straightness pull me out of alignment. But it's still hard work at this point, and we have a long, long way to go before the canter I want is our new normal.
I think I may do some work in western tack over the next few days to encourage slow, low, and stretched over the back!