I haven't talked about riding for some time and this may have lead you to believe that it's not going well. Nothing could be farther from the truth! I am having a wonderful time. So wonderful, in fact, that I'm going to be taking lessons twice a week beginning in December!
On Tuesday I had my second lesson on Syd. Syd is a 17.2hh Hanoverian with a splash of Thoroughbred and he's seven years old. He's a funny boy. An absolute sweetheart but he gets into his own head about bit contact. He gets so busy worrying about the contact that he forgets about other stuff-like coordination or steering. So my instructor has me riding him with very little contact-just a nice quiet feel, which is mostly obtained by me holding onto the reins at all (his neck is just that long).
The first week I rode him went much the same way that riding any new horse does:
Horse: can I stop at A?
Horse: are you sure I can't stop at A?
Me: yes, very sure. keep going.
Horse: Ok, I'm going to stop at A.
Me: no, No, NO! KEEP GOING.
Horse: *stops at A*
You get the idea. It's a pretty standard process-getting a feel for one another. How much correction is appropriate for this horse? What kind of correction does he respond best to? et cetera.
This week I felt more able to settle in and get some work done for both of us. One of the things that I am loving about riding with K is how supportive and complimentary she is. We spent quite a bit of time this week talking about how to help Syd in his new job as a school horse. For example, one of the things I'm always trying to work on with any horse that I ride is responsiveness. I know, we're all working on that. But I try to do lots of transitions during the warmup phase to get them "tuned" in to my aids. I feel that this is especially important with a school horse because they get so many different riders over the course of the week and we all ride differently. K pointed out that the ideal sensitivity level of a school horse is quite different than your own horse. Which is so obvious I can't believe it hadn't occurred to me. But she doesn't want him super sensitive. He should respond in proportion to the aid. This is so different than what I've been accustomed to attempting to teach. In general, I want to use a light aid as much as possible. So it was interesting to think about teaching him to use a slow trot for a very light aid and save the bigger gaits for heavier aids.
He is pretty disorganized right now and heavily on his forehand. K is basically restarting dressage with him so we're riding him like a green horse. Which is good because he has no sense of self-carriage. For the first time in forever my having brought along Wanda (with help!) is really helpful to my riding. I'm able to provide that steady, wide contact and not let him pull me out of position (or at least, mostly-I'm still working on core strength) while still pushing him a bit to get him moving. Once he figures out that stopping isn't an option he has quite a motor on him and will be able to tick right along once he figures out how to get his feet underneath himself. For now though, we're just working on yes, my hands are a guide rail and are here to help you balance; but no, you may not just lean on them with your entire body!
The rider who rode him before my lesson had a really hard time with him stopping at the gate and so K warned me that this might be an issue. And it was. In fact, I ended up riding him off of the rail and slightly counterbent to keep him focused on his job and not on when he could be done. He did eventually straighten out and we had several rounds each direction where he didn't even look at the gate.
I haven't been the rider that someone put on to help a horse with a bad habit since I was fourteen and at summer camp! It feels amazing. I love feeling like I'm not just learning but that I'm helping the horse to be better at his job. And K is all about teaching you to first ride effectively and then to ride prettily. So we've shortened my stirrups by two holes and turned my foot out a little to where it hangs naturally. And guess what?! I'm sitting up straighter and I have more "oomph" in my leg aids because I'm not busy fighting with my leg position. In fact, I don't worry about it at all beyond "is this comfortable?" and "is this effective?". It's the coolest feeling.
I wish all riders had an opportunity to ride with someone who said, "Let's learn to be effective and then we can always tidy you up later.". Because that is what riding is really all about-using our bodies efficiently to influence the horse. This is the dressage that I've wanted to get back to. And I couldn't be more thrilled.
And the fact that K is good for my ego doesn't hurt one bit either ;)