Mary Wanless has this great analogy in one her books that compares riding and training dressage to peeling an onion. You start working your way through the onion(riding), get a layer(a key concept), and think that it is the one vital piece you were missing(eureka!) and then realize a couple of months later that, oh no there is ANOTHER layer. And so on and so on. Endlessly. I am very familiar with the onion.
Things have been going great with Jet using the Dressage Naturally techniques. Stretching down or staying up, balance and alignment, self carriage, relaxation and energy have all been going well. We have even been dipping our toes a little into more engagement and some of the mobility/collectibility exercise with some success. But. A little something just felt off balance wise. We were straight-ish, with a good connection, and the ability to engage the hindquarters, but something was NQR in the circles especially. Like Jet was slightly on his inside shoulder always.
Then I had a lightbulb moment.
What if the problem was that he needs to be slightly more pushed into outside of his body on the circle? What would happen if I took my pony, put him in the "Sweet Spot" of relaxation, energy, and balance and then shifted my rib cage very slightly towards my outside elbow like in lateral work or leg yields? Could this be the elusive outside rein connection I have never understood or been able to achieve?
I had the lightbulb moment after a ride and stewed on it a couple of days because I don't ride back to back days in the winter. Then I gave it a shot today. Hallelujah. It worked like a dream. Because he is slightly shifted into my outside aids the bend is a bit better to the inside. The balance is better. The spirals are perfect. The smaller circles, even at the canter, are SO much better. He is slightly more connected to the outside rein, not because I am taking it more, but because his bend is better and his body is shifted just a smidge to the outside.
The best way I can describe the feeling is to get in riding position and shift your rib cage a 1/4 inch towards your same side elbow. Then go rib cage to the middle in neutral. Then, shift the opposite way into the other elbow. You didn't really move much, but your balance is totally different. The horse will shift slighty underneath you. He is in your outside aids and you can let him keep moving over in a leg yield OR keep him right there contained against your outside leg and body. Now all the flexibilty exercises like serpentines and counter bending make a lot more sense. The entry into lateral work is so much smoother. And so on, and so on.
You could just about hear Jet purr, he was so grateful I finally figured it out and made him feel truly right and balanced. A really good day.