|Uncooperative pony will not join in my mirror selfie shenanigans|
After our ill-fated jumping warmup a few weeks ago, I've really tried to focus on warming Dino up slowly and listening to him when he tells me exactly how much work he's ready for as the ride progresses. It's cold, which means stiff muscles for everyone, and he hasn't been in consistent work over the past few months, so it's unfair for me to hop on and expect him to be ready to rock and roll immediately.
So we walked, and walked, and did some more walking, and then began short spurts of shuffling trot.
Dino started off the ride feeling a bit off his game. He was really difficult to bend right, behind the leg, heavy on the forehand, and just felt sort of dead in the contact.
At this point in our partnership, I have thankfully learned to ride through this feeling with patience. I know now that going to bigger, louder aids, going to my whip or spur, is not going to fix the problem. Riding Dino slowly into a better balance, choosing exercises that allow him to stretch and gain more flexibility, and letting him ease into harder work always, always gets me the result that I want, even if it doesn't happen as quickly as I'd like it to. While I did have to get after him a few times about responding to the go button, the pony'tude was very manageable. He only bucked once in protest to my suggestion that he use his right hind a little more in the canter. Cantering is hard, yo.
As I rode and slowly molded my pony into something resembling a creature that knows how to dressage, I caught myself doing unhelpful things now and then. Slumping in the saddle, collapsing my core, doing bizarre things with my hands, scrunching my legs up. Sins against the equitation gods. When I corrected these things, and sat up straight, and held my reins properly, and put my legs in an appropriate place, Dino responded instantly with better self-carriage.
A lightbulb went off in my head, and I started thinking about how important it is to have excellent equitation.
My riding career has always had a very strong emphasis on equitation. From my first lessons where I learned to sit ramrod-straight and jam my heels down, to my college years riding on the IHSA team, position has been something that I focused on almost exclusively. And while the only time position "counts" in eventing is in your rider score on the dressage test, it's still vitally important to letting your horse perform at his best.
In short, pretty matters.
A beautiful position is a functional position - when I ride with good posture, my pony carries himself with good posture. In my ride on Thursday, the difference in Dino's carriage when I held myself up vs. when I slumped and flopped around was like night and day. When I sat with instead of behind the motion and gave him the bit, he used his back ten times better. I can't expect Dino to move in a strong and balanced frame unless I hold myself in one as well.
To my delight, this "Duh" moment about my position and posture lead to the best work Dino has performed so far this winter! About 45 minutes into our ride, after countless transitions and leg yields, he suddenly snapped into Little Red Sports Car Mode. His trot became super uphill, the connection felt so much more lively, and he became so responsive to my seat. I got to play a little bit with his medium trot (AWESOME) and we had some really nice, through canter work going on. The lateral work was SO easy, and it felt like I hardly had to use any leg or rein aids at all. It was a blast! While I wanted to continue to play, Dino had done great work and I stopped myself from being greedy and pushing for more after a few minutes of cruising around like total rockstars.
I got off while it was still pretty.