After feeling like we have the "Sweet Spot" down from Dressage Naturally, Jet Set and I have been working at the w-t-c on the flexibilty exercises. Things have been going ok, but feeling a little flat. First, I thought Jet needed to be tuned to the sideways leg aids, so with the help of a few taps from the dressage whip that became WAY more responsive. Still flat and slightly awkward though. Then, I had my self videoed this weekend and realized that yet again, my reins were too short and my hands too high(because whenever things get more complicated I always resort to my paws, even though it never ever ever works out for me). So, I decided to video the next day concentrating on keeping my elbows against my sides and my knuckles almost rubbing his mane. My video showed just about perfect rider hands and position, but I still felt like Jet was struggling to move sideways a lot of the time and just dull and flat in general.
Feeling a little frustrated, I decided to let things percolate in my mind, and watched my videos from both days a few times to see if the answer would magically appear. You know, like a unicorn pooping Skittles. During one of those video viewing sessions I checked through some of the blogs I like and God Bless her, Megan at aenterspooking.blogspot.com had pictures that showed me what was missing. Megan had done a retrospective of her young horse, in pictures, from first ride to present, with commentary about his retracted neck and dropped shoulder position evolving into lifted shoulders, raised back, and a longer neck. Hmmmm, that retracted neck sure looked familiar in some of Jet's video and so did the slightly dropped shoulder. But how was that the problem if I could stretch Jet out at will anytime during the ride?
Well, the answer is, that if you are not doing full stretches a lot since it tends to put your horse on his forehand, and you are riding with your reins a little short, and you are worrying about the various mobility exercises, you will forget WHY you do the stretches in the first place. To have the bow strung. The bridge arched. The back picked up and swinging. The shoulders lifted and neck extended with the poll high. You know, so the horse steps under, swings through his raised back, lifts his shoulders, and reaches out to the contact easily but is in self carriage. Because, you know, without the connection from hind end to front end, with the rider's seat over the bridge of the back, the exercises mean nothing.
So, I went back to DN and did a little research and found this gem. "The horse must have the feeling of stretching to the limit of whatever rein length the rider sets." And, "The first inch of stretch is the most important." So, you know, I don't need to stretch Jet to the ground all the time but I DO need to have a feeling of stretch in every rein length I set. Hmmmm...
I did the test drive this morning. A couple of full stretches and then the same exercises we have been doing, with nothing low, but concentrating on having that feeling of stretch in whatever frame I choose. And bam. Got that swinging back. Got the raised shoulders with poll high. Got that swingy trot that could lengthen pretty easily. Got the flowy leg yields and serpentines. Got the most fluid shoulder-in with raised shoulders and that feeling of sitting. Poor horse, it was all pilot error and the pilot is not very smart.