Demanding More, With A Smile: Lesson Recap
Let's make a quick detour back in time to recap our pre-show dressage lesson.
With Burgundy Hollow staring me in the face last weekend, I knew I needed to get a lesson in on Friday despite my now-hectic work schedule. The only drawback to real estate is that our busy season directly coincides with horse show season. It makes for a really crazy spring!
Originally I had planned to meet Ms. Trainer up at the horse park in the afternoon and get a private flat lesson followed by some quick schooling up and down the banks and over a handful of small XC fences. Burgundy usually has a bank on their intro course, and it's the only element I hadn't really jumped purposefully yet this season. (This would, as we know, come back to bite me) I actually haven't purposefully schooled XC at the park at ALL yet this year, so figured I should probably do that before our next horse trial.
However, my new seller clients had other ideas and I spent way longer than the anticipated 3 hours at a listing appointment (anyone want a 95 acre farm in PA?!), so there was no way I'd be able to get to the horse park in time. We re-routed our plans, and I ended up joining in a semi-private lesson at our home barn.
I really needed the flatwork help, so my lesson buddy and I flatted together for the first bit of the lesson, I had a break while she jumped around, and then I got a little more one-on-one dressage instruction. It worked out pretty perfectly!
The lesson started out with working on riding accurate 20m circles. My trainer set out 4 markers to help us form a nice, round circle, and we each took turns riding it in both directions at the trot and canter before coming off the circle and riding deep into the corner, reminiscent of how the figure is placed in the BN dressage tests.
This should be very, very easy for me at this point in my riding career.
It was so NOT easy that evening.
I couldn't seem to get Dino off my inside leg, straight, moving forward, or on the bit with any sort of reliability. I was getting really frustrated, and it was at that point that I was gently reprimanded for being too serious.
Once I started riding the circle, I went into Very Serious Dressage Mode. I stopped breathing deeply, focused very hard on being perfect, and the tension in my body turned Dino's body into a 2x4. The result was some very ugly circles.
So my trainer told me to come and do the exercise again, this time with a smile on my face and a focus on breathing and asking Dino to bend, while keeping my body and aids quiet.
And it was SO much better! I was able to physically relax more, and Dino responded much better to a quiet, still rider than he did to an aggressive, driving seat. We were able to put together some really nice circles in each direction in trot and canter, and even when Dino slipped a little in the wet grass, I was in a much better position to support him and set him right again within a stride.
After the break, we really dug into the quality of the transitions, especially maintaining the bend during them, as well as asking for Dino to more consistently come up through his withers and the base of his neck in all gaits.
While our focus on 'forward first' and doing less with my hands has been a good one over the past year, I've kind of thrown the bend out the window a little bit instead of asking for Dino to soften laterally from the beginning of the ride.
The pony goes now. Pretty reliably. But it's been SO hard to break my feelings of trepidation when it comes to taking a good solid contact and ASKING for good work when he's going any slower than Mach 5 and practically running off his feet. For fear that he'll quit on me, duck behind the bit, or just get tight all over.
My trainer encouraged me to just pick up the reins and ask. Squeeze the inside rein. Flex the neck. Ask him to hold the bend himself. Expect Dino to Do The Thing and he will do it. We worked on keeping the bend throughout transitions in all gaits, and boy was there a lot of counter-flexing going on when I didn't even realize it! I didn't ask for a transition up or down until Dino was properly bent and into the outside rein, and really demanded that he maintain that position into the next gait.
Wonder of wonders, Euro Pony complied. And not only did he hold a good bend through is body during our transitions, he consistently lifted the base of his neck and withers as well. Because I felt he was responding well, I kept my body quieter, which helped Dino work even better, and on and on. A cycle of positive improvement!
The left lead canter is our most challenging gait right now, and Dino needs a lot of outside leg from me in order to maintain the bend and keep his hind end properly engaged. This is nothing new, but it was good to have a reminder and to be made aware of it again. That awareness was rewarded with some of the best canter work we've done in a lesson in a long time, with Dino working well over his back and staying relaxed and uphill in his balance. We quit there for the night.
After this lesson, I felt prepared for our dressage test that weekend, and had a lot of good things to think about in our upcoming schooling rides. It was good to be able to ask for and receive more correct work from Dino, and nothing if not motivating for our future dressage endeavors.