Monday, March 11, 2019

Can’t See the Forest for the Trees

So last I left you dear reader, Jet and I had a massive breakthrough (well really me-Jet just wants me to figure out how to ride) about using my seat to lift his back.  The angels sang, there was actual collection, and we had several rides in a row that were just superb.  Jet’s back was up, so his shoulders were more lifted, his hind legs came more underneath, the transitions and lateral work were GREAT, and I felt like I had finally found the missing piece of the puzzle.  Nirvana. And then the wheels came crashing off.  I had a horse with a switching tail, sometimes tense, not easily able to shift from one outside bend to the other.  WTAF?

After a couple of kind of crappy, ineffectual rides(sorry Jet) I figured out what was going on.  In my excitement of figuring out lifting the horse’s back with energy and balance I forgot about the lateral.  You know, having the horse pushed into the outside rein and all that jazz.  Amazingly, if you ride your horse like a straight board, with no emphasis on being in the outside aids, he starts to turn into a 2x4 with all the resultant flexibility.  So...problem eventually solved.  I’m having to think about lifting the back, energy, AND being in the outside aids.  I think my brain might explode, but I’m getting it maybe 80% of the time. 

This got me really thinking though, about the learning process, and about how hard it is to do Dressage and improve without eyes on the ground.  I’m finally understanding that for every learning breakthrough I’ve had, it seems like there is a concurrent loss of something we were doing well.  And this is a consistent pattern.  I figure out the outside aids, I forget energy.  I figure out energy, I forget thoroughness.  On and on like an endless loop.  This is where having a trainer telling you, “You’ve figured out Y BUT don’t forget X” is so freaking helpful.  Putting the skills together is just as hard, but the rider gets a heads up before things go really south.  

Having a trainer right now is not really in the cards for me, but now that I am cognizant of this pattern I think I will be a lot more aware to beware when I make a riding breakthrough.  Just knowing that I have a tendency to add something good but also drop something I am already doing well, will be helpful for future training breakthroughs and maybe make the process a little smoother.  What are your recent breakthroughs and how did they work out long term?

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

A Small Change Makes a HUGE Difference

I was reading one of my favorite blogs, a enter spooking, recently and had a massive breakthrough about something I already knew.  One of those things I know, have used or done in the past, but that somehow, someway fell out of my day to day riding.  Megan’s blog post was one of several about a recently attended Mary Wanless clinic.  The series really gives a great in depth on MW and some of her methodology, but one little snippet struck me and I realized that this might be the missing component I have been searching for all winter.

See, Jet has been going great.  Relaxed, balanced, and better about matching my energy.  I’ve managed to figure out how to get him off his forehand into a better balance but still keep the relaxation.  He is nicely aligned, does beautiful transitions, and works in a lovely Training-First Level outline.  But.  As we work towards showing First this year and schooling Second, I have felt like there was something missing.  I thought I had it licked with Forward but Not Faster.  And things were better but still not quite right.  I kept working the program of poll high, stretchable, in self carriage, and waited for inspiration to strike.

When I read Megan’s post one small section caught my eye.  “Elite riders draw the horse’s back underneath them by using suction with their seat and thigh.”  She gives a nice little explanation of how to use opposing forces to achieve this, but honestly, this is something I already know how to do, I had just forgotten all about it.  Riding, the endless puzzle where you sometimes forget some of the various puzzle pieces!  Anyway, I had a feeling as soon as I read about drawing the horse’s back up, that this was what we had been missing.  I went through the biomechanics in a mental rehearsal a few times and off to the barn I shot.  And yup, it was the missing piece.  I did my standard ride but just by pushing my heels out slightly and using my thighs as levers to slightly pick up Jet’s back I got a whole different level of cadence and connection.  Everything was effortless.  The power was amazing and the energy was so much easier to maintain.  Magic.

We have now done several rides like this and the change from this one small adjustment is just astonishing.  Just like the picture below, by having that slight feeling of always suctioning the horse’s back, the bridge is more rounded and the energy can flow easily.  Have you ever had a riding breakthrough like this? Please share!

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

A Little Fix for the Dressage Rider’s Posture with a Big Impact

Continuing on with my series of little fixes for the dressage rider, I found this one on the Tamarack Facebook page authored by renowned eventing trainer and rider, Denny Emerson.  As an aside, if you don’t follow this page on FB, do.  It is a random, stream of consciousness page that covers just about everything important to the intelligent equestrian.   

Anyway, I digress. Like many reformed hunter/jumper riders I struggle to sit fully upright in a Dressage seat even after years of effort.  I am much better after using various methods like sitting on the back of my (seat) triangle, pretending to have a ‘Buddha’ belly, and the old standard, pulling my shoulders backwards endlessly.  This is one of those things that creeps back out in my riding periodically to my utter frustration.

The cure is pretty simple.  Sit in riding position in your chair.  Now lift your chin an inch.  Feel the change in your balance on your seatbones.  Feel the difference in the muscles on the front of your torso.  Now go through some imaginary work in this posture.  Feel how much differently your balance will interface with your horse.  Then go try it on your horse.  I think, especially because we sit in a chin down position to use electronics, chin down is a pretty pervasive habit, but one that can be consciously fixed when riding.  It just takes a little bit of mental work and creating a new habit.  You are welcome!